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Archive for the ‘prayer’ Category

It’s that time of year again – tomorrow’s Gospel reading.

Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted. 

I wrote this column years ago – maybe twenty or more – and it’s on my actual website, but the formatting is wonky, and I don’t feel like reviving my html skills right now to fix it. So I’ll just toss it here. Remember – at least twenty years ago, and also it was a column for newspaper – so I was limited to 700-800 words. So not quite enough room to explore the subtleties of Scriptural interpretation. And I believe this interpretation precedes Barclay and may even go back to Enlightenment-era thinking. So it’s by no means comprehensive or in-depth. It’s just a column, so calm down. I added a bit from a 2008 post I wrote riffing off it, as well.

Also – this used to be a very common way of preaching on this Gospel narrative. I don’t think it’s heard so frequently any more, but in case you do….


An acquaintance of mine recently wrote to share an unpleasant Mass-going experience.

The priest in his small hometown parish was preaching on the Gospel, this week, the account of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes from Matthew. His interpretation of the event was not exactly comforting to this acquaintance, for the priest suggested that perhaps what really happened had nothing to do with miracles as we know them. Perhaps Jesus so moved his listeners that they took out the food they had hidden in their cloaks and shared it with those around them.

The miracle, therefore, is not any magical multiplication, but the miracle of the previously selfish being moved to generosity.

Who knows how the rest of the congregation received this interesting news, but one of them (my correspondent) couldn’t just walk away without questioning the priest. After Mass, he asked him to clarify. The priest explained that no, he wasn’t denying the miracle, but that the miracle was yes the generosity of the people. He said he didn’t have time to go into it further.

The teller of this tale was justifiably appalled by what he’d heard. But, as I wrote back, as disappointing as it was, I couldn’t be surprised.

For I’d heard it myself, a couple of times from different pulpits. I suspected it was a fairly common interpretation, so I checked around and found that I was right.

Numerous folks who contacted me about this said that they’d heard it too in both Catholic and Protestant churches in exactly the same words. I couldn’t help but wonder where all of these preachers were picking this up, and it didn’t take me long to find out.

It’s in one of the most venerable Scripture commentaries out there – those written by Scottish scholar William Barclay in the 1950’s. Most people who’ve studied religion at the college level have been exposed to Barclay, and many own sets of his commentaries. He’s generally very middle-of-the road and moderate in his views. But in his commentary on this story, he offers an interpretation, which he doesn’t says is his own, but is held ‘by “some.”

Picture the scene. There is the crowd; it is late; and they are hungry. But was it really likely that the vast majority of that crowd would set out around the lake without any food at all? Would they not take something with them, however little? Now it was evening and they were hungry. But they were also selfish. And no one would produce what he had, lest he have to share it and leave himself without enough. Then Jesus took the lead. Such as he and his disciples had, he began to share with a blessing and an invitation and a smile. And thereupon all began to share, and before they knew what was happening, there was enough and more than enough for all. If this is what happened, it was not the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes; it was the miracle of the changing of selfish people into generous people at the touch of Christ.

So there you have it, neatly packaged for the lazy preacher who will use it to sound clever, no matter how many problems the explanation holds:

If everyone brought some food, who, exactly, was left to be hungry?

This interpretation also implies that these first-century Jews were naturally averse to sharing, which is not only offensive, but historically and culturally inaccurate. It may be a miracle for 21st century Americans to share, but sharing and hospitality were sacred obligations for Jesus’ listeners.

Yes, there are layers of meaning to this event. It is of little use as a bare fact as it is as a fabrication. Miracles are offered as complex signs of God’s presence and activity among us, working through and even with us at times, open to rich interpretation in infinite application. Generosity and plenty of course is at the core of the narrative, but it’s God’s generosity which will reach its summit in the Eucharist.

The Barclayian interpretation is illogical,  and frankly – not surprising given the era and the emphasis of Biblical studies of the late 19th and early 20th century, which, for example, saw the most “authentic” elements of the Jesus story as those that were the least Jewish  – tinged with more than a bit of anti-Semitism. Think about stereotypes. Once I did – I couldn’t not see that in Barclay’s interpretation, perhaps unfairly.

