When today ye hear God's Voice...

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I have not done the research (but now I’m curious) as to why no American Book of Common Prayer has included the entirety of Psalm 95 as the Invitatory at Morning Prayer.* If the reason is obvious to everyone else, mea culpa.

Psalm 95 (or 94 according to Roman Catholic numbering) has been the Invitatory Psalm for Matins ever since the 6th century with the Rule of St Benedict. Chapter 9 of the Holy Rule states:

In the aforesaid winter season, there is first the versicle Domine labia mea aperies, et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam, to be said three times; then must follow the third psalm and the Gloria; then the ninety-fourth psalm to be chanted with an antiphon, or at any rate to be chanted (emphasis mine).

When Thomas Cranmer produced the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, he included the Psalm 95 with the incipit Venite Exultemus without any invitatory antiphon. Every subsequent English Prayer Book followed suit.

After the Revolutionary War, the first proposed American Prayer Book included the entirety of Psalm 95 as the Venite, yet it was never ratified. The 1789 Prayer Book, and every Prayer Book thereafter combines the first 7 verses of Psalm 96 and verses 9 and 13 of Psalm 96:

O come, let us sing unto the Lord; *
    let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, *
    and show ourselves glad in him with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God, *
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are all the corners of the earth, *
    and the strength of the hills is his also.
The sea is his and he made it, *
    and his hands prepared the dry land.
O come, let us worship and fall down *
    and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is the Lord our God, *

 and we are the people of his pasture
    and the sheep of his hand. (Psalm 95.1-7) 
O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; *
    let the whole earth stand in awe of him.
(Psalm 96.9)
For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth, *(Psalm 96.13)
    and with righteousness to judge the world
    and the peoples with his truth.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the first American version to include a rubric that allows the use of all Psalm 95 as translated by Coverdale as the Invitatory Psalm. Several months ago, we took advantage of this rubric and started praying the whole psalm instead of portions.

Here is what we have been missing:

Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts *
    as in the provocation,
    and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness;
When your fathers tempted me, *
    proved me, and saw my works.
Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, *

It is a people that do err in their hearts,
    for they have not known my ways;
Unto whom I sware in my wrath, *
    that they should not enter into my rest.

I understand that these verses aren’t as uplifting as the first 7, but they are important. The refrain at mass today was from verses 7 and 8: “today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” This is important for us to hear as we break the night silence with our prayers. For we know that it is not if we will hear God’s voice, but when we hear God’s voice. When we hear God’s voice in the Scriptures, in the words at mass, in our conscience, and in the cries of those around us, harden not your heart.

I don’t know about you, but I need to hear that and I need to pray that.

*UPDATE: According to Massey Shepherd in The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary, "Bishop White quaintly said of the alteration made by the 1789 Book: 'We left out the latter part of the "Venite," as being limited to the condition of the Jews.'" 

The Sorrowful Mysteries

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Every Wednesday night we pray the Rosary in community. Even though one traditionally prays the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesdays, we rotate so we may pray them all. Meditating on the mysteries - events in the life of Our Lord and his mother - are vital to a deeper prayer experience with the rosary. The recitation of the Hail Marys help occupy our hands and mouths so our heart and mind can go deeper into the mysteries of faith.

Once at Walsingham, I found a helpful book that provided intercessions and prayers for each mystery. It helped me focus my prayers on the mystery and how it connects with my life and the lives around me. 

Tonight we will pray the Sorrowful Mysteries. I've borrowed from the Walsingham Rosary and created intercessions for our use.

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  Luke 22.39-44

Let us pray for those who are trapped in anxiety.

Let us pray for those in waiting in the hospital.

Let us pray for those who are praying for someone to come home or praying for someone to leave.

Let us pray for those struggling to make difficult decisions.

We pray this mystery for all who are in distress: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. We pray they may unite their agony to that of Jesus in the Garden.

Our Father….

The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging of Our Lord

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Matthew 27.24-26

Let us pray for those who are abused.

Let us pray for those who suffer in silence.

Let us pray for healing and unity in the Church, that our divisions may no longer wound the Body of Christ.

Let us pray for those who are bullied and let us pray for those who bully others.

