Sacrificing Our Will

We have been led to believe that we can do whatever we want. So when someone tells us that we should do something, or that we must do something, or that we are expected to do something, almost immediately our hackles are raised, our pride rears its ugly head, and we insist to ourselves—if not also aloud to others—that we will do what we like, that no one will tell us what to do, that no one can make us do anything, and that we will make our own choices.

And this stubbornness is applauded by those around us. We congratulate each other for being resolute, for being our own person, for standing up for ourselves and our right to free choice. But in fact we’ve become the slave of our selfishness. We’ve succumbed to the deadly sin of pride.

Doing what we like, going our own way, insisting on our choices—that is not the mind of Christ that the Saint Paul speaks about in the Palm Sunday Epistle. What does the holy apostle say? “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” And what is this mind of Christ? He made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant … and humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death.

In other words, Our Lord did not do as He liked; He did not go His own way; He did not stubbornly say, “No one can tell me what to do.” Instead, thanks be to God, Our Blessed Lord Jesus willingly, freely, and gratefully submerged His thoughts and desires, and submitted Himself to His Father’s will, trusting that Our Father in heaven knows best.

In the Passion Narratives on Palm Sunday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday and Good Friday, you will hear this same theme when Our Lord Jesus prays, Not as I will, but as Thou wilt. Not My will, but Thine be done.

With those words, Our Lord not only determines to be our Savior; He also shows us the way of salvation. He not only demonstrates that He is holy; He also leads us in the path of holiness. And He not only conforms His will to the Father’s will; He also indicates that, if we truly desire to attain the kingdom of heaven, we must set aside our pride, we must put to death our stubbornness, we must refuse to go our own way, and instead follow in the Lord’s saving path of humility.

For in His tender love for us, Our Savior Jesus Christ both put on our flesh and suffered our death. In this way, He gained for us the salvation, the freedom from death, the forgiveness of sins, and the life in God that we desire and that Our Father has freely given. By His death, Our Lord opened heaven to us and obtained what we could never obtain on our own.

Yet we can stray from this saving way. And we can damage the holiness Our Lord gained for us if we let pride have its way by doing not what we must but what we please.

Let us, therefore, beg the prayers of the Holy Mother of God, of the Holy Archangel Michael, and of all the angels and saints that, aided and defended by their holy intercessions, we may follow the example of Our Lord’s great humility, and remain on the path of holiness by putting to death our self-will and by living solely in the Father’s will, who has loved us in His Son and by His Spirit with an everlastin g love. Fr John W Fenton

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Vice & Virtue: A Men’s Retreat

On Saturday, April 13, St Michael will host “Vice & Virtue: A Men’s Retreat.” Participants will be challenged to reflect on the examples of St David the King and St Joseph the Spouse of the Virgin Mary in their personal battle to be victorious against various vices.

The retreat begins at 9 a.m. with prayer and Mass (Divine Liturgy) and concludes with prayer at 4 p.m. In addition to the main presentations, time will be aloted for silent reflection, conversation, and confession.

The retreat will be led by David Paddison, Fr John Fenton, and Dn Nicholas Mamey. Various resources will also be available.

The cost to cover meals is $12.50 online, or $15 in person. Registration is not required, but is requested. See the link below.

For more information or details, contact Fr John Fenton at stmichaelwhittier@gmail.com

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Lenten Retreat March 16

To aid your Lenten Fast with prayer and meditation, the Society of St Benedict of St Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church will host the V Rev John Finley on Saturday, March 16, for a day-long Lenten Retreat.

Fr John will present three meditations on the theme “The Inner Heaven of Man” which will focus our attention on the healing of Mind, Heart, and Will.

Fr John is the chairman of the Department of Missions & Evangelism for the Antiochian Archdiocese. His meditations will be will surrounded by prayer and Liturgy, silence for reflection and private prayer, and opportunities for confession.

The retreat begins with First Hour (Prime) prayers at 9 a.m. and concludes by 3 p.m. with Ninth Hour (None) prayers. Fast friendly meals will be provided; however, child care is not offered.

