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Here’s what it looks like, practically, here:

  • We have shelter-in-place in the city. Not statewide, but here in the city. Parks, including state parks are open (most playground equipment unavailable, but that doesn’t impact us anymore), beaches are closed.
  • The weather has finally turned, rain has let up, so that means…

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This is Ruffner Mountain, about ten minutes from our house. Earlier in the week, we’d hit the Vulcan Trail,and then Oak Mountain.

About forty-five minutes before this photo was taken, I was sitting at my computer when an column from the local paper appeared on my feed – about beavers doing their busy beaver thing at Ruffner. Youngest wandered into the room, I mentioned it to him, he said, “Let’s go,” so off we went.

(Older Son had a work shift approaching, so he had to get ready for that.)

It was a part of the preserve we’d never been to before, in all our many previous visits. I knew there were “wetlands” there, but I’d never really understood where the entrance was to most easily access them. Not, it turned out, as complicated as I thought.

We didn’t see any actual beavers, but we did see evidence of their existence.

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We will probably try to return either early in the morning or nearer dusk to see if we can actually see them about.

We did see a lot of these, quite large:

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There were so many – we’ll return in a few weeks to see how many of the full-grown versions have survived.

As is the case with every mountain around here, back in the day, it was a mining site.

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So, let’s do the rundown.

  • Older Son got his old grocery store job back, but in a different, closer store.
  • He continues his online classes. A few recorded lectures, one Zoom class, various assignments. I suppose it’s going well. He’s not a fan.
  • We are continuing our usual routine for high school schooling: Literature is the Odyssey for the next couple of weeks, probably. Latin II has begun. Waiting for results of the National Latin Exam. Finishing up Geometry, hopefully starting Algebra II with a tutor in a month or so – the tutor being his Algebra I teacher from 8th grade brick-n-mortar Catholic school. I’m really looking forward to that. Perhaps my days of “teaching” math are almost over. Biology class is over. Spanish continues as self-study, as does history.
  • Music is in an odd place. We had stopped the jazz piano lessons right before the lockdown anyway. Regular piano teacher is back home from graduate school up north, so hopefully we can get those lessons going in-person at some point. The main focus of that has been preparing three pieces (Prokofiev, Brahms, Haydn) as well as theory for an online competition, which, the teacher tells me, might have the deadlines moved – which would be fantastic. I think he could manage with the present deadline, but an extra month would be fantastic.
  • Organ – well, no church work until Divine Mercy Sunday, at the earliest. We lost one of our practice spaces to shelter-in-place concerns, so will have to travel an extra, what – five minutes, to the other. Because of the craziness and uncertainty, organ lessons haven’t happened, but hopefully, we’ll get them going again this week. I mean – everyone certainly has more time at this point….
  • We are working on duets. We’ve just about got Gershwin’s easiest prelude – #2 – down. (I hasten to say that any issues and delays are on my part, certainly not his…). I bought a copy of this – Dvorak, Slavonic Dance, Op. 72, No. 2 – and we’re going to work on it. I WILL GET THIS.
  • Museums may be closed, concerts may not be happening, but outdoors is still open – we don’t live in near-fascist England yet, at least. He rides his bike, we walk, we explore the outdoors, even from our own front porch – last night, two huge owls flew right over our head in the early evening. The bats have started re-appearing, and NextDoor tells me that hummingbirds have been sighted, which I find hard to believe, but I put the feeder out anyway, in hope.
  • Reading? Older Kid runs through Lee Child, Michael Crichton and Rex Stout. Younger one is reading this series – about dragons and the Napoleonic wars? Really? I’m determined to read The Way We Live Now by Trollope this week, as well as de Caussade, slowly.
  • Cooking more, yes, with that other person at home now. However, with warmer weather, my interest in cooking decreases – I’m very much a soup and stew kind of person. Plus, both of them gave up sweets for Lent, so no cookie or cake baking for a couple more weeks. I did make homemade pizza for last Friday (my crust recipe is here) and macaroni and cheese last night (just white sauce with cheese, topped with breadcrumbs/cheese/butter – have never done boxed mac & cheese in my life).
  • Doing a little bit of supporting local restaurants. The owner ofthis place said business was holding up all right these days, and for that – we can offer up prayers of thanks!

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Passiontide

In the days before the Second Vatican Council’s liturgical forms, Lent had a different shape. I write ad nauseum every year about Septuagisima and the other pre-Lent Sundays, but there is another major difference as well: Passiontide.

