About Getting Your Ash in Church

“Some people think that having ash on your forehead is ridiculous.
But I am neither ashamed nor afraid because
the ashes remind me that I have to someday pass away
and reunite with my creator.”

-Walter Buns

[The following is (more or less) a reflection I gave to a group of high school students today for an Ash Wednesday prayer service.]

Sacrifice. Sacrifice is that big word that we must face at the beginning of this Lent. But when we think of sacrifice, it is important to understand what we mean. When we hear ‘sacrifice,’ some people might think of parents sacrificing for their children, or sports players sacrificing for their teams, or soldiers for their country, or even Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. Whatever image we prefer, we can all recognize the common factors of each of these different scenarios. We can all see that these are sacrifices. (If you cannot, feel free to comment, and I shall explain.)

But when we look at these sacrifices that people make or that we make, if we truly wish to dive into the topic, we ask the question: Why? Why would we sacrifice? Why do these people make these sacrifices? And if you take the time to think about it, you will discover that these sacrifices are made out of love. Love moves us to sacrifice. Love moves us to put the needs of others before our own. We see the needs of another, and we seek those above our own.

At the beginning of Lent, a common conversation is, “What are you giving up?” Most people know of the concept of giving up something for Lent. When we give up something, we must recognize that this is indeed a sacrifice. And if it is a sacrifice, then it is done out of love. We are making a sacrifice for a greater good, beyond merely ourselves and our own good. We are looking beyond the closed-mindedness of our daily routine for something beyond us. Thus, in being called to make sacrifices for Lent, the question will inevitably arise: For what purpose? What love or purpose is driving us to seek to sacrifice something? The answer is a deeper relationship with God. We are sacrificing these things, whether big or little, for the sake of growing into a deeper relationship with our loving God above.

During these 40 days of Lent, we place ourselves in the desert with Christ Himself. Just as Christ fasted in the desert for 40 days, so too are we called to fast and sacrifice during the season of Lent. christ-in-the-desertWe fast and we sacrifice in order to grow closer to God. But how does this happen? How does giving up candy help me to grow closer to God? Well, some things really won’t help us grow closer to God, which is why we want to seek to answer these questions at the outset of the season. By ridding ourselves of unnecessary attachments, we allow ourselves more opportunities and more time to be put to better use. For example, I watch a lot of TV shows. Thus, in order to detach myself from this unhealthy attachment, I am sacrificing my time watching TV shows; I am giving up TV shows for Lent. Thus, I will have more time and opportunities to spend in seeking out a deepening of my relationship with God. Once again, some things bring us closer to God, while other things keep us from doing so. During this Season of Lent, we are called to seek to strip ourselves of those things that drag us down for the sake of those things that pick us up, bringing us closer to God.

During this time of Lent, we have three main pillars, so-to-speak: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. During the Season, we are called to seek our these three things, in order to deepen our relationship with God. We fast, and we sacrifice certain things, in order that we might grow closer to God. Because of these sacrifices, we have more time to re-focus ourselves toward God and serving Him, and seeking His will in our lives. We have more time for prayer, for actively seeking out that deeper relationship. We also have more time, and maybe more money to give alms, whether it entails sacrificing our time, our talent, or our treasure for those less fortunate than us. While not all people have the monetary means to give money to the poor, all of us are blessed with plenty of time and talent, which we can give for the sake of others.

 

Throughout this whole season, we are called to focus on Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. Christ made the ultimate sacrificecrucifixion for each and every one of us on the Cross. If we stop to think about it, we can truly be blown away by the love that motivated that sacrifice. If it were only you, Christ would have endured all of His suffering for the sake of just that one, for you. He had you in mind when He made the ultimate sacrifice. So, while our own sacrifices will pale in comparison to Christ’s, we are still called to follow His example. On the night before He died, Christ prayed to the Father, “Let this cup pass from me if it is possible. But not my will, but yours be done.” Sacrifice was even difficult and painful for Christ Himself. Sacrifice is going to be hard; it’s not meant to be easy. But by following Christ’s example, we rid ourselves of those unnecessary things that occupy our lives. Whether we strip away activities or habits, we answer this call to cleanse ourselves of all those things that drag us down. When we remove the unnecessary, what we have left is the necessary – our lives, in service to God and His will in our daily lives.

