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Remembering Sts. Peter and Paul by Fr. George W. Rutler

sts-peter-and-paulFROM THE PASTOR
June 29, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler

There are personal memories, such as those kept in diaries and scrapbooks, and sometimes kept only in the heart; and there are collective memories recorded on cenotaphs and invoked on memorial days and shared at family reunions. Cicero said that to be ignorant of the past is to remain always a child. That is not the childlikeness that walks the way to heaven; it is the childishness that sees no way at all. Moses said, “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness . . .” (Deuteronomy 8:2). And before that he said, “Then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:12).

On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Church remembers how their deaths planted the Faith in Rome. It is rare for a saint’s feast to replace the ordinary propers of the Mass on Sunday. On a wall of the North American College in Rome is inscribed, “O Roma felix, quae duorum Principum es consecrata glorioso sanguine! (O happy Rome, which was consecrated by the glorious blood of the two Princes!)”

St. Peter urges us to “remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). St. Paul encouraged the Christians in unruly Corinth: “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2). Both of these men were very different, and did not enjoy compatible temperaments (saints are not inevitably easy to get along with), but they were bound by a holy memory that had changed their lives.

Christianity is what it is because it is much more than that kind of human remembering which when strong is fidelity and when weak is nostalgia. At the center of Christian living is a kind of hyper-remembering, the Eucharistic anamnesis, in both the Roman Canon and the Divine Liturgy of the Easter Church. This is not simply the antidote to amnesia: it is an active participation in what is being remembered. It is the difference between recalling and calling, between representing and presenting. Thus the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Christ: his Body and Blood and Soul and Divinity.

St. Peter had a vivid memory of the Perfect Victim’s crucifixion, which is why he asked to be crucified upside down, as he felt unworthy to imitate what he remembered seeing on Calvary. And St. Paul could remember every word the Master spoke to him on the Damascus road. They had no need of diaries or scrapbooks, because the Master was with them at the Holy Table, fulfilling his unfailing promise: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

 

 

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The Trinity in the Holy Eucharist by Fr. George W. Rutler

Eucharist  Trinity

June 22, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler

When Jesus had given instructions sending two of his disciples into Jerusalem where they would find an upper room in which he would institute the Eucharist, “The disciples went out and came to the city, and found everything just as he had told them” (Mark 14:16). Similarly, the liturgical cycle follows a pattern based on this economy that was planned and predicted by God. Ten days after the celebration of the Ascension, the Church celebrates her birth in the flames and wind of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And then comes Trinity Sunday. We can only know that God is Three in One and One in Three—three distinct Persons with one and the same divine Nature, after the Holy Spirit enlightens the Church. “But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into the whole truth” (John 16:13).

Now the Church celebrates the mystery of the Holy Eucharist with the special feast of Corpus Christi. The feast is liturgically celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday or, as the rubrics direct: “where the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is not a holy day of obligation, it is assigned to the Sunday after the Most Holy Trinity as its proper day.”

We see that, just as the liturgical feasts follow a pattern, so too is the Eucharistic liturgy structured in a deliberate way. Usually, the opening prayer addresses the almighty and eternal God precisely by that title, as he revealed himself to the chosen people, identifying himself to Moses as the “I AM.” The Holy Spirit is invoked over the gifts of Bread and Wine, and these are then discerned by the agency of the same Holy Spirit as Christ’s true Body and Blood. Then, the inspired faithful are able to pray to God as “Our Father who art in heaven.” The title “God” is now replaced by the intimate identity he has revealed. “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father'” (Galatians 4:6; cf. Romans 8:15). As Pope Francis recently said, “. . . the Eucharist is like the ‘burning bush’ in which the Trinity humbly dwells and communicates itself: this is why the Church has placed the feast of the Body of the Lord after that of the Trinity.” So the Eucharist encounters the inner mystery of the I AM as the Triune God.

I recently was at the deathbed of a friend who spent time in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp, and for the rest of his life he thanked the Holy Trinity by regularly attending Nocturnal Devotion, for nearly seventy years. While only mortal, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, he had the inestimable privilege that all of us have, of singing with all the angels and saints: Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh. Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. Holy, Holy, Holy.

