Two Questions about Romans 8:28, and two Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Brothers and sisters: we know that all things work for the good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. –Romans 8:28.

Two questions about this. The first about our knowledge, the second about God’s purpose. [Spanish]

Question 1:  We “know” that all things work for the good of those who love God.  How do we know it?

Let us freely acknowledge that Romans 8:28 is not self-evident. A lot of people out there disagree. They say they do not know that all things work for the good.

Many of our brothers and sisters in this world look around at the way things work, and they despair. They see nothing but selfishness, or the law of the jungle, or corruption, or the slow arc of inevitable death. Some people have the sense that the higher powers of the universe do not love the human race.

Seven Gifts of the Holy SpiritSo our being able to perceive the sweet hand of divine Providence–that is a spiritual gift, not a purely logical deduction. To know what Romans 8:28 says we know: We call that the Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge, one of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our interior perception that God is in charge of everything, that there is a reason behind everything.

St. Paul pointed out earlier in his letter to the Romans that God brings good out of evil: From the evil of Satan’s temptation, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the whole history of human sin, God has brought about the infinitely greater good of the mission of His Son to the earth.

Jesus Christ—who suffered and died unjustly, then rose again—Jesus is the best possible thing that ever could have happened.  His goodness trumps all the evil that has ever been or ever will be; His goodness overcomes it all, and turns all evil into an opportunity for holiness.

So now we can answer our first question easily enough: We know what Romans 8:28 says we know; we know that all things work for the good of those who love God and have been called according to his purpose, because:

God became man, lived for us as a man, died for us as a man, rose again and ascended into heaven as a man. And He pours His Spirit out from heaven into our hearts to give us interior knowledge of Himself.

Now, a second question. Romans 8:28 refers to “God’s purpose.” What is God’s purpose in guiding everything as He does?

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St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

The answer is simple and obvious on one level and impossible to fathom on another. The Lord Jesus taught us God’s purpose in everything: that we would share the divine glory forever.

Simple enough, on the one hand. On the other hand, though: we do not yet see what this glorious destiny of ours is. The prospect of seeing God and being like Him is so utterly beyond our capacities to feature that for now our destiny must remain an interior mystery of faith. So again, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid with a special gift.

The Lord pours divine wisdom into our souls so that we can savor the sweetness of heaven a little bit, even before we get there. The sweetness we savor is nothing other than the sweetness of true love. God’s purpose is to love, and to love us above all. The Holy Spirit lifts us up towards God so that we can have a little share in the divine point-of-view even now.

This wisdom even allows us to savor God’s sweetness in the midst of severe trials and tribulations. We can savor God’s sweetness even in the face of the evils God allows us to have to endure so that we might grow in holiness and conformity to Christ.

Our pilgrimage is not easy, and we have to fight hard in order to attain the victory over sin. But through it all, by virtue of the Spirit’s gifts, we know that all things are working together for our good; we can even have the wisdom to see the crosses we have to carry as special gifts, as we follow in the footsteps of Christ.

 

Sparrows for Sacrifice

[Can’t preach on Sunday. But if I could, I would say this…]

shofar temple feast

Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. (Matthew 10:29) [Spanish]

Our forefathers of the Old Covenant waited for the Messiah. They didn’t know what His name would be. They didn’t know what He would look like, or exactly what He would do. But they believed in the coming Christ.

After all, God had formed an alliance with them. He had promised good things. The ancient Israelites knew God would fulfill His promises. History would make sense. Life would have meaning. Our desire for justice and truth, for real happiness in an upright, honest life—God Himself would fulfill all those desires. Somehow. God knew how, and He would do it.

In other words, the ancient Israelites believed in Divine Providence. They had no doubt that God would send His Christ to make everything right. And God did send His Christ.

Through Adam sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all… But the gift is not like the transgression. For if, by the transgression of the one, many died, how much more did the grace of God, and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ, overflow. (Romans 5:12,15)

Before He came, the ancient Israelites waited, trusting. And now we Christians know beyond a shadow of a doubt: God loves us. He loves us with the love of a kind Father. Christ crucified reveals the full extent of the Providence of God. The Father loves us this much; He loves us with the “amount” of love evident on the cross. And that amount = infinity.

crucified handI think most of us have this in common. Loving Jesus from earliest childhood. Believing in Him as the Savior, as the One Who has atoned for sin, Who has revealed the Father’s love. We know that God loves us, because of Jesus.

Meanwhile: the cross teaches us another important thing, too. If I might, maybe I’ll get a little personal here.

I have vivid memories of how my vocation as a Catholic, and as a priest, began. Thirty years ago, the Lord helped me see not just the infinite love of the Father when I gazed at the crucifix. He also helped me see: the total trust of the Son, the absolute trust of the incarnate Son in His heavenly Father.

Jesus gave Himself over into the Father’s hands, trusting so absolutely that He died fearlessly, even serenely, on Mt. Calvary. The Lord helped me see how this trust of Christ on the cross could be a whole way of life—a way of life for all of us, and especially for us priests.

God will provide. I have nothing to fear. I myself may be obtuse and difficult; I may have a weak nature, prone to selfishness. And there are plenty of other people in this world who have the same problems. So we run up against each other in conflicts sometimes.

But I can still dive headfirst into the great pool of love that is Christ’s Church, without holding anything back. Because I have no evil to fear. Jesus trusted—unto death. And the heavenly Father took care of Him, lifting Him up from the grave, to immortal, heavenly glory. So the Father will take care of me, too.