So to presume that the Gospel writers couldn’t have meant what they wrote implies that they were either stupid or dishonest. The Scripture is a collection of diverse works, meant to be understood within the specific literary forms God used to communicate truth. But as the Gospel writers themselves make clear, they are not about anything but historical truth about an historical figure named Jesus. Anything less wouldn’t have been worth their time.

Or their lives.

Or ours, come to think of it, don’t you think?

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“This is a serious, violent incident that goes against ABA’s ends policies, values, and everything we believe and support. It is inexcusable”

Oh, my word, what happened? What did the American Booksellers’ Association do, for heaven’s sake?

Is everyone okay?

They included promotional material for this book in a mailing to independent bookstores.

Oh. Of course. Totally rational response on all sides.

Well, that pushed me over the edge. I’d been meaning to read this book since it was released, and of course, my local library wasn’t carrying it, and also unfortunately, the two local independent bookstores, of course, weren’t carrying it either, so it’s direct from the publisher for me.

Anyway, after taking in Trans over the weekend, I read Irreversible Damage yesterday, and here are my thoughts.

First, if you or anyone you know is beginning to confront these issues personally or in an institution in which they are involved, Trans and Irreversible Damage are good books to share as an introduction. I know there are others out there that I’ve not yet read, but these benefit from being more up-to-date than books even published just two years ago. This Trans Train moves quickly.

First of all, know that Shrier’s focus, as the title makes clear, is on girls and young women. She addresses general issues within transactivism, but it’s within the context of the social contagion of girls and young women seeking to renounce their female identity, embracing non-binary or male identity instead. So that means, for example, that the impact of male-to-female “transitioners” on traditionally female-only spaces in schools and sports is not closely addressed – because that’s not the purpose of the book.

It’s really about – why has there been this explosion in girls and young women seeking to identify out of femaleness in recent years?

Between 2016 and 2017 the number of gender surgeries for natal females in the U.S. quadrupled, with biological women suddenly accounting for—as we have seen—70 percent of all gender surgeries.

In 2007, there was one gender clinic in the United States. Today, there are well over fifty; Planned Parenthood, Kaiser, and Mayo all disburse testosterone, too. Many do so on a first visit, on an ‘informed consent’ basis; no referral or therapy required. The age of medical consent varies by state. In Oregon, it is fifteen.

And let me make clear, in case you’re wondering. Most of those “gender surgeries” are double mastectomies of healthy breasts. Very, very few female-to-male transitioners, especially young women, have what’s euphemistically called “bottom surgery” – construction of an artificial phallus, usually harvested from deep grafts of skin and other tissue (because it has to be living tissue with blood vessels and such or else it would just hang there and, you know…rot…which sometimes happens anyway) from the upper arm or thigh. You can understand why, just from the description.

Shrier is comprehensive. She talks, of course, to the young women themselves and their families, as well as therapists, physicians, plastic surgeons, educators, online influencers (very important), and detransitioners.

Her approach is not as linear as I expected. So, for example, she doesn’t lay out the gender vs. sex issue right at the beginning, or what is entailed in “transition” or the logical nonsense that “transition” embodies  – she approaches it all sideways, via personal stories, which is certainly different than, say, Joyce’s approach, but powerful in its own way.

What was most helpful to me were Shrier’s exploration of the whole notion of social contagion, as well as her chapters on trans online influencers (a new world to me) and gender curricula in schools.

My only critiques are that there are few more generalizations than I think are warranted, and I think the impact of pornography merits much more attention in this issue – as in the impact of pornography on males and their expectations of female appearance, presentation and sexual availability.

But other than those quibbles, it’s an excellent introduction to this corner of the phenomenon.

Shrier’s book might just leave the reader asking a few more questions of their own – most importantly – how have we failed our girls so catastrophically? What kind of world have we built in which girls feel so anxious about their existence as females that they feel that the solution to their problems is to cut off their breasts and fill their bodies with testosterone?

