God has created us to be aware, to care, and to help others.

And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven”(Mt 9:2).
Matthew’s account of this scene is much simpler than Mark and Luke’s, but the point is the same. The person paralyzed received healing because some people were willing to bear his weight and creatively bring him to Jesus. In neither of the three Gospel accounts do we know who the people are that bring this man to Jesus for healing. Were they family, friends, or neighbors? It does not matter. They were aware of someone in need, they believed Jesus could heal him, and they put forth the effort to bring this man to Jesus.
Are we like the people in today’s Gospel; are we aware, do we care? St. Mother Teresa often said that people are “not only hungry for bread – but hungry for love, naked not only for clothing – but naked for human dignity and respect, homeless not only for want of home and bricks, – but homeless because of rejection.” If we are living our faith, indifference to the needs of others is not an option. Rationalizing why we ought not to care, or worse giving in to our fears and prejudices so as to dehumanize and reject others in need are counter to the call of Jesus.
How is God speaking to our consciences; how is he moving our hearts? There are so many who are hurting and suffering. Let us not get trapped into criticizing others for reaching out to help in a different way than we feel called. We just need to be honest about where God is leading us and act as the four in our Gospel reading today did. Be aware, be willing to meet the need we see, access our personal gifts of creativity, and bring them to Jesus. By collaborating with Jesus in this way miracles can and still do happen. Structures of inhumanity and injustice can be turned around.
Pope Francis has been consistent and clear about the dignity of all life. He tweeted in 2013: “It is God who gives life. Let us respect and love human life, especially vulnerable life in a mother’s womb.” During Mass on Sunday, January 14, 2018 he shared: “Migrants and refugees don’t represent just a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.” On June 3, 2020, Pope Francis said, “My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life”.
The Lord hears the cry of not just a select few but all those in need. Whose cry do we hear and who are we willing to help?

Painting: Healing of the Paralytic – James Tissot
See also Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, June 30, 2022

We are to decrease and Jesus is to increase.

“No. He will be called John” (Lk 1:60).
With these simple words, three inter-related points arise. First, Elizabeth is beginning to shift the momentum of original sin. Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat of the fruit that God had told her and Adam not to eat of, yet she did. Adam did not support her nor step in during her dialogue but remained silent in the face of the pressure placed upon Eve. Both of them slipped into sin by not following the will of God.
At the time of the birth of Elizabeth’s son, there was cause for celebration, for Elizabeth was past child-bearing years. The day had come to have the boy circumcised and named, her relatives and neighbors had gathered around with great excitement and there appeared to be a unanimous decision to name the boy after his father. Elizabeth did not, like Eve, cave to the pressure and temptation surrounding her. Unlike Adam who lost his voice at the time he needed to speak up, Zechariah found his voice, and had Elizabeth’s back. Both Elizabeth and Zechariah knew what God wanted them to do and were faithful to follow through despite any cultural pressure and established norm to the contrary.
The second point is already alluded to in the first, and that is how Elizabeth and Zechariah were faithful to God amidst the familial and social pressure placed on them. Some may be removed by such familial pressure when naming a child, but for this time, Elizabeth despite the pressure held her ground and stood firm that the boy would be named John. Ignoring her, the people deferred to Zechariah, the boy’s father, thinking he would have more sense, but he, ignoring the paternal cultural pressure, supported Elizabeth. The point here is not so much the name, but the following of the will of God in the face of pressure to do the opposite.
This brings us to the third point and that is the maturation in moving from identity to integrity. Culture and traditions are not sacred, but God is. Elizabeth and Zechariah faced a lot of familial and social pressure to conform, yet they chose to be true to God, to be true to themselves, and they chose integrity over their identity.
The very simple account of Elizabeth and Zechariah naming their child John in opposition to the pressure offers for us a way to counteract the rising tide of polarization and conflicts that we face in our own country today. Identity provides safety, support, and security. It fuels one of our deepest pangs of hunger and that is to belong, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We can find our identity in family, friendships, our religious traditions, culture, political affiliations, common interests, clubs, activities, and hobbies. But our identity, which provides us with security and stability is good but can also be a trap.
We want to belong so much, the drive is so strong, that we may have made decisions, acted in ways, and supported others, that go against who we are just so that we can belong. We may have known what God wants from us, heard the whispers of his voice in our conscience, yet were pulled by the louder voices of our group. We are sometimes so ingrained by our identity that we are being strangled and suffocated by it.
In today’s Gospel account, Elizabeth and Zechariah were true to the will of God over and against those placing pressure on them. More often though, being a person of integrity does not go so well. Their own son, who would grow up to be John the Baptist, would lose his life by speaking truth to power.
John would also show his integrity when he said, “I must decrease and he must increase” (cf. John 3:30). John was talking about Jesus who embodies the moral courage that we all need today. Though more than just a model of a life well-lived, more than just a word on the page, Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is present to us now, to guide and lead us, to empower us with the same love that he embodies, such that when we invite him into our lives, we too can be transformed to live a life of truth, moral courage, and integrity.
Becoming less, like John the Baptist, and allowing Jesus to be more by working through us, will help us to act and speak up for those that are being belittled, demeaned, and/or dehumanized. We can then transcend the ranks of identity and rise to the heights of integrity, especially when it means standing up to those in our “group.” Protecting police officers, priests, and/or political leaders who have abused their power at the expense of others for the sake of protecting the identity of the institution or our place in it not only adds further abuse but weakens the institution. While at the same time, casting a net of guilt by association over all in any group is also unjust. We also may be shaming those who could be the very ones to help to bring about necessary and sustainable change.
Being people of integrity, calls us to speak for those who have been abused and not afforded basic human dignity. We are to protect those who might be at risk and/or those who have been or are being abused, oppressed, and/or prevented equal access. This provides a necessary step in providing support for those needing healing, allows for the planning and enacting of the necessary reforms to end the risk of further abuse and create more equitable access.
All of which will also strengthen the integrity of those within the construct of institutions that are put in place to empower the very people they serve. We are to hold each other accountable while at that same time be willing to work toward a reconciliation that will arise through mutual respect, openness to dialogue, collaboration, and reconciliation.
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Photo: Infant John the Baptist with the Lamb – painted by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. St John the Baptist on the Solemnity of your nativity, pray for us.
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, June 23, 2022