St Michael Church is located at 3333 Workman Mill Road, Whittier CA 90601. Please RSVP by sending an email to Fr John Fenton (frjohnfenton@gmail.com) or by telephoning the parish office (562.692.6121).

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When The Lord Give Us Opportunities

Before this parish, in recent months, the Lord has placed several marvelous opportunities. These opportunities take various forms: persons, donations, talents, etc. The question that ought to consume us is whether, and how, we might take advantage of these opportunities.

Putting before us opportunities is oftentimes how Our Lord works with us. He does not foist Himself upon us or lead us by the nose. And rarely, if ever, does He answer our most common prayer; that is, to show us which path we are to take (considering, of course, that our options are all morally upright).

That can be frustrating, especially if we are expecting or demanding some “clear word.” As if God is our Magic 8 Ball who reveals our fortune and future, especially when things have aligned to present us with intriguing or important decisions. That understanding of God reduces both Him and us: Him to a shaman we consult only we are at loggerheads, and us to people who are ultimately governed by fate.

Yet, as we know, Our Lord God desires to be more than an impersonal consultant. And He has designed us with free will; in fact, such free will that He even permits us to ignore Him, revolt against Him, and disown Him. For without this free will, we could not truly and freely love Him.

However, this does not mean that Our Lord doesn’t suggest to us possibilities. In fact, He often opens doors or pathways, points out viable alternatives, and may even give hardly preceptive nudges. Yet whenever Our Lord presents us with opportunities, He then honors our free will by letting us choose our own path—even if that path is not what He would think is the best.

Even this thought raises another bothersome question: Why does Our Lord present opportunities? And why, when He does, doesn’t He make the choices plain.

Well, sometimes the choices are plain; particularly when they involve a moral good or evil. But most often, Our Lord presents us with opportunities to give us the chance to stretch our wings of faith. If I may be so colloquial, it’s as if Our Lord is saying, “Here. Let’s see what you’ll do with this!”

Our Lord presents us with opportunities to give us the chance to stretch our wings of faith.

Mind you, it’s not a test. The Lord rarely treats us like Abraham and Job, seeing how far we’ll go for Him or whether we’re as strong as He thinks. Rather, most often, the opportunities Our Lord presents are just that: opportunities. Chances to explore certain avenues; openings to expand our vision; attempts to help us see things from another angle.

That is how I see the opportunities that the Lord has recently set before us as a parish: chances, openings, attempts, and challenges to think about who we are and how we might proceed differently, perhaps even more remarkably, as a community.

Perhaps we can see these opportunities—and every opportunity the Lord gives us—as a means of remembering that

[L]ove never rests. Love never says, “We’re there.” Love is a long-term project. An undying process. A constant moving forward. Not just to improve, but more importantly, to deepen, to mature, and to grow.

By the prayers of St Michael, and by your prayers, may Our Lord help us see His love in everyone and everything.

Fr John W Fenton

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Preparing for Christ Mass

The Church and the world prepare for the Lord’s Nativity in two very different ways. And these opposing preparations reveal what each really believes.

The world prepares by putting up trees, lights and other decorations. It also offers “holiday” (or “seasonal”) parties, and thinks nothing of prematurely anticipating christmas day. The world simply can’t wait; in fact, it won’t wait. And so it barges ahead and “celebrates” christmas during the month after Thanksgiving.

The world’s excuse for barging ahead is that “christmas is for the children.” Yet it doesn’t let the children wait for chirstmas. Instead, the world indulges the children. But who are we kidding? The adults are really indulging themselves using children as an excuse; and too often, at the children’s expense.

In doing this, the world shows both its immaturity and its lack of understanding for any celebration. The world shows its immaturity by focusing on itself—its parties, its ideas of how christmas should be celebrated, and its inability to wait. And the world shows its lack of understanding because it believes that the real reason for christmas revolves around the joy it can manufacture for itself.

