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Matthew 9:35-38Epiphany

Sunday, January 6, 2019

James Tissot: The Magi Journeying

E-piph-an-y: A Christian festival, the manifestation of a deity, a sudden intuitive perception or insight, a piece of literature presenting a revelation.  These definitions define the holiday or the emotion, the state of being surprised by something we already know but have not yet acknowledged.  This word may also define our relationship with Christ.  Today we encounter Jesus in the midst of his work and this is what we find.

Jesus teaches.  Jesus proclaims the Good News that we are free to choose life over death.  Jesus heals. Jesus is moved with compassion at the sight of the crowds.  All of this goodness is what God has in mind for us.  All of this kindness is what God has in store for us.  All of this love is what God intends for us.  And this is what the Magi come to honor and worship.

In our Western tradition we have come to know these three men as Melchior, a scholar from Babylon, the place of Israel’s exile about six centuries before Christ’s birth, Caspar, another scholar from Persia, the civilization that overran the Babylonians, and Balthazar, an Arab scholar.  These learned men bring gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold that serve as symbols for our own worship of the Son of Man.  Frankincense, aromatic incense, is brought to purify the Lord; myrrh, perfumed oil often used in embalming, is offered to anoint the Lord; and gold, the symbol of power, is presented to honor the Lord.  Some commentary suggests that the Magi bring forward these gifts for medicinal purposes; others propose that they are meant as tribute to this new kind of high priest, savior and king.  Still others say that these gifts stand in stark contrast to the sacrificial gifts of birds, lambs and oxen that the Jewish people proffered to God.  In any interpretation the story holds importance for us for these men have spent their lifetime studying the heavens and their search leads them to a small place in a small town where this small Jewish family shelters for a time.  Who is more surprised?  The Magi themselves?  Mary and Joseph?  The shepherds who tend their flocks and follow the Magi who follow the star?  Or are we perhaps the most surprised?

All of this is tradition as we have said earlier but we hold and cherish this belief in the story of the Magi for a purpose.  We love to hear the names read out rhythmically.  We want to listen to the details of this story again.  We want the mystery and surprise of this holy night to roll over us and wrap us in the warm and holy mystery of the Christ.  We want to be children for a little time again.

When I was small my Eastern European grandmother made doughnuts and inside them she had hidden shiny, bright coins.  Who would find the pennies, the dimes?  Who would be lucky enough to encounter the rare quarter?  Children understand how important it was to nibble the edges of the pastry carefully.  Children know the importance of joyful anticipation.  Children understand wonder and surprise. As adults we want the confirmation from these intelligent students of the heavens and stars.  As adults we want to be affirmed that the Good News we have heard is true.  As adults we want someone to stun us with a vivid and beautiful truth.  We want the verification that wonderful surprises lie ahead of us.  We want to see and hear and touch the reality of the Christ Child.

Diego Velázquez: The Adoration of the Magi

On this Epiphany let us resolve to believe more and doubt less.  Let us decide to act on our beliefs and turn away from a cynical view of the world.  Let us announce to the world that we will love our enemies into goodness.  Let us bow in homage to the Christ child.  Let us lay at his feet the incense of our own suffering and the joy of our hearts.  Let us come and worship the Lord.  And let us allow ourselves to experience the surprise and enchantment of the Epiphany . . . just as God has intended.


A re-post from January 6, 2012.

Images from: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/4436 and  http://www.restoredtraditions.com/clipart-bundle-birth-and-childhood-of-jesus.aspx

For another reflection on the Epiphany, go to the post for January 2, 2012: Reminders

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Luke 11:37-54Unmarked Graves

Friday, December 4, 2019

The Pharisees Question Jesus

Jesus warns his listeners, Woe to you!  – and he also warns us – that we might fulfill the letter of the law and completely miss its spirit.  Jesus describes for the Pharisees and others – and he describes for us – what it means to be his true disciples.  Jesus tells the dinner guests – and he tells us – how to avoid becoming unmarked graves that people walk over without even realizing.

Jesus also speaks to those who know the law inside and out; he challenges the lawyers and scribes and points out how they block entrance to the kingdom by their obtuseness and their stubborn inflexibility.  He also warns all that we are judged by what we do and what we do not do.

Commentary tells us that here Jesus delineates six woes and we might take the opportunity to examine ourselves today.

Do we worry about our outward appearance and cleanliness and neglect our true selves, our souls?

Do we speak with piety and yet rebuke the marginalized and broken?

Do we make a show of our tithing and do nothing for the poor?

Do we seek honor and fame while we isolate and segregate those we see as unworthy?