“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to eternal life.”

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are true” (Mt 7:13-14).
Jesus meets us where we are in our present state of life. He accepts us as we are at this very moment. At the same time, Jesus does not want us to just settle and to merely get by, surviving day by day. Instead, he encourages and guides us to be fully actualized. He calls us to perfection, to holiness, to be saints! He sees in us, as he did in his disciples and apostles, the promise of our potential and who his Father calls us to be. We each have a unique gift or gifts to offer to the world, each and every one of us.
One way of interpreting entering the narrow gate is that we need to say no to those apparent goods that we find initially inviting but soon realize that they are empty promises, can burden us, weigh us down, and worse lead us to addiction and enslavement. To pass through the narrow gate, we need to say yes to that which will truly bring us happiness, fulfillment, and true freedom and this means we need to say no to supporting our false ego and turning the focus in upon ourselves. We need to instead be willing to expand and go out of ourselves and will the good of and accompany others.
Jesus will help us in seeking and discerning his will. Spending time in prayer can often reveal the sources of our worry, anxiety, or fear; pride, judgment, or prejudice; sinful actions, harmful habits, and/or addictions. We need not deny or run from them. Instead, acknowledge whatever arises with Jesus, and then allow him to provide healing and transformation. This will not be a one-time, done now for all activity, but a daily, disciplined commitment and practice of discernment and examination of our conscience.
We need to continually open our hearts to the Holy Spirit such that he will give us the courage to discern between apparent and authentic goods in our lives. In our time of prayer, we can imagine placing our hand in Jesus’ hand as if we were a small child and allow him to lead us to experience the love, mercy, and grace of our ever-present God and Father. What Jesus leads us to do, he will also give us the strength and resources to bring to completion, which ultimately will be a life of communion with God and one another in this life and into the next.
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Photo credit: Our recent 8 and a half mile hike traversing many narrow paths, but together we made it there and back again!
The Mass readings for Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Help us Lord, to remove the log in our own eyes, so as to serve you and others in your love.

