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Archive for October, 2012

A bitter election is dividing Americans and turning friend against friend, and tension within families.  Unemployment is up, economic growth is down; businesses’ sales and profits are down.  Superstorm Sandy just blew through New England devastating much of the area, leaving millions with ruined homes and enormous numbers without electricity.   Many people I encounter are despondent and hopeless, and fearful of a tenuous future.

Over and over in my posts I emphasize that our suffering isn’t wasted; God uses our trials to mold and shape us, and to strengthen our faith.  In Romans 15:3 we’re told “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”  So through our trials, God builds our character and gives us endurance, which leads to hope.

This is emphasized in Romans 5:5“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.”Oil painting staring Augustine of Hippo and hi...

St. Monica is a wonderful example of hope.  She was married to a man who had a violent temper and rejected Christianity.  Both her mother-in-law and her son, Augustine, refused to embrace Christianity.  In fact, Augustine followed the Manichean heresy.  But in all those years, St. Monica never gave up hope, and determinedly kept praying.  Eventually, her husband and mother-in-law converted to the Catholic Church in 370 AD. It took Augustine another 17 years before he finally joined the Catholic Church, shortly before Monica’s death.  She was able to joyfully say “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.”

Hope is the firm conviction the promises of God are true.  We have hope because we know through our inheritance we are God’s children, and that our lives are intricately linked to God’s plans and purposes.  In Hebrews 6 we’re told Abraham “obtained the promise”, which in Ephesians 1 is described as God’s spiritual blessings.  These blessings are unchangeable, as God both swore by an immutable oath and promise to never forsake or abandon us.  We have His promise that “we who have been strongly encouraged to hold fast to the hope that lies before us” Heb. 6:17, have an “anchor of the soul, sure and firm”, keeping us steady, so that we don’t veer off course into doubt or confusion, or become disheartened and abandon our faith.

In a world fraught with uncertainty, the only anchor to cling to is the hope that no matter our circumstances, in a heartbeat everything can be changed.  The residents of New Jersey and the other affected areas had no inkling that one storm could wreak such havoc so quickly.  You might be in an extremely difficult situation at work, and overnight you might be transferred to a much happier position in another department.  You may be praying for years for deliverance for a family member who has been struggling with an addiction.  My brother, Chris, was a drug addict from the time he was a teenager until the day he died.  After my dad died, Chris went off the deep end and threatened my sister and I with a gun.  His addiction had become so destructive, that we had to distance ourselves from him.   But I never gave up hope that his life might change.

Two years ago Chris called me out of the blue to inform me he was in the hospital with a serious liver problem.  He told me he knew the end was near, and wanted to make peace with me before he died.  He apologized for the way he had treated me, and asked for forgiveness.  We had a beautiful conversation as he shared the importance of his faith, and his longing for heaven.  Chris knew that whatever tragic mistakes he had made throughout his life, the hope of the resurrection would always be available.  But before I could make the trip down to Florida, his wife called me two days later to let me know that he had unexpectedly died.  My last conversation with my brother brought me tremendous comfort in the following days as I worked through my grief.

In these troubled times, I will leave you with Rom. 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

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Is your back up against the wall, and you can’t find a solution to your problem? Is your life tied up in knots?

In Acts 16 Paul and Silas were in prison and they had no idea what the future held, whether they would be released, or put to death.  So they started singing and praising God, and suddenly “there was an earthquake…all the doors flew open and the chains of all were pulled loose”.  The jailer rushed in and thinking the men had escaped, was about to kill himself.  He was terrified of the consequences of the men’s escape.  Paul used this opportunity to share his faith with the jailer, who took them to his house, fed them and bathed their wounds.  And “He and all his household were baptized at once.”

I read a great book, called “Prison to Praise” about 18 years ago, which really changed my attitude, as I tend to grumble and gripe when things go wrong.   The author, Merlin Carothers was 12 when his father died, leaving Merlin’s mom alone with three young boys to raise.  Merlin was furious at God for taking his dad away and decided to make the most out of life without God’s help.  When he was a young man he joined the Army, but lead a reckless lifestyle.  Merlin stole a car and went AWOL, got caught, and was thrown in prison.  His sentence was suspended, and he was returned to the army. There he continued his underworld activities, including selling army supplies on the black market.