In the pre-Vatican II calendar – still used, of course, by those who celebrate the TLM and the Ordinariate, many Anglicans and even Lutherans, this fifth Sunday of Lent is called Passion Sunday and begins the two weeks of Passiontide. 

The image is from the website of a Lutheran church in Spokane. 

One pious tradition that reinforces this theme is that the crosses in the sanctuary are veiled after John 8 is read. It reinforces the “hiddenness” of God. “Truly, you are a God who hides himself,” the prophet Isaiah says of the Lord (Isaiah 45.15). Deus absconditus, Luther called Him—“the hidden God.” This is the over-arching theme of Passiontide: that God has disguised himself in weakness and shame.  As in Lent the Gloria has given us the slip, so in Passiontide the Lord will cloak His glory in suffering. He absconds into the dark chasm of the Cross.

Very Lutheran.

But of course…..

…the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council and their advisors…knew better. 

So.

More on Passiontide and veiling from the New Liturgical Movement. 

The Gospel on Passion Sunday is John 8:46-59.

I really like Fr. Z’s discussion:

We lose things during Lent.  We are being pruned through the liturgy. Holy Church experiences liturgical death before the feast of the Resurrection.   The Alleluia goes on Septuagesima.  Music and flowers go on Ash Wednesday.   Today, statues and images are draped in purple.  That is why today is sometimes called Repus Sunday, from repositus analogous to absconditus or “hidden”, because this is the day when Crosses and other images in churches are veiled.  The universal Church’s Ordo published by the Holy See has an indication that images can be veiled from this Sunday, the 5th of Lent.  Traditionally Crosses may be covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and images, such as statues may be covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.  At my home parish of St. Agnes in St. Paul, MN, the large statue of the Pietà is appropriately unveiled at the Good Friday service.

Also, as part of the pruning, as of today in the older form of Mass, the “Iudica” psalm in prayers at the foot of the altar and the Gloria Patri at the end of certain prayers was no longer said.  
  
The pruning cuts more deeply as we march into the Triduum. After the Mass on Holy Thursday the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the main altar, which itself is stripped and bells are replaced with wooden noise makers.  On Good Friday there isn’t even a Mass.  At the beginning of the Vigil we are deprived of light itself!  It is as if the Church herself were completely dead with the Lord in His tomb.  This liturgical death of the Church reveals how Christ emptied Himself of His glory in order to save us from our sins and to teach us who we are.

The Church then gloriously springs to life again at the Vigil of Easter.  In ancient times, the Vigil was celebrated in the depth of night.  In the darkness a single spark would be struck from flint and spread into the flames.  The flames spread through the whole Church.    

When in doubt, we turn to our 1947 7th-grade religion textbook. Here you go:

 

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The remembrance of the Seven Sorrows occurred on the Friday after the Passion Sunday.

More, from the New Liturgical Movement:

The Passiontide feast emerged in German-speaking lands in the early 15th-century, partly as a response to the iconoclasm of the Hussites, and partly out of the universal popular devotion to every aspect of Christ’s Passion, including the presence of His Mother, and thence to Her grief over the Passion. It was known by several different titles, and kept on a wide variety of dates; Cologne, where it was first instituted, had it on the 3rd Friday after Easter until the end of the 18th century. Before the name “Seven Sorrows” became common, it was most often called “the feast of the Virgin’s Compassion”, which is to say, of Her suffering together with Christ as She beheld the Passion. This title was retained by the Dominicans well into the 20th century; they also had an Office for it which was quite different from the Roman one, although the Mass was the same. …

….In the wake of the Protestant reformation, the feast continued to grow in popularity, spreading though southern Europe, and most often fixed to the Friday of Passion week. It was extended to the universal Church on that day by Pope Benedict XIII with the title “the feast of the Seven Sorrows”, although none of the various enumerations of the Virgin’s sorrows is referred to it anywhere in the liturgy itself.

 

Lazarus, Come Out!

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. 

 

 

Living in the Now

Perhaps it is good time to revisit de Caussade:

From Abandonment to Divine Providence or, in its more modern titling, The Sacrament of the Present Moment:

All creatures are living in the hand of God; the senses perceive only the action of the creature, but faith sees the divine action in all things. Faith realizes that Jesus Christ lives in all things and works through all ages; that the least moment and the smallest atom contain a portion of this hidden life, this mysterious action. The instrumentality ADPP_rof creatures is a veil which covers the profound mysteries of the divine action. The apparition of Jesus to His Apostles after His resurrection surprised them: He presented Himself to them under forms which disguised Him, and as soon as He manifested Himself He disappeared. This same Jesus, who is ever living and laboring for us, still surprises souls whose faith is not sufficiently lively to discern Him.