 

 

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Father’s Day and The Holy Trinity by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
June 15, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler

Most church feasts celebrate events and people. Not ordinary events and people, but those events by which God changed the world, the chief of which is Easter. And they celebrate the people who were part of God’s transforming work, whom we call saints, chief among whom is the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Feast of the Holy Trinity is different in that it celebrates neither an event nor an individual, but the deepest mystery of the inner nature of God himself. This reality of Three Holy Persons, which no human could invent and only God could reveal, is about the essential identities of the One Divine Being who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Catechism (#234) teaches: “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.”

This year on the civil calendar, the Feast of the Holy Trinity is denoted as Father’s Day. That is a chronological coincidence, but it also may be understood as a theological providence. The true meaning of fatherhood, far exalted above plain biological parenthood, is rightly understood only by understanding the inner nature of the Holy Trinity. For old heretics called Gnostics, who flourish today by different names, the Fatherhood of God is a human concept, and basically a psychological projection of a patriarchal society. Through Christ and the Holy Spirit, we know that the mystery of God the Father is the very opposite of a human self-projection. Christianity is singular in its vital worship of God truly as father and not as a symbol or metaphor.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity follows Pentecost because it is only the Holy Spirit, promised by the Son, who enables the Church to know the Father. No one comes to the Father but through the Son and the bond of love between them by which the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, makes him known. The less a society is guided by this mystery, the less it understands human fathers. We need only look around us to see the social and material chaos caused by an increasingly fatherless culture with all its consequences: family breakdown and gender confusion.

In such a dark time, the Church has the vocation to instruct in the meaning of fatherhood, to encourage young men to embrace the role of fathers of families, and to guide those who do so. “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3: 14-17).

 

 

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On Patience by Fr. George W. Rutler

patience

FROM THE PASTOR
June 1, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler

The child in the backseat asks “Are we there yet?” and the Psalmist pleads “Usquequo, Domine?—How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13). Patience is a difficult virtue. As we prepare to observe the seventieth anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, we know that only those who were alive then can describe the excruciating months and days of waiting for what the President called the “poignant hour.”

Our Lord was patient with his apostles: “Have I been with you so long, Philip, and do you still not understand?” (John 14:9). In the days between his Ascension and Pentecost, he enjoined his followers to be patient: “And being assembled together with them, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4).

Patience is waiting without complaint. After the Resurrection, those who had been great complainers early on no longer murmured, but filled the days with great rejoicing, singing and praying in anticipation of the unspecified day (“not many days” was all the Master said) when the Holy Spirit would give birth to the Church. Pentecost was the fiftieth day after the Feast of the First Fruits (Leviticus 23:15-16). Christ had risen on that feast, becoming the fruition of salvation history. The Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost—a Jewish feast that celebrated the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, for now the letter of that Law would be fulfilled by the Spirit who gives life to the Law.

The date of Pentecost was calculated from the first Sabbath after Passover, and thus Pentecost followed not fifty but forty-nine days later, and the ten days of waiting following the Ascension were actually nine. In the Levitical system, however, the ninth day marks the conclusion of a feast and the start of a new day lived in consequence of waiting for it. So “Novenas” are nine days of prayers in anticipation of the tenth day.

The “relativity” of natural time is harder to understand than the relativity of moral time. For instance, one hour of pain seems much longer than one hour of pleasure, and the years of waiting for marriage are not as nerve-racking as the few minutes before the wedding. In each instance, the exercise of patience ceases to be a burden, knowing that the anticipated outcome will be realized. St. Peter was an impatient man until the Resurrection, and then he embraced the truth of eternity when he embraced the Risen Lord, and that made all the difference. He came to understand that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

So patience is based on trust, and trust changes endurance into joy: “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).

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St. Philip Neri and the Battlefields of Spiritual Combat by Fr. George W. Rutler

St Philip Neri

The feast of St. Philip Neri (1515 – 1595) falls this Monday, on the same day that the civil calendar memorializes those who gave their lives in the service of our country. Philip was a soldier, too, albeit a soldier of Christ, wearing “the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). He lived in a decadent time when many who called themselves Christians chose to be pacifists in the spiritual combat against the world, the flesh and the Devil.