For many of us, judging one another is almost as automatic as breathing. As we encounter someone, instant internal judgments arise. We judge looks, clothes, actions, inactions, homes, cars, and material items. We judge our family, spouses, friends, colleagues, classmates, leaders, enemies, celebrities, as well as those different from us and those on the peripheries. Much of what gets our attention when we take the time to think about it is what Jesus is addressing in today’s Gospel, negative judgments.
Jesus said to his disciples: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Mt 7:4-5).
There are positive judgments that bring about effective change for the good. In a court case, our hope is that the judge is learned in the law and guides the lawyers and jury in ways of sound judgment such that justice with mercy is served. For us to do likewise in our everyday interactions with one another, Jesus shares that we need to remove the wooden beam from our eye first before we are able to remove the splinter in another’s.
Jesus is leading us to experience transformation. He is inviting us to change our hearts such that they are no longer hardened by negative judgments of others based on our biases and prejudices, but softened, such that they are open to the mercy and love of Jesus. This does not mean that we accept any and all behaviors, actions, and inactions from ourselves and others. Jesus does not do this either. Jesus accepts ALL people as we are and where we are, with mercy. He is willing to enter our chaos, to embrace any and ALL of us who will receive the invitation of his healing embrace, and through his love Jesus accompanies and walks with us, leading us from our slavery of sin to that which is True, Good, and Beautiful.
We participate in the life of Jesus when we allow him to heal us from our own limitations of self-centered perceptions, from the denial and suppression of our anxieties and fears that lead to the developing of our biases and prejudices. Then we will begin to see others as God sees them, as human beings endowed with dignity because ALL people have been created in the image and likeness of God.
We participate in making our realm of influence a better place when we allow God to love and to bestow his mercy upon others through us. We participate in Jesus’ work of redemption when our judgments toward ourselves and others are not condemnations but convictions that help to empower, build, and lift up our brothers and sisters.
We participate in taking the log out of our own eye and assisting to remove the splinter in another’s eye when we are willing to admit our shortcomings, weaknesses, and failures, and then learn and grow from those experiences. We are then in a better position to be able to accompany others in their own chaos, to journey side by side, willing to help each other to be transformed into who God is calling us to be.
These steps will begin when we are willing to lay down our gavels of judgment, biases, and prejudices and instead, with open hearts on fire with the love and mercy of the Holy Spirit, offer our hands to one another with an invitation to walk hand in hand, arm in arm, so to be about building each other up.

Photo: Summer seminarian program with Fr. Daniel and my seminarian brothers, hiking in Glenville area of SC.
Link for the Mass readings for Monday, June 20, 2022

Jesus meets us in the natural to lead us to experience the supernatural.

Luke records how Jesus had been teaching and healing a large crowd of five thousand men. As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here” (Lk 9:12). The disciples appear to show concern for the many gathered. Yet the response of Jesus may reveal otherwise.
When Jesus tells them to, “Give them some food yourselves” (Lk 9:13), the disciples are stymied, for all that they had, five loaves and two fish, would be just enough to feed themselves. The disciples first sought to send the people away because they could see nothing but the limited resources they had, they saw lack.
What follows is the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish such that everyone present had enough to eat. “They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets” (Lk 9:17). This miraculous account is recorded in all four Gospels. Time and again, throughout the Gospel narration, Jesus is  provides a way where there appeared to be no way. His supernatural grace builds on nature.
We see this most wonderfully in the transfiguration of the simple gifts of bread and wine which represent our gift and offering. When we bring the little we have, Jesus divinizes our gifts and makes them holy. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the appearance of bread and wine remain, but the substance, the very core and reality, has been transformed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.
How many times have we given up not knowing that had we just persevered a bit more we would have accomplished what we sought out to do? How many times have we been overwhelmed before we even began a task so did not even begin? How many times have we not reached out to help because we wondered if we really could make much of a difference any way? How many times have we believed there was no way forward instead of trusting that there is a way?
If you are like me, and can answer in the affirmative to any and/or all of the above, we are in the same place as the disciples just before Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish and fed the five thousand. Jesus also, through the hands of the priest offers us bread from heaven.
Too often, we see lack, where Jesus sees a way. We are finite human beings living in a finite world, yet there is more than the natural, more than what the senses can detect, there is the supernatural. The Eucharist is not just a symbol but the true presence of Jesus, fully human and fully divine. When we eat his body and drink his blood we experience a deep and intimate connection with Jesus. He dwells ever deeper within us so as to transform us into the fullness of who we have been created to be.
With Jesus all things are possible. He will not only provide or guide but empower each and everyone of us by giving the gift of himself. With Jesus there is always a way, because he is the way, the truth, and the  life.

Photo: Eucharistic procession at St. Helen’s in Vero Beach, FL, Saturday morning.
Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, June 19, 2022

Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). Jesus was a devout Jew, he grew up practicing and understanding the law and the prophetic tradition. We see evidence of that when, at twelve, he is found by his parents among the teachers and scholars discussing the law with understanding and wisdom. Jesus in his public ministry very much speaks with authority, as he is the Son of God, calling the people of Israel back to the law, both those who have turned away from God as well as those who used the law as a bludgeon and for placing barriers to keep others out.
Jesus shows time and again that being true to Torah, the law or the teachings, is about building relationships with God and others. He extends his hand, person to person, as a bridge for people to come to God, and he calls out the religious leaders who have utilized the law to build walls, to keep people out. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, Jesus forgave sins, Jesus touched lepers and he ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners, those on the peripheries, not because he was being willy-nilly with the law, but because he was showing by his lived example that the greatest commandment of the law was and is to love God with all his mind, heart, and strength and to love his neighbor as himself.
This practice goes right to the foundation of who God created us to be. All of humanity has been created in God’s image and likeness. Each of us is endowed with dignity by the very fact that we exist as a son and daughter of God. In Jesus, we see that the highest observance of the law of God is to love. Jesus met each person where they were and accompanied them. That also meant calling out those who misused the law by keeping others at arm’s length. Jesus did the opposite. As the Son of God, Jesus became one with us in our humanity, so that we could become one with him in his divinity. Jesus offered others his arms extended outward, inviting others to enter into his loving embrace. He would show this fully on the cross, where he opened his arms wide to embrace all peoples of every race, ethnicity, and gender.
Jesus built on the law and the prophets, because he was the fulfillment of them, and in doing so, he gave the law its greater context. The foundation of the law and the prophets were founded in love, meaning its highest expression, which is to will the good of the other as other. This means that the law is not like a stagnant pool, where we grasp onto it for its own sake, but the divine law of God is rather like a running stream, it is always fresh and being renewed by the Holy Spirit.
What Jesus ushered in was the reign of God, which was possible through the foundations laid by those who had gone before him: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the judges and prophets, David, and those unnamed who answered the call of God to serve in his name. From a person, Abraham, to a clan, a loose gathering of twelve tribes and then a nation, Israel, God called a people to himself to shine the light of his will to others. Then at the appointed time, he sent his Son, to be one with the people he called to draw all nations to himself so that all created in his image and likeness were invited to come to be one with him, the God of all creation.
Our joy and fulfillment takes shape as we are transformed by the love of God. As we build on the traditions of our faith that give us a solid foundation, we must resist holding on to them so tightly that they strangle us and suck the life out of us. That which leads us to encounter and renew our relationship with Jesus in love is what we are to embrace and share. That which has become stagnant and no longer is an avenue for affirming life must be pruned.
The love and mercy of God extended by the presence of Jesus among us is not a watering down of the law and the prophets. I would suggest that it is not only the fulfillment of them, but also that they are harder to put into practice and demand a closer walk with Jesus. This is so because we cannot fulfill a life of love and mercy on our own. We can only fulfill Jesus’ invitation to love and be able to enter into the chaos of another if we are transformed by his love and continue to allow Jesus to be present to others and love them through us.
God’s love invites us out of the darkness of our own sin and withdrawing into our own false sense of self-control and protects us from becoming over zealous moralizers. We become healed when we are humble enough to trust the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, are willing to confess how we put our own self-interests, fears, and prejudices first and become contrite – ackowledging the sorrow for the hurt we have caused others, and become less drawn to making excuses and protecting the false self of the ego. Through participating in the life that Jesus invites us, we drink from the living stream of his love, we grow into the freedom of being true to ourselves and who God calls us to be, while at the same time, we are to be a light and support for others as we accompany each other on our journey through this life together.
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Painting: by Melody Owens – The original painting is 11″x14″ gouache.
Link for the Mass readings for Wednesday, June 8, 2022

A smile can make a difference.

