Hasten away!

Fifth Sunday of Easter 4/24/16

On Easter day, our hearts were lifted by the removal of fear and the joy of hope. The fear of being alone in our journey through this world turned to the hope that walking with God brings. Pope Francis in his Easter Vigil homily commented on Peter’s resurrection, ‘the resurrection of his heart[1] during which he reflected on the words of the angel in the tomb: ‘why do you seek the living among the dead?’[2] He said: ‘Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish…the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves.  May the Lord free from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the center of our lives… Tonight it is important to shed the light of the Risen Lord upon our problems and in a certain sense, to ‘evangelize’ them.[3]

But now, five weeks later, let’s reflect on the growth of this Easter hope; for it needs to grow.  To only revel in the hope given to us at Easter will cause a stagnation to creep in, an erosion of the joy, that will give Satan cracks to enter through.  If we go no farther than revel in this gift from God then we become like a body in a tomb never to move; in our case, move closer to He who saved us. Our peace and joy that comes from God’s gift needs to see the light of day, to feel the breeze, to be nourished; to breathe and stretch.  We need to turn from ‘evangelizing our problems’ and help others evangelize theirs. We need to act.

The angel’s comment to the women in the tomb ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?[4]  is also a call to each of us. We need to turn our gaze from within and seek the living elsewhere – we need to look to those around us. Brothers and sisters, as we start the final weeks of Eastertide let’s discern how we can keep this gift of Easter joy healthy and vibrant. We can only do this by finding ways to gift it to those around us. Our faith can only be healthy and vibrant if we go out from ourselves towards an encounter with Jesus in those we meet. It is appropriate that, along with Peter we hastened to the joy of the empty tomb; now, let’s take the joy found there and prepare to hasten away from it.

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[1] Pope Francis Easter Vigil Homily 3/26/16 (L’Osservatore Romano English edition 4/1/16 pg. 5)
[2] ibid & (Luke 24:5)
[3] Pope Francis Easter Vigil Homily 3/26/16 (L’Osservatore Romano English edition 4/1/16 pg. 5)
[4] Luke 24:5

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Four ‘Yesses’; Four Faces

(Divine Mercy Sunday – 2016)

This year, because of the liturgical calendar, we have a special alignment that speaks even more fully of God’s gift of mercy.  This year our celebration of Divine Mercy is wedged between two great acts of God’s Mercy, indeed it is situated between the beginning and the culmination of His gift of Mercy, albeit in chronologically reversed order – but still between them. The celebration of Divine Mercy, this year, rests between Easter Sunday and the Solemnity of the Annunciation (which we celebrate tomorrow). Normally, when Easter Sunday isn’t so early in the year, the Solemnity of the Annunciation falls within Lent.

Why is the Solemnity of the Annunciation tied so closely to Divine Mercy?  After all many would say, and rightly, that all celebrations are tied to Divine Mercy. But the Solemnity of the Annunciation is especially integral to this gift; Easter couldn’t have happened without the Annunciation.

Of course it is easy to understand why Easter is so connected to today’s celebration of Divine Mercy. The great Pascal Mystery; when through no merit of our own, due only to the love of the Lord mercy was shown to us, mercy opened the gates of hell; mercy healed the universe.  Easter is when the light of mercy explodes to those who seek it.  It is the culmination of this great gift from the Father. It is the reason for our joy.

But, again, why is the Annunciation closely connected to Divine Mercy?

The Solemnity of the Annunciation is usually almost forgotten among the celebration of Lent. If we look closely, this ‘hiddenness’ seems almost appropriate. Pope Benedict XVI commented on this at his March 25th 2007 general audience: ‘The Annunciation, recounted at the beginning of Saint Luke’s Gospel, is a humble, hidden event – no one saw it, no one except Mary knew of it – but at the same time it was crucial to the history of humanity.[1]  What is almost always overlooked is that at this small ‘backwater’ encounter there were two fiats, not one. Two acts of mercy happened at that meeting between the Archangel Gabriel and Mary, and both were needed to bring Divine Mercy among us. Mary’s yes to the will of God the Father; and first, the Son’s yes to His Father in doing Their merciful work by entering into the world. It was at the Annunciation that Mercy took a face.[2]

But there is another ‘yes’, another face.

Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ, takes our Blessed Mother’s yes and adds hers to it.  The Church stands in front of the face of God and the faces of all the angels, and the heavenly hosts and proclaims her fiat. Her yes, to continuing to bring the face to mercy to mankind. Two millennia have seen this ever different yet never changing face of Divine Mercy. It is the face of each and every faithful who has and is doing Christ’s work. Holy Mother Church continues to give physicality to God’s mercy – through her we can see and hear and touch Divine Mercy.

And, there is a fourth ‘yes’ – ours.

As have those who preceded us in the mystical body, we need to allow our own face to project Christ’s face and shine as the face of mercy.  Our ‘yes’ needs to be added to the Church’s nearly 2,000 years of ‘yesses’.  It is our ‘yes’, our face of mercy that ‘completes what is lacking[3]. Our suffering for those around us, the action of mercy, that brings them to Christ through His bride.

My brothers and sisters, do we take up this mission and move forward? Do we add our individual fiat to that of the Church, and of Mary, and of Christ? Are we adding our face to Christ’s and radiating mercy to the world?

This week we have seen the passing of a great witness to the mercy of God. Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation went home to the Father after 92 years of pilgrimage and over 70 years of continual public fiat in doing His will.  By her faith in our merciful God she built the largest Catholic, indeed Christian, media network and spread God’s face throughout the world.  It was her EWTN television station that daily prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy so the world could become aware and appreciate its power and participate in it.  She has been called home – let’s take this milestone to recommit to our Merciful God and say yes to the mandate of Divine Mercy. Let’s embrace His mercy with our own fiat and in doing so let those who haven’t felt His mercy see His face in ours and by doing so instill in them the wisdom of the prodigal son when he finally realized who he truly was and where he should be.

Finally, friends, this Fiat of ours isn’t an annual celebration – it is a commitment to action, continual action. So as we add our ‘yes’ to the millennia of faithful let’s ask our Father to give us the strength to offer the mercy we received from Him to all we encounter.

Let your face shine through us Oh Lord, so that Your Mercy may bring light to our darkened world.

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[1] Pope Benedict XVI – 3/25/2007 General Audience.
[2] Inspired by: Pope Benedict XVI – 3/25/2007 General Audience.
[3] Col 1:24 (RSV)

Sometimes Words Matter

Happy Easter.  This evening Holy Mother Church brings to conclusion the great season of Easter.  In fact, Pentecost ends an intense multi-season celebration of God and His coming to us to lead us home.

  • We can go back to Advent and Christmas and remember our reflections on waiting and then celebrating God among us. His millennia of partial revelation coming to fulfillment with His birth in Bethlehem.
  • After a few short weeks of Ordinary time we then dove deeply within ourselves during Lent to take stock of how we are returning this gift and coming to terms with our shortcomings.
  • We needed this time of discernment so that we could fully appreciate Christ’s great gifts of obedience to the Father and His act of love for us during the Sacred Triduum.
  • Then we celebrated the reason for our joy and our hope – God loves us and He has opened up heaven to those who love Him – the light of the resurrection is our beacon calling us home.

But now – now we are being shown the door from this great multi-season celebration.  God is pushing us out into the streets where we live with these insights and expecting us to continue the mission to those who never heard the good news or have forgotten.  He does not expect us to stay in our upper rooms and keep Him to ourselves – we are not to be what Pope Francis calls ‘sacristy Catholics’.  This going out can be really scary – like trying to ride a bike without the training wheels for the first time.

