What if God Works Gradually

If Divine Intervention takes place all at once, would human beings completely understand God’s handiwork?  So, the scriptures tell us that God works gradually.

Noah waits fourteen days for the water to recede from the earth before the dove with an olive leaf finds a home on the baptized land.

Jesus leads the blind man to an out-of-the-way place, and with holy spittle and blessed hands, heals him and restores his sacred humanity.

In the words of Bishop Sklba, “God is content to work in gradual steps accommodated to human limitations…”

Fr. Becket Franks, O.S.B.

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The sun rising gradually in the east at the abbey.

Photograph by Fr. Michael Komechak, O.S.B.

 

 

 

A God of Second Chances

God is a “God of Second Chances,” so says Bishop Sklba.  Condemned because of his sin and by his sin, God spares Cain’s life.  It is a powerful lesson for those of us who demand some type of “justice” in capital punishment or retaliation.  When people of faith rush to such conclusions we earn the “Divine Exasperation,” that deep sighing in the heart that Jesus does when he encounters stubborn arguments.

Fr. Becket, O.S.B.

LOGOS2

We are not Raqa People

When someone would call me names as a child, I would run to my mother to tell her about the incident. You know what she would say?  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” But, they do. Names hurt. So do accusations and lies and sinister laughter.

In the words of Jesus, “Unless my virtue surpasses that of other religious leaders who are hypocrites, I will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” And you know what blocks me from becoming virtuous? It is called, raqa [raw-kah]. Jesus says, “…whoever says to his brother [or sister], raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin…” It means “to spread out a rumor,” or, “to hammer out someone’s reputation by calling them ‘useless,’ ‘empty,’ and, ‘of no value.’” Now, we know the commandments. We know when we break the Ten Commandments we sin. But we do not often understand that when we indulge in malicious gossip, when we consider someone useless, we sin against the law of love.

Jesus tells us how raqa starts. It begins with anger. Someone hurts me. I begin raqa. Someone takes my spot at table, or in choir, or at cards, or in the parking spot. I begin raqa. Public slander is illegal. And according to the Canon Law of the Church, I violate someone’s privacy and good name when I spread malicious gossip about a fellow Catholic Christian. In the words of Sister Barbara Reid, little transgressions often turn into big transgressions.

This is not who we are as Christians. St. Paul says that God waits to “speak a word of wisdom to those who are mature…” And the mature according to St. Paul are those who work towards perfection or completeness. A mature Christian is one who knows the end result of our faith is Christ Jesus. When we have the end goal insight, we are not raqa people. Sticks and stones do break bones. Names and insinuations hurt. But when they go low, we go high through faith in Christ.

May the Eucharist today mature our faith! May this maturity where we know the end result is heaven make us honest and complete. For “blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!”

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

The 6th Sunday Ordinary Time

Cycle A

Steps of humility and pride (2)

Get Out of the Salt Shaker

Nina Secviar tells a true story about her preparations for her vacation.  Before heading on vacation, I went to a tanning salon. I was under the lights so long the protective eye shades I wore left a big white circle around each eye. Gazing at myself in the mirror the next day, I thought, “Oh no, I look like a clown.” I had almost convinced myself I was overreacting — until I was in line at the grocery store. I felt a tug at my shirt and looked down to see a toddler staring up at me, “Are you giving out balloons?” he asked.

Today, my brothers and sisters, the struggling people of this world do not need balloons.  They need light and salt.

In the time of Christ, the Romans had a saying, “There is nothing more useful than sun and salt.”  Salt preserves their meat and fish.  Bonfires on tops of hills brighten villages.  Oil lamps light homes.  Soldiers work to become worth their weight in salt, hence our English word, “salary.”  When Jesus uses these two images to mirror the Christian life, people listening know the value of these commodities.  However, now, I worry that we are losing the power of these two symbols.