At the beginning of this Lenten season, we celebrate Ash Wednesday. We receive ashes on our foreheads, ashesin order to remind us of our utter dependence on God and our mortality. In the Book of Genesis, we hear God to say to us, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We are indeed lowly creatures, who were created from nothing by a loving God. If we focus too much on the wrong part of this, we can get trapped in a feeling of a meaningless existence. Thus, though we are lowly, our Creator is truly loving! This loving God desires to be in a relationship with each and every one of us. While we often distract ourselves from Him, falling away, God always seeks us out; He wants that relationship. I challenge you to seek to enter into this Lenten season. I call you to seek out a deeper relationship with God.

What is it that is keeping you from a loving relationship with God?

What can you sacrifice for the greater good of your relationship with God?

In what ways can you persist in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving?

We leave this world just as we came into it: with nothing. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

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Duc In Altum

 

The Eye and the Star

“There [Sauron] took up again his great Ring in Barad-dur,
and dwelt there, dark and silent, until he wrought himself a new guise,
an image of malice and hatred made visible;
and the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien tells the story of the Dark Lord Sauron, who creates the One Ring to rule them all. In the eyeofsauronbattle to overthrow this darkness, Sauron loses his physical form, coming to remain as a spiritual presence, awaiting the time when he can regain his body, in order that he might once again rule over Middle-Earth. Sauron is said to have a quasi-omnipotence, which is described metaphorically as the Eye of Sauron, for all people could feel his presence, remaining fearful of the lengthy sight of this Dark Lord. In his film adaptations, Peter Jackson decided to present this presence as a literal eye, gigantic and flaming. All people who experience his presence are overcome with this fear, as they are always watched by this all-perceiving eye.

In contrast, there is the light that comes from the Star oearendil-starf Eärendil. This light of this star is said to have come from a Silmaril, which represents the might and beauty of the Valar in Middle-Earth. The Silmarils came from the Two Trees of Valinor, from which came all light at one time. This star is what led the ancestors of the Númenóreans to their lands. The Star of Eärendil is a guiding light of the heavens. It is the light of Eärendil that guarded Frodo on his journey to Mordor. The people of Middle-Earth can ponder of this guiding light, as a reminder from the great ancestors of Middle-Earth, leading them to follow the ways of the Valar, just as Eärendil.

As I ponder these two images, I cannot help but notice a stark contrast. In the Eye of Sauron, a dark fear comes upon an individual, feeling as though they have been violated by all that is evil and fallen. However, at the same time, Sauron’s Eye might seem like a comfort, for they can be seen as they are before this eye. Why try to battle it? Why try to move against this great Power? The Eye becomes a symbol of the futility of fighting. That is how Sauron gains his sympathizers: through fear and false consolation.

On the other side, there is a bright light in the heavens. This light does not impose itself on the beholder, but it does shine so brightly in the sky, so as to prevent the light from any other star. The light bids the viewer to seek its guidance, though does not violate. Although the star’s light is brighter than any other, finding its source in might and beauty, there is no softer yet more beautiful light to behold. We can all look to this great light in the sky, guided just as the Valar lead all to the might and beauty of Ilúvatar – of God.

These two images are not completely unrelated. Morgoth and his greatest servant, Sauron, truly love to take that which is good and corrupt it for their own perverted purposes. They take the good, the true, and the beautiful, turning them into the evil, the lie, and the ugly. This ugliness is more than just a simple physical unattractiveness, however. Sauron takes this beauty, forming an ugliness that penetrates to its very being. Thus, Sauron has taken this unimposing, beautiful guiding light of Eärendil’s Star and imposes his all-seeing presence as an Eye. This Eye penetrates all it sees, piercing to the very center of their being, violating all it sees. People submit to this power because they feel powerless in its sight, even though this power is a mere Shadow. Sauron’s power is commonly referred to as a Shadow, revealing that it possesses no true presence or power that can overcome our beings, without its permission.