Right now, our parishes suffer confusion and dismay. I suffer confusion and dismay. A terrible storm has engulfed us, and there’s really not much any of us can do about it. So let’s focus on this:

God sent His Christ. He provided everything necessary for us to get to heaven. And it didn’t happen without wounds.

Temple aromaThe two sparrows which got sold for a small coin, which the Lord Jesus said our heavenly Father had His eye on—they didn’t sell those sparrows, in the Temple courtyard, for pets. They sold them for… sacrifice.

The workings of Divine Providence don’t involve some happy-happy-joy-joy merry-go-round ride. No. God’s entire plan revolves around one precise center point: Mount Calvary. We have an altar at church for a reason: so that we can offer ourselves in sacrifice, along with the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus.

For our parishes, these are terribly painful months. It is a moment of sacrifice, genuinely wounding sacrifice. But we trust. God provides. Jesus said: Do not be afraid!

So why should I feel discouraged, or why should the shadows come?

Why should my heart be lonely, away from heaven and home?

When Jesus is my portion; my constant friend is He.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

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The Trust of Christ

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The hillside. The crowd. Time to eat. And time to trust in divine Providence. [Spanish]

St. Andrew knew about the boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But he also doubted the Lord’s miraculous bounty. “What good are these for so many?”

Let’s focus on St. Andrew. I visited St. Andrew’s tomb in Amalfi, Italy, two weeks ago. Let’s examine St. Andrew’s part in this particular situation–with the hungry crowd and the provident God.

God provides. To obey and follow Christ means acknowledging that God owns everything, and I own nothing–not even myself. Lord Jesus sent His Apostles into the world with nothing but a walking stick. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently put it, “the walking stick is the attribute of the pilgrim.”

The pilgrim announces the Kingdom of God simply by being a pilgrim. The pilgrim claims nothing for his or her own, but trusts in the heavenly Father. “Give us this day our daily bread.” God is God. God loves His children. He will always provide for His little ones. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

tabgha loaves fishes multiplication mosaicLord Jesus took this trust to the cross. He trusted His Father, unto death. “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” And Jesus trusted rightly. Not in vain, or blindly, or foolishly. Heaven vindicated the Christ’s trust. On the third day…

This whole mystery of the trust of the pilgrim Christ–the trust in heaven which we see in the Heart of the Son of God at every moment of His pilgrim life–this whole interior gift of trust in Providence emerged into full view on that hillside, with the hungry crowd. And St. Andrew got nervous.

They had come by the thousands, trusting in the miracle-working rabbi, abandoning themselves to Him. He ordered that they… recline. He did not say, “Have the people start picking the nearby crops. Or boiling their shoes to make stew.” No. He told them to relax. God provides.

So they did relax. Except poor St. Andrew, who fretted. ‘These five loaves and two fish are enough for one family, Lord. But, gosh–look at this crowd!’

Now, St. Andrew’s fretfulness on the hillside didn’t last forever. On Pentecost, he received the spiritual gifts that fill a soul with total trust. In the end, St. Andrew got crucified himself, a martyr, like his brother St. Peter and the other Apostles. St. Andrew died with serene trust that the kingdom of heaven awaited him. He hardly knew what the kingdom of heaven involves, but he trusted that it is good. After all, by then St. Andrew had seen His Lord feed 5,000 men and their families with five loaves and two fish. He had learned to fear nothing–other than sinning against Christ by mistrusting Him.

Outside the cathedral in Amalfi which houses St. Andrew’s tomb, there’s a fountain in the piazza. Water flows out of nymphs and mermaids–all under the feet of a statue of the Apostle. Holding his X-shaped cross in his arms, like a trophy. The trophy of: trust in Christ unto death.

Charles Bosseron Chambers Sacred Heart of JesusTrust in Divine Providence doesn’t mean comfort in this world. It doesn’t mean always getting what I want, or what I think is best. The trust of the miraculous hillside means walking through life with empty hands. I had empty hands when I came into this world. And I will have empty hands when I go forth from it.

Trust in divine Providence means accepting that I do not know exactly what God will provide and when. He knows best. Will He provide me with a meal today, or will He provide me with a moment to offer up my hunger? Will He give me another day of life tomorrow, or is today to be my last?

I don’t know. We don’t know. God does. He wills to give me His Kingdom. And only He knows exactly what that kingdom is. The Kingdom of God has one castle, one throne room, one banquet hall–and it’s all hidden in the invisible interior depths of the Heart of Jesus Christ.

At every moment of our pilgrim lives, God offers us a way into the hidden kingdom. We never have to live anywhere else. We just have to accept that we have nothing and know nothing. God has everything and knows everything. And what He has and knows and is: it’s pure good.

Eye on the Sparrow

Bilbo_hands

Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. (Matthew 10:29)

Our forefathers of the Old Covenant awaited the coming of the Messiah. They didn’t know what His name would be. They didn’t know what He would look like, or exactly what He would do.

Nonetheless, they believed in the coming Christ, because they knew that God would provide everything necessary for their nation to enjoy true blessedness. He had formed an alliance with them, and He had promised good things; they knew He would fulfill His promises. History would make sense. Life would have meaning. Our natural human desires for justice and truth, for real happiness in an upright, honest life—all these desires would be fulfilled. Somehow.

The ancient Israelites did not know how everything would get resolved. But they believed in the good God, Who knows all and governs all. In other words, they believed in Divine Providence. So they had no doubt in their minds that God would send His Christ to make everything right.

And the Father did send His Christ.

Through Adam sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all… But the gift is not like the transgression. For if, by the transgression of the one, many died, how much more did the grace of God, and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ, overflow. (Romans 5:12,15)

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

The ancient Israelites awaited the loving fulfillment of the divