You Wicked Servant! August 13, 2020


Thursday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saints Pontian, Pope and Hippolytus, Priest, Martyrs—Optional Memorial

“‘You wicked servant!  I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.  Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’  Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”  Matthew 18:32-35

That is definitely NOT what you want Jesus to say and do to you!  How frightening to hear Him say, “You wicked servant!”  And then to have Him hand you over to the torturers until you pay back all you owe for your sins.

Well, the good news is that Jesus deeply longs to avoid such an awful confrontation.  He has no desire to hold any one of us accountable for the ugliness of our sins.  His burning desire is to forgive us, pour out mercy, and wipe the debt away.

The danger is that there is at least one thing that will keep Him from offering us this act of mercy.  It’s our obstinacy in failing to forgive those who have wronged us.  This is a serious requirement of God upon us and one we should not take lightly.  Jesus told this story for a reason and the reason was that He meant it.  We can often just think of Jesus as a very passive and gentle person who will always smile and look the other way when we sin.  But don’t forget this parable!  Don’t forget that Jesus is serious about obstinate refusal to offer mercy and forgiveness to others.

Why is He so strong on this requirement?  Because you cannot receive what you are not willing to give away.  Perhaps that doesn’t make sense at first, but it’s a very real fact of the spiritual life.  If you want mercy, you must give mercy away.  If you want forgiveness, you must offer forgiveness.  But if you want harsh judgment and condemnation, then go ahead and offer harsh judgment and condemnation.  Jesus will answer that act in kind and severity.

Reflect, today, upon those powerfully piercing words of Jesus.  “You wicked servant!”  Though they may not be the most “inspiring” words to reflect upon, they may be some of the most useful words to reflect on.  We all need to hear them at times because we need to be convinced of the seriousness of our obstinance, judgmentalness and harshness toward others.  If that is your struggle, repent of this tendency today and let Jesus lift that heavy burden.

Lord, I do repent of my stubbornness of heart.  I repent of my harshness and my lack of forgiveness.  In Your compassion please do forgive me and fill my heart with your mercy toward others.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Saint of the Day – Saints Pontian, Pope and Hippolytus, Priest, Martyrs

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Image: Parable of the Unfaithful Servant

Courage to Reconcile August 12, 2020


Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, Religious—Optional Memorial

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church. If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”  Matthew 18:15-17

Presented here is a clear method of problem solving given to us by Jesus.  First of all, the fact that Jesus offers a basic method of problem solving reveals that life will present us with problems to be solved.  This should not surprise us or shock us.  It’s just life.

Too often, when someone sins against us or they live in a publically sinful way, we enter into judgment and condemnation.  As a result, we can easily write them off.  If this is done, it’s a sign of a lack of mercy and humility on our part.  Mercy and humility will lead us to desire forgiveness and reconciliation.  Mercy and humility will help us to see others’ sins as opportunities for greater love rather than as reasons to condemn.

How do you approach people who have sinned, especially when the sin is against you?  Jesus makes it clear that if you are sinned against you should go to great lengths to win the sinner back.  You should spend much energy in love of them and do everything possible to reconcile and to bring them back to the truth.

You must start with a one-on-one conversation.  From there, bring other trusted people into the conversation.  The ultimate goal is the truth and to do all you can to let the truth restore your relationship.  Only after you have tried everything should you then wipe the dust from your feet and treat them as a sinner if they are not won over to the truth.  But even this is an act of love in that it is a way of helping them see the consequences of their sin.

Reflect, today, upon who it is that you may need to reconcile with.  Perhaps you have not yet even had that initial personal conversation required as a first step.  Perhaps you’re afraid to initiate it or perhaps you’ve already written them off.  Pray for grace, mercy, love and humility so that you can reach out to those who hurt you in the way Jesus wants.