We pray this mystery for all who endure the lashes of our pride, negligence, and hate. We pray this also for those who hold the whip. May all find healing in the wounds of Christ.

Our Father…

The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. Matthew 27.27-31

Let us pray for those who are humiliated daily.

Let us pray for those who still bear the shame of past sins.

Let us pray for those who mock Our Lord with words, art, or drama.

Let us pray for those who blaspheme Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

We pray this mystery for those who elevate themselves at the expense of others. We pray also for reverence and courage against blasphemy.

Our Father…

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Carrying the Cross

And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. Matthew 27.32-34

Let us pray for our Law Enforcement Officers, especially those who find rest in the St Michael Chapel.

Let us pray for our shelter volunteers, especially our monitors Sam, Devon, and Jessica.

Let us pray for all who help carry the burdens of others, especially when it is thrust upon them.

Let us pray for caregivers, especially to the elderly.

We pray this mystery for greater courage in carrying our own cross and for strength to aid others in carrying theirs.

Our Father…

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion

And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. Luke 23.33-46

Let us pray for those who are dying at this hour.

Let us pray for doctors and nurses who stand near the threshold of life and death.

Let us pray for the Society of St Joseph of Arimathea and those who die with no one to mourn them.

Let us pray for those who have died. May they feel the love of our prayers.

We pray this mystery for those approaching the mystery of death. May we all face that hour prepared and strengthened by the Sacraments of the Church. We pray for grace and mercy for those who do not.

Our Father…

Nikola Saric

Thanks to the miracle of Google Images, I stumbled upon the work of Nikola Saric. A young Serbian artist living in Germany, his modern iconography is gripping and insightful. His website is definitely worth a look.

I especially appreciate his icon for today's Gospel at mass, the parable of the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18.21-35. 

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Mr. Saric makes the spiritual point clear: if we refuse to forgive others, we will not be free from the sinister grip of Satan. Note the posture of the man who owed little. His hands are open in a posture of supplication. The man who owed much (and was initially forgiven) has his hands stingily around his neck, as tight as the dark hand which prepares to pull him into outer darkness. The outer darkness is the destiny for those who give permission for the inner darkness to persist.

I'm also fond of the icon for the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31). 

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The story of this parable is well-known. Lazarus is a poor man who begged at the gate and was covered in sores, which the dogs licked. The Rich Man lived in luxury and ignored Lazarus at his gate. When they both died, Lazarus rested in the bosom of Abraham (lower left panel). The Rich Man was in Hades where he was tormented. There is a door with a lock in the upper panels, reminding us that the Rich Man and Lazaurs were next to each other in life. In fact, Lazarus was outside his door. The Rich Man could have opened the door and removed the chasm between them. Yet in death, there is no door and no key. Lazarus cannot open the door and remove the chasm between them.

A Microcosm of Christian Community

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As a daily parish community, we pray all 150 psalms each month. Ritual Notes, the inspiration of this website, reminds us that the psalms are “the very core of divine office (and) should never be curtailed in number.” The monastic office would pray all 150 psalms each week and we read of some desert fathers reading all 150 psalms each day. With that in mind, 150 per month are a generous concession. Yet the women and men who pray with me are not nuns or monks. They are teachers, business owners, medical professionals, and those we call homeless.

Praying the psalms is a microcosm of the Christian life in community and is, therefore, the most difficult part of the office. The psalms are often long (especially Psalm 78 on the 15th of every month). Some of the psalms are hard to say (see Psalm 137). Sometimes not everyone is (literally) on the same page. Someone usually wants to speed things up and says the verses faster and someone usually wants to slow things down. There is usually a person or persons who say the psalms with volume and dominate with their voices and there is a person or persons who are so quiet as they are silent. There are those times when a person will forget the asterisk and speak through the pause. I’m always amused when, more times than not, the person will cough as if to cover the mistake. Sometimes a person is hard of hearing and is a step or two ahead of the rest or a step or two behind, or both during the recitation of the same psalm. And sometimes there are folks who clearly don’t want to be there or there are folks who have absolutely no idea what is going on. This is Christian community.