Does anyone notice today the connections in the readings?  Isaiah the prophet calls us to justice for the hungry, the oppressed, the homeless and the naked.  And when we do all of this, Jesus tells us, then we are the salt and the light for the world.  But something is wrong.  Because the Gospel is not going as planned.  I worry that we believe that faith is our fire insurance or a protective wall that insulates us from social issues.  As one Christian writer states, we need to get “out of the salt shaker and into the world.”  After last Sunday’s mass and homily, did anyone of us climb out of the salt shaker and take a stand on refugees coming to our country?  I did, did you?  If you did not, may I ask why?  Is it your politics?  If so, then please, meet Rich McKinless.  Some weeks ago, Ashley, his daughter, interviews her father, Rich, for America magazine.  He is a card-carrying Republican.  He does not vote for democratic presidents.  His favorite president is Ronald Reagan.  His favorite supreme court justice is the late Antonin Scalia.  He thinks that there are too many federal regulations and he is unsure about global warming.  With all that in mind, the opening question his daughter asks him is, “Are you worried that you will be arrested for harboring Muslims?”  He responds, “I’m not one that dismisses the fears of my fellow countrymen,” he tells his daughter when she asks why he and his wife decide to welcome the Ibrahimi family into their home. “But,” he says “closing our doors to migrants and refugees is not the answer. “We need more Muslims in our country,” he says, “who can be the examples that we can all look to and point to. “That’s an obligation both on us Christians and those of other faiths: to look for those examples, welcome those who love America and what we’re about. And those examples are countless.”[1]

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth…what happens when salt loses its taste?  To be worth our weight in salt we need to get out of the salt shaker and let people witness the real meaning of our faith in Christ.  We are lights on hills for all to see. But if we decide to cover up our light with bushel baskets of excuses and politics then the hungry do not eat, the oppressed have no justice and the homeless have nowhere to go.

At this Eucharist, the same Jesus who reminds us to be salty and full of light is the same Christ we receive in Holy Communion.  He does not expect us to give people balloons.  He wants us to perform justice.

http://justiceforimmigrants.org/

[1] http://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2017/02/03/meet-my-dad-republican-whos-hosting-muslim-refugees  (watch the video).

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

5th Sunday

Ordinary Time

Cycle A

abbey-cross-clerestory

The Lord’s Dream Speech

A prominent preacher writes once that he does not go to church on All Saints Day because he refuses to listen to another sermon about the Beatitudes.  How many times do we hear shallow dry words like, “We need to become meek,” or, “Jesus wants us to be peacemakers.”  And when all is said and done, nothing happens.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus never gives a command, like, “Work for peace, and be blessed.”  He never says, “To get into heaven, we need to be merciful.”  His words are not conditional phrases.  The Beatitudes are indicative phrases! The Beatitudes are words speak volumes about the personality of God and what happens when we act God-like.  In other words, as he speaks to the people on the mountain like the patriarch Moses did on Mt. Sinai, Jesus turns the world upside down.  It is no longer bad to be totally dependent on God, or meek, or merciful, or hungry for truth and justice, or crazy to work for peace when everyone wants war.  In fact, IF and WHEN we do some of these things, God calls us “blessed” among his people.

Some writers claim that the Beatitudes are really Jesus’ “I have a Dream Speech.”  God’s Dream Speech is this- if we want a holier route to heaven then Jesus maps it out in the Sermon on the Mount.  But let’s admit it, the truth is- the Beatitudes are not reality.  Let’s tell the truth.  This Sunday, Catholic and Mainline Protestant assemblies all over this country are proclaiming the same Gospel- the Beatitudes.  What percentage of these congregations will make a connection between the Beatitudes and what is going on in our airports in the international terminal?  How are these Beatitudes living realities in our country right now as we bar refugees vetted for two years from finding safety here?  How are we Christ followers in this country when we refuse to readmit to their homes people with permanent residency?  We are the People of God, we have some serious thinking to do right now.

I will never forget the day I taught the Sermon on the Mount to my junior religion class at Benet Academy, 1993.  After reading the Beatitudes out loud, Ryan Christi raised his hand and said, “Father, it sounds as if Jesus wants losers.”  He was respectful but honest.