Lord, help me to let go of any pride I have that keeps me from being merciful and seeking reconciliation.  Help me to reconcile when the sin against me is small or even great.  May the compassion of Your heart fill mine so that peace can be restored.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, Religious

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Image: Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea by James Tissot

Becoming Like Children August 11, 2020


Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saint Clare, Virgin—Memorial

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”  Matthew 18:3-5

How do we become like children?  What is the definition of being childlike?  Here are a few synonyms that most likely apply to Jesus’ definition of becoming like children:  trusting, dependent, natural, spontaneous, awe-inspired, without airs, and innocent.  Perhaps some of these, or all of them, would qualify for what Jesus is talking about.  Let’s look at a few of these qualities in regard to our relationship with God and others.

Trusting: Children trust their parents without question.  They may not always want to obey, but there is very little reason for children to lack trust that a parent will provide and care for them.  Food and clothing are presumed and not even considered as a concern.  If they are in a large city, or shopping mall, there is safety found in being close to a parent.  This trust helps eliminate fear and worry.

Natural: Children are often free to be who they are.  They are not overly concerned about looking silly or being embarrassed.  They will often naturally and spontaneously be who they are and not worry about the opinions of others.

Innocent: Children are not yet skewed or cynical.  They do not look at others and presume the worst.  Rather, they will often see others as good.

Awe-inspired:  Children are often fascinated by new things.  They see a lake, or mountain, or a new toy and are amazed at this first encounter.

All of these qualities can easily be applied to our relationship with God.  We must trust God to care for us in all things.  We must strive to be natural and free, expressing our love without fear, not worrying if it will be accepted or rejected.  We must strive to be innocent in the way we see others not giving into prejudice and bias.  We must strive to be continually in awe of God and of all the new things He does in our lives.

Reflect, today, upon any of these qualities in which you find yourself most lacking.  How does God want you to become more childlike?  How does He want you to become like children so that you can become truly great in the Kingdom of Heaven?

Lord, help me to become childlike.  Help me to find true greatness in the humility and simplicity of a child.  Most of all, may I have absolute trust in You in all things.  Jesus, I do trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Saint Clare, Virgin

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Image: Let the Children Come to Me by Anthony van Dyke

Detachment Monday, August 10, 2020

 

Feast of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

Readings for Today

Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”  John 12:24

This is a catchy phrase, but it reveals a truth that is hard to accept and live.  Jesus speaks directly about the need to die to yourself so that your life will bear abundant good fruit.  Again, easy to say, hard to live.

Why is this hard to live?  What is hard about it?  The hard part begins with the initial acceptance of the fact that dying to yourself is necessary and good.  So let’s look at what that means.

We begin with the analogy of a grain of wheat.  That grain must detach from the head and fall to the ground.  This image is one of complete detachment.  That single grain of wheat must “let go” of everything.  This image tells us that if we want God to work miracles in us, we must be ready and willing to let go of all to which we are attached.  It means we enter into a true abandonment of our will, our preferences, our desires and our hopes.  This can be very hard to do because it can be very hard to understand.  It can be hard to understand that detaching from all that we want and desire is actually good and is actually the way that we become prepared for the new and much more glorious life awaiting us through the transformation of grace.  Death to ourselves means we trust God more than the things we are attached to in this life.  It means we believe that God’s plan is infinitely better than any plan we can come up with.

When the grain of wheat does die and enters the ground, it fulfills its purpose and grows into so much more.  It is transformed into abundance.

Saint Lawrence, a third century deacon and martyr whom we remember today, presents us with a literal image of one who gave up everything, including his very life, so as to say “Yes” to God.  He gave up all his wealth, and when commanded by the prefect of Rome to turn over all the treasures of the Church, Lawrence brought to him the poor and the sick.  The prefect, in anger, sentenced Lawrence to death by fire.  Lawrence gave up everything to follow His Lord.

Reflect, today, upon that which God may be calling you to let go of.  What is it that He wants you to surrender?  Surrendering is the key to letting God do glorious things in your life.

Lord, help me to let go of my own preferences and ideas in life that are not in accord with Your divine will.  Help me to always believe that You have an infinitely better plan.  As I embrace that plan, help me to trust that You will bring forth an abundance of good fruit.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

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Image: The Martyrdom of St Lawrence by Palma il Giovane

Fear Transformed August 9, 2020


Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings for Today

During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them walking on the sea.  When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.  At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”  Matthew 14:25-27

Does Jesus frighten you?  Or, better put, does His perfect and divine will frighten you?  Hopefully not, but sometimes it may, at least at first.  This story reveals to us certain spiritual insights and the way we may react to the will of God in our lives.