The Church, by contrast, celebrates not christmas but Christ’s Mass—the day we did not deserve or merit to have Our Lord God come into our flesh to bear our sin, assume our death, and be our Savior. In other words, the Church understands that the reason for Christ Mass revolves around the great and wondrous mystery of Our Lord’s coming down from heaven for us men and for our salvation.

Because of this focus, the Church fixes our attention not on self-serving joy or decorations or parties, but rather on our need to repent, fast and pray so that we might be duly prepared, in heart and mind, to welcome and receive this great gift of God’s Love. Therefore, the Church prepares her members for Christ Mass by urging them to slow down, to focus not on this world, and to meditate on the Lord and world to come.

How can we quietly pray and meditate if we are caught up in going from party to party, or in decorating the house and yard? That is a question the Church urges us to consider. But more importantly, the Church urges us to remember that the month between Thanksgiving and Christ Mass is best spent utilizing the ancient Advent discipline of fasting, prayer and confession.

This discipline helps us reset our focus so that we see that christmas is not “for the children.” Rather, Christ Mass is about the Christ Child whom we are unworthy to receive, but who gives Himself to us nevertheless so that we might leave this world and its allurements behind and be joined everlastingly to God our Father in true and holy joy.

I encourage you, then, during this Advent not to be caught up in the world and its fabricated christmas, but to prepare yourself humbly and meekly so that, with godly intensity, you may celebrate the holy Twelve Day feast of Our Lord’s Nativity.

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Imitating the Saints

On All Saints Day, the Church does not celebrate all those who were baptized, particularly the faithful who are still living. For the Church does not use the word “saint” lightly. Therefore, she does not refer to any or every Christian as a “saint.” Rather, the word “saint” is reserved for those who have led exemplary lives of holiness. And as a mark of their holiness, these men and women would not see themselves as saints. Rather, they would see themselves as unworthy of this honor.

It is not a mark of pride, then, but a recognition of godly humility when a person is canonized (officially recognized) as a “saint.” And it is a witness to all the faithful that we should strive not to be saints, but to live humbly, “soberly, and justly, and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Ti 2.12-13)

The greatest honor bestowed upon a saint, then, is to imitate that person’s life. And there are two things in particular that we should strive to imitate so that we might worthily commemorate the saints.

First, all saints—whether known or unknown—freely confessed Christ and His unending mercy by willingly sacrificing their life. Many of the saints made this confession by spilling their blood as martyrs. Others, however, did not receive the crown of martyrdom, but nevertheless made a great confession by sacrificing all that they had and all that they were for the love of God and the love of all men.

To commemorate the saints by imitation, then, means that we adopt this same attitude of self-sacrifice; that we become willing to give up all our possessions, all our ambitions, all our desires, even our own life if necessary, in order to attain the kingdom of heaven. That is how the saints lived and died; and we honor them by living as they did.

Secondly, all saints strove not for fame, but for humility. All of them desired to be known not for their deeds or writings. Rather, they desired simply to gain true life by losing their lives in a life dedicated to repentance. For they saw themselves as unworthy of even the least of Christ’s mercies, and so lived St. Paul’s creed: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Tim 1.15)

To commemorate the saints rightly, then, means that we adopt their spirit of repentance and humility; that we strive not to impress others, but instead strive to divest ourselves of all pride and self-serving desires. To live knowing that no one is worse than we are, that all are more deserving, and that the Lord should first save everyone else, even the worst sinner—that is the saints’ spirit of humility and repentance that we should strive to imitate. And whenever we do, we truly honor them.

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Learning Compassion From the Least of These

THE MARGINALIZED, THE OUTCAST, the different, the diseased, the stranger, the warehoused—these are the people Our Lord frequently ministers to in and holds before us as examples of living faith. And so, if we wish to be Christians (i.e., those who have Christ living through us), then we should also show intentional compassion to these same folks.