Though seemingly distant in the land of Middle-Earth, we should not be completely unfamiliar with these images. (I discuss the following with the recognition that the images are not perfect, due to Tolkien’s aversion to allegory.) Being a good Catholic, Tolkien was quite familiar with the beauty of the Blessed Sacrament, especially as perceived in the monstrance:

monstrance


“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated,

I put before you the one great thing to love on earth:
the Blessed Sacrament …
There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity,
and the true way of all your loves upon earth.”

We look to this soft, unimposing light as the source of all beauty. The angels worship before this light, for all might and beauty come from this light. We look to this light for guidance, but it does not penetrate us without our permission. If we allow it in, we can always count on it to guide us in the right direction. This light and beauty comes from God above, and so we can know that we are led by the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

On the opposite side, we see the imposing light that is the culture of death. In some ways, we see this as the culture that praises abortion or euthanasia. In reality, our entire culture is one of death. They put to death anyone with differing opinions. They put to death any kind of systems of morality, relying completely on what ‘feels’ right. This culture burns among us, imposing itself on all people. It penetrates our beings, feeling as though we can do nothing in response to defend ourselves. Resistance seems futile. Thus, many people give up, for they feel entirely violated, unable to do anything but give in to the darkness, throwing away all that they once held dear. However, we know that this apparent light is merely a Shadow, being a corruption of that which is good. It penetrates us, but we feel we have no other choice. We can seek out the Blessed Sacrament, and allow it to peer into us and to purify us – something beyond the capabilities of this Culture. While this Culture imposes itself upon us, ‘monstrance’ comes from the word meaning ‘to show.’ We are shown True Light and Beauty and given the choice to peer upon it, rather than being violated by this dark culture.

We look to the Culture to save us, but nothing can save us but God alone. May we look the Star of Eärendil, known in this world as the Blessed Sacrament. May we always look to this guiding light to save and protect us from this passing Shadow. May we rely on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, which comes from the True Light of the Blessed Sacrament, and not the Shadowy Culture of Death.

“When we adore, we plug into infinite dynamism and power.
Adoration is more powerful for construction
than nuclear bombs are for destruction.”

-Peter Kreeft

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Duc In Altum

The Propaganda of the Two-Party System

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends,
they are likely in the course of time and things,
to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men
will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves
the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines
which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

-George Washington

I know that it’s been a while since I have posted anything, and I know that I have yet to really touch too much on politics, but I find it my duty, during this election season, to write about it. As Eärendil’s Star, I have taken it upon myself to be that light in the darkness. The world is so dark, and it needs a light to stand firm and not be blown out. In my life, I have not seen an election as dark as this one, and so I determined that I could not sit by and let my thoughts not be heard on this topic.

I hope the title stood out to you, because it was meant to do so. However, while some people shutterstock_194883113might think it hyperbole, I did not intend it as such. I said what I meant, and I meant what I said. In past elections, the two-party system has been apparent. You would always find most people fitting into their Republican or Democrat categories, voting for the candidates because they are Republican or Democrat. Why does that make sense? Oh, I have a lot of the same beliefs of the Republican party. Or, the Democrats overall sympathize with the same issues that I do. While that is true to an extent, I’m sure, I cannot say that I have ever really encountered someone who completely fits into the Platonic Republican or Democrat categories.

However, in past elections, the candidates were usually the average Republicans and Democrats (neglecting the third-party candidates).0412trumpclintonmissouri And so, previously, people were able to simply fall into the idea that they basically know that they are more likely to align with the candidate from their claimed party than the opposing party. Anyone with a pulse would realize that this election is different than any other election in U.S. history. One candidate is a crude misogynist, who remains incoherent at all times. The other has been under investigation by the F.B.I. and has been a recorded liar in numerous instances. These candidates make everyone fear for the future of this country and this world. It makes people look back to 2012 longingly, wishing that the end of the world had come then, rather than potentially on November 8, 2016.

However, we can be happy that these two are not the only candidates. Many citizens have come to point out, “Hey. These aren’t the only candidates. Maybe we can look at these third-party candidates. Just about anyone would be better than these two.” No. The third-party candidates are not the best candidates either. However, I shudder to think of the country in the hands of either of those two in the above picture. We can thank God that we have other options beyond these two.