First of all, the context of the story is important.  The Apostles were on a boat in the middle of the lake at night.  The darkness can be seen as the darkness we face in life as we go through various challenges and difficulties.  The boat has been traditionally seen as a symbol of the Church and the lake as a symbol of the world.  So the context of this story reveals that the message is one for all of us, living in the world, remaining in the Church, encountering the “darkness” of life.

Sometimes when the Lord comes to us in the darkness we encounter, we are immediately frightened by Him.  It’s not so much that we are frightened by God Himself; rather, we can easily become frightened by God’s will and what He asks of us.  God’s will always calls us to selfless giving and sacrificial love.  At times, this can be hard to accept.  But when we remain in faith, our Lord will gently say to us, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”  His will is nothing we should be afraid of.  We should seek to embrace it with full confidence and trust.  This may be challenging at first, but with faith and trust in Him, His will leads us to a life of the utmost fulfillment.

Reflect, today, upon whatever our Lord may be calling you to do right now in your life.  If at first it seems overwhelming, keep your eyes fixed on Him and know that He will never ask of you anything that is too difficult to accomplish.  His grace is always sufficient and His will is always worthy of full acceptance and trust.

Lord, may Your will be done in my life in all things.  I pray that I may always welcome You into the darkest challenges of my life and that I will keep my eyes fixed upon You and Your perfect plan.  May I never give in to fear but allow You to dispel that fear with Your grace.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Virgin and Martyr
Not celebrated as a liturgical memorial this year since it falls on Sunday

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Image: Le Christ marchant sur la mer by Amedee Varin

Hope for Those in Need August 8, 2020


Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saint Dominic, Priest—Memorial

A man came up to Jesus, knelt down before him, and said, “Lord, have pity on my son, who is a lunatic and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.”  Matthew 17:14-16

OK, so perhaps this prayer is similar to the prayer of many parents.  Many young people may “fall into fire” or “into water” in the sense of falling into trouble and sin.  And many parents end up on their knees begging God for help.

This is a good prayer and it’s an honest one.  Though we do not commonly use the word “lunatic” today except as a derogatory comment, this word should be understood in this passage as the man acknowledging that his son is suffering from some form of psychological and spiritual illness.  In fact, the passage goes on to reveal that Jesus cast a demon out of him.  This demonic spiritual oppression also caused serious psychological issues.

The first good news about this passage is that the father cared and did not give up on his son.  Perhaps it would have been easy for the father to simply disown his son out of anger, hurt or frustration.  It would have been easy for him to treat his son as someone who was no good and not worth his continued attention.  But that’s not what happened.

The man not only came to Jesus, he also knelt down before Jesus begging for “pity.”  Pity is another word for mercy and compassion.  He knew there was hope for his son and that the hope resided in the mercy and compassion of Jesus.

This passage reveals to us the simple truth that we must pray for one another.  We must pray, especially, for those who are closest to us and in the greatest need.  No one is beyond hope.  All is possible through prayer and faith.

Reflect, today, upon whether there is someone in your life you have started to give up on.  Perhaps you’ve tried everything and the person continues to turn away from the path toward God.  In that case, you can be certain that your calling is to pray for that person.  You are called to pray not just in a casual and quick way; rather, you are called to deep and faith-filled prayer for them.  Know that Jesus is the answer to all things and can do all things.  Surrender that person to the mercy of God today, tomorrow and every day.  Do not give up, but retain hope that God can bring healing and transformation of life.