But who are they? The marginalized are the people whom we—in our mind, in our society, in our attitude—shove to the sidelines and think little of. The outcasts are the people who are dismissed and about whom we say (perhaps not with words) that they don’t deserve our time or our rights. The different are the people that we think don’t measure up to our standards of what is normal or acceptable or good. The diseased are the people whom we’re afraid to approach for fear of catching their physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual ailment. The strangers are those who come from places or cultures that we can’t or won’t understand. The warehoused are the people we shut away in care facilities or detention centers or anywhere else so that we can relieve our guilt of having to face them.

In every instance, these folks are the ignored and the invisible.

Too often, however, we not only ignore but also think that the “others” are higher maintenance and so need more of Our Lord’s time. But when we think this way, we are saying that we are the “normal people.” And that’s a mark of pride, no different from the Pharisees and others who wondered why Jesus ate and reached out and spent time with ostracized.

Yet these are precisely the folks Our Lord reaches out to. On purpose. And with compassion. In the Gospels, these folks are the publicans, the sinners, the lepers, the Samaritans. They include St Photina (the Samaritan woman at the well), St Matthew, Zacchaeus, St Mary Magdalen, the 10 lepers, the “yapping” woman who begged from crumbs from the Master’s table, and St Dismas (the “good thief” to whom Jesus promised Paradise).

No doubt, Our Lord feels for and identifies with the marginalized. Because He Himself was marginalized, outcast, and ignored. By His own people. “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” In fact, they often attacked His origin (suggesting He was a bastard), His ethnicity (saying He was from Samaria, and so not a real Jew), His education (questioning His credentials to teach), His authority (who is He to forgive sins).

Yet I think the primary reason Christ identifies and aids the marginalized is because He sees that we need them more than they need us. For in the sidelined Our Lord sees in them both a greater appreciation for His ministry and help, and therefore a greater empathy to those in a like position. And in this way, they become our teachers.

In a way that challenges our pride, it works like this. For my salvation, I must not only see the marginalized. Even more so, I must see not that they need me but that I need them! This is best expressed by the beggar who once asked why passersby were denying their way to salvation by refusing to help him.

The path to salvation, then, is a path which humbly says these words to all those whom society shoves aside: ‘I take your suffering and burden so much that it becomes my own. In taking on your travails, I become marginalized myself and then can see things differently and with more compassion, just like you do.’ That’s the real stuff that takes courage: humility to admit we need them and their suffering and perspective more than they need us and what we can offer.

That’s why Our Lord frequently ministers to folks that I tend to ignore or push aside. It’s not just because Our Lord is compassionate, nor even to show us what mercy looks like. And it is certainly not so that I can thank God for my blessings and the times of been so close to being “one of them.”

Rather, the marginalized are God’s gift to me so that I might work on my own salvation while learning from them how true compassion works.

V Rev John W Fenton

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Life & Living

It certainly appears and feels like our lives are very busy. One result of this apparent busyness that I’ve noticed personally—and perhaps you also—is that we are forced to prioritize our tasks. Which of the many things demanding our attention will we do?

Setting goals so that you maintain your focus on the important things is the key to all productivity apps, planners, workshops, and calendars. Know what is important, and make sure it is not pushed aside—that’s what’s crucial.

Regrettably, when we think of goals, we think selfishly—about ourselves, our work, our families. We also tend to divide life into fragments—our health life, our work life, our family life, our recreation life, our financial life, our retirement life. Into this lump of “lives” we throw “spiritual life” or “church life.”

This way of dividing life is not what Our Lord Jesus had in mind when He said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” or “I am the Resurrection and the Life” or “I am the Life of the world.” With those statements, Our Lord was not begging to be a part of our life. Neither was He asking us not to forget Him in our many “lives.” And neither was He making more demands on our life.

Instead, with these statements, Our Lord urges us to think of life differently. Not as segments or “many lives” which create a whole, but to see life as Christ Himself. He says, in effect, “I am your life. Apart from Me, you can do nothing. So if I am not your whole life, you have no life.”

Our Lord urges us to think of life differently.
“If I am not your whole life, you have no life.”

These words sound demanding, but they are actually quite freeing. For if we take them to heart, we no longer need to “get a grip on life”—He has a grip on us. And no longer do we need to get our “lives” to line up, or prioritize our various “lives”—for Christ Jesus is the only life we have that is worth living.

