Friday, December 6, 2019

Homily – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
2nd Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

            Perhaps one of the greatest social diseases of all time is that of seeing oneself as better than others. This can lead to all sorts of destruction in our world – destruction of family relationships, destruction of friendships, even destruction of very selves before God.
            This weekend Jesus’ parable targets our susceptibility to contracting this disease and spreading it to those we love.
            Jesus is placing this mirror before us and calling us all to take a good look.
            He’s using the concept of prayer (both nature and quality) as a way of getting our attention and forcing us to really see ourselves in the reflection.
            In the first example of this prayer, he’s showing us a Pharisee (the pompous and self-righteous of Jesus’ day) who thinks he’s praying to God, but in fact is only praying to himself. This prayer is self-centered and selfish, and, in fact, idolatrous because this Pharisee has made himself into a god and is speaking his prayer only to himself, with zero self-awareness or humility.
            Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg provides great insight on this particular passage in his reflection book on Luke’s Gospel.
            He said, “The Pharisee reveals that his ultimate concern is himself through his stated interest in his own social standing, his own holiness, his own security, and his own justification. The only concern the Pharisee shows for others is that he can consider himself better than the rest and separated from the rest.
That can happen to us in our prayer as well whenever we pray only about ourselves and our own concerns or whenever we consider our own point of view as the only one to be considered. It can also happen to us whenever we fail to consider that God’s will is more perfect than our own and that God knows what is best for our lives. Basically, anytime our prayer becomes a monologue within ourselves then we have left little room for God to speak.” 
Then there is the second example of prayer. For this, Jesus uses a hated and reviled tax collector (the lowest of the low in Jesus’ day).  A person on the margins.
This person knows he’s a sinner and is trembling before the Lord when he asks for God’s mercy.
His words are shown as the perfect prayer:
“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
The tax collector’s prayer shows three important things about  approach to prayer with God: humility, simplicity, and honesty. 
  These are wonderful qualities for us to bring into our daily discussions with the Lord.
The tax collector also beat his breast while he prayed.
As you may remember, the 2011 Roman Missal translation reinstituted the striking of the breast as part of the Confiteor prayer in the Penitential Rite. Some say this action unites us with the humble, simple and effective prayer of the tax collector in this Gospel passage.
Looking at the Gospel passage in a larger context we see Jesus using parables the past two weeks to help us to deepen our prayer life.
And reminds us of the importance of our relationship with God and our relationship to others.
Prayer is the antidote to the social disease of seeing oneself as better than others, because it deepens our communion with others. This is why we come together around this table.
What should our takeaway be?
“Ultimately our prayer is meant to deepen our communion with God and others. Whenever we pray with contempt or pride we destroy that communion.
Jesus has taught us that only the merciful will receive mercy and that only those who forgive will be forgiven.
In the same way, the Lord wants to teach us in this parable that only as we are compassionate for the spiritual struggles of others will God be compassionate for our own shortcomings.
It takes a lot of spiritual maturity to have compassion for those who struggle in their spiritual lives. That compassion for others and sincere prayer for them is one sign of a great disciple.
We may think that we are great disciples because of all the virtuous works we do (like tithes and fasting) but in reality it is our humble love for others and repentance before God that the Lord most desires.

God hears such a disciple.”

Homily – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
2nd Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
Luke 17:5-10

One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should

One life  
With each other
One life
But we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other