All of the above are metaphors to living in community and they are all realities for a parish priest, not to manage, but to pray through. I have learned that the best thing for me, as the officiant, to is to focus on my own voice and my own prayer. If I start focusing on the volume or the speed or the engagement, I will lose my place, speak over the words, and stop praying. No one is intentionally trying to sabotage the office and no one wants to make it harder for others to pray. Quite the contrary, they are trying to cling to the words of the office themselves and they need this for the stability of their day and sanity in the chaos. My job – our job – is to focus on our prayers so we can help others say theirs.

O Lord, open thou our lips.

The Third Sunday in Lent

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A glorious day. 60 plus choristers from ten parishes across two states joined us for the RSCM (Royal School of Church Music) Treble Festival. The choristers were the choir for the Solemn Mass and Evensong. Our procession for the Great Litany included nearly 80 people.

For the second time since Fr Griffin's arrival, I served as the deacon at mass. I have discovered that I'm a jealous celebrant, I love being at the altar to say mass. However, there also a great joy in serving as the deacon, something I shall write about later. More thoughts, pictures, and video to come.

Fathers John & Charles

14 years ago I walked into the Bishop of Georgia’s office in Savannah. For the past five years, I had been a student at a United Methodist seminary and had served two wonderful congregations in a pastoral capacity. At the point where my training was nearly finished and my path was becoming clear, I had a theological crisis, more specifically I had a sacramental crisis. I was convicted of the importance of apostolic succession (and the theology of ordination) and Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. I knew if I stayed in the United Methodist Church out of duty and yet against my conscience, I would kill every congregation to which I was appointed and that horror would certainly wound me.

But I loved John Wesley and I loved what Methodism had done for me. The United Methodist Church introduced to me to Jesus and the power of liturgy. I felt called to serve God in this tradition. I remember quite distinctly feeling the power of the liturgy one Maundy Thursday, and to this day I cannot get through a Solemn High Mass on Christmas Eve without thinking about singing Silent Night with candles in the church I was raised.

In this theological and sacramental crisis, I felt I was both betraying my conscience and betraying the people and tradition that raised, nurtured, and supported me.  I explored the Orthodox Church and I dearly loved it and still do. Honesty required me to admit that I am too western in thought and theology. The Roman Catholic Church did not accept married clergy, and I felt so clearly a call to parish ministry, later to be understood as the priesthood. So I explored the most logical place – the church of John Wesley, or at least its American expression, the Episcopal Church.

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When I walked into the office of the Bishop of Georgia, I knew I was risking much and I was afraid I would throw away even more. But all of that anxiety went away the moment I saw this icon. Hanging in the diocesan office was an icon written by Louise Shipps, the wife of the 8th Bishop of Georgia, of John and Charles Wesley. On the left was Charles Wesley, holding Christ Church, St Simon’s Island, of which he was vicar. His left-hand holds a page with the words of one of his best-known hymn, “Love divine, all loves excelling.” On the right is John Wesley, holding either a Bible or a Prayer Book (I’m not sure). Between the two brothers is Christ Church, Savannah, where John was vicar.

I saw this icon as a message of assurance. By coming to the Anglican tradition you are not amputating your history, you are fulfilling it. This icon gave me so much hope and confidence. A year later that same bishop ordained me as a priest.

On this feast of John and Charles Wesley I give thanks for warmth of their hearts that gave the light and heat of faith to the generations that followed. And I’m thankful for where I’ve been called. I’m often out of step with the Episcopal Church but for well-being or woe, this is where I’ve been called, and this is where I shall serve. A charge to keep I have; a God to glorify.

Stations

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On Fridays in Lent our custom is to pray the Stations of the Cross; 14 stations that mark the final moments in the life of Jesus Christ. Most of these moment are taken from scripture and the ones that aren’t are from pious tradition (for instance, Jesus falling three times isn’t in Scripture, but it’s hardly a stretch to say he fell whilst carrying his cross). The stations are marked by plaques along the north and south ends of the church, adorning the walls with the Via Dolorosa thus making a walk around the church a pilgrimage with Jesus to the Cross.

We pray the stations in order after Evening Prayer, usually just after 5pm. When we pay attention, however, we can see them jumbled throughout the day in the lives around us.