But, just like the first time without training wheels someone is watching. Christ told His followers not to fear – He would not leave us alone.  Today Jesus Christ makes good on this promise – His Holy Spirit has come among us.  ‘And I will ask the Father: and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever:[1]

I used the Douay-Rhiems translation, a very old translation for a reason – it uses the word Paraclete to describe the Holy Spirit.  Most newer versions have changed that word to: ‘Advocate’[2], ‘Counselor’[3], ’Comforter’[4], Helper[5]. As descriptive as these words are for in trying to describe the Holy Spirit and His relation to us they are missing the intimacy that ‘paraclete’ describes (and the Holy Spirit has with us).  These words ( Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Helper) describe action and service not relational closeness whereas Paraclete does. Paraclete is from the Greek word Parakletos which is constructed from two words: Para (alongside) and Kalein (to call); together it means ‘called next to us’.

Jesus didn’t just give us a spirit that shows us the truth, and distributes graces according to our nature and His will. He didn’t just give us a ‘contractor’ that offers us assistance. He gave us His Spirit that will always be next to us. We will never be alone; God is right next to us.

Like the Apostles this should give us the peace and strength to start ministering on those streets that we have been pushed into. Never in our lives do we need to fear about being alone – God is with us. Never on this journey do we need worry about losing our way since our companion will lead us true. Never will we be without God because we always have the Holy Spirit who is ‘called next to us’. Sometimes words matter.

For the last time this year – Happy Easter!!!!

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[1] John 14:16 (Douay-Rhiems)
[2] New American Bible (NAB)
[3] Revised Standard Version (RSV)
[4] American Standard Version (ASV) and King James Version (KJV)
[5] New American Standard Bible (NAS)

Happiness

On the internet last week there was an article from Science Direct about how one English town viewed happiness over the past seventy years. Science Direct explained that in 1938 an ad in a British paper invited Bolton Evening News readers to respond to the question, “What is happiness?” They were asked to organize 10 factors by their happiness importance. Their top three, in order were: security, knowledge, and religion.

Last year, a psychologist also asked Bolton residents, via the News, to fill out a questionnaire that mirrored the one used in 1938. Things had changed, at least according to the 489 people; religion now occupied the 10th slot. While security is still in the top 3 it is now 3rd; sadly and maybe not surprisingly the top two are leisure and good humor.  This change, as I mentioned earlier is sadly not surprising and fits with what I have noticed in our society – that society today is terribly conflicted and in a way neurotic.

I am reminded of the words of St. John the Baptist: ‘among you stands one whom you do not know[1] Mankind has successfully pushed the most important relationship of man, their relationship with God, to the peripheries of their mind and in doing so has opened the emptiness in their heart wider. Attached to this is the neglect of interpersonal concern (of which self-giving love being the zenith).   The idea that mankind now looks to leisure and good humor above religion is evidence of this.  It is a turn inwards – a desire for isolation.  Leisure and good humor are individualistic activities; true they can and are often done among others, they are still internal feelings.  As we know these ideas of happiness are fleeting and leave us hungering for more; and added to the isolationist attitude that mankind has embraced (as evidenced by the withdrawal of generations into the cyber world) ultimately instills in individuals, and society as a whole, the conflicted, neurotic, desperate angst that we live with today.

Christ tells us today that this charade of happiness can be remedied by turning to Him. ‘“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.”… “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”[2] These are the words that the heart of every single man and woman yearns to follow.  Our part is to open their minds to possibility that these words are what they need.  Our calling in Christ’s mission to assuage the fears of interpersonal relationships that mankind holds.  But it won’t be easy; each succeeding decade has allowed mankind to withdraw within a world of their own making and so it will take much time to walk them back out of this fortress and into the light of true peace and happiness.  We must not expect massive changes from our part – but we can be assured of great things coming from our work, eventually.