            Perhaps you recognize these as song lyrics.  They were written by a person some have called a modern day prophet; others call him a flashy, loud Irishman. 
But the rock star in question does profess to be a disciple of Christ, has become a committed servant leader on important global issues, and most of his song lyrics endeavour to raise our collective consciousness to the needs of the world.
In Habakkuk, we hear the prophet cry out for a “just one” of faith.
How different is that from today's world? 
I think the lyrics from the song help us to see that we Christians are all One and we have to "carry each other."
Each of us has a Mustard Seed planted in our hearts by God. That Mustard Seed of faith needs nourishment. That Mustard Seed helps guide us to lookout for the interests of those on the margins of our world.  In fact, Jesus’ point is “nothing is impossible to the person who has faith.”
The person who wrote the One song lyrics is Paul Hewson.  Most people know him simply as Bono of the rock group U2. 
In 1985, Bono took a trip to Africa with his wife Ali to work for a month in an orphanage in Ethiopia.   
The people of Ethiopia were being devastated by one of the worst famines in human history.  It impacted eight million Africans and killed over a million people -- mostly children.  
Bono and his wife were horrified by what they witnessed in Africa.  Some called it "a biblical famine in the 20thcentury" and "the closest thing to hell on Earth."
At the end of their journey Bono had an experience that would change him forever.  As they were about to leave the orphanage, a man ran up to with a young child and tried to hand the boy to Bono.  The African man said, "Sir, will you take my son home with you?"
Both men knew if the boy stayed in Ethiopia he would likely die from hunger, but if he left Ethiopia he would live.
What to do?
 With tears welling up in his eyes, Bono's said he could not take the boy with him. 
The conversation shook his soul to the core and changed the path of his life forever.
In that moment, God planted a Mustard Seed in his heart for the people of Africa.
It also inspired one of U2's most powerful and beautiful songs:  Where The Streets Have No Names.  That song is a metaphor for his African experience.  And a metaphor for heaven.
Since then, Bono founded the One Campaign – A Campaign To Make Poverty History in Africa.
The rock celebrity quietly goes around the globe arm-twisting world leaders to commit more of their country's resources to poverty and disease control in Africa -- fighting such things as AIDS/HIV, malaria, and national debt that is preventing many African nations from getting on their own feet economically.    
Bono is still talking about Africa today -- over 30 years after that moving experience.
Pope John Paul the Second was a big supporter of Bono's efforts in Africa and even wore the rock star's signature sunglasses for an infamous photograph that I'm sure created quite a stir around the Vatican.
Bono was one of the key activists who helped The Pope with his Jubilee 2000 effort by inspiring a "Drop The Debt" campaign designed have rich nations forgive the debt of poorer, developing world nations.  This is reminiscent of the biblical jubilee of the Old Testament.
 As Bono put it at the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC, "This is not about charity.  It's about justice."
He added, ''Where you live in the world shouldn't determine whether you live...  God is watching how we respond to Africa."
God wants to work through each of us to make sure ALL in this world have their basic needs met.  So people don't starve and have access to drugs for treatable diseases.
"You see, all faiths agree: God is with the vulnerable and the poor.  God is in the slums...  God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives.  God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war.  God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives.  And God is with us, if we are with them."  Bono spoke these eloquent words at the National Prayer Breakfast as an invitee of President George Bush. He and the former President remain close after securing US funding for live saving HIV drugs for Africa.
Catholic Social Teaching has been leading the way on these issues for well over a century in our world, but Catholic Social Teaching isn't just something someone else does.  Catholic Social Teaching calls each of us to action. This is our Mustard Seed moment.
The events of our lives are God calling us to pay attention to these needs.
Christ sends people like Bono into our world to remind us we are all in this together.   We all have to look out for each other. We have to carry each other. 
It's amazing the difference one person can make in this world.  If only we see ourselves as one People of God.
What is God calling you to do? 