There is no moment when God is not present with us under the appearance of some obligation or some duty. All that is effected within us, about us, and through us involves and hides His divine action: it is veritably present, though in an invisible manner; therefore we do not discern it, and only recognize its workings when it has ceased to act. Could we pierce the veil which obscures it, and were we vigilant and attentive, God would unceasingly reveal Himself to us, and we would recognize His action in all that befell us. At every event we would exclaim, Dominus est!—It is the Lord! and we should feel each circumstance of our life an especial gift from Him. 

It’s not what you envisioned or planned, not in the least what you hoped for. It might be uncomfortable and even devastating and frightening.

But, underneath our ordinary lives, this is what always lurks, no matter how skillfully we try to hide or avoid it: Tenuousness, limits and uncertainty.

This is why Jesus said what he did about the rich man and the eye of the needle and the other man who built his house upon sand and then that other man who stored all his wealth in the barn. All of that -our worldly comfort and health – tricks us into thinking we are in control. Cushioned by this delusion we get comfortable or worse – we try to exert that control over the world and others in destructive ways.

Loss of any kind reminds the comfortable of the truth: the facts of life on earth that most of humanity beyond our privileged bubble, past and present, living on the edge, has always understood.

****

With the news last night that public Masses have been suspended in our diocese now until at least Divine Mercy Sunday, that new reality hit home in a particular way. I had not thought that we were on track for restoration on Palm Sunday, but had some hopes for Easter.

At least our churches are open. Not everyone has that.

I had been operating under the assumption, I realized, that at some point soon, Life and its structure would take back over and I could lean back and let the schedule do the work – even the liturgical schedule.

But that’s not happening. It’s up to us.

Oh, so many resources to help. Demanding my attention, assuring me of their concern, building their brands. No lack of resources, no lack of help.

But I think it begins in a different place, this reconfiguring, this adjustment. It begins where de Caussade directs my attention. It begins in whatever place I’m in now, in this room, rustling awakening sounds coming from the next room, birds chirping outside, traffic in the distance, a breeze whispering through budding leaves, and it begins with listening.

7 Quick Takes

—1 —

Yes, we have “shelter in place” here in the Birmingham city limits, the governor announced yesterday that all public schools would finish the school year with online and distance learning, so…much like the rest of you, here we are.

Here:

 

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— 2 —

So, sure, museums, many businesses, theaters and concert venues are shut down, but the outdoors is open. I’m going to guess, judging from what I saw yesterday at Oak Mountain State Park, the Alabama State Park system just might have a banner spring. The parking lot for this particular trail was more full than I’ve ever seen it. The lake beach and marina were closed, of course, but that didn’t stop folks from bringing their own kayaks and paddle boards and setting up picnics on the lakeshore. It’s a popular mountain bike spot, so there was loads of that, and the golf course parking lot was full.

For the sake of accuracy, I should mention that this week would be the original, pre-virus spring break for most schools around here, so I imagine that a lot of families had this earmarked as a vacation week anyway.

 

— 3 —

The day before we headed to a local spot, the Vulcan Park and trail – the landmark symbol of Birmingham, that you might have seen if you’ve ever sped by on I-65. Here’s the history of the statue.There’s a great trail that runs along Red Mountain, good for walking/running, and, as seen here, bikes.

— 4 —

We’ll stick closer to home over the next couple of days. Waiting for word on Palm Sunday liturgies and beyond – at this point, our diocese has suspended public Masses only through this coming Sunday. Depending on what happens, there will either be a scurry to practice some organ music or….more time to focus on Prokofiev, Haydn and Brahms.

College kid got his old grocery store job back, but at a store closer to home, thank goodness. He’ll start that this weekend, in between watching lectures online and writing things.

— 5 –

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I did make this amazing score on Wednesday. We weren’t out, but given the complete absence of paper goods from most store shelves, I thought it advisable not to get down to that last single roll, so I embarked on a hunt, fully anticipating I’d have to go to half a dozen stores and end up paying five bucks for one roll at the convenience store down the street. But no! At Target!

— 6 —

When I got home, out of curiosity, I did a search on Ebay for toilet paper, and sure enough – thousands of listings. But, were people buying? And what were they paying? That’s the more interesting and telling metric. Sure, you can list a single roll of toilet paper for .99 with $12.00 shipping costs, but will people pay it? Looks like it. 

— 7 —

In more uplifting news:

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Yesterday, in a community in northeast Alabama, the Catholic pastor processed with the Blessed Sacrament through a trailer park where many of the Hispanic parishioners live. Read about it and see more, quite moving photos, here. 