“HOLD UP!” people have been saying. “You can’t vote third-party, because that’s a vote for [insert Republican or Democratic candidate’s name here].” In this election, we have been getting legitimate propaganda like what you see below.maxresdefaultctdhmhdxyaayqmo Propaganda is defined as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.” In images and information like these, we find propaganda, 14713524_720061278163018_5835064742684317579_ntrying to convince you to vote for x candidate, in order to prevent candidate, just as long as you don’t vote for n, m, or candidates. I don’t know who made these, or if the quote from our President is real, but I will say one thing – these sorts of ideas are spread all over by all kinds of people. And you know what? Something just seems off. How can my vote for Jill Stein, or Gary Johnson, or whomever, be a vote for both Trump and Clinton at the same time? It doesn’t work like that. These tactics try to scare you into voting for a particular candidate. How many times have we heard, “Well so-and-so is the lesser of two evils“? This propaganda is saying that, while you might want to vote third-party, what you really want is to keep that candidate out of office, and so you should vote for this candidate.

I am here to tell you that maybe the decision shouldn’t be that simple (or difficult). Maybe one of the candidates IS the lesser of two evils when only looking at the two of them. However, by listening to this propaganda, we are perpetuating numerous lies:
1) The lie that there are only two candidates between whom to choose. We can look at the third-party candidates. We need to realize that they are viable options. We do not need to only see who the ‘lesser of two evils’ is between Republican and Democrat.choosing-the-lesser-of-two-evils-is-still-choosing-evil
2) The lie that choosing the lesser of two evils is not choosing an evil. We neglect to think about the fact that, by saying that we are voting for the ‘lesser of two evils,’ we are voting for an evil. In this picture, whom would you choose? Who is the lesser of two evils?
3) The lie that the majority vote matters more than our consciences when we go to vote. We are given consciences. It is our responsibility to educate our consciences, in order that we might make informed decisions on right and wrong. By perpetuating this faulty two-party system, we are allowing this majority vote to take higher priority than our own consciences. Shouldn’t we be voting in line with our consciences, rather than in line with what other people simply tell us we should do?

I will admit that this is one of my more ranting posts. However, it continues to annoy me how much society has fallen into the lie of the two-party system. The above quote by George Washington expresses a foundational understanding of the two-party system to American politics. Our country was never intended to be a two-party system as it is today. As you approach this election, I want you to truly think about your decision. Think about why you’re voting for the candidate for whom you are voting. Is it out of fear? Are you being convinced by this propaganda? Are you voting for ‘the lesser of two evils’? Or are you choosing this candidate because your conscience compels you to do so?

Just keep these above thoughts in mind. I say to ‘duc in altum,’ to put out into the deep, at the end of each blog post. In the time of this election, I do not think there is more apt advice for me to give. I call each of you to put out into the deep. Make the unpopular decision. Swim upstream. Go out into the depths of the ocean, in the midst of the storm, standing strong in your beliefs, and holding true to your consciences. I hope that I will get to see you on the other side of this year’s election.

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Duc In Altum

Christ the Carpenter: A Reflection

Today, in the Roman Catholic Church, we celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker. Many churches would not celebrate his feast day, because it is a Sunday, but the Mass I attended today celebrated his day alongside the Sixth Sunday of Easter. During the homily, our priest discussed St. Joseph and his role as a carpenter, mentioning that his Son, Jesus, would have also been a carpenter, learning the trade from Joseph himself. The following is a reflection based on the thoughts of Christ as a carpenter, looking toward his ultimate calling. This is a work of fiction, and I do not claim for it to be historically accurate.