Homilia – XXVI Domingo Ordinario – Palabras de Maria

María pronunció las palabras de los Profetas en su brillante Magnificat.
Amós tuvo una advertencia similar para los ricos y poderosos de su época en la primera lectura de hoy.
Esas personas vivían bien en la época del profeta Amós, mientras los pobres sufrían.
¿Qué tan diferente es eso a los Estados Unidos hoy en día?
En el Magnificat de María, puso el pensamiento convencional patas arriba, mostrando que los poderosos, los arrogantes, los ricos se apartarían del reino de Dios mientras los pobres y hambrientos encontrarían su hogar con Jesús.
Hoy, Jesús está contando lo mismo a los fariseos en la historia del hombre rico y Lázaro.
Me pregunto si oyeron su mensaje de condenator.
¿Me pregunto si lo oímos?
Esta parábola es el Magnificat de María que cobran vida con detalles pintorescos.
Lázaro es un pobre hombre que ha sufrido mucho en su vida. La mayoría de la gente acaba de pasar por las calles y no le prestan atención ni su situación.
Lázaro está cubierto de llagas que los perros solían lamer, y tiene tanta hambre que estaría feliz incluso por un trozo de comida de la mesa del hombre rico.
Habiendo sufrido toda su vida, es transportado en la muerte al paraíso prometido por Jesús.
Mientras el hombre rico va a un lugar de tormento a su muerte.
Incluso en la muerte, el hombre rico pide egoístamente a Lázaro traerle agua para saciar su sed. 
El hombre rico tenía tanto derecho durante su vida que esperaba ser servido por alguien que consideraba menos importante que él mismo.
Después de escuchar las poderosas palabras de Abraham acerca del gran abismo que lo bloquea del cielo, el hombre rico le pide a Abraham que envíe a alguien para advertir a sus cinco hermanos para que no cometan el mismo error en sus vidas.
Pero Abraham le recuerda al hombre rico que los profetas advirtieron al pueblo durante siglos que cuidara de los pobres y humildes, y sus palabras fueron ignoradas. Y la mayoría de los profetas fueron ejecutados por condenar los corazones de los ricos y poderosos.
A Dios no le importa cuánto dinero tengamos en esta vida. Le importa cómo lo usemos. Cómo lo usamos para elevar a los pobres y humildes, y para ayudar a edificar el reino de Dios.
Todo lo que tenemos en esta vida es un don de Dios. Cada dólar que ganamos, el coche que conducimos, la casa o el apartamento en el que vivimos, todo es un regalo de Dios.
Ese aliento que acabas de tomar es un regalo de Dios.
Y Dios nos manda escuchar los gritos de los pobres y espera que compartamos nuestros dones con los demás.
Lamentablemente, aquellos que son ciegos y sordos a los profetas también probablemente serán ciegos y sordos a la resurrección de Jesús.
Este es el mensaje evangélico para este fin de semana. Ruego que veamos y escuchemos esta importante lección de Jesús y vivamos de una manera que honre Su sacrificio.


Mary spoke the words of the Prophets in her brilliant Magnificat.
Amos had a similar warning for the rich and powerful of his day in today’s first reading. These people were living well at the time of the Prophet Amos, while the poor were suffering.
How different is that to the United States today?
In Mary’s Magnificat, she turned conventional thinking upside down, showing that the mighty, the arrogant, the rich would be turned away from the kingdom of God while the poor and hungry would find their home with Jesus.
Today, Jesus is telling the same thing to the Pharisees in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
I wonder if they heard his convicting message?
I wonder if we hear it?
This parable is Mary’s Magnificat come to life in picturesque detail.
  Lazarus is a poor man who has suffered much in his life. Most people just passed him by on the streets and pay no attention to him or his plight.
Lazarus is covered with sores that dogs used to lick, and he is so hungry that he would be happy for even a scrap of food from the rich man’s table.
Having suffered his entire life, he’s transported in death to the paradise promised by Jesus. While the rich man goes to a place of torment upon his death.
Even in death, the rich man selfishly asks to Lazarus bring him water to quench his thirst.  The rich man was so entitled during his life he expected to be served by someone he saw as less important than himself.
After hearing Abraham’s powerful words about the great chasm blocking him from heaven, the rich man asks Abraham to send someone to warn his five brothers so they don’t make the same mistake in their lives.
But Abraham reminds the rich man that the prophets warned the people for centuries to take care of the poor and lowly, and their words were ignored. And most of the prophets were put to death for convicting the hearts of the rich and the powerful.
God does not care how much money we have in this life. He cares about how we use it. How we use it to lift up the poor and lowly, and to help build the kingdom of God.
Everything we have in this life is a gift from God. Every dollar we earn, the car we drive, the house or apartment we live in, all of it is a gift from God.
That breath you just took is a gift from God.
And God commands us to hear the cries of the poor and expects us to share our gifts with others.
Sadly, those who are blind and deaf to the prophets will also likely be blind and deaf to the Resurrection of Jesus.
This is the Gospel message for this weekend. I pray we see and hear this important lesson from Jesus and live in a way that honors His sacrifice.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Homily - 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Prodigal Son's Mother