Do we overly obfuscate and complicate the simple law of love that Jesus gives us and steer others away from the true Way?

Do we attempt to supersede the Holy Spirit by encouraging others to worship us rather than God?

With Jesus’ words we see the easy pitfalls that line the pathway of our journey.  We will want to look for the small and subtle ways in which we complicate the simple instruction to love one another.  We will want to gather around ourselves like pilgrims who openly share the difficulties of the road; and we will want to move away from those who lie in wait to catch others in something they might say.

The Scribes and Pharisees Hear Jesus

Today’s picture is one we will want to keep with us for a while before we leave the Christmas season because it gives us insight into how to best deal with the kind of envy and greed that both lures and surprises us.  In the Christ Child, we have just been given the dual gifts of hope and light; we have received these as tools we might use to conquer the narrowness we see today in the scribes, the Pharisees and even ourselves.  These are the instruments we will use to avoid embroiled arguments, byzantine squabbles and superficial bickering.  The presence of the Christ in each moment of our lives is all that saves each of us from becoming the unmarked grave of a life lived . . . and lost.

And so let us pray as St. Paul prayed with the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:12): Our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that we have conducted ourselves in the world . . . with the simplicity and sincerity of God, [and] not by human wisdom but by the grace of God.  Amen. 


A re-post from January 4, 2012.

Images from: http://allsaintswritersblock.wordpress.com/about/ and http://possessthevision.wordpress.com/seeking-jesus/passing-from-the-way-and-into-the-truth/jesus-is-victorious-over-an-evil-establishment/

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Isaiah 45Reminders

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The wise men approach from the East, bearing gifts that will sanctify, purify and sustain.  They are yet another sign of God’s promise to us that he loves, guards and guides us.  We will want to be watching for the many reminders God gives to us as marking posts along the way of our journey.

This reflection was written on January 3, 2010 and it is posted today as a Favorite . . .

I have not spoken from hiding nor from some dark place on the earth . . . I, the Lord, promise justice, I foretell what is right.

The prophet Isaiah brings us a message today that we already know; yet we can use a frequent reminder. He announces the coming of hope, the arrival of the long-awaited one who frees us from defeat, the advent of one who helps each of us to cross our daily hurdles.

It was I who stirred up one for the triumph of justice; all his ways I make level.

If we wish to walk in the level path, we have only to follow God’s anointed one.  In today’s reading it is Cyrus, the Persian king who rises up against Babylon and releases the captive nations.  As the New Testament story tells us, God also sends a true Messiah who releases us from our bondage of sorrow and chaos.  He sends the Christ.

Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down.  Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up!

Today we celebrate the idea that although political kings did not recognize the power of Christ, three wise magi from the East bring frankincense, gold and myrrh to the most unlikely of all kings, the child of Light, the child of Justice.  Isaiah reminds us that this child brings something to us which we all seek . . . true peace, eternal serenity . . . if only we might walk with him a little way, pray with him a little while.

Come and assemble, gather together, you fugitives . . .

Rather than stand alone on the rampart, Isaiah reminds us that we must gather into phalanxes with all of the faithful, that we must put aside our squabbles so that we might rise at the sound of the Shepherd’s voice to form solidarity as we witness.

Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other!

There is no dark corner that the eye of the Lord does not see.  There is no sequestered portion of creation from which the ear of God cannot hear the plea of the weary.  There is no god who can outlast our God, none who can withstand our God, not one who will win any battle against this God.

The prophet Isaiah brings us a message today that we already know . . . yet we can use a frequent reminder.

Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other!


As we ponder the plight of refugees around the world in 219, we visit this re-post from January 2, 2012.

Images from: http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/wise-men-ancient-text-differs-bible-tale-magi/story?id=12460820 

For an interesting new twist to the Magi story, click the image above or go to http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/wise-men-ancient-text-differs-bible-tale-magi/story?id=12460820

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Acts 20:25-38Resolutions

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A 1915 Postcard: New Year’s Resolutions

A new day dawns, a new year begins . . . we have before us a new opportunity for reconnection and rebirth.  In today’s Noontime we examine part of Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders in Miletus in which he lays out a kind of instruction manual for those whom he has brought into Christ’s infant church . . . and for whom he has great love.

As we begin a new year, we might resolve to take Paul’s admonitions seriously; we might decide to be faithful followers of the Gospel . . . and this may be more difficult than we first think.

I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to be fearless in proclaiming the Good News to all we know.  In our secular world it is so easy to say nothing when others rant about how the poor are lazy, about how we need to take back America from the immigrants.  It is easy to remain silent in the face of such anger.  It is convenient to forget that most of us are not descended from indigenous peoples.