Was Ryan correct?  Are we God’s losers because we proclaim the Beatitudes or because we fail to live the Beatitudes?  Listen to St. Paul:  “Consider your calling, my brothers and sisters…” not many of us are wise by human standards; not many of us are powerful; not many of us belong to nobility or the upper class.  Rather, God chooses the foolish to shame the worldly wise; God chooses the weak to shame the worldly strong; God chooses the lowly and despised among us who amount to nothing to reduce to nothing those who believe that they are something.  If we really want others to come to God, then we need to reread the Beatitudes because they are Jesus’ Dream Speech for changing the world.  And the only ones who can affect change in the world today are God’s losers!

What strengthens us is the Eucharist as we ponder the Beatitudes- words that describe God.  If the Mass is indicative of God’s love, then here we all win particularly as we stand up for justice on behalf of the migrants in our fields and the refugees in our airports.

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle A

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

N.B.  When the Spirit moves, the written word differs from the spoken word!

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Chloe’s People

Thank God for Chloe, and thank God for Chloe’s people!

St. Paul learns that there are divisions in the Corinthian Church. He learns about the strife from “Chloe’s people.” Her name means “a young, green, growing shoot.”[1] The Biblical scholar Fr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor claims that Chloe is a Gentile Christian woman who runs a business with employees or slaves. She is probably bothered by the fact that triumphalism is smothering the Christian Church. We recognize triumphalism easily. When we boast about our degrees, our friends, our wealth, our race, our country, when we lord it over one another or separate ourselves from the community, we are nothing more than a “triumphalism” because we exalt ourselves way too much. According to St. Paul, this type of thinking and acting empties the cross of Christ of meaning.

According to Pope Francis a number of years ago in a homily during Mass with Vatican employees: “The triumphalism of the church stops the church.” It becomes a church that journeys only halfway to its goal of salvation because people become satisfied with everything being “well organized — all the offices, everything in its place, everything beautiful, efficient.” Too many times, “we are faith-checkers instead of facilitators of the people’s faith.”[2]

Jesus does not call Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him to check on people’s faith. Nor does he call the apostles to lord it over others. “Come after me,” Jesus says, “and I will make you fishers of [men and women].” Even though I hate fishing, the metaphor is superb. People who fish recreationally or commercially need to be patient, hard working, tough and committed. In the words of an early church writer- Jesus chooses his apostles “not for who they are but because of what they can become.”

When the sin of triumphalism creeps into our lives, you and I need a “Chloe” in our lives. This is triumphalism today: I have more Latin. I have more music. I follow the right mass. I kneel for communion. I work for the poor. I pray the rosary. I wear the habit. Now, all of these things are good if I want to use them as aids to my faith. But when I use them to lord it over you, then I empty the cross of Christ of its meaning. Triumphalism is not Christian. It destroys the essence of discipleship.  The Israelites had Moses. The Corinthians had Chloe and Chloe’s people. The apostles had Jesus. Who is that Christian in our lives, that honest, straightforward woman or man who pulls us back into integrity? We need a Chloe and we need Chloe’s people to keep us honest and to pull us back to the Gospel of Christ.

Here at the Eucharist may we all become Christ’s people. May we become young, green, growing shoots so that the Body of Christ radiates God’s Light to the world.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

3rd Sunday Ordinary Time

[1] http://catholicexchange.com/chloe-and-the-corinthians

[2] http://ncronline.org/blogs/francis-chronicles/pope-s-quotes-triumphalism

new-cross-22

Hagios! (Άγιος) Worthy!

Once upon a time, a priest walks along the corridor of the parochial school near the preschool. A group of little ones trot by on the way to the cafeteria. A little lad of about three or four stops and looks at him in his clerical clothes and asks, “Why do you dress funny?” He tells him that he is a priest and this is the uniform priests wear. Then the boy points to the priest’s collar tab and asks, “Do you have an “owie?” The priest is perplexed till he realizes that to him the collar tab looks like a band-aid. So the priest takes it out and hands it to the boy to show him. On the back of the tab are letters giving the name of the manufacturer. The little guy feels the letters, and the priest asks, “Do you know what those words say?” “Yes, I do,” said the lad who was not old enough to read. Peering intently at the letters he says “Kills ticks and fleas up to six months!”