Father & Son (St. Joe & Jesus)

Today is my 13th birthday! My father has let me join him for a trip into Tiberias for the day, and I am really excited! This is all a part of my apprenticeship, so that I can be a carpenter just like him. He is so diligent in his work, and so selfless! Just last week he gave our neighbors half off, because they could not afford the original price. I would love to be able to be a carpenter like him.
When we got on the road, I could hardly contain my excitement, but my father – the calm, mild-mannered man that he is – asked me to calm down a little bit. Though I did calm down outwardly, I was still very excited, and had a huge grin on my face. A little bit into the journey, something took away my excitement. After we turned a corner on the road, there they were, hanging on the side of the road as far as the eye could see: numerous naked men, hanging from crosses, crucified for who knows what. Sadly, it was not an uncommon sight to see in Israel, while under Roman rule. My father placed his hand on my shoulder.
“It will be okay, Y’shua,” he said to me. “Let us keep moving. We can take a different road.”
“No, father,” I said sheepishly. “We can keep taking this road.” My father hesitantly agreed. While I had deep concern for the lives of each of these men, and while I did commend each of them to my heavenly Father, I could not help but be transported 20 years into the future. A tear rolled down my cheek. 
Abba. I prayed to my Father. Why must this be? But I know. Not my will…
I wish that I could explain to my father why it is I am crying, but I know that he will not be able to be there for my mother. I could not dare tell him of this now. He sees my tears as a sadness for those crucified men, and indeed they are. But I have many pains more on my mind. Those nails in my hand. That crown on my head. Those nails in my feet. My father knowing that he will not be able to be there. My dear mother’s heart… Oh, my mother’s heart! I cannot bear to think of the pain she will go through. But I know that I have her to help as my Co-redemptrix. I need not battle this task alone, and Father would not make me.
As we walk this street, I anticipate my death, the pain of my mother, and even the pain of my father. Once we passed the last of the men, though the mood became very somber, I thought of each and every person whom I will be saving. I thought of my mother, and my father. I thought of the grace that will come from my side. While tears still streamed from my eyes, I was still able to smile, because, though I am going to suffer, and my mother is going to suffer, there is no reason to be sad, because Abba has us.

Jesus

Today is my 23rd birthday. It has been great to be working with my father. He constantly affirms me in my ability to build just like him, in addition to my positive business dealings with our fellow Nazarenes. I know that I was born for so much more than to just serve as a carpenter, but I also know that it is no accident that Joseph is my foster father. Working with wood is truly where I am meant to be for these next years.
Because I am getting older and more responsible for our carpentry work, my father has decided to send me to Tiberias this year on my own. We need to travel there to have our annual dealings with the Romans. He thought that it would be good for me to get used to these long-distance travels, because he knows what my future holds for me.
I turned that same corner again, and it seemed to hurt even more than when I walked here ten years ago. Working with wood and building things has been my passion for more than ten years, now. Not only is it so terrible to think of these tortured naked men being fixed to these crosses, but something constructive is being used for such a destructive and heinous purpose. I can think of no worse way to show irreverence to creation than to use it as a means to kill.
These men suffer much, and for what? So the Romans can meet their quota? I can think of no act that would warrant such an earthly punishment. 
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Who is man to think that he can decide otherwise? Woodworking is such a pure and constructive vocation, and yet it is used for such heinous evil.
I continue to walk by these men, and their faces elicit compassion in my heart. 
Mercy. Mercy is the word that sticks out in my mind. Humanity is so fallen. They think that they are right to do things such as this. That is why I am here: to help them, to save them from that. I do not want humanity to continue like this, but man can change. I have seen that around me my whole life. I truly believe that man can change, and so I must embrace my cross, in order that they may choose to be with me.

Christ and the Cross

Today is my 33rd birthday. My Day is coming. It will definitely be the hardest thing I will have ever done. In my travels throughout Israel, it was definitely not uncommon for me to see crucified men alongside the road. In fact, the Empire has been getting more and more strict recently, for there have seemed to be more crucifixions in the last years.
I see those crosses, and so many thoughts go flooding through my mind. I think of those poor souls who were probably crucified unjustly. I think of my the crime against creation in using the wood to murder. I also think of my mother, and the fate that she and I will share on that Day.
I think of my father… My father, who taught me all of my carpentry skills. I miss him; I truly do. I know that I will see him soon. My work in carpentry, though it has been a few years, was my passion for years. It makes sense that the Father placed me in a home of carpentry, for the passion of my youth will be intimately connected to my true Passion. On that Day, when I embrace my cross, I embrace it as accepting my calling, to die for the sins of all people. But I will also embrace it, knowing that my lifelong passion will be the last encounter before I die. I know that my death will not be the end, but I embrace my Passion and my passion.
How appropriate that what has been my passion throughout my life, and what will be the instrument of my Passion, shall be the object of the passion of many, until the end of the age. Wood has been my method of construction, of making, of creating – of sorts.. Through the wood of the Cross, I will take part in a New Creation, allowing for that which has been my passion to be the passion of all. When my time on earth has ended, I know that I will be remembered, and the wood that has been my passion shall be the way by which I am remembered. When you remember me, I ask that you embrace the wood of the cross, just as I have embraced the wood of my work all my life, and then embraced the wood of the cross on that Day.