I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to be both watchful and loving, and let us determine to be in the world but not of it. In a presidential election year it will be easy to join a drumbeat of complaint.  It will be difficult to listen without judging.  It will be awkward to express a view that is contrary to the majority.

Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to maintain healthy boundaries as we take care of ourselves even as we tend to the needs of others.  In a self-centered society we will often find ourselves alone when we advocate for the disenfranchised.  We will be at odds with conventional wisdom.  We will run counter to general opinions.  We will struggle with knowing which work is our own and which is not.

Miletus: Agora with public building

Be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day, I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to be prudent and compassionate in all that we do in Jesus’ name.  In a time when a show of emotion is characterized as a weakness we will be against the tide.  In an era when the phrase “personal responsibility” is used to erase God’s call to heal the broken-hearted and help the marginalized, we will stand out as different and even bizarre.  We will be targets for people’s hatred.

In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to be determined to live out the Gospel message in our support of the marginalized.  Let us acknowledge that the world will disparage who we are and what we do . . . and that Christ will be working right beside us.

When he had finished speaking he knelt down and prayed with them all . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to join others in prayer whenever and wherever possible to unite our voices and hearts in unison with the Creator.  Let us recognize that the work of Christ’s disciples is difficult at best . . . but amazingly rewarding and well worth our personal cost.

Paul reminds the faithful that Christ’s call will run counter to what is comfortable or popular; yet Christ’s message will be wonderfully simple and beautifully plain.  On this New Year’s Day let us remember the gift of Christmas as we resolve to both fashion and fulfill new resolutions that will ask much of us . . . but that will be well worth the sacrifice and even the pain.


A re-post from January 1, 2012.

Images from: http://www.allanbevere.com/2010/10/was-ephesians-circular-letter.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NewYearsResolution1915FirstPostcard.jpg 

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Matthew 2:1-12: Leaving by Another Road
Friday, July 20, 2018

Written on June 7 and posted as a favorite today . . .

I love this portion of the Christmas story. The wise men are so wise that they are able to read Herod’s secret intent. Nothing can be hidden from the wise because they are so connected to the creator that they appear to have special insight. What they really have is patience, serenity, and a finely tuned ear for God’s word. And so the magi left for their own country by another road.

I am thinking about the number of times I have averted disaster because that calm, strong voice within indicated that I was to stay put. We notice that an attitude of patience and a willingness to obey always accompanies the wise. The wise are not brash or excitable. They do not speak harshly, nor are they silenced. Like the Persistent Widow, they know when to persevere in speaking God’s word. And like the Three Magi, they know when to stand down and melt away into God’s protecting presence.

The wise know when to stand and witness . . . and when to leave quietly by another road.


Read the parable of The Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1-8.

We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on July 29, 2011.

Image from: http://lifeasilookatit.blogspot.com/2011/03/road-not-taken.html

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Matthew 2:1-12Leaving by Another Road – A Reprise

Epiphany Sunday, January 7, 2018

Edward Burne-Jones: The Adoration of the Magi

With Christmastide ended, we find ourselves observing the official feast of Epiphany. What significance does this feast hold for us? To further explore, we return to a Noontime reflection on the wisdom of the Magi. We reflect on the wisdom they reveal, the wisdom of patience, willingness, and  openness . . . as they listen to God’s voice that speaks within. 

I love this portion of the Christmas story.  The wise men are so wise that they are able to read Herod’s secret intent.  Nothing can be hidden from the wise because they are so connected to the creator that they seem to have special insight.  What they really have is patience, serenity, and a finely tuned ear for God’s word.  And so the wise men left for their own country by another road.

I am thinking about the number of times I have averted disaster because that calm, strong voice within indicated that I was to stay put.  We notice that an attitude of patience and a willingness to obey always accompany the wise.  They do not appear to be brash or excitable.  They do not speak harshly, nor are they silenced.  Like the Persistent Widow, they know when to persevere in speaking God’s word.  And like the Three Magi, they know when to stand down and melt away into God’s protecting presence.

The wise know when to stand and witness . . . and when to leave quietly by another road.

A reflection from June 7, 2011.

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Matthew 9:35-38Epiphany – A Reprise

Saturday, January 6, 2018

James Tissot: The Magi Journeying

Today’s post is a reprise from January 6, 2012.

E-piph-an-y: A Christian festival, the manifestation of a deity, a sudden intuitive perception or insight, a piece of literature presenting a revelation.  These definitions define the holiday or the emotion, the state of being surprised by something we already know but have not yet acknowledged.  This word may also define our relationship with Christ.  Today we encounter Jesus in the midst of his work and this is what we find.