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32

We are never far from God’s love, no matter how much we mess up our lives.
Catholic Catechism tells us, “Christ’s parable of the prodigal son illustrates the sublime meaning of his earthly ministry, which is to forgive sins, reconcile people to God, and lead us in true happiness.”
As Jesus subtlety points out to the Pharisees and scribes, it’s not their job to Judge.  It’s God’s job.  He then reminds them God is all-forgiving.  I’m sure this concept blew their “elder brother” minds.
Some scholars say that the father in the story is representative of God. Others say the father is Christ.
 In this homily, I’ve intentionally chosen to have the unseen mother be representative of Jesus Christ. 
It is my great hope the story may help us all to better hear today’s Gospel message.  
Perhaps there’s someone in our lives we need to forgive or to ask for their forgiveness.  
The parable of Prodigal Son’s mother: 

Then Jesus looked directly at the Pharisees and scribes and said; “Now the mother was watching all these things. Her heart ached when her youngest left home with his inheritance.
She told him, ‘Son, you will always be welcome back in this home. My love for you is great and I wish blessings upon your journey. Peace be with you.’
Her older son overheard the conversation and chastised his mother for telling his younger brother he can return whenever he wishes.
‘Father would never welcome him back in this house again.’
But the mother said, ‘loyal son of mine, I love your devotion. But harden not your heart toward your brother.  For he is lost and needs to find his way home again.  Forgive him. Love him. And pray he returns someday.’
But he stormed away in anger.
The father heard what the mother said to the older son and approached her.
They gave a knowing look to one another and both heaved a heavy sigh.
For how long would it be until the younger son returned?  Would he ever come home or would they never hear from him again?  The pain of not knowing was almost unbearable, but life goes on.
After years and years of worry, the mother had tears in her eyes as she saw her husband run off to greet the figure growing on the distant horizon.
For her heart knew her youngest child had returned home for good. The family was restored. Her heart sang.

She was the first to tend with loving care to her son’s painful blisters on his feet and give him water from the small jug she carried hurriedly out to him.
‘Blessed be the Lord, for the Holy One has returned our son home to us,’ she cried as she served him.
‘Forgive me, mother,’ he said in a quiet whisper. ‘You are forgiven, my son.’
Later as she was preparing the fatted calf for supper, her older son came to her in the kitchen to grumble about his conversation with his father.
‘Is this house mad? Father is acting like a man possessed. Mother, it is not fair that my brother be treated like royalty after squandering all Father gave him on a life of debauchery. I will not stand for this!’
His mother said in reply, ‘My love for you is no different than my love for your brother. He has asked for our forgiveness. He has been forgiven.
Remember son; this is the home of your mother and father. It is not your home yet. But I do love your passion and your desire to do what is right.

You should tell your brother how you feel, but do so with love and compassion and don’t be self-righteous.
I pray you will find it in your heart to forgive him.  For he loves you very much and it is your example of being a faithful son he will follow from now on.  So, be a good and loving example as your father and I have set for you both.’
 But the older brother walked away in anger.
Once again, his mother had offered wisdom that he would wrestle with for days before finally talking to his brother and reconciling their relationship.” 

God so loves us.  No matter how much we screw up He’s always waiting for us to return home.
And God does not want us to judge others, but use our energies to serve Him better. 
The Catholic Catechism teaches us, “we must always entrust the judgment of a person to the mercy and justice of God.” 
If Christ appeared before us today and showed such radical love and forgiveness, would we be cool with it?  Or would we condemn him?
As we ponder these questions, I have one final thing to ask: who in our lives do we need to forgive or ask for their forgiveness.