We have returned to the season of Ordinary Time. The focal point of this season expressed in the readings chosen from the Gospels will be on the life and teachings of Jesus. Our series of readings for the next few weeks will be a return to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In today’s account, Jesus encourages his disciples to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (cf. Mt 5:13-16).
We too are called to be “salt” and “light”. Salt has two major properties, preservation and flavor. Jesus emphasizes the aspect of salt being seasoning that one puts on food, which enhances its flavor. Light allows those to see in the darkness. How then can we be salt and light?
We begin by remembering that we are an Alleluia people, meaning that we are a people grounded in hope and joy because we who die with Christ will rise with him. Also, our faith is not just for us alone, we are to go out and share it with others, we are to bring Jesus to others. Pope Francis, in the very first line of his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, writes: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, emptiness, and loneliness.”
The Pope is not saying that when we accept Jesus into our lives and develop a relationship with him that all will go our way, there will no longer be conflict or pain and that our life will now be perfect. What he means is that Jesus is the very embodiment of love and the light that leads us away from the darkness of our sin. Jesus is present and accompanies us in our pain and sorrow, and assures us that we are not alone. Jesus is the one who fulfills the longing of our heart’s deepest desire, he reveals to us our meaning and vocation in life. Jesus brings us hope and offers his hand to lead us through our darkest nights of despair and trauma.
We who have experienced the healing balm of of Jesus, have grasped his hand for strength, have leaned on his shoulder to cry on, and experienced the joy of our encounter with him, are to be present to others in the same way. We are to be salt by bringing the joy of Jesus to all those we encounter. Too many who claim to be Christian, walk with a cloud of gloom around them, they have become salt that has lost its flavor. Instead of drawing others to the gospel, they have withdrawn within themselves and push people away.
I am not the most extroverted of people and was more introverted in my youth. In my freshman or sophomore year of college, I heard a talk on cassette given by St Mother Theresa. She mentioned reaching out to others with a smile. I still remember the first time of risking to smile at someone after hearing Mother’s encouraging words. I was walking up the sidewalk toward the parking garage on campus. I do not remember if the person I smiled at returned the smile, yet I do remember that day as a key moment in my faith journey. Having heard of how to share the light of God’s love with another, and then to follow through with the courage to do so, filled me with joy, and it continues to make a difference in my life and hopefully, the lives of others.
How can we be salt and light in our everyday experiences? I would recommend beginning by offering a smile to those that we encounter. This act of kindness need not only be limited to those we feel comfortable with or that we like either. We can share a smile with those we may have had conflicts with and even those for whom we may feel a bias or prejudice toward. This is only a small beginning, but it draws us out from our own self-centered focus and directs our attention toward willing the good of another.
A simple, yet genuine smile can work wonders for someone who begins to believe that no one cares about them or is willing to give them the time of day. This is true for the recipient as well as the giver. If you have felt like you have lost some of your flavor, if you feel a bit down, if you are not sure of how to be a light for others, then the next time you catch the eye of another, please smile.
In this small act, we say to the person on the receiving end of our smile that we care enough to notice them, that they are loved just for being present in that moment. They have worth and dignity just for who they are. A simple, sincere smile can bring a little flavor to someone in a sour mood, as well as a little light to someone in a very dark place. These days we can certainly use a few more smiles. Even behind a mask, the eyes still smile.
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Photo: I think these two are catching on 🙂
Mass readings for Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Mary, mother of Jesus, the Church, and model disciple.

Today’s memorial, Mary the Mother of the Church, began with the decree released on February 11, 2018, by Cardinal Robert Sarah while he was still the head of the Congregation of Divine Worship. Pope Francis called for the Church to celebrate this memorial on the Monday after Pentecost. Not only is Mary the Mother of Jesus, but since we as the People of God participate in the life of Jesus as members of the Body of Christ, she is our mother too.
The New Testament records time and again how Mary reveals by word and action that she is the model of discipleship.
Mary answered Gabriel’s request to conceive and bear Jesus, with her response, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Mary then went with haste to share the good news with Elizabeth and to assist her in her pregnancy of John the Baptist. Mary, after the birth of Jesus, is visited by the shepherds and upon hearing their news from the angelic host, she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Mary and Joseph care for, protect, and guide Jesus in the Jewish faith as he matures and grows into a young man.
Mary was also present at the beginning of his ministry when she says to the servants at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Mary was present at the crucifixion, as recorded in today’s reading from the Gospel of John: When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home (Jn 19:26-27). Mary was pierced with sorrow when the lance was thrust through the side of Jesus, her son, as blood and water flowed. Mary was then present as the Church was birthed at Pentecost at the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14).
Mary is the mother of Jesus, the Mother of the Church, and so she is also our mother. We do not worship Mary but seek her intercession and guidance as we would our own earthly mothers. We also look to her as a model for living as disciples of Jesus as outlined in the examples above. We too are to ponder the wonders and mysteries of God working in our lives. May we resist the temptation of living in denial, running from our humanity and suffering, but instead face and embrace the sorrow and pain experienced in this fallen world so as to receive her Son, Jesus, whose arms are wide open to receive us in the midst of our pain, so that he may bestow upon us his consolation and healing.
But may we not stop there. May we open ourselves to the love and empowerment of the Holy Spirit such that we may say yes to bearing Christ and going with haste to share the Good News of his life with others. May we resist the temptation of indifference and uncaring and instead help and support those we come into contact with who are in need. May we follow the last words of Mary recorded in Scripture and do whatever Jesus tells us to do to make his Church relevant and vibrant in our time, to speak out and stand up to hatred, injustice, racism, sexism, and violence in all its forms. As we honor Mary, may we also learn to honor and respect the women in our lives.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us now and at the hour of our death!
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Photo: Statue of Jesus and Mary outside Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, Oceanside, CA, Christmas 2017
Link for the Mass readings for Monday, June 6, 2022