What is it like to be holy? And what do holy people look like in our world?

St. Paul tells us that God called him to be holy. Isaiah the prophet says that God called him while in the womb to be holy. And St. John tells us that as Jesus came up out of the water as God’s Son he is holy. What is this holiness?

St. Paul uses the word, hagios, “worthy.” Faith in Jesus makes us worthy. Hagios is to be in awe of the person and the power of God. Hagios is following the promptings of the Spirit.

Thank God for the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council that calls us all to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This worthiness, hagios, is not reserved for priests and nuns, popes and bishops. The entire people of God, the whole Body of Christ—WE—are called to be worthy. God wants us to be more than servants…God’s holiness wants us to be light, and salt, and salvation for the world.

Notice that people begin to recognize Christ’s holiness and divinity after a sacramental experience. Jesus comes up out of the River Jordan and St. John the Baptist sees the Holy Spirit descend upon God’s Christ. Until that moment, John did not know who the Christ was in Israel. God made known his holiness at Christ’s baptism. We call this moment a sacrament…a sacred time when God is made manifest and people become holy.

Some people think that we can turn on the holiness. Nor does a Roman collar make me hagios. Holiness is a way of life. It sets us aside for the work of the Gospel. If there is war, we bring peace. Hagios! If there is injustice, we speak truth. Hagios! If there is discord, we offer reconciliation. Hagios! If there are no words at all, we stand for forgiveness. Hagios!

We gather around this sacrament of Word and Table to praise God for the actions of Jesus Christ. God call us too follow him in holiness…no matter what we wear or what we do…. Hagios! 

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Ordination book cover

 

A Star to Follow ~ A Life to Redeem

A long, long time ago, I taught the juniors scripture at Benet Academy.  I always started the semester with Bible Trivia.  Question:  “Where was the Garden of Eden?”  Answer:  “We don’t know.”  Question:  “What was the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve ate?”  Answer:  “It was the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”  And then my favorite, question:  “How many kings arrive in Bethlehem to adore the newborn child?”  Answer:  “None.”  St. Matthew never calls the visitors “kings.”  He calls them, “magi.”  They are stargazers.  They study the heavens.  They are master dreamers, teachers, maybe priests and magicians (in fact, we get our words “magic” and “magician” from the Persian word, magi).  We do not even know their number but we do know that they follow a star and travel to Bethlehem to adore the newborn king.

What if, what if there is another reason they travel such far distances?  In 2013, a close friend of mine by the name of Chris Freiler writes a tale for his children.  It is a fable about the “three kings.”  He titles the book, A Star to Follow.  He gives the kings the traditional names:  Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar.  Yet in this story the plot is thick and a little surprising.  They are kings and rulers.  They fight wars for kingdoms.  Melchior and Caspar are allies but Balthazar is an enemy. Melchior “pursues a war his father believes to be foretold by an omen.”  As they all meet on the battlefield, Balthazar outwits the other two kings, practically destroying Melchior’s kingdom and killing his wife and young son.  When Melchior exacts revenge he finds that Balthazar is badly wounded and asks for forgiveness vowing to almost live as Melchior’s attendant.  Years pass in Melchior’s rebuilt kingdom until they all see the brilliant star in the sky.  And…together, they travel because there is “A Star to Follow.”

What if, Chris asks, what if the story of the Magi in St. Matthew’s Gospel is really about REDEMPTION?  The word means, “to buy back.” When I redeem something I buy it back because it is something valuable.

According to the prophet Isaiah, God buys back the nation of Israel.  Took long does she live in exile.  Too long is she desolate.  Too long is she without land, a people and a temple.

According to St. Paul, God buys back every person on the face of the earth.  Not only does God buy back the Jewish people, but also God buys back every part of creation.  All of us are “copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus in the Gospel.”