In the battle for souls, Philip’s most effective weapons were gentleness and mercy, though he was also a master of “tough love” when it was necessary to correct those inclined to be spiritual deserters. Although he was reared in Florence, Philip’s pastoral triumphs gained him the title “Apostle of Rome.” It was said of the Emperor Augustus that he found Rome brick and left it marble, and in a moral sense the same might be said of Philip. The Sacred City was not so sacred in the minds of many, and his chief weapon for reforming it was penance.

After eighteen years in Rome, Philip was ordained at the age of thirty-five. He polished rough souls every day in the confessional, where he might be found at all hours of the day and night for forty-five years. In the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, who joined the saint’s Oratory three centuries later, “He was the teacher and director of artisans, mechanics, cashiers in banks, merchants, workers in gold, artists, men of science. He was consulted by monks, canons, lawyers, physicians, courtiers; ladies of the highest rank, convicts going to execution, engaged in their turn his solicitude and prayers.” We have an audible relic of him in the oratorio, the musical form he invented as a means of catechesis. His magnetic appeal to the most stubborn and cynical types of people seems hardly less miraculous than the way he sometimes levitated during Mass, requiring that he offer the Holy Sacrifice privately because, as the Pope prudently if understatedly said, the spectacle might distract the faithful.

Refusing high clerical rank, and disdaining any sort of human honor, Philip’s power intimidated the Prince of Lies as much as any earthly prince. There is a lesson in this for our own urban culture, and certainly for us providentially located in “Hell’s Kitchen.” The temptation is for the Church to give up on spiritual combat and retreat to the suburbs. This is a false strategy since no terrain, concrete or bucolic, offers a complete escape from the Church’s field of combat. While consolidation of strength is a necessary strategy, there is no substitute for victory. If General MacArthur maintained that principle with earthly effect, so much more do the saints struggle, knowing that Christ has already won the victory, but also aware that to flee the field is to lose him forever.

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The Number Seven – by Fr. George W. Rutler

Red-Black-Abstract-Asus-114.jpgFROM THE PASTOR
May 18, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler

I am tempted to detect more than merely accidental circumstance in the fact that the apostles chose seven men as the first deacons: “Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism” (Acts 6:5). There is an elegant symmetry in the seven days of creation and consequent replications of that number in the weekly Sabbath cycle, the seven primary colors, and so forth, and it seems to reach full bloom in the Incarnation, with the seven sacraments and the seven last words from the Cross.

Our incarnate Lord describes himself with seven images: I am the Light of the World; I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; I am the Bread of heaven; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Gate of the Sheepfold; I am the Resurrection; and I am the Vine. There is an order in the Church reflected in the order of the universe. The Catholic poet Alexander Pope said, “Order is heaven’s first law.” God does nothing by chance, and his every action is part of a pattern. Just as defects in the natural order are only understood as defects because the source of all things is perfect, so are defects in the moral order affronts to perceived human dignity. These defects are commonly called sins, but the original sin, called pride, is the pre-historic rebellion against the fact of order itself.

The seven images that Christ uses to explain himself in terms coherent to our limited intelligence, only make sense when we realize that each of them is attached to and depends upon the I AM. That is the identity of God, the source of all being and order.

Our culture is going through an identity crisis in virtually every aspect of its existence: politically, economically, morally, intellectually. There is even disarray in how to identify biological and psychological realties. Instead of male and female, some would propose an alphabet soup of gender confusion, with new letters waiting to be added in the maelstrom of disorder. The created self-destruct when they separate themselves from the I AM, and instead of praising their Creator, there is left only a whimpering question: What AM I?

Confusion about the self can be resolved by listening to our Lord as he speaks in the Gospel passage appointed for this Sunday (John 14:1-12). An instinctive grace shines in the way he uses “I am” seven times: I am going to prepare a place for you; where I am you may be too; the place where I am going; I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; I am in the Father and the Father is in me; you must believe me when I say that I am; I am going to the Father.

 

 

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Mysterium Fidei by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR

May 4, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler

In all the accounts of the Resurrection, there is surprise. If it had been expected, future generations might have said it was an hallucination. There was also confusion about Christ’s risen body: its ability to materialize in a room with locked doors and maintain its completely natural appearance while obscuring its identity. These were traits without precedent in human experience.