As Sasha Ayad put it to me, ‘A common response I get from female clients is something along these lines: “I don’t know exactly that I want to be a guy. I just know I don’t want to be a girl.””

And the fact – the fact – that mainstream secular feminists don’t see this as a problem – a crisis, even. As I wrote here:

Not like other girls.

So many of us have felt this. In the present moment, it’s a feeling that’s deepened and exacerbated by a culture in which the value of the individual is tied to appearance, and for females, the value of that appearance is linked to implied sexual interest and availability, and all of it – every bit of it – is woven through with pornography.

Who wouldn’t want to check out of that culture and what it demands and expects of females, especially young females?

Who wouldn’t want to say – no, not me. I’m not like that. Not like other girls. Let me the heck out.

Which is really, in this context, a cry from a sea filled with the drowning.

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It’s a solemnity!

Here they are from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 

The first reading from Mass today, from Acts – a page from The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes from the section, “Heroes are known by their love.”

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And, conveniently, B16 of course did General Audience talks on Peter and Paul that were collected into books at the time. Here are some of the related study guide pages I wrote for those talks, out of print, but available as a PDF here. Feel free – seriously – to save, copy and print as you wish. Use for yourself, for a parish adult education program or even for older high school students.

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In 2011, Pope B16 had a General Audience series on prayer. I know, I know – my Irenaeus post made use of a B16 General Audience talk, too. Well, sorry. The man could teach.

So, today’s Gospel for Mass (not for the memorial, but for regular daily Mass) is from Genesis 18 – Abraham’s prayerful…negotiation with God about Sodom. Benedict used this narrative as a starting point for a meditation on prayer. Here’s most of the talk’ll save you the trouble and just post the whole thing here:

Speaking these words with great courage, Abraham confronts God with the need to avoid a perfunctory form of justice: if the city is guilty it is right to condemn its crime and to inflict punishment, but — the great Patriarch affirms — it would be unjust to punish all the inhabitants indiscriminately. If there are innocent people in the city, they must not be treated as the guilty. God, who is a just judge, cannot act in this way, Abraham says rightly to God.

However, if we read the text more attentively we realize that Abraham’s request is even more pressing and more profound because he does not stop at asking for salvation for the innocent. Abraham asks forgiveness for the whole city and does so by appealing to God’s justice; indeed, he says to the Lord: “Will you then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” (v. 24b).

In this way he brings a new idea of justice into play: not the one that is limited to punishing the guilty, as men do, but a different, divine justice that seeks goodness and creates it through forgiveness that transforms the sinner, converts and saves him. With his prayer, therefore, Abraham does not invoke a merely compensatory form of justice but rather an intervention of salvation which, taking into account the innocent, also frees the wicked from guilt by forgiving them.

Abraham’s thought, which seems almost paradoxical, could be summed up like this: obviously it is not possible to treat the innocent as guilty, this would be unjust; it would be necessary instead to treat the guilty as innocent, putting into practice a “superior” form of justice, offering them a possibility of salvation because, if evildoers accept God’s pardon and confess their sin, letting themselves be saved, they will no longer continue to do wicked deeds, they too will become righteous and will no longer deserve punishment.

It is this request for justice that Abraham expresses in his intercession, a request based on the certainty that the Lord is merciful. Abraham does not ask God for something contrary to his essence, he knocks at the door of God’s heart knowing what he truly desires.

Sodom, of course, is a large city, 50 upright people seem few, but are not the justice and forgiveness of God perhaps proof of the power of goodness, even if it seems smaller and weaker than evil? The destruction of Sodom must halt the evil present in the city, but Abraham knows that God has other ways and means to stem the spread of evil. It is forgiveness that interrupts the spiral of sin and Abraham, in his dialogue with God, appeals for exactly this. And when the Lord agrees to forgive the city if 50 upright people may be found in it, his prayer of intercession begins to reach the abysses of divine mercy.