According to the story, A Star to Follow, Melchior deeply desires to buy back his wife and son.   When the kings arrive at Bethlehem, something puzzles them.   This isn’t a king in royal robes ruling with a scepter.  They all agree that this is “the Prince of Peace.” Melchior feels the glance of the child and the glance of the young woman whose face resembles his wife’s face.   And then it dawns on him- his quest to follow the star is a quest to buy back his life.   He glances upon the face of the Divine who assures Melchior that his own son’s life rests in God’s arms.

As we approach Holy Communion, we remember that there is no redemption without faith in Christ Jesus. If you are a lot like me, most often what I need to buy back is my attitude.  Melchior loses his entire family.  The sword of anger, bitterness and loss does not fall until he finds peace in holding the child of peace.  This is why we all have A Star to Follow.[1]

`Fr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

[1] By Christopher Freiler.  Little Creek Press, Mineral Point, Wisconsin, 2013.  See, cwfreiler@gmail.com, or, http://www.littlecreekpress.com

a-star-to-follow

Cover

Copyright by Christopher Freiler

Used with permission

Learning a Whole New Language!

Once upon a time, on a hill far away, shepherds herd their flocks. As they graze in a field, they happily go “baa-baa” to each other.  And as usual they discussing life and the weather.  Suddenly, they hear a “moooooooo!” They look around and see only sheep. They carry on grazing as before. “Moooooo!” One sheep can hear it all too clearly next to him. He shuffles away a little from his friend with a worried look on his face.  He asks “George, why are you mooing. You’re a sheep. Sheep go baa!” His friend replies gladly, “I know.  I thought I would learn a foreign language!”

We need to take notice here. St. Matthew does not tell us that the angels appear to religious leaders, or to influential people. The angels announce good news first to the poor and those rejected by the society- the shepherds.

Could it be?  Could it be that St. Matthew learns a foreign language?

In the words of Benedictine Sister Verna Holyhead, it is unlikely that shepherds are in communication with angels.  They are “unrighteous, unpopular people on the margins…materially poor, often suspected of conniving in theft, and often recipients of the wrath of other shepherds or landowners…religiously, their handling of sheep render(s) them ritually unclean.”  So, why does St. Matthew write that they are the first to announce the message of the angel?  Because they “watch and keep awake on the hillside,” she says.  And it is the poor, or the rejected, or the hated who are the “more grateful watchers” of a message from God.  And I bet that these types of people form St. Matthew’s community- people who resemble shepherds:  the homeless, the poor, the rejected and those who flee their countries because of persecution.

Notice though whom the shepherds seek out in Bethlehem- other poor, rejected people:  Mary, Joseph and the child laying in an animal trough, pleasantly called a manger.

Could it be that St. Matthew speaks a foreign language to those who need Good News?

Before the time of Christ, the Jewish people needed words of comfort as they sit in exile in Babylon.  God raises up a prophet like Isaiah the priest.  And this prophet speaks words of hope.  “No longer,” he says, “will they call you forsaken or forgotten…they shall call you the land that God ‘Frequented,’ a land that God visits repeatedly.”  This prophet speaks a new language to his people who sit in hopelessness because of exile.

How can you and I speak a foreign language this Christmas season and in the coming new year?

Allow me to illustrate:  Muslims and immigrants are in the news a lot.  The news media and politicians speak on and on about refugees and about our borders.  Often these same people are “associated” with terrorism.  And some very important people say we need to register them so that we can surveillance them, including those who are American citizens.  This is when WE CHRISTIANS learn a foreign language. One such Christian group who learns to speak a new language is the people of the World Church Service of Lancaster, PA.  Last year, they settle 407 refugees from around the world.  And this year, they promise to settle 550 more refugees in their town and in the surrounding areas.  They come from Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Congo, Ukraine, Belorussia, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Palestine, Bhutan, Nepal, Burma, and Sri Lanka.  Many of them are not Christian and yet it is the Christians of Lancaster, Pa., who find homes, jobs and food for these refugees.  Want to know how they learn to speak a foreign language?  It is their faith founded in the Mennonite and Amish Churches.  They are the peace churches of the Christian denominations…and they put the rest of us Christians to shame.