5:30am: The Fifth Station – Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross.
We adore Thee, O Christ, as we bless Thee. Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

At 5:30am I walked into the church via the St Michael the Archangel Law Enforcement Chapel. This is my day to volunteer at the overflow shelter with checkout. There were two Winston-Salem police officers having a cup of coffee in our chapel and hospice. Who knows what they lived through during their shift? How man times were their lives in danger, even when they didn’t know it? Who did they help? Whose burdens did they help carry? Whose lives did they save? Simon didn’t want to help carry the cross; he was compelled. Thank you, Lord, for putting the right people in our path who willingly help with our weakness. Help me to be the same for others. Help me to not refuse the cross.

6:10am: The Eighth Station – Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
We adore Thee, O Christ, as we bless Thee. Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

17 women spent the night in our shelter. 2 of the women are parishioners. What brought them from the pew to the pallet is complicated and sad. They met Christ in the Sacrament and now, I pray, they will meet Christ in our patience and welcome. As they exchange their blankets for their coats, may their tears this day be met with compassion and may they return this refuge safely. Help me, Lord, to realize that I bear your love and light to those I meet. May they see and feel your grace and love.

6:52am: The Fourth Station – Jesus Meets his Afflicted Mother
We adore Thee, O Christ, as we bless Thee. Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

I receive a text with the news that a former shelter guest was hit by a car and killed. I don’t know if I remember this guest but I am reminded that she asked for a rosary. She never returned to the shelter and she never received her rosary. I pray that she is aided by the prayers and love of the Blessed Mother. As she grieved for her son the moments before his death, she cares for us in the moments before ours. If she didn’t have it on her lips, I pray our friend had the words of the Hail Mary in her heart: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

12:20pm: The Fourteenth Station – Jesus is Placed in the Tomb
We adore Thee, O Christ, as we bless Thee. Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

Evangelist Billy Graham is buried. Billy Graham was and is not Jesus Christ, but his life had a singular focus of pointing to him. Dr. Graham endeavored to know one thing and one thing only: Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. As he was placed in his tomb, may we reflect on the tomb that held, but only temporarily, the body of Our Lord.

5:39pm: The Tenth Station – Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
We adore Thee, O Christ, as we bless Thee. Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

After Stations I placed a phone call to a parishioner was just yesterday diagnosed with cancer. Today was the meeting with the oncologist to plot a path forward. Regardless of stage or aggressiveness, a diagnosis of cancer emotionally strips a person bare. There is nothing to cover it up. You cannot hide from it. Oftentimes the treatment is even more exposing. There is the possible loss of hair and the side effects from chemotherapy. Help us, O Lord, to remember to unite what has been stripped from us with what was stripped from you. Help us to unite our sufferings with yours so we trust in both the meaning and the triumph.

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I finished the Stations in the church at about 5:20pm. The Stations in the world around us never end. Our Lord continues to walk the way of sorrows with everyone who suffers. When we see suffering, may we see Our Lord. In seeing Our Lord, may we truly see our brother and sister.

Stabat Mater dolorosa
Juxta crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat Filius.

At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful mother weeping
Close to Jesus to the last. 

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

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This has been a hard week for death. I realize it’s a hard week for death for someone every week, but at least for me, this week has been particularly harsh. This week alone in my hometown, two family friends, and one aunt have passed away. I was at one of the local funeral homes today and observed that business was, indeed, good.

The idea of the funeral has changed over the years, even during my 19 years of pastoral ministry. The death of a loved one is a devastating event and I mean no disrespect the obsequies for any person. However, trends in funerals have led to utter confusion as to what we are supposed to be doing. Is the funeral therapy for the living or a celebration of the dead? A combination of both? Sometimes the body is present and sometimes the body isn’t. I’ve noticed in obituaries that funeral homes insert “memorial service” as a matter of course without any real consideration as to what that means.

Christian burial serves two purposes. The first is to commend the soul of the deceased to Almighty God and the second is to commit their body to the earth. A funeral properly done can provide tremendous comfort and peace to the living but only because the liturgy is focused on the dead. The comfort comes partly in giving the living a duty, a job, to pray for the dead and to reverently prepare the body for restful anticipation of the Resurrection.

Historically, the funeral rites have consisted of five liturgical movements: the procession of the body to the church, the Office of the Dead, the Requiem Mass, the Absolution (Commendation), and the Committal. Each of these movements could be a stand-alone liturgy and officiated by a different priest and each of these movements is preserved in the current Book of Common Prayer.