His difficult life made him bitter and angry, but one day while going to church with his grandparents he had a revelation when he heard Phil 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be know to all.  The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests know to God.  The the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Merlin had an amazing conversion experience, became a chaplain, and dedicated his life to spreading the power of praise.  He emphasizes the importance of gratitude for everything, no matter the tragedy.  Way too often if  we’re suffering difficulties, whether it’s tense relationships with family, or problems at work, we often think we have been abandoned by God, rather than thinking of the trial as a blessing.

Why do we praise God for bad things?  Because evil is good?  No!  Because we know that no matter how terrible the circumstances, God’s promise is that “all things work for good for those who love God and called according to his purpose.” Rom.  8:28   He will bring something good out of every trial.  Paul and Silas were in prison, which might seem like a really uncomfortable situation to you and me, but God was able to use their imprisonment to touch the heart of the jailer.  He and his entire family were brought to Christ!

Eventually in your life you can reach a point where your trust in God becomes so strong, that when you encounter a trial you can actually sincerely thank God, because you know deep in your heart he has your best interests at heart, and will either use the trial to stretch and mold you, or perhaps to help someone else draw closer to God.  As God tells us “my ways are not your ways, my thoughts are way beyond yours” Is. 55.

Here is an old Chinese proverbs about blessings in disguise:

“A farmer had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to condole with him over his terrible loss. The farmer said, “What makes you think it is so terrible?”  A month later, the horse came home–this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer’s good fortune. Such lovely strong horses! The farmer said, “That’s the way it is”.  The farmer’s son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed. Such bad luck! The farmer said, “That’s the way it is”.  War came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer’s son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. “That’s the way it is” said the farmer.

So what appears to be a curse, can really be a blessing.  Another reason to praise God is because the devil hates it when we give thanks to God!  He runs away and hides; his power is taken away.  Satan wants us discouraged and hopeless, but instead of giving in to temptation, we can praise God just as the Hebrews rejoiced in the Psalms.  Psalm 8 “Through the praise of children and infants  you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Do you remember the battle of Jericho in Joshua 6?  Joshua had laid siege to Jericho, which was a strong, fortified city.  Then God reassured him ““See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.”  He instructed Joshua’s men to carry the ark and to march around the city once a day, and to continue marching every day for the next six days.   Seven priests were to accompany them carrying trumpets of rams’ horns.  On the seventh day, they were all to march around the city seven times, with the priests loudly blowing their horns.  “When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in…at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.”

Praising God by Joshua’s men was enough to tumble the walls of the mighty city Jericho, and they easily conquered the city.  If we too can praise God when faced with evil, grace and mercy will always be victorious!

When you make a mistake in your checkbook and bounce checks, instead of getting angry and blaming yourself, praise God!  Maybe he’s deepening your trust in Him.  If you aren’t paying attention when driving and swerve off the road hitting a tree, instead of ranting, praise God!  Maybe God is teaching you to slow your life down.  If you have plans to go away for the weekend, but your boss insists you have to work instead, praise God!  Trust that God has wonderful plans that may differ from yours.  Think of the people on 9/11 who missed their plane that day, and miraculously survived the horrible tragedies.

Whenever Mother Teresa was forced to close one of her houses, she didn’t spend time being upset and disappointed.  She simply would say “glory to God”  reasoning it wasn’t God’s will.  Praise is the battering ram that defeats the devil!  It diffuses tense situations, brings light into darkness, turns away evil and brings God glory.

1 Thes. 5:6-18 “Always be joyful. Always keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

So are your kids driving you crazy?  Do you have serious health issues?  Are you having anxiety about your finances?  Then get out that battering ram and sound the trumpets! Sing aloud God’s praises!

“Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
 Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
 praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” (Psalm 150)

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Do you ever talk to God, pleading for someone to be healed, asking for help with a financial mess, or perhaps asking Him to solve some other problem?  And the answer is silence…

In Matthew 15, Jesus ignored the Canaanite woman who came to Him for healing for her daughter. “Jesus did not answer a word.  So his disciples came to Him and urged Him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.’  The woman came and knelt before Him.  ‘Lord, help me!” she said.  He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.’  ‘Yes, Lord, she said, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.  Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith!  Your request is granted.’  And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

It sounds like Jesus was ignoring her because she was a Canaanite. And it’s clear the woman was not going to give up, but kept pleading, so that in spite of her Canaanite background, Christ recognized her faith was strong. It was ironic that Jesus was trying to convince people He was the Messiah, and was challenged by the Israelites to prove it with a sign. But here comes this Gentile woman who is absolutely sure He was the Messiah.  By disregarding her, He was testing her faith, to see just how strong it was, whether or not she would get discouraged and give up.

When God makes us wait upon his answer, and seems to be ignoring us, he is stretching us, calling us to enter more deeply into relationship with Him.  To quote Pastor Rick Warren “He builds our faith by putting it to the test, by trying it. Faith is like a muscle and when it’s stretched and it’s pulled, then it develops. When you test your muscles against weights, then your muscles develop. And your faith develops as it is tested.”

I have a friend, Cassi Villanueva, who is a runner, but was unable to run for several months because of health issues.  When she was finally able to get back on the track again, she was so out of shape her muscles protested in agony.  In her words “Starting at a walk I eased my way into a jog and it was everything I could do to fight back the tears. I felt broken. Everything was off.  My body, my gait, my stride – all wrong.  It was the most uncomfortable, depressing, defeating run I have ever had in my life and it is a miracle that I didn’t kiss the sport goodbye at that very moment.”  So just as our physical muscles need constant exercise, so do our spiritual muscles.  Otherwise our faith can become weak and flabby, and we become discouraged and hopeless.  Sometimes strengthening our faith can be just as agonizingly difficult as getting back in shape physically.

(Cassi’s blog is at http://runningbuns.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/running-through-motherhood/)

Is faith really that important?  The Catholic Church just kicked off the “Year of Faith” on October 11.  As Thomas Merton tells us “This is, to my mind, the crucially important aspect of faith which is too often ignored today. Faith is not just conformity, it is life. It embraces all the realms of life, penetrating into the most mysterious and inaccessible depths not only of our unknown spiritual being but even of God’s own hidden essence and love. Faith, then, is the only way of opening up the true depths of reality, even of our own reality.”

Abraham has always been an example of enduring faith to emulate. In Genesis 22, God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham tied up Isaac, placing him on the alter.  Just as Abraham raised the knife to slay his son,  the angel of God stopped Abraham at the last minute, saying “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Then Abraham saw a ram caught in some nearby bushes and sacrificed the ram instead of Isaac.

Why in the world would God ask Abraham to do something so repugnant?  God gave Abraham this bizarre order to test his faith, and to allow Abraham to prove how much he trusted God.  Abraham’s faith in God was SO strong, that he was blindly going to kill his own son!  Abraham’s unswerving, steadfast faith is referred to over and over in the New Testament, to highlight the kind of unshakable faith we should strive to attain.

1st Peter 1:7 “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

Is your faith being “tested by fire”?  Are you experiencing the anguish of a loved one losing the battle with an addiction?  Perhaps you have been betrayed by a spouse who has been cheating on you; maybe your spouse lost his job and has about given up hope of finding another.  Your teens may be causing you pain by being rebellious, sarcastic and argumentative.  A loved one may be suffering intensely from cancer, slowly dying day by day.  You may have suffered from the unspeakable grief of losing a child…Or life may be simply be a daily, boring grind.

At these times we may feel abandoned, forsaken and all alone.  We may want to turn our back on God and “throw in the towel”.  When we are discouraged and despairing, it’s hard to remember that God is “testing” our faith, giving us an opportunity to flex and strengthen our spiritual muscles.  Hard to believe, but our trials actually build our character and increase our virtues, as James tells us “Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience.” James 1:3

Oh to have the faith of the centurian in Luke 7!  The centurian’s servant was dying, so he sent for Jesus to come heal him.  But before Jesus could get to the house, the centurian sent friends to tell him it wasn’t necessary to come the entire way.  All Jesus had to do was say the word, and the centurian simply KNEW his servant would be healed.  “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”  Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.”