Jesus teaches.  Jesus proclaims the Good News that we are free to choose life over death.  Jesus heals. Jesus is moved with compassion at the sight of the crowds.  All of this goodness is what God has in mind for us.  All of this kindness is what God has in store for us.  All of this love is what God intends for us.  And this is what the Magi come to honor and worship.

In our Western tradition we have come to know these three men as Melchior, a scholar from Babylon, the place of Israel’s exile about six centuries before Christ’s birth, Caspar, another scholar from Persia, the civilization that overran the Babylonians, and Balthazar, an Arab scholar.  These learned men bring gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold that serve as symbols for our own worship of the Son of Man.  Frankincense, aromatic incense, is brought to purify the Lord; myrrh, perfumed oil often used in embalming, is offered to anoint the Lord; and gold, the symbol of power, is presented to honor the Lord.  Some commentary suggests that the Magi bring forward these gifts for medicinal purposes; others propose that they are meant as tribute to this new kind of high priest, savior and king.  Still others say that these gifts stand in stark contrast to the sacrificial gifts of birds, lambs and oxen that the Jewish people proffered to God.  In any interpretation the story holds importance for us for these men have spent their lifetime studying the heavens and their search leads them to a small place in a small town where this small Jewish family shelters for a time.  Who is more surprised?  The Magi themselves?  Mary and Joseph?  The shepherds who tend their flocks and follow the Magi who follow the star?  Or are we perhaps the most surprised?

All of this is tradition as we have said earlier but we hold and cherish this belief in the story of the Magi for a purpose.  We love to hear the names read out rhythmically.  We want to listen to the details of this story again.  We want the mystery and surprise of this holy night to roll over us and wrap us in the warm and holy mystery of the Christ.  We want to be children for a little time again.

When I was small my Eastern European grandmother made doughnuts and inside them she had hidden shiny, bright coins.  Who would find the pennies, the dimes?  Who would be lucky enough to encounter the rare quarter?  Children understand how important it was to nibble the edges of the pastry carefully.  Children know the importance of joyful anticipation.  Children understand wonder and surprise. As adults we want the confirmation from these intelligent students of the heavens and stars.  As adults we want to be affirmed that the Good News we have heard is true.  As adults we want someone to stun us with a vivid and beautiful truth.  We want the verification that wonderful surprises lie ahead of us.  We want to see and hear and touch the reality of the Christ Child.

Velázquez: The Adoration of the Magi

On this Epiphany let us resolve to believe more and doubt less.  Let us decide to act on our beliefs and turn away from a cynical view of the world.  Let us announce to the world that we will love our enemies into goodness.  Let us bow in homage to the Christ child.  Let us lay at his feet the incense of our own suffering and the joy of our hearts.  Let us come and worship the Lord.  And let us allow ourselves to experience the surprise and enchantment of the Epiphany . . . just as God has intended.

For more on the identity of three Magi, visit: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+9%3A35-38&version=GNT;NRSV;CJB;MSG

For more on the gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, visit: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-magi-bring-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/ 

For another reflection on the Epiphany, go to the post for January 2, 2012: Reminders

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The Trinity

Creed: We believe . . .

The Twelfth Day of Christmas, January 5, 2018

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gives to me twelve drummers drumming.

These twelve drummers lords represent the twelve beliefs held in the Apostles Creed.

When the circumstances of life challenge us, we take our burdens to the LORD . . .

We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

When life confuses us about how we are to behave and where we are to go, we take our worries to Christ . . .

We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.

When life presents impossible obstacles that seem insurmountable, we remember that with God all things are possible . . .

We believe that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary.

When life’s pain seems to have no purpose, we remember that Christ offers salvific suffering for us each day . . .

We believe that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Women Apostles

When horrible events destroy innocent people, we remind one another that Christ overcomes all evil and brings goodness out of harm . . .

We believe that Jesus descended into hell and on the third day rose again from the dead.

When dictators and oligarchs wipe out cultures and truths, we remind ourselves that God’s kingdom is the only kingdom that lasts forever . . .

We believe that Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God.

When corruption thwarts justice and exploits the marginalized, we remember that there is only one judgment that lasts forever . . .

We believe that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.

When we are abandoned, alone, or rejected, we remember that we are all on in the Spirit . . .

We believe in the Holy Spirit.

When the structures we design to protect us become tools of subjugation, we recall that the Spirit lives in our ancestors who go before us, and in our children’s children who follow . . .

We believe in the holy catholic Church and the Communion of Saints.

When we are beleaguered, overwhelmed or undone, we recall that God’s goodness overpowers any errors we commit . . .

We believe in the forgiveness of sins.