Lord, please have pity on me, my family and all those in need.  I especially pray for (_____) today.  Bring healing, holiness and transformation of life.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Saint Dominic, Priest

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Image: Jesus Healing the Son of an Officer by Joseph-Marie Vien

How Far Will You Go? August 7, 2020


Friday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saint Sixtus II, Pope and Martyr, and Companions, Martyrs—Optional Memorial

Saint Cajetan, Priest—Optional Memorial

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

There is a very important word in this statement of Jesus.  It’s the word “must.”  Note that Jesus did not say that some of you may have to follow me by carrying your cross.  No, He said that whoever wishes to follow me must…

So the first question should be easy to answer.  Do you wish to follow Jesus?  In our heads that’s an easy question.  Yes, of course we do.  But this is not a question we can answer only with our heads.  It must be also answered by our choice to do what Jesus said was a necessity.  Namely, wishing to follow Jesus means denying yourself and taking up your cross.  Hmmm, so do you wish to follow Him?

Hopefully, the answer is “Yes.”  Hopefully, we resolved deeply to embrace all that is involved in following Jesus.  But that’s no small commitment.  Sometimes we fall into the foolish trap of thinking that we can “kinda” follow Him here and now and that all will be fine and we’ll certainly get into Heaven when we die.  Maybe that’s true to a certain extent, but if that’s our thinking then we’re missing out on what life is all about and all that God has in store for us.

Denying yourself and taking up your cross is actually a far more glorious life than we could ever come up with on our own.  It’s a blessed life of grace and the only path to ultimate fulfillment in life.  Nothing could be better than completely entering into a life of total self-sacrifice by dying to ourselves.

Reflect, today, on whether or not you are willing to say “Yes” to this question not only with your head, but also with your whole life.  Are you willing to embrace the life of sacrifice to which Jesus is calling you?  What does that look like in your life?  Say “Yes,” today, tomorrow and every day through your actions and you’ll see glorious things take place in your life.

Lord, I do wish to follow You and I choose, today, to deny all my selfishness.  I choose to carry the cross of selfless living to which I am called.  May I embrace my cross with joy and be transformed by You through that choice.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saints of the Day –

Saint Sixtus II, Pope and Martyr, and Companions, Martyrs

Saint Cajetan, Priest

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Image: Christ with the Cross on his back by Titian 

The Glory of God! Thursday, August 6, 2020

 

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, August 6

Readings for Today

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.  Mark 9:2-3

Do you see the glory of God in your life?  Oftentimes this is a real struggle.  We can easily become aware of all the problems we face and can focus in on them.  As a result, it is often easy for us to miss seeing the glory of God in our lives.  So do you see God’s glory in your life?

The feast we celebrate today is a commemoration of the fact that Jesus literally revealed His glory to three of the Apostles.  He took them up a high mountain and was transfigured before them.  He became dazzling white and radiant with glory.  This was an important image for them to have in their minds in preparation for the very real image of the suffering and death Jesus was about to undergo.

One lesson we should take from this feast is the fact that the glory of Jesus was not lost on the Cross.  Sure, His suffering and pain was made manifest at that time, but it doesn’t change the fact that His glory was still just as real while He suffered on the Cross.

The same is true in our lives.  We are blessed beyond measure and God still desires to transform our souls into glorious beacons of light and grace.  When He does this, we must strive to constantly see it.  And when we suffer or face some Cross, we must never take our eyes off the glorious things He has done in our souls.

Reflect, today, upon the beautiful and profound transformation that God has done and continues to desire to do in your soul.  Know that He wants you to fix your eyes upon this glory and forever remain grateful for it, especially as you endure any cross you are given.

Lord, may I see Your glory and the glory that You have bestowed upon my own soul.  May my eyes forever remain fixed on that grace.  May I see You and Your glory especially in difficult times.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Transfiguration of the Lord

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Image: Transfiguration by Titian

Humility + Faith = Mercy August 5, 2020


Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major—Optional Memorial

But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”  Matthew 15:25-27

Did Jesus really imply that helping this woman was like throwing food to dogs?  Most of us would have taken great offense at what Jesus said as a result of our pride.  But what He said was true and was not rude in any way.  Jesus obviously cannot be rude.  Nonetheless, His statement has the superficial appearance of being rude.