If our part is to introduce those ‘walled in’ to the open expanse of love and community then we must make certain that we are not afflicted with this ailment as well.  We need to take stock of what is important to us, what moves us to action.  Do we withdraw within a prayer life that never moves to the community – to the peripheries; or does our interaction with God lead to and take energy from our interaction with those God loves? We are winding down our celebration of God’s gift of Himself to those He created, and we are about to celebrate the power He gave us in His Holy Spirit to go out bring the joy and happiness of following His plan so I ask what is our part?  What makes us Happy? Personally, I would answer the question in the survey with: ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.[3]

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[1] John 1:26
[2] John 15:9-17
[3] Joshua 24:15

Two pictures

This past week I was recuperating from a minor ailment and I watched a lot of TV.  Tuesday, I was watching a panel discuss current events and one panelist’s answers to question struck me.  The first discussion was about the rioting in Baltimore and this panelist said that one of the underlying factors contributing to the rioting was the breakdown of the family; without a father image at home these youth had a disadvantage.  The next discussion concerned the Supreme Court Case on same-sex marriage.  He commented that the case was really about discrimination against the desires of Americans. His opinion was that those against same-sex marriage were biggots.

I was reminded of a homily I gave a few weeks ago at Sunday Vespers where I spoke about the beautiful mosaic in San Clemente Basilica in Rome – the Tree of Life Mosaic. The beautiful mosaic has the cross, the tree of life in its center with Christ hanging on it.  From the feet of Christ radiates outward a vine and in between the vine were depictions of life.  From the top there is a hand that reaches downward and seemingly is pulling up the tree, the vine and those attached.  God pulling up to him those who live with and in Christ.

Two pictures depicting alternative lifestyles

1st – chaotic – piecemeal mosaic of man trying to things on his own. Confusing and conflicting realities because man tries to define what is just and right based the immediate situation and upon the agenda of a few charismatic and powerful forces.  This leads to no truth and no true solutions.

2nd – beautiful colorful mosaic of man living their life connected to Christ the vine. A life of peace and joy. There will be hardships; but attached to Christ and with the strength given us by His Holy Spirit we are healed of the damage done by those hardships.  We are nourished by His Spirit and given energy to radiate the beauty of life connected to Christ. We are at peace even though peace might not be around us.

This second mosaic is what Christ intended for each of us. His loving action on Calvary wasn’t a once for all change in this world. He never intended it to be – what would be the point of heaven? His gift of salvation to those who accept it would allow us to enter the most perfect union with Him at the end of times; so His gift of His body and blood as nourishment and communion is given to strengthen us for the journey.  A journey that gives the chance to gift ourselves to each other and by doing so help bring those around us to Him.  The first reading from Acts shows us the two mosaics – the disciples were fearful (and with good reason) of the murderous Saul’s intentions. The disciples were still living in the human picture. But Barnabas was now part of the beautiful vine mosaic.  He has given himself over to the Lord and His Spirit.  He helps the others do the same.

At this time in Eastertide Holy Mother Church emphasizes this journey, highlights that we are still working out our acceptance of our Lord’s pascal gift and shows us how to succeed. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.’ We hear proclaimed today. Jesus tells us that to live life in the fullest we need to live it with Him in Him.  And so we should.  All we have to do is look around to see that, at best, what society is trying to offer us is a mirage and probably more like a charade – nothing that is offered out there brings healing and peace and joy – unless Christ is at the center.

But how? How do we, in the face of the overwhelming pressures of modernity, live on the vine.  How do we receive the nourishment it offers?

This leads us to another of Christ’s gifts to us.  Let’s remind ourselves that the words of Christ in today’s gospel are from the Last Supper where He institutes the Eucharist.  But He also alludes to the final gift of His spirit during that meal– the Holy Spirit.  He will not leave us to our own devices – even with the eternal and supernatural nourishment of His body and blood.  He offers us His own Spirit who lives within us.  His own Holy Spirit that is an animator, and counselor, and guide, a paraclete.

In a few short weeks Holy Mother Church will celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the birth of the Church.  We are now turning our celebrations towards that celebration of Christ’s living gift of nourishment from the vine.  Our part is to allow the Holy Spirit to work within our hearts, allow the Spirit to nurture, guide, counsel and protect us.