Abraham — as we remember — gradually decreases the number of innocent people necessary for salvation: if 50 would not be enough, 45 might suffice, and so on down to 10, continuing his entreaty, which became almost bold in its insistence: “suppose 40… 30… 20… are found there” (cf. vv. 29, 30, 31, 32). The smaller the number becomes, the greater God’s mercy is shown to be. He patiently listens to the prayer, he hears it and repeats at each supplication: “I will spare… I will not destroy… I will not do it” (cf. vv. 26,28, 29, 30, 31, 32).

Thus, through Abraham’s intercession, Sodom can be saved if there are even only 10 innocent people in it. This is the power of prayer. For through intercession, the prayer to God for the salvation of others, the desire for salvation which God nourishes for sinful man is demonstrated and expressed. Evil, in fact, cannot be accepted, it must be identified and destroyed through punishment: The destruction of Sodom had exactly this function.

Yet the Lord does not want the wicked to die, but rather that they convert and live (cf. Ez 18:23; 33:11); his desire is always to forgive, to save, to give life, to transform evil into good. Well, it is this divine desire itself which becomes in prayer the desire of the human being and is expressed through the words of intercession.

With his entreaty, Abraham is lending his voice and also his heart, to the divine will. God’s desire is for mercy and love as well as his wish to save; and this desire of God found in Abraham and in his prayer the possibility of being revealed concretely in human history, in order to be present wherever there is a need for grace. By voicing this prayer, Abraham was giving a voice to what God wanted, which was not to destroy Sodom but to save it, to give life to the converted sinner.

This is what the Lord desires and his dialogue with Abraham is a prolonged and unequivocal demonstration of his merciful love. The need to find enough righteous people in the city decreases and in the end 10 were to be enough to save the entire population.

The reason why Abraham stops at 10 is not given in the text. Perhaps it is a figure that indicates a minimum community nucleus (still today, 10 people are the necessary quorum for public Jewish prayer). However, this is a small number, a tiny particle of goodness with which to start in order to save the rest from a great evil.

However, not even 10 just people were to be found in Sodom and Gomorrah so the cities were destroyed; a destruction paradoxically deemed necessary by the prayer of Abraham’s intercession itself. Because that very prayer revealed the saving will of God: the Lord was prepared to forgive, he wanted to forgive but the cities were locked into a totalizing and paralyzing evil, without even a few innocents from whom to start in order to turn evil into good.

This the very path to salvation that Abraham too was asking for: being saved does not mean merely escaping punishment but being delivered from the evil that dwells within us. It is not punishment that must be eliminated but sin, the rejection of God and of love which already bears the punishment in itself.

The Prophet Jeremiah was to say to the rebellious people: “Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God” (Jer 2:19).

It is from this sorrow and bitterness that the Lord wishes to save man, liberating him from sin. Therefore, however, a transformation from within is necessary, some foothold of of goodness, a beginning from which to start out in order to change evil into good, hatred into love, revenge into forgiveness.

For this reason there must be righteous people in the city and Abraham continuously repeats: “suppose there are…”. “There”: it is within the sick reality that there must be that seed of goodness which can heal and restore life. It is a word that is also addressed to us: so that in our cities the seed of goodness may be found; that we may do our utmost to ensure that there are not only 10 upright people, to make our cities truly live and survive and to save ourselves from the inner bitterness which is the absence of God. And in the unhealthy situation of Sodom and Gomorrah that seed of goodness was not to be found.

Yet God’s mercy in the history of his people extends further. If in order to save Sodom 10 righteous people were necessary, the Prophet Jeremiah was to say, on behalf of the Almighty, that only one upright person was necessary to save Jerusalem: “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth; that I may pardon her” (5:1).

The number dwindled further, God’s goodness proved even greater. Nonetheless this did not yet suffice, the superabundant mercy of God did not find the response of goodness that he sought, and under the  siege of the enemy Jerusalem fell.

It was to be necessary for God himself to become that one righteous person. And this is the mystery of the Incarnation: to guarantee a just person he himself becomes man. There will always be one righteous person because it is he. However, God himself must become that just man. The infinite and surprising divine love was to be fully manifest when the Son of God was to become man, the definitive Righteous One, the perfect Innocent who would bring salvation to the whole world by dying on the Cross, forgiving and interceding for those who “know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Therefore the prayer of each one will find its answer, therefore our every intercession will be fully heard.