Think of it this way: In the end, what good is your financial life, your work life, your health life, etc.? While these may improve the quality of your life now, they don’t improve Life Himself, nor your living since your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Seeing Christ as your Life shapes, forms and determines all your other “lives.” So, for example, you go to work and earn money for only one reason—to live in Christ by attending Mass and helping others. And that is not just the Christian way. That is Christ Himself.

For this reason, going to church ought not be a goal. Instead, you should see it as the place where you truly live your life—the Life that Christ is, the Life that Christ lives in you. For Holy Mass is the place where you receive the only nourishment that will see you safely from this life to the life to come. So Holy Mass is the only place where you live the life that none of your other “lives” give—the eternal life that you enjoy in part now, and then fully one day face to face with Christ your Life.

Mass is the only place where you live the life
that none of your other “lives” give.

What I’m saying, then, is that in all our busyness, in all our frustrations and stresses of living life, in all our goals and priorities—let’s not lose focus. It’s so easy to do—even for me. But we must always remember not only what is important, but also what our life truly is, and what makes our life worth living. It’s not the many things we do, the stuff we can accumulate, the ladders we can climb, the goals we can achieve, or the quality we attain.

Our life and our living is Christ Jesus—whom the Holy Spirit gives us time and again most surely only in the Holy Mass.

Because of this, I urge you to keep your eyes focused on the Mass. Everything else comes and goes. Everything else fades or is used up. But the Eucharist served in the Mass remains, and always comes through.

This means that everything else that’s on our busy schedule can—and should—be sacrificed for the sake of hearing Our Lord’s Word and receiving His Holy Communion.

So when you plan, “do not look at the things which are seen, but at the [sacramental] things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

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May 8 – The Apparition of St Michael

For a parish that is under the patronage, and exults in the merits, of so great an Archangel, it is most fitting that we learn of his appearances in other times and places. Here is the description of one such feast that we celebrate this month.

That the blessed Archangel Michael, whose name means Who is like unto God?, is the prince of the faithful Angels who opposed Lucifer and his followers in their revolt against God. Since the devil is the sworn enemy of God’s holy Church, Saint Michael is given to it by God as its special protector against the demon’s assaults and stratagems.

Various apparitions of this powerful Angel have proved the protection of Saint Michael over the Church. We may mention his apparition in Rome, where Saint Gregory the Great saw him in the air sheathing his sword, to signal the cessation of a pestilence and the appeasement of God’s wrath. Another apparition to Saint Ausbert, bishop of Avranches in France, led to the construction of Mont-Saint-Michel in the sea, a famous pilgrimage site. May 8th, however, is destined to recall another no less marvelous apparition, occurring near Monte Gargano in the Kingdom of Naples.

In the year 492 a man named Gargan was pasturing his large herds in the countryside. One day a bull fled to the mountain, where at first it could not be found. When its hiding place in a cave was discovered, an arrow was shot into the cave, but the arrow returned to wound the one who had sent it. Faced with so mysterious an occurrence, the persons concerned decided to consult the bishop of the region. He ordered three days of fasting and prayers. After three days, the Archangel Saint Michael appeared to the bishop and declared that the cavern where the bull had taken refuge was under his protection, and that God wanted it to be consecrated under his name and in honor of all the Holy Angels.

Accompanied by his clergy and people, the bishop went to that cavern, which he found already designed in the form of a church. The divine mysteries were celebrated there, and there arose in this same place a magnificent temple where the divine Power has wrought great miracles. To thank God’s adorable goodness for the protection of the holy Archangel, the effect of His merciful Providence, this feast day was instituted by the Church in his honor.

It is said of this special guardian and protector of the Church that, during the final persecution of Antichrist, he will powerfully defend her: At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince who protects the children of thy people. (Dan. 12:1) (Source)

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Christ Loves You in Your Body

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

These words that we just said: they are so much more than a joyful Easter greeting. To greet one another with these words is to proclaim to each other the most fundamental, the most significant, the most impactful, the greatest truth of our hope, both at this moment and as our last moment nears.