Let’s take to heart the words of the Opening Prayer today:

Almighty ever-living God,
constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us,
that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism
may, under your protective care, bear much fruit…

Let’s offer ourselves daily to Jesus through His Spirit through our prayers, our words and our actions. In this way we can be assured of the fruit we produce.

There is an urgency to this offering of ourselves. We can’t think of this as only helping ourselves but it is imperative for those who look to us for the future.  These past few weeks and the ones following will see many first communions – confirmations. Tonight, our school is holding its annual dinner dance.  The future looks to us to bring into the focus the right picture.  They depend on us to hand them a mosaic that gives them the same chance, if not a better one, on their journey then we have on ours.

This might sound scary.  We see in our world an aggressive resistance to all things Christian and so we might be hesitant to live our faith in the public, but we shouldn’t. The idea of proffering this alternative picture to the world might seem too big for us, but it shouldn’t.

Thirty-six years ago the world saw a radical event in the election of non-Italian pope. In his installation homily St. John Paul the great spoke words that resound down to each of us: ‘BE NOT AFRAID Open the wide the doors to Christ’. These words were spoken on a day that we celebrated ‘World Mission Sunday’

This is our calling, our mission – to show the world a beautiful mosaic as the alternative to chaotic and destructive picture offered by society. If we don’t then only a scary and desperate picture remains.

 

 

 

Peace be with you

I am not sure how Holy Mother Church decided on the progression of readings during these past two weeks.  Last weekend the Gospel reading was about doubting Thomas and that took place a week after Easter which makes sense because it is read a week after the resurrection. Today our reading actually takes place on Easter.  We see this by the first line: ‘The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.[1] These are the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  They have hurried back to the apostles to let them know the good news.

For me this reading is a powerful moment.  It always drives home the importance of Holy Mass. It true that the Last Supper is where Christ institutes the Eucharist and where He teaches the Apostles about the meaning of leadership, servant leadership.  But I always look at today’s reading as a semblance of the Mass.

  • We have Jesus appearing mysteriously in the midst of the apostles. As He appears to us in the Eucharist.
  • He shares a meal with them. As He shares His body and blood, soul and divinity with us.
  • He breaks open the scripture which is the Old Testament and explains to them how it points to His gift of the Passion. As the Mass does in the readings and the Homily.
  • The progression of this event mirrors our action of prayer in Mass. He is concerned with those in the room and then He broadens the concern to the world.
  • And of course like in the Mass Christ bestows His peace on participants.

Peace be with you[2] He said to them. Christ wished to offer His peace to them.  In the Mass we do the same.  Right before Communion we are prompted to this action by our Celebrant when he prays to Jesus:

Lord Jesus Christ,
Who said to your Apostles.
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.
Look not on sins,
But on the faith of your Church,
And graciously grant her peace and unity,
In accordance with your will.[3]

Then He turns to us and says: ‘The peace of the Lord be with you always.[4] Which we return with ‘And with your spirit[5] then we are prompted ‘Let us offer each other the sign of peace.[6] Which we do.

I must admit that at this point in the Mass it seems to me that chaos seems to enter.  I usually hear a cacophony of greetings – all the way from ‘God Bless you’ to, and I am not kidding, ‘May your peace spread to your family’ and to ‘Merry Christmas!’ or any holiday.  I do hear variations of ‘Peace be with you’ which is more appropriate.

But why is ‘Peace be with you’ a more appropriate greeting than the others?  For the simple fact that we are not greeting each other we are bestowing the peace of Christ to those around us, and by extension to the parish, the universal Church and to all mankind.

It is of great importance to notice that during the Mass our prayers are addressed mostly to the Father, after all, the Mass is ultimately Christ’s act of supreme sacrifice to His Father for us.  We are adding our participation to Christ act towards the Father.  But at this point, the prayer is to Jesus, we are asking Him for His peace – indeed for Him; because He is peace incarnate.