When we are unloved, unwanted or numbed by tragedy, we remember that Christ brings us home to new life in The Way . . .

Giovanni Battista Gaulii: The Three Marys at the Sepulchre

We believe in the resurrection of the body.

When we are duped or deceived by life on earth, and when we lose all hope, we remember that God is with us always, loving us into eternal goodness . . .

We believe in life everlasting.

This is what we believe, this is what we share, this is what we know.

Amen.

For information about where the Creed is found in Scripture, visit: http://www.acatholic.org/about-the-catholic-faith/catholic-the-apostles-creed/ 

For information about the split between Western and Eastern creeds, visit: http://orthochristian.com/90157.html 

For more in-depth interpretations of The Apostles’ Creed, visit these sites. 

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Apostles-Creed

https://blog.faithlife.com/blog/2015/04/the-apostles-creed-its-history-and-origins/

http://www.dummies.com/religion/christianity/catholicism/the-twelve-articles-of-catholic-faith/

 

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Pushkin Museum – Moscow, Russia: The Synaxis of the Holy and the Most Praiseworthy Twelve Apostles

Apostleship: Following the Call

The Eleventh Day of Christmas, January 4, 2018

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gives to me eleven pipers piping.

These eleven lords represent the eleven apostles who doubted, yet remained faithful to Christ.

When crisis comes into our lives, we often retreat into hiding, taking our fear and exhaustion with us. We revert to what we know and do well; just as Peter and the other fishermen-followers did when they returned to their boats after the horrible events of Holy Week in Jerusalem. Like the story in John 21, we flounder in our boats while Jesus stands “on the shore” of our lives. Like the apostles in this story, we too often do not recognize the faithful Jesus. After fishing all night in the dark, we – like the apostles – remain frightened. Jesus calls to us, saying, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” We answer, as the apostle did, “No?” And Jesus says, “Cast the net over the right side”. We roll our eyes as we might guess the apostles did. But when we do as Jesus asks, we haul up the net that is “not torn . . . even though it was full of so many” fish. Then we, like Peter, must take the leap over the side of the boat and flail to shore . . . because there Christ is waiting with the brazier of live coals to cook us a meal, to bring us comfort, to open The Word to us, to free us from oppression, to raise us from the dead. And when Christ asks, “Do you love me?” we, like Peter who days earlier had denied that he knew Christ, must respond, “You know that I love you”. It is then that we will be told what and how to do: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep, follow me.

Nicolas Poussin: Ordination of the Apostles (detail)

And we must follow. We must take the leap when Christ calls us from the shoreline. We must have faith and we must choose to enact our faith as the faithful followers did. We must cast our nets even though we have been at the task all day and all night without finding success. When we hear the call, we must step out into the water and fly to the shore, because there is truly nothing else more important. This is where the salvation of humankind lies.

Adapted from a reflection on apostleship written on April 22, 2007.

According to tradition, the remaining eleven continued to follow Christ in this world as they continued to build the Kingdom. Tradition also tells us that the faithful eleven continued to preach The Word all the days of their lives. Some died violently, others did not. For more details, and for short video clips about the facts we know, use the links below, or visit: http://www.catholic.org/saints/

  1. Simon, called Peter (rock) was crucified on Vatican Hill in Rome.
  2. Andrew, Peter’s brother was executed in the city of Patras, Greece.
  3. James, son of Zebedee, brother of John was decapitated in Jerusalem.
  4. John, son of Zebedee, brother of James died in Ephesus in about the year 98 C.E.
  5. Philip was crucified in Hierapolis, Greece.
  6. Bartholomew, called Nathaniel was flayed and beheaded in Abanopolis.
  7. Thomas (referred to as the doubter) preached in India and was killed in a hunting accident
  8. Matthew, the tax collector, called Levi, Matthew, the Evangelist preached in Persia and Africa, and we have no information about his death.
  9. James, the son of Alphaeus, also named The Less or The Just was executed in Jerusalem.
  10. Thaddeus, the son of James, called Judas/Jude (not the betrayer), brother of James the Less visited Beirut and Edessa, and was likely martyred with Simon.
  11. Simon, the Zealot was likely executed in Jerusalem.
  12. In Matthew 27:5 we learn that Judas hanged himself; but in Acts 1:18, his death is described as resulting from a fall. As always, those who explore Scripture are invited to read, reflect, and meditate on The Word that Christ brings to us as his followers. 

For fascinating articles on where the remains of these followers lie today, click the images above, or visit: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/tcraughwell/where-are-the-12-apostles-now or https://aleteia.org/2017/07/21/whatever-happened-to-the-twelve-apostles/ 

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