Dear brothers and sisters, the prayer of intercession of Abraham, our father in the faith, teaches us to open our hearts ever wider to God’s superabundant mercy so that in daily prayer we may know how to desire the salvation of humanity and ask for it with perseverance and with trust in the Lord who is great in love. Many thanks.

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First off, new book this week – the Great Adventure Kids Catholic Bible Chronicle. More on it here.

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Today? A funeral. No, not for anyone I know – Musician Son is playing organ at a funeral in a parish across town. Blessed Sacrament, which is, in my mind, the most beautiful church in this diocese. It’s the home of the main Latin Mass community.

(Forgive the Instagram captions – from Thursday’s practice.)

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Here’s a page with the parish’s history. Construction was finished in 1930, but the interior decor dates to the mid-1950’s.

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Last night we headed to our local independent film venue, Sidewalk Film, to see The Killing of Two Lovers produced by and starring Clayne Crawford, who was a featured role in one of the best television series of the decade, Rectify. He also had an ill-fated stint on the television reboot of Lethal Weapon, co-starring Daman Wayans from which he was, er, fired.

Crawford is from Alabama – Clay, which is east of here. And he was there at the screening and did a Q & A afterwards – which is why I wanted to go and take, especially, one of the two still living here, who has a strong interest in film and filmmaking. And it was worth it – this was an extremely low-budget production (30K) filmed over 12 days in a tiny town in Utah – and most valuable was Crawford’s exploration of the limits – but also the benefits – of working on a shoestring.

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I’m going to have some Catholic-related Juneteenth content coming up later today, I hope. But until then, here’s a link from 2019 featuring interviews conducted by the Federal Writer’s Project/ WPA in the 1930’s, with formerly enslaved people – the article ran in the Montgomery paper on Jefferson Davis’ birthday that year, a day which, absurdly, is still celebrated as a state holiday in Alabama.

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Here’s more about the project from the Atlantic.

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Okay, let’s end with this. As much hate as I direct towards social media, yeah, yeah, I know good can come of it. Lots of good. Of course!

Here’s an example – a local (Birmingham area) young woman who fosters teens. Her TikTok is a treasure trove of advocacy and information – her philosophy about fostering teens, what she does, how she provides for them, why she fosters and lots of encouragement to others. Really worth checking out – the world is full of folks doing really good things for other humans. To the extent that social media can share their good news – okay, okay, it can be a good thing. I guess.

For more Quick Takes, Visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

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A bit of blogging this week. Perhaps of the most interest will be this post on the movie The Sound of Metal.

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Pentecost is coming, of course.

Pages above are (left) from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols  and (right) from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.  Click on images for larger versions. Remember that for the Signs and Symbols entry, there’s another page –  a full page of more detailed text.

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Pentecost is one of the events in The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

(The book is structured around the virtues. Each section begins with an event from Scripture that illustrates one of those virtues, followed by stories of people and events from church history that do so as well)

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This hasn’t been published in a book – yet – but it’s a painting byAnn Engelhart, illustrator of several books, including four with my writing attached – all listed here. It’s a painting of the tradition of dropping rose petals through the oculus in the Pantheon in Rome.

pentecost

(Our Cathedral here in Birmingham has also done this regularly over the past few years – it’s happening this coming Saturday for the Vigil of Pentecost, which will be livestreamed here.

For more on the Cathedral’s livestreaming, go here.

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By the way, please follow Ann on Instagram. She features her beautiful art and regularly posts live painting sessions on Instagram Stories. 

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Hopefully this weekend,  you’ll be hearing/singing/praying Veni Creator Spiritus.  I have a chapter on it in The Words We Pray. A sample:

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Speaking of art, from Daniel Mitsui:

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Daniel has designs available as wallpaper and fabric here. Gorgeous.

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And finally, here’s an excerpt from a lecture he delivered earlier this year. Food for thought for artists of all kinds – and any of us, really.