In the words of St. Titus, a disciple of St. Paul, God saved us not by our deeds but out of the depths of his mercy.  Since we receive such great generosity from God, why do we not share it with others?  We do not know mercy if we fear.  We do not know mercy when we remain in prejudice and bigotry.  When we continue this behavior, we develop “groupthink” as Americans.  This keeps us safe because then we do not need to learn a new language about other religions, immigrants, refugees and strangers from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Remember the hymn of the angels after the announcement of Good News to the shepherds: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.  This is how I am going to pray that Christmas peace rests upon me.  I am going to continue to dialogue with my cousin. My first cousin is of Polish and Irish descent and she is a Muslim.   I will contact some of my Muslim friends and ask them to take me further into the Qur’an.  If St. Matthew learns a whole new way of thinking about outsiders and strangers and outcasts, so can I learn a new language.  Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!  What foreign language will you learn as you pray for God’s Christmas peace?  Merry Christmas and a very happy new year to you all!

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

Christmas Day  2016

Readings from the Mass at Dawn

Personal Work / Studio in Various, in Brookfield, IL on 9/16/15.

Sadao Wantanabe

The adoration by the shepherds

Copyright St. Procopius Abbey

 

 

 

Musing Inwardly

Once upon a time, it is one week before Christmas. Sister Ida asks her class to write their Christmas letter to baby Jesus.  This excites little Suzie.  She plans to ask baby Jesus all sorts of questions.  But the one main question on her mind is getting a sign from God that everyone goes to heaven when they die.  Dear Baby Jesus, can you show me a sign that everyone who dies goes to heaven?  I was wondering…instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you have? And is it true my father won’t get in heaven if he uses his bowling words in the house?  Love, Suzie

Why is it so difficult to read signs from God?

For example, the king of Judah is in trouble.  Ahaz mismanages his kingdom.  Kingdoms surrounding Judah (including the northern kingdom of Israel) amass armies against Jerusalem.  Judah’s people fear for their lives and begin to rumble against the king who has no heir.  So, the prophet commands the king to seek a sign from God that God still holds Judah in divine favor.  And the sign that God sends to King Ahaz is that the young woman whom he marries will bear him a son.

In 1st century Palestine, St. Joseph is in trouble.  His betrothed wife, Mary, tells him that she is pregnant.  Custom dictates that he divorce her.  The village will then shun her.  She will live in disgrace for the rest of her life. Joseph seeks a sign and in his dream an angel tells him not to be afraid.  Then God tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife because the child in her womb is the first born of God destined to save all of us.

In the words of some early church writers, Joseph is a person who muses inwardly!  To muse is to think, ponder, deliberate, consider, to cogitate.

But how can we muse inwardly ourselves when the problem is our attitude?  The difference between Ahaz and Joseph is attitude.  Throughout all his reign as king, Ahaz continually tests the Lord.  Breaking that commandment, and breaking this commandment, Ahaz follows his own will.  When the prophet tells him to seek a sign from God his attitude is false humility and false piety.  On the other hand, Joseph is a righteous man.  He is unwilling to expose Mary to shame and disgrace and utter poverty.  He seeks a sign also about what to do and when he wakes up he obeys the dream, the angel.

To read signs from God we must imitate St. Joseph.  He is that hero who muses inwardly.  St. Matthew tells us that he is a just man, a righteous man.  To be righteous is to be virtuous.  And to be virtuous is to do one’s best!  God sends us signs in many ways.  We want thunder and lightning.  We want heavenly visions and voices.  And God might just use all of the above to send us a sign.  However, it is my experience that God sends us signs in dreams, in letters, in homilies, in a word, in other people, and, yes, in silence.

The most important sign from God is the Eucharist.  At this eternal banquet, we muse inwardly over God’s love for us.  Here we become the apostles of faith.  As we imitate the virtue of St. Joseph, you and I might be someone’s sign today.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

4th Sunday in Adventide

Cycle A

Lenten purple