First, let’s look at how His statement is true.  Jesus was being asked by this woman to come heal her daughter.  Basically, Jesus tells her she is not deserving of this grace in anyway.  And that’s true.  No more than a dog deserves to be fed from the table do we deserve the grace of God.  Though this is a shocking way to say it, Jesus says it this way so as to first illustrate the truth of our sinful condition and unworthiness.  And this woman takes it.

Second, Jesus’ statement allows this woman to react with the utmost humility and faith.  Her humility is seen in the fact that she does not deny the parallel to a dog eating from the table.  Rather, she humbly points out that even dogs eat the scraps.  Wow, this is humility!  In fact, we can be certain that Jesus spoke to her in this somewhat humiliating way because He knew how humble she was and He knew that she would react by letting her humility shine forth so as to manifest her faith.  She was not offended by the humble truth of her unworthiness; rather, she embraced it and also sought out the abundant mercy of God despite her unworthiness.

Humility has the potential to unleash faith, and faith unleashes the mercy and power of God.  In the end, Jesus speaks for all to hear, “Oh woman, great is your faith!”  Her faith was made manifest and Jesus seized the opportunity to honor her for that humble faith.

Reflect, today, upon your own humility before God.  How would you have reacted if Jesus spoke this way to you?  Would you have been humble enough to acknowledge your unworthiness?  If so, would you also have enough faith to cry out for God’s mercy despite your unworthiness?  These wonderful qualities go hand in hand (humility and faith) and unleash the mercy of God!

Lord, I am unworthy.  Help me to see that.  Help me to see that I do not deserve Your grace in my life.  But in that humble truth, may I also recognize Your abundance of mercy and never fear to call upon You for mercy.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major

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Image:  The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ by Jean Germain Drouais

Courage, Charity & Truth August 4, 2020

 

 


Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time (Year A)
Readings for Today
(Using new website from the USCCB)

Saint Jean Vianney (the Curé of Ars), Priest—Memorial

Then his disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”  He said in reply, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.  Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.  If a  blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”  Matthew 15:12-14

Why were the Pharisees offended?  In part because Jesus just spoke critically of them.  But it was more than that.  They were also offended because Jesus doesn’t even answer their question.

These Pharisees and scribes came to ask Jesus what was, in their minds, a very important question.  They wanted to know why His disciples failed to follow the tradition of the elders by not washing their hands before they ate.  But Jesus does something interesting.  Instead of answering their question, He gathers a crowd and says, “Hear and understand.  It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles the man; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one” (Mt. 15:10b-11).  So they were offended by Jesus both because of what He said and because He didn’t even say it to them but spoke it to the crowds.

What’s interesting to note is that sometimes the most charitable thing one can do will result in another being offended.  We ought not recklessly offend.  But it seems that one of the cultural tendencies of our day and age is to avoid offending people at all costs.  As a result, we dumb down morality, ignore clear teachings of faith, and make “getting along” one of the most important “virtues” we strive for.

In the passage above, it’s clear that Jesus’ disciples are concerned about the fact that the Pharisees were offended by Jesus.  They worry and appear to want Jesus to fix this tense situation.  But Jesus makes His position clear.  “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.  If a  blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Mt. 15:14).

Charity requires the truth.  And sometimes the truth will sting a person to the heart.  Clearly this is exactly what the Pharisees need even though they fail to change, which is evident by the fact that they ultimately killed Jesus.  But, nonetheless, these truths spoken by our Lord were acts of charity and were the truth that these scribes and Pharisees needed to hear.

Reflect, today, upon how willing you are to speak the hard truth in love when a situation requires it.  Do you have the courage you need to charitably speak an “offensive” truth that needs to be spoken?  Or do you tend to cower and prefer to allow people to remain in their error so that you do not agitate them?  Courage, charity and truth must become deeply intertwined in our lives.  Make this your prayer and mission so that you will better imitate our divine Lord.

Lord, please do give me courage, truth, wisdom and charity so that I may be a better instrument of Your love and mercy to the world.  May I never allow fear to control me.  Please remove any blindness from my heart so that I can see clearly the many ways You desire to use me to lead others to You.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Saint of the Day – Saint Jean Vianney (the Curé of Ars), Priest

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Image: Jesus Traveling by James Tissot