My prayer is that we will act upon this powerful Gospel message and let Jesus Christ heal that relationship.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Homily – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Carrying Our Crosses

Wisdom 9:13-18b
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Luke 14:25-33

        There are three lessons from Jesus today.
First, Jesus reminds us that we each must carry our own cross. If we do not, we cannot be his disciple.
Second, Jesus uses provocative language about hating one’s family to show how he wants each of us to love him above all the people in our lives.
Third, Jesus wants us to renounce all of our possessions; all of our material baggage, all of our positions of honor, all of our positions of power. And make Jesus first and foremost in our lives.
 I'd like to share a story about a boy I know.
When he was seven, his baby sister died. She had a congenital heart defect. The little girl lived to be three and her suffering made a big impression on her big brother.
Some of the boy's first memories are of going to the hospital to see his little sister held up to a window as he stood with his grandmother outside.
The little girl would die in the arms of their mother on the way to the hospital after a long illness.
Fast forward seven years, and the boy was now a teenager. He was 14 and in middle school, but he was hiding a dark family secret. His sister's death had triggered his father's mental illness. For several years, his father checked into mental hospitals for electric shock treatments in hopes of ridding him of his demons. It was an all too common drama for his mother, two brothers and himself. One the boy was too embarrassed to share with his friends.
The boy had a paper route and was up at the crack of dawn every morning to deliver the daily news.
One November morning as he was returning from his paper route, his father met him at the door.
It was a workday, but his father was not dressed for work. 
The 40-year-old man had eyes red with tears as he told the boy he loved him and then said "goodbye."
The boy knew something was wrong. But he didn't tell anybody. Instead he just dressed and went to school. 
That afternoon, his uncle picked him up after sports practice and told him his father had committed suicide.
The boy started to cry.
Just then, two of his friends came up and said "Hi," and the boy buried his tears of anguish and pain, putting them away for many, many years.
Fast forward again and the boy was now a man. He has two children of his own and a beautiful wife. His life has been extraordinarily blessed. But there's an unresolved wound in need of healing.
The man goes to Church with his family, but is not really buying this faith thing. His wife signs him up to be a lector in the parish. He studied speech in college. She thought it was a good place for his talents.
He agreed, but only to keep his faith-filled wife happy. It wasn't going to change how he felt about going to Church. For him, he was just going through the motions.
The man trained with a long-time lector in the parish asking the lector if he should count to five or ten on the "prayers of the faithful" when it called for "prayers in the silence of our hearts." The patient trainer told him to "just listen for the Holy Spirit." This confounded the man.
As he began to serve as a lector, the man could swear the readings he read and heard every week were aimed directly at his life. This startled him.
Over the next advent season, the man had an amazing experience. As he read and listened to the readings at Mass, he felt he was being called to do something he swore he would never do.
So, one day after Mass, he told his wife he wanted to go for a drive to a special place to do something important.
As they approached the place, his young boys asked, "Daddy, where are we going?" The father explained, "You know my dad died when I was a boy. This is the cemetery where he's buried... next to my little sister."
As the man walked up to the tombstone, he knelt and did what he heard the Word of God telling him to do.
He forgave his father.
As he forgave his father, a weight was lifted off his shoulders and he began to cry.
And in his tears of sorrow and joy, the man realized the Father he was really forgiving was God the Father. And the man wept even harder. 
Jesus knows we each carry our own cross. We each are called to radical detachment from the things that keep us from the Kingdom.
I think many of you have probably already figured out the identity of the man whose life was changed by the word of God.
The wisdom of God spoke deeply through the events in my life. 
I’m sure you’ve had your own experiences where God spoke through your life. 
Jesus is telling us today about the cost of discipleship.
When we turn our lives fully over to Jesus everything changes.
Yes, we all will be asked to carry our crosses, but our lives will be ordered in such a way that we can bear this pain and help others to carry their own crosses. 
To bear our cross means much more than patiently accepting our human condition of suffering, illness, weakness and the like. To carry our cross means to voluntarily accept all that comes from following Jesus: pain, sacrifice, ridicule, rejection.  
Some will be unprepared to make the necessary sacrifices to make Jesus the top priority in our lives. 
But this is what we are all called to do. 
To hold nothing back. To accept all of our lives’ experiences as the cross we must carry.  
This is how we show our commitment and love for our savior and king Jesus Christ. And how he can transform our lives in beautiful ways.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Homily – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – The Deacons

Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Hebrews 12:1-4
Luke 12:49-53
          Jeremiah is facing abuse for prophesying a bleak future: Jerusalem will be captured soon by Babylon.
King Zedekiah was actually placed on the throne by Babylon. But the King and his princes defied Babylon leading to a year-long siege of the Holy City.
Jeremiah’s words were exacerbating an already tense situation, angering the princes who felt they had everything under control.
Prophets speak truth to power and are persecuted for their words and their actions.  God is showing us the cost of following His voice.  Isn’t it the same today?
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is reminding us of the costs of following him. He’s talking about His ministry causing many divisions among the People of God.
Luke’s Gospel was written at a time when the early Christian community was being expelled from the synagogues, when the early Christian community faced persecution, imprisonment, and death for following Jesus. Fear can drive of bad behavior.
Jesus knew brother would betray brother. Son would betray father. Mother would betray daughter. And so on.
Jesus is using the metaphor of an earth on fire. This was reality for the early Christian communities.

Fire is a biblical image for purification (think of Gold being tested), but it’s also representative of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
As we know with fire, it can be warm and comforting, or it can be destructive and terrifying when out of control.   
These readings remind me of the life of a deacon hero: St. Lawrence of Rome.  His feast day was celebrated last weekend.
St. Lawrence was a deacon who served the poor in ancient Rome in the early Christian church. He was given great responsibility by Pope Sixtus II (the Second), and was charged with being the “keeper of the treasures of the Church.”
He lived at a time when the Christian Church was being persecuted and martyrdom was commonplace in the mid Third Century.
When the Pope and four other deacons were arrested and executed, Lawrence was released to gather up the “treasures of the church” to hand them over to Rome.  He was given three days to do this.                
When three days passed, Lawrence came before the Roman soldiers and the Prefect to surrender the promised “treasures,” but instead he presented the poor, the sick, street beggars of Rome and said, “Here are the treasures of the church.”
For his actions, he was roasted to death over a hot fire.
Lawrence is the patron saint of the poor, but also the patron saint of cooks for his famous line while roasting on the fire, “You can turn me over. This side is done.”  
Lawrence prayed as he was being burned alive that God would bring the entire pagan Roman Empire to Jesus Christ.  
His prayers were answered 55 short years later when Constantine legalized Christianity and eventually became a Christian himself.
The word “martyr” actually translates to “witness.”  We hear of the cloud of witnesses in our faith in Hebrews today.
Many famous deacons have been wonderful witnesses to the faith: St. Stephen, the first Christian martryr, St. Francis of Assisi (yes, he was a deacon), and St. Ephrem the Syrian, the only deacon-doctor of the Church noted for being a great homilist.
Recently, the Catholic Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the permanent diaconate.
Popular Church commentator Rocco Palmo calls the restored diaconate one of the greatest success stories of Vatican II.
Deacons are the only religious vocation that’s actually growing in the Church today. Nearly 50-thousand permanent deacons serve the world Church in 2019. 18-thousand deacons are now serving in U.S. alone.
The permanent diaconate started as a conversation in Cell Block 26 at Nazi death camp Dachau. This was the place set aside for clergy called the “Priesterblock.” During the Nazi reign of terror, over 24-hundred priests were kept there. Most were put to death.
The priests were kept apart from the other inmates because the Nazis didn’t want the clergy to give fellow inmates hope.
Many priests in the prison camps lamented the lack of Catholic clergy with both a foot in the Church and a foot in public life. These priests felt the presence of permanent deacons could have helped prevent what happened in Nazi Germany.
A number of these priests survived the death camps and years later led the effort to restore the permanent diaconate during Vatican II. 
Deacons are not universally accepted by all in the Catholic Church.
The division Christ speaks of today is even present in His Church today over the matter of deacons.
On the right, deacons are sometimes rejected by people who don't believe in Vatican II’s reforms. On the left, deacons are sometimes rejected because there are no women deacons. This is the reality of the Church today. Deacons understand this.
As disciples, Jesus calls us all to places and situations that may not always be comfortable or easy.
As we are reminded today, Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”   
May we all accept Jesus’ warning of the costs and consequences of following Him. May we all accept the fires of persecution that come from following God’s voice and never lose our joy or our hope. May we all always celebrate and honor the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us to show us the way.