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

 

Born in 1925, if she were still alive, she’d be 95 today.  And given her mother’s longevity (Regina died at the age of 99 in 1995), if lupus hadn’t taken her, she might well still be alive, indeed.

She’s a year younger than my own mother, which is weird. 

No, she wasn’t born in Milledgeville, pictured above and described here, but in Savannah. I’ve not been back to her birthplace in ages– I’ve attempted it twice in recent years, but always pass through on a day it’s closed. 

I’ve written quite a bit about Flannery over the years.  As far as I’m concerned she’s a saint and maybe even a doctor of the church, to really ramp up the hyperbole.  When I feel befuddled and know some clarity is in order, I head in one of two directions: Flannery and Ratzinger. Sometimes both.

Some posts and writings:

First, from Catholic World Report on her spiritual witness:

O’Connor’s work is important. Her life and spiritual witness is important as well.

For Flannery O’Connor, like all of us, had plans. Unlike many of us, perhaps, she also had a clear sense of her own gifts. As a very young woman, she set out to follow that path. She had fantastic opportunities at Iowa, made great connections and seemed to be on the road to success at a very young age. Wise Blood was accepted for publication when she was in her early 20s. She was in New York. She was starting to run in invigorating literary circles.

And then she got sick.

And she had to go back to her mother’s farm in Milledgeville, Georgia.

O’Connor’s story is a helpful and necessary corrective, it seems to me, of the current spiritual environment which privileges choice and health and seeks to baptize secular notions of success, achievement, and even beauty. What is missing from all of that is a cheerful acceptance of limitations and a faith that even within those limitations—only within those limitations—we are called to serve God.

It’s because of that part of Flannery O’Connor’s story—and not just the story of her genius and art—that Uncommon Grace would be an excellent choice to show, not only to interested adults, but also high school students. Many will be reading at least one O’Connor story as part of their curriculum, and Uncommon Grace is an excellent basic introduction to the themes in her work. But adolescents would also benefit from this brief encounter with Flannery O’Connor as a person much like themselves—young, hopeful for her future with gifts to share with the world—and from considering her faith-filled response when life, as it tends to do, doesn’t go as planned.

This one on the collection of her book reviews for the Atlanta Archdiocesan paper. 

Most of what O’Connor reviewed was non-fiction, and she did not like most of the fiction she did review – J.F. Powers, Paul Horgan and Julien Green being the unsurprising exceptions in the otherwise flowerly garden of pietistic fiction she endured.

The non-fiction choices are fascinating, although not a surprise to anyone familiar with the contents of O’Connor’s personal library and the scope of her reading we can discern from her letters. She was very concerned with the intellectual life of American Catholics and indeed saw what she was doing for the papers as in some way an act of charity in which readers might be encouraged to read beyond the pieties.

She was especially interested in Scripture, dismayed that Catholics did not read more of it, and quite interested in the Old Testament, especially the prophets. Again, perhaps not a surprise? She was, as is well-known, quite interested in Teilhard de Chardin, and reviewed a few books by Karl Barth, as well.

“The Enduring Chill” played a part in my last visit to my parents’ house after I’d sold it:

Secondly, the association of the breaking through of the Holy Ghost with coldness.  A chill. An enduring chill.  There are a number of ways to look at it,  since the “chill” is of course a reference to fever,  but  this morning I couldn’t stop thinking about Flannery’s continual argument against the modern expectation that “faith” is what brings us  contentment and satisfaction.  In the Gospel today,  Jesus says Peace be with You.  But that’s after the crucifixion, you know.

Also on Asbury’s mind- primary, really – was his mother.  How he blamed her for his own failure as a would-be artist, and how what he wanted to do most of all was make her see this.  To give her an enduring chill that would be the result of her awareness of what she had done to him.

He would hurt her, but that was just too bad.  It was what was necessary, he determined, to get her to see things as they really are. Irony, of course, comes to rest on him in the end as the Holy Ghost descends.

So I read and talked about this story about parents, children, disappointment, blame,  pride and being humbled.

Then I drove up to Knoxville, alone, thinking about Asbury, about that Holy Ghost, about peace be with you and doubt no longer.

I drove up to see my father’s house for the last time and sign the papers so someone new could live there now.

Tears?

Sadness that my father died six months ago, that my mother died eleven years ago, that my husband died three years ago. Sadness for my dad’s widow.  But then tempered, as I stood there and surveyed the surrounding houses and realized that almost every person who lived in those houses when we first moved in, is also dead.