So how does an artist who wants to make religious art, who wants to make it both beautiful and traditional, to glorify God and edify men through it, answer the challenge of doing that in a changing world?

He should choose his influences – both visual and intellectual – out of love. He should love them for what they are, rather than for what they are not.

No matter how devoted he is to a certain kind of art or school of thought, he should remember that it is incomplete and imperfect. He can and should try to make it better. This is an altogether traditional thing to do.

He should be open to whatever medium, whatever materials, whatever methods work best to express his artistry. A willingness to be bold, technically, is another altogether traditional thing to do.

He should not consider religious art to be a political tool, or encourage its use as such.

He should look to every kind of art – whether it comes from within the Church or without it – asking the questions: what works? and what can this teach me to make my art better? God is the author of all beauty; as Augustine says, the mines of his providence are everywhere scattered abroad.

He should ask the same question even of art that he considers generally bad: What works? What can this teach me? The answer may be: very little. But if it is anything at all, he should accept the lesson.

More.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Today’s the feat of Our Lady of Fatima. Here’s a Fatima book illustrated by my friend and frequent collaborator Ann Kissane Engelhart:

Our Lady's Message cover

Written by Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle and published by Sophia.

You an see about a fifth of the book, including illustrations, here. And here are a couple more, sent to me by Ann.

Blurbs for the book have specifically mentioned the illustrations as worthy of note. So if this appears on your radar, remember that the very talented artist has other books:

"amy welborn"

And a fantastic Instagram page to follow!

And since we talk about the Rosary on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima – here are the relevant pages from the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols:

Remember the format: Left-side page has an illustration and a simple explanation for younger children. Right-side page has a more in-depth explanation for older students. This entry is in the section entitled, “At Home.”

And yeah, you know, it is, Ascension Thursday as well. From the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

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I’m going to share with you excerpts from my books related to the Mass readings from today.

The first reading, from Acts – a page from The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes from the section, “Heroes are known by their love.”

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The Gospel is the narrative of the Road to Emmaus. From The Loyola Kids Book of Bible StoriesRemember, the stories are organized according to when we generally hear them in the context of the liturgy:

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Some Annunciation-related material from my books:

The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

EPSON MFP image

The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

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And…here’s the chapter from Mary and the Christian Life on the Annunciation. (pdf)

The entire book is available for free here until midnight tonight. 

There’s also, of course, a chapter on the Hail Mary in here.

Here’s the first page.

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The first and last page of my retelling of the narrative, the Gospel for this Fifth Sunday of Lent, in the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. 

Jesus had just demonstrated that he had more power than anything, even death. No person has that kind of power. Only God does. Only God can conquer death, and in Bethany that day, Jesus revealed that power.
Death has no power over Jesus, and when we are friends with him, death and sin have no power over us, either. Jesus’ power over evil and darkness doesn’t begin at our tombs, though. When we sin, even a little bit, we choose death over life. Refusing to love or give or show kindness to others gives darkness a bit more power in our lives.

We were not made for this. We were made for light and love!

We can think of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the moment when we, like Lazarus, are brought back to life by Jesus. Jesus stands outside the little tombs we live in—the tombs made out of selfishness, anger, sadness, and pain. He knows we are not lost forever, even if it seems like that to us. The worst sins and bad habits? Jesus has power over them. Jesus doesn’t want us to live in darkness. He wants us in the light with him, unbound—free and full of joy.

The book is structured around the liturgical year. In planning it, I asked myself, “When do most Catholic children and families encounter Scripture?” The answer is – in a liturgical context. This context is, in addition, expressive of the more general context in which all Catholics – and most Christians since apostolic times – have encountered, learned about, understood and embraced Scripture – in the context of liturgy, which is, in the most general terms, the context of the Church.

So the stories in the book are organized according to the liturgical season in which they would generally be heard, and the stories are retold with that liturgical context in view, as well as any specific and age-appropriate theological and spiritual themes – so, for example, here, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

For more about the book from the Loyola Press site.

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There’s a substantial excerpt here. 

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