St Paul says this clearly with these words:

[Now] if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. … 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. … 20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

So to say “Christ is risen” is to proclaim your certainty that Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead makes a difference for you. To say “Christ is risen” is to declare that you live in the confidence that you shall not die but live. It is to be able to stand over a grave and say “This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous shall enter.”

That is what it means when we say, “Christ is risen!” It is not just the celebration of an historical fact. Our Paschal greeting also means that those who die trusting in the Lord will also be raised to stand with the Lord in His heavenly kingdom, celebrating in eternity the Divine Liturgy that we celebrate here on earth.

We will make this eternal celebration in glorified bodies. And so that is also what “Christ is risen” means. It means that your body, the actual physical body that is inseparable from who you are, the body that God carefully fashioned and created—individually, uniquely, for you—that body is not to be despised or belittled or abused or mutilated. For it is both a gift, and a promise.

Your body is a gift because, even though it is truly yours, you had nothing to do with its shape, its size, its characteristics, its genetics, its background. All that you are, in your body, is a gift from God. So don’t denigrate it, and don’t try to make it something it is not, or something it was not given by God to be. Instead, receive, accept, and rejoice in this gift—and all the gifts—that God graciously gives.

More than that, remember that Our Lord decidedly and unequivocally has determined to knit our flesh to His divine nature. Without an constraint or necessity, He has become one of us. So that He might cleanse and scrub us clean from our brokenness, our ungodly passions, our perverse pleasures—everything that contributes to the death of body and that threatens our life in God. This is why Christ came in our flesh, why He was tempted, why He suffered, and why He died—to purge our bodies of their rottenness, to convert our suffering into a means for renovation, to make our death the way to fullness of life, and to restore in us His image.

Our Lord does this by taking our flesh into the grave, by burying the body He so lovingly made. Not to destroy it. Not to replace it. Not because it’s merely a shell. Heaven forbid!

For how can we think of being human without a body? How can you be you without being all that God made of you? And how can you truly be in God’s image if His image is merely a mirage or metaphor?

Because Christ Himself so honors your body by becoming flesh, because Christ Himself loves you in your body—with all its warts and charms, with all its disorderliness and promise—because Christ loves you with your body, and in your body—that is why Our Lord Jesus determined to sacrificed Himself on the cross and then rise from the dead.

He entered the grave with a body which suffered, and arose with a body incapable of suffering. He entered mortal, and arose immortal. He was buried in a body very much like yours, and came out with a glorious body. Not a complete different body, but the same body transformed.

So the same Jesus, in His flesh, who went into the tomb, is the same Jesus, in that exact same flesh, who rose from the dead.

And Our Lord retained His body in order to glorify your body. He retained His body not to annihilate, but to transform your body.

That is the great and wonderful promise that lies behind the words, “Christ is risen!” For, as I said before, the words “Christ is risen” are so much more than a joyful Easter greeting. Those words hold the promise of our resurrection.

But not simply our resurrection on the last day. Even more so, our resurrection now, today, here. For we kneel before altar trembling, blemished, perhaps even disfigured inside or out. Yet we arise glorified, renovated, refreshed, filled with hope. And why? Because we have received, not a reminder, not a figure, not a picture, but the actual flesh and blood of Our Resurrected Lord.

And with His glorified Body and Blood coursing through our veins, we now have the hope, the promise, and the truth of His resurrection in our bodies—not just for the future, but also for today.

Let us, therefore, rejoice with exceeding joy. For the resurrection of Jesus means that our bodies—the most unique and significant part of who we are, the very image of God Himself—all that makes you who you are is raised from the decay of sin, from the fear of hardship, from the distress of suffering, from the corruption of our passions, from the deterioration of your body. All of that is raised in Christ’s resurrection, so that we can stand unsullied, cleansed, purged, and restored before our heavenly Father; who, with His Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, throughout all ages or ages.

Christ is risen!

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