On the road to Emmaus, those two men took for granted the figure that started to walk along with them, and even expressed a certain irritation at what seemed to be the Man’s ignorance of what had happened on Friday. Looking back, we can see this as a form of prayer. The two disciples were in conversation with the Lord, confiding in him their concerns and wondering at the same time if he was “on their wavelength.” If prayer is real, it will not be a stilted conversation like something read by rote from the back of a prayer card, however helpful such words may be as promptings. God is much more patient with us than we are with him.

On the Emmaus road, the Lord calmly explains why things had to be the way they were, and in this he shows the teaching office of the Church. Still unaware of the Man’s identity, the disciples are nonetheless moved by his words and presence, rather like thoughtful agnostics. So they beg him to stay with them. In the wayside inn, he mysteriously becomes recognizable “in the breaking of the bread.” This is the Eucharistic revelation sung in the Mysterium Fidei of the Liturgy: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” The Eucharist is a sacred meal, for it is Bread from Heaven, but the wounds that Christ retains on his risen body signal that this is also the sacrifice of Christ to the Father, a singular and perfect sacrifice that cannot be repeated, but that we share in by its timelessness.

In 2004, St. John Paul II wrote: “Amid our questions and difficulties, and even our bitter disappointments, the divine Wayfarer continues to walk at our side, opening to us the Scriptures and leading us to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of God” (Apostolic Letter: Mane Nobiscum Domine, par. 2). When that Wayfarer vanishes, the two men rush out to tell others what has happened. This is the “Go forth” moment of the Mass, when the priest tells the people “Ite missa est”—you are sent.

If there is no urgency to tell others about Christ, his Body the Church is misunderstood as an institution kept alive by bureaucrats who act as embalmers, cynically sustaining a corporate identity with mendacity and mummery. That is a formula for spiritual burnout. Such burnout is the malady of people who never were on fire to begin with. But those who encounter Christ say daily: “Did not our hearts burn within us…?”

 

 
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The Rational and Faithful Thomas by Fr. George W. Rutler

St ThomasFROM THE PASTOR
April 13, 2014 (Palm Sunday)
by Fr. George W. Rutler

The greatest week of the year introduces the Triduum—the glorious three days that have changed the world forever—as a procession. All life is a procession in the obvious movement from yesterday to today to tomorrow. The physical procession walked on Palm Sunday begins the steps we walk daily with our Lord to his temporary tomb. None of this is “play acting” like a Passion Play; while still in time, we actually are with our Lord.

In recent years, there has been a widespread loss of the numinous character of the Liturgy whereby heaven and earth meet. The less a people understand the true drama of the authentic rites, the more they lapse into tasteless theatrics and contrived sentimentality, rather like the old vaudevillians who wrapped themselves in a flag or held a baby when their act was failing. Happily, the Church in many places is beginning to recover from the unfortunate generation of abuses in worship. Step by step, younger people are being introduced to their great heritage in the solemn chants and actions of the sacred rites. In addition, there are non-liturgical devotions to help the faithful, such as the Stations of the Cross. This year, for the first time in a long while, the Liturgy of the Passion on Good Friday will be preceded in the Church of St. Michael by the Three Hours Devotion from Noon to Three, with meditations on the Seven Last Words.

Walking with our Lord in these days requires faith and reason. In his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).”

A prime example of this is the Apostle Thomas. His ardor was seen when he was willing to risk his life by going with Christ to Jerusalem. These were not empty words: tradition has him traveling to Syria and Persia and dying for his Lord in India. But his faith also exercised his reason. He asks the Lord where he is going, because he does not know. After the Resurrection, he says he will not believe that it is the Lord unless he can touch the wounds.

These are examples of doubt, but a doubt that is reasonable. Our Lord obliges by declaring himself “The Way, the Truth and the Life.” And on the eighth day of the Resurrection, he moves Thomas to utter what Pope Benedict XVI called the greatest profession of faith in the Scriptures: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

In these great days, let us walk with the whole Church, including that apostle called Doubting Thomas, who in fact was Rational Thomas and Faithful Thomas.