When you find yourself in the “fire”, keep scripture verses with God’s promises close by.  Pray daily and remind yourself of Isaiah 40,

“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.

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One of my favorite sayings from Mother Teresa is “do small things with great love”.  Mother Teresa was a big reason I decided to join the Catholic Church, and even though she was still alive at the time back in 1987, I chose her to be my patron saint.  Then I read about St. Therese, the Little Flower, and decided to adopt her as well; especially since Mother Teresa based her spirituality on St. Therese’s “Little Way” of love.  Since St. Therese’s feast day was last week, it seems appropriate to reflect on love.

While meditating, St. Therese received this revelation “I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more.”    In a heartbeat, Therese knew the most important thing in the world is loving each other at every moment of the day, whether we are scrubbing toilets, or feeding the poor.  As she tells us “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

I tend to brood when someone is nasty or rude to me, or if someone hurts my feelings.  My resentment simmers as I keep dwelling on my mistreatment.  Since I loyally uphold the teachings of the Catholic church, I have been called some pretty ugly names.  So it can take work for me to ‘love’ my neighbor.  I went to a day retreat several months ago given by Maryann Henchy, who spoke about “reverencing” other people.  She quoted Fr. Gaitley in his book “Consoling the Heart of Jesus”.  When someone irritates you no end, try to find some virtue or something truly good in the other person; similar to “diving in the ocean for sunken treasure”.  The deep-sea diver has to “swim through murky water and go all the way to the bottom of the sea to find it”.  The murky water represents the hardness of heart that you have to “dive through” to find the buried treasure.

When someone is extremely annoying; whether pompous or arrogant, controlling or judgmental, or just downright mean, remember 1st Corinthians 13:4 “Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  And then look for the gem hiding in their heart.  Surely you can find some kindness, wisdom or other virtue behind the thorns.

In any relationship, it is so easy to zero in on someones’ faults, which are glaringly evident!  Especially in marriage; our spouses can easily be extremely irritating.  I have been married for 37 years, and the most important lesson I have learned is that love is a choice.  Once the fairy tale infatuation fades, you’re left with the sometimes gritty nuts and bolts of a spouse who may be messy, leaving their shoes in the middle of the room for you to trip over, or rolling their toothpaste tube the wrong way (get separate tubes!).  In choosing to love, it’s practical to make a list of the wonderful qualities in your spouse, and focus on them.  It is essential if you want to quit dwelling on their faults.

The key is to give yourself an attitude adjustment; if you’re going to pick up those shoes day after day, get rid of the negative attitude.  Resentment can simmer and lead to anger and rage. “I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors’ defects–not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues.” St. Therese

But at some point in your life you may come across someone terribly repulsive, who has committed terrible sin, and you find them impossible to love.  Then you have to ask God to fill you with HIS love, and let it overflow, because you simply can’t love on your own strength.

In Luke 10 we’re given the “greatest commandment”; to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  So how do you love your neighbor as yourself?  Through selflessness (as opposed to selfishness) and sacrifice; true love is putting the needs of the other person first.  Most marriages fail because many are self-centered, bent on satisfying every whim and desire.

I grew up with four brothers and sisters, and my husband grew up with five brothers and sisters.  So we were already used to sharing and sacrifice.  But now young people grow up with every gadget imaginable; from computers to I-phones, to Ipods.  Sacrifice is a nasty word; couples delay marriage and children because they want the good life.  They expect expensive cars, luxurious homes and exotic vacations.  Many young people 2012 Porsche 911 Cabriolet and Cabriolet Smeet the opposite sex and think ‘how much sex can I get’, or ‘will this person make me secure’.  We aren’t loving others when we develop a friendship with the intent to further a career, or achieve some other goal.