In the first 60 days of 2018, I’ve had some liturgical function around 6 deaths. Broken down, I’ve done 1 requiem, 3 burial offices, 1 stand-alone committal, and 1 commendation. Ideally, all five movements would be included for the funeral but these were done as they were for pastoral considerations. Yet, each one still keeps the focus on the commendation of the soul and the burial of the body. When the integrity of the liturgy is kept, the focus is always on the mercy of God, our hope in Christ, and our duty and privilege to pray for and bury the dead. The beauty of the liturgy is that if we trust it, we are not shouldered with the burden of trying to sum up a person’s life with our inadequate tributes. We can never do justice to a person’s life with a 60-minute presentation, nor should we try. Our memories and love for them do not end at the burial. Nor do our prayers.

The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy. Unless circumstances made it impossible, I’ve never turned down a funeral. Weddings? Yes. Funerals? Never. No one likes to talk about death or even think of their own mortality. But I am convinced that if we take care of the dead and recover our beautiful theology surrounding death, we will pay more attention and care to the living.

Rest eternal grant to all the faithful departed and may light perpetual shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.

How Good It Is

As I opened the church door this morning I received a text from one of our parishioners who is in Costa Rica with our mission team. Over many years we've had a close relationship with the bishop and one parish in particular. Every year a team travels to assist in the building of the parish church and, more importantly, the building of relationships. Our mission team is currently on the Caribbean coast in Limon and wanted to know if they could FaceTime for Morning Prayer and Mass. 

I've often said that we hold daily prayer and mass at St Timothy's not to guilt those who can't attend due to work and other reasonable obligations but precisely because they can't. We offer the prayers of the Church on behalf of the Church. We (Fr Griffin and myself) keep this rhythm of prayer and Eucharistic Sacrifice in order that the Faithful may unite their prayers to those of the Church wherever they might be.

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Even though members of our parish are 1,800 miles away and in a different time zone, they knew when we were offering our prayers. And thanks to modern technology, they FaceTimed in, not as a gimmick, but to pray in community. This is catholicity. Two groups of people in different countries joined together through prayer and faith.

Today, on the 28th day of the month, the psalms for Morning Prayer are 132 through 135. Psalm 133 begins 

Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity.

I looked at the iPhone propped against the missal and smiled. Yes it is indeed. 

Our Lady of the Bug

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This morning walking to Morning Prayer, I noticed two of these lovelies on my surplice. Then at mass, I noticed one on my prie dieu. While not technically a bug, Ladybugs have always been my favorite...bug. The internet is full of stories of why coccinellids  are called Ladybugs or Ladybirds, but there is agreement they are named in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The prevailing legend is of farmers who asked the Virgin Mary's intercession during an invasion of pests on their crops. Their prayers were answered in the coming of ladybugs who ate the pests and thus saved the harvest.

The other reason is associated with one specific species in the genus: the Coccinella septempunctata, or seven-spotted lady bug. Christians took a creature that was already associated with the Virgin Mary due to legend and color (coccinellids comes from the Latin word coccineus meaning "scarlet" and the Virgin Mary is often depicted in a scarlet robe) and compared the seven spots on the beetle to the Seven Wounds in the heart of the Virgin Mary, or Our Lady of Seven Sorrows.

At the Presentation of Our Lord, the prophet Simeon told the Virgin Mary that "a sword will pierce your own soul also" (Luke 2.35). The "swords" that rose in devotion to Mary are

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  1. Simeon's Prophecy (Luke 2.34-25)
  2. The escape and flight into Egypt (Matthew 2.13)
  3. Losing Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2.43-45)
  4. Meeting Jesus on the way to the cross
  5. The Crucifixion (John 19.25)
  6. The piercing of Jesus's side and his descent from the cross (Matthew 27.57-59)
  7. The burial of Jesus (John 19.40-42)

I gently brushed the Ladybug off the prie dieu and s/he fell next to me as I knelt for the canon of the mass. Kneeling next to a reminder of Our Lady seemed appropriate during that moment and I thought of the words of her Son of the cross: Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.

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