 
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“Making” History by Fr. George W. Rutler

800px-Diorama,_cavemen_-_National_Museum_of_Mongolian_History

Today was a crowded date in history. On April 6 in various years, Julius Caesar was victorious at Thapsus, King Richard I of England died of an infected wound, St. Louis IX of France was captured on crusade, the Scots signed the Declaration of Arbroath, which was a template for our own Declaration of Independence, the poet Petrarch fell in love with Laura, an earthquake nearly destroyed Dubrovnik, here in New York a slave revolt began near Broadway, the Battle of Shiloh began, celluloid was patented, the first modern Olympic Games began, Peary and Henson reached the North Pole, and the Pioneer 11 spacecraft was launched.

Actually, every date is replete with life-changing events because each hour connects past and present and future. Quite often news broadcasters will speak of “history being made today.” These are often people who know little of history. The plain fact is that each of us is constantly “making history” without knowing it, like Molière’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme who was not aware that he was speaking prose.

Christ is the Lord of History because he guides it and gives it purpose. Without what we call providence, which is God’s plan for living, the pattern of human history would be just a tangle and not a plan at all, but rather a meaningless cycle, as many ancient philosophers thought and as many bewildered and bored people think today. When Lazarus died, the disciples were puzzled that our Lord sat down on the Jericho road and waited for a while before starting off for Bethany. But this was part of a plan. He tells them something that sounds strange at first: that during daylight people walk freely, but at night they stumble because “there is no light in them” (John 11:10). He does not say that there is no light outside them, for that would be physical light. He is speaking of himself, the “Light of the World.” That is, he illuminates the intellect and will, in order to reveal his plan for our mortal lives. Just as height is different from stature, so does seeing become perception when guided by the “light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5).

Such confidence in God’s plan explains the serenity of the saints. It is not despite rough times and challenges, but because they deliberately slog through them, that the saints know that Christ is in charge. Only human pride doubts that, as in the case of the Pharisees who plotted against the Lord of History even when they saw him raise Lazarus from the tomb. For them history was a static moment, and they did not trust where the Lord was taking them. But to those who follow him, he says the equivalent of the traditional helmsman’s cry, “Steady on.” In more elegant diction he says, “Be glad and rejoice forever and ever for what I am creating” (Isaiah 65:18).

 
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Big Bang? No Big Deal! by Fr. George W. Rutler

Big BangFROM THE PASTOR
March 30, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler

The Belgian priest and physicist, Monsignor Georges Lemaître died in 1966 after receiving news that his theory of the birth of the universe—what he called the “hypothesis of the primeval atom”—had been confirmed by the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation. Albert Einstein was slow in coming around to Lemaître’s hypothesis of an expanding universe, now popularly called the “Big Bang”—a term that was first meant in subtle mockery, but then he commended it to further research. Just weeks ago, scientists published evidence of the almost instantaneous expansion of all matter from an infinitesimal particle. The scale and volume of this stuns the human mind, but at least if the mind cannot grasp this, it can acknowledge it, along with the fact that there was no time or space before that “moment.” It fits well with the record in Genesis of the voice of the eternal and unlimited God uttering light and all consequent creatures into existence.

Here one must be careful in attributing to physical science an explanation of the “why” as well as the “how” of creation, and theology—equally the highest science—must not confuse itself with physics. In the sixteenth century, Cardinal Baronius said, “The Bible was written to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” In a moment of unguarded enthusiasm in 1951, Pope Pius XII said that Lemaître’s theory proved the existence of God. He humbly backed off when Lemaître told him that a physical hypothesis could do no such thing.

No human hypothesis can tell us what God alone can reveal: that he made the world and all that is in it for his delight. When we delight God by doing his will, his delight infuses his sentient creatures with joy. The composer Gustav Holst may have employed some fanciful theology (theosophy) in giving personalities to seven planets in his famous symphony, but the ”jollity” of Jupiter is a compelling metaphor for the joy of the saints.

Laetare Sunday in the middle of Lent is not so much an interruption of the penitential season as it is an encouragement not to lose the focus of Lent and life itself on the joy that God offers us in Heaven, where there is no time or space, as it was before the world began. The Church goes “up” to Jerusalem in an earthly sense as a metaphor for moving toward the Heavenly Jerusalem which “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23). This is a wonder more daunting and challenging than the most abstruse hypotheses of the most brilliant physical scientists. It moves beyond the pleasure of speculation into the purest happiness of encounter. “Rejoice, O Jerusalem; and come together all you that love her.”

 

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