As the popular saying goes “love people, use objects”.  Even psychology teaches the benefits of loving others; love keeps you healthy both mentally, physically, socially and spiritually as well as well as reducing stress.  Plus, when you are holding on to your anger or irritation, you’re hanging on to sin, and blocking the power of the Holy Spirit.  The more you strive to love, the more you will be filled with peace and joy.

Love benefits others as well, healing them and drawing them closer to Christ.  1st John 4:18  “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  The love we share with others can drive out anger, shame, grief and hurt feelings.

Good advice from Ephesians 4:1 “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

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You Reap What You Sow

I’m always hearing complaints from people who are truly upset about the desperate shape of our economy, the burgeoning number of people who have cancer or who have died, rampant violence and abuse, the staggering amount of children who die every day from starvation, and the lack of faith and acceptance of sin inPoverty-12 our culture.  So many blame God for the tragic condition of our world.

But should we blame God for all our problems? Pollution is pervasive; our food supply is tainted with growth hormones, genetically modified foods, transfats, pesticides, antibiotics, corn fructose syrup and tons of preservatives and additives, yet somehow we think the huge increases in cancer are all God’s fault.  We forget that God gave us the incredible gift of “free will”, so we wouldn’t be robots;  we can choose to love God, or choose to turn away from him.  With so much evil in the world, personally I don’t think we deserve free will!

One of my favorite lines from the movie Ghostbusters is when Gozer tells the ghostbusters to “choose” the form of their destructor, and Ray chooses the “Stay Puft Marshmallow Man”. God has given us the freedom to make our own decisions, as He tells us in Deuteronomy 3o:

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away…See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…. (Deut. 30:11–19)”

Immoral lifestyles are prevalent in our culture; casual sex is common and homosexual behavior is at an all time high, yet no one  seems to understands why AIDS, HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases are up a whopping 196%.  The USA is spending an incredible 1.87 trillion to assist the poor and elderly on programs such as CHIP, EIC, TANF, SNAP, medicaid, social security, unemployment, free housing, child tax credit and a zillion other programs, yet poverty stubbornly stays at 15% of the population.  Casual sex has lead to a huge increase in unwed moms, who are the largest group in poverty, yet no one makes the connection between the breakup of the family, and poverty.  Children from single moms suffer more from poverty, crime, addictions and abuse; 90% of people in jail came from single parent homes, yet there is a disconnect between our promiscuous culture and the prevailing problems in society.

God’s words “you reap what you sow”  make sense.  If you are in a bad mood and rant and rage at everyone around you, what is their reaction?  Does your anger have a ripple effect on others?  What if you make it a habit to be courteous and kind; do you find people are more courteous in return?”  As we were taught in science class “every action has a reaction.”  “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”  Gal. 6:7-8

There are over a million abortions annually, is it any wonder we have so many acts of violence today?  Rapes, abuse, murder?  “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use violence to get what they want. That is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion“.  Mother Teresa

To have a successful marriage, couples work hard to increase communication and deepen intimacy.  If they don’t devote time and energy to their relationship, too often the marriage falters, and the couple divorces.  Similarly, if you give little attention to your faith, never read about the teachings of your religion, spend little time in prayer, soon your relationship with God starts to weaken.  St. Francis’ prayer tells us “it is in giving, that you receive”.  Again in Luke 6:38  “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Our culture has become secular and materialistic; instead of making God a priority in our life, many pursue wealth or pleasure.  We turn away from God, and then wonder why he removes his blessing.  Unemployment is high, and economic growth is sluggish, yet no one considers their lack of faith to be a problem.  God warns us in Jeremiah 18 of the consequences of abandoning our faith. “Sometimes, I promise to build up and plant a nation or a kingdom.  But if that nation does what is evil in my eyes, refusing to obey my voice, I repent of the good with which I promised to bless it.”  Yet Americans still continue to be surprised that conditions are worsening.

What is the answer to the “Culture of Death” discussed by Pope John Paul II; a culture which doesn’t value human life, either in the womb or otherwise?  It’s simple, but not easy.  Pray unceasingly and share your faith; ask God to be an instrument to touch as many people as possible…

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