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Duc In Altum

An Open Letter to ‘You’

Dear You:

What are you thinking right now? I have no idea what you’re thinking. But you have no idea what I’m thinking. What is it like being inside your head? I don’t know how to tell you what it’s like to be inside my own head. You are other than myself, and I am other than you. How can I know what it is to be you?

There’s no way for us to know as if we were each other. I don’t what you’ve been through; I don’t know what you’ve done. I don’t how quickly thoughts run through your head; I don’t know how long you reflect on other thoughts. There’s no way for me to see the world through You-colored lenses, but there’s no way for you to see the world through Me-colored lenses.

There’s no way for me to know what it’s like being you. But I mean, there’s an objective reality. Why would I need to know your subjective reality? I should just come to know the objective, right? And there’s no way I could even know your subjective, so why try? Right?

The objective is objective; nothing can change that. But we aren’t conscious of it in the same exact way. We all have that subjective experience of the objective reality. I don’t always agree with you, and you don’t always agree with me. We butt heads; it happens. But must the world remain like that? Can we never know what it means to be you?

I examine all scenarios through my eyes – my eyes that have been fashioned by my experiences, my family, my friends, my pains, my joys, my sufferings, everything in which I have come in contact. You’re the same way, right? There’s a part of me that wants to seek improvement – constant improvement. You want that too, right? But I fail; I’m not perfect. Are you perfect? I don’t want to tell you that you’re not perfect, but I can surely say that I am not. Because I’m not perfect, I can’t expect you to be.

Sometimes you say something, and I don’t react well; sometimes you just set me off. But I know that I can be insensitive too, and what I say sets you off. I have no right to get mad at you. Life can be tough; we sometimes just have those days. Other times, I act like I know you, like I do know exactly what you’re going through. When you try to sympathize with me, I have no right to go off on you. I know you’re just trying to help.

You and I – we’re not that different. Sure, we have different experiences; we get upset over different things; different things bring us joy. But we both have the desire to be happy, to become better, to know what is true. We do what we can to bring us those things. Sometimes we step on toes; sometimes we forget about each other, pushing the other on our way to our goals. We neglect each other sometimes when we should be seeking each other’s help. You do truly desire what’s best for me, and I desire what’s best for you. But I know I don’t always realize that, and I’m sure you don’t always realize it.

I want to know you. I know that Spanish gives us two words for ‘to know’: saber (to know things) and conocer (to know a person). I want to know you (conocer). But I can’t do that if I don’t seek to understand where you come from or where you are. Help me know you. And I will help you come to know me. We can share in this experience. We will know each other, and it will be beautiful. So don’t tear me down when you don’t know me; I won’t tear you down if I don’t know you. Sometimes it will be hard, but it will be worth it.

Can we know each other’s pains, each other’s joys? Can we really know each other’s experiences? Not really. We can do what we can to share in them. But we can’t actually know them. But I want you to step back and think for a second. Think of that raw feeling of pain. That’s what I feel when I’m in pain. Think about that raw emotion of pure happiness. That’s what I feel when something brings me joy. Maybe you cannot know exactly how I feel in every situation, but you know how you feel in those certain moments. And I can seek to do the same. I want to know how you feel, so I can think of my own experiences of joy, pain, etc. When I bring those to mind, I know that, to some greater or lesser degree, that is what you feel.

Sincerely,
Me

P.S. Duc In Altum. Put out into the deep, into the depths of the human person, into the depths of me, and I will put out into your depths. There’s the risk of getting hurt. But in the words of Machiavelli,

“Never was anything great achieved without danger.”

 

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