In other words the congregation through our priest asks: ‘Lord give us yourself and the peace that you bring – we need it.’ So when we turn to each other we take what the priest has asked for, and Christ has given us and wish it on each other. ‘Peace be with you’, ‘Here, I give you Jesus’ could be another way to put it.

And just what is Christ’s peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you’ and he continues ‘Not as the world gives do I give it to you, Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.[7]

The peace that is Christ – His peace is a fullness of joy and life that can only be attained and experienced in a climate of justice, order, truth, respect, and good will. His peace is not simply the absence of conflict but is the total abolition of evil.  There is no peace without justice. Christ’s peace, in other words, cannot exist along with evil, injustice – even when there is no conflict.

We are not called to make everything calm and happy. Our peace comes when we are with Christ and that means no evil.  We are called to proclaim the truth – call it as God sees it – we are to participate with Christ in the promulgation of His peace which needs truth – no truth, no peace.

This is what we wish towards each other and ourselves.  That we live within Christ and that we live together in that rich life of justice, order, truth, respect and good will.  This means that we radiate this life of peace – we allow others to see it – we evangelize peace and proclaim it.  We turn to each other in the Mass and say ‘Peace be with you[8] but for those who are living this peace it can’t stop there – it must be delivered to others. The dismissals at the end of Mass ‘The Mass is ended, go in peace[9]; ‘Go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord[10], ‘Go, glorifying the Lord by your lives[11] all have the same demand on us – spread this peace.

Christ doesn’t guarantee us a calm and serene life when following him – the world won’t allow this: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.[12] But living in the peace of Christ will give us a depth of joy and peace that no buffets from the world can strip away.

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[1] Lk 24:35
[2] Lk 24:36
[3] Roman Missal
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] ibid
[7] Jn 14:27
[8] Roman Missal
[9] ibid
[10] ibid
[11] ibid
[12] Jn 15:18-20

The Tree

There is a small but very important church in Rome that is between the Cathedral of St. John Lateran and the Coliseum called San Clemente.  You could walk right pass it if you are not observant and I almost did. But thanks be to God, we decided to enter a nondescript door of ‘yet another church’. When you enter and look up at the apse you will see one of the most beautiful, well known and spiritually power mosaics in all Christendom – The Tree of Life.

What stands out is that from the Crucifix in the center of the mosaic vines spread across the whole apse – thus the name of this mosaic, the Tree of Life.  But what struck me most (besides the beauty) was that intermingled amongst the vine are scenes of normal life.  Animals, plants, men and women doing normal daily chores and other scenes.  There is a serenity to these scenes as if to say that life lived attached to Christ brings a peace and joy.  And so it does.

Normally our first readings are taken from the Old Testament but not so now.  In the glow of the Easter Victory Holy Mother Church relates to us the nascent Church from the Acts of the Apostles.  We see the blossoming of the Church in her first years.  The success of the members because they were full of the Holy Spirit – they lived totally attached to the Tree of Life – Christ.

In today’s first reading we see a contrast between living life among the vine and not. We see power hungry leaders trying their best by coercion to control their situations.  I take from this reading an angst and desperation that things for these leaders are not as they want it and they have no control.  Whereas the disciples who are living in threatening times for their ministry and their lives quietly follow the angel’s directions and seemingly throw caution to the wind with that peace so well depicted at San Clemente.

Life for them was dangerous and yet they understood what was important – ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.[1] And that eternal life is through this vine – through Christ – whom the Father raises to heaven and along with Him those attached to the vine. Which for me was the most assuring part of this great mosaic; for at the top of the mosaic we see the hand of God grasping the crucifix – pulling it up and the vine and its fruit along with it.

Brothers and sisters, lets strive to be part of this beautiful mosaic, let’s never be separated from the vine that grows from the tree of life.  Allow the Holy Spirit to be within us as the first members of the Church show us in the Acts of Apostles; not only will we see great things happen but we will live our lives with the peace so beautifully depicted at this almost unnoticed church in Rome.

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[1] Jn 3:16