Remembering that forty years ago, my parents were  exactly where I am now, watching the preceding generation begin to die off, absorbing their possessions, making sense of what they’d inherited – in every sense – and contemplating where to go from there.

There’s nothing unique about it.  It’s called being human. Not existing for a very long time, being alive for a few minutes, and then being dead for another very long time.

And in that short time, we try.  I’m not going to say “we try our best” because we don’t.  It’s why we ask for mercy.  Especially when we live our days under the delusion of self-sufficiency, placing our faith in ourselves and our poor, passing efforts, closed to grace…when we live like that…no, we’re not trying our best.  We need it,  that  Divine Mercy. We need it, and as Asbury has to learn, we need it to give, not just to take.  More

A summary of a session I lead on “The Displaced Person”

There is a priest in the story, the priest who brings the family (the Guizacs) to the farm, and then continues to visit Mrs. McIntyre. He is old and Irish, listens to Mrs. McIntyre’s complaints about her workers and the difficulties of her life with a nod and a raised eyebrow and then continues to talk to her about the teachings of the Church.

He is seen by the others as a doddering fool, talking about abstractions, not clued into the pressing issues of the moment, telling Mrs. McIntyre, for example, about what the Son of God has done, redeeming us,  “as if he spoke of something that had happened yesterday in town….”

And at the end, as Mrs. McIntyre watches the black figure of the priest bend over a dead man ” slipping something into the crushed man’s mouth…” we see why he spoke of it that way.

It did happen yesterday in town. It happens today.

He’s here.

The priest, too, is the only character who recognizes transcendence.  Every time he comes to the farm, he is transfixed by the peacocks (see the header on the blog today), a fascination the others think is just one more symptom of foolishness and “second childhood.”

You must be born again….

And here is the “irony.” Although steeped in Catholic faith and sensibilities, we know it is not ironic – but to the world’s eyes, it is. That the priest who expresses the mysteries in such matter-of-fact, “formulaic” ways, ways which even theologians today fret are not nuanced or postmodern enough, which they would like to dispense with in favor of…what, I am not sure, unless it is one more set of windy journal articles…this priest is, as I said, the only character who can recognize beauty and the transcendent reflected there. And the one who embodies Mercy.

Flannery O’Connor always said that she found the doctrines of the Church freeing – and this is what she means.

And the story ends:

Not many people remembered to come out to the country to see her except the old priest. He came regularly once a week with a bag of breadcrumbs and, after he had fed these to the peacock, he would come in and sit by the side of her bed and explain the doctrines of the Church.

Last summer’s visit to Andalusia.

Never read her? Another old blog post on where to start.

And….my piece “Stalking Pride” – which I think is a decent introduction:

Robert Coles answered the question well when he wrote of O’Connor, “She is stalking pride.” For Flannery O’Connor, faith means essentially seeing the world as it is, which means through the Creator’s eyes. So lack of faith is a kind of blindness, and what brings on the refusal to embrace God’s vision — faith — is nothing but pride.

O’Connor’s characters are all afflicted by pride: Intellectual sons and daughters who live to set the world, primarily their ignorant parents, aright; social workers who neglect their own children, self-satisfied unthinking “good people” who rest easily in their own arrogance; the fiercely independent who will not submit their wills to God or anyone else if it kills them. And sometimes, it does.

The pride is so fierce, the blindness so dark, it takes an extreme event to shatter it, and here is the purpose of the violence. The violence that O’Connor’s characters experience, either as victims or as participants, shocks them into seeing that they are no better than the rest of the world, that they are poor, that they are in need of redemption, of the purifying purgatorial fire that is the breathtaking vision at the end of the story, “Revelation.”

The self-satisfied are attacked, those who fancy themselves as earthly saviors find themselves capable of great evil, intellectuals discover their ideas to be useless human constructs, and those bent on “freedom” find themselves left open to be controlled by evil.

What happens in her stories is often extreme, but O’Connor knew that the modern world’s blindness was so deeply engrained and habitual, extreme measures were required to startle us: “I am interested in making up a good case for distortion, as I am coming to believe it is the only way to make people see.”  More

flannery o'connor stamp

No, this isn’t the real one, but an imagined redesign, which I like very much.  More on that here.  

It’s ironic that a stamp issued in honor of a writer who was determined to present reality as it is – prettifies the subject to the point of making her unrecognizable. 

Everybody, as far as I am concerned, is The Poor.

-Flannery O’Connor

 

Annunciation

Some Annunciation-related material from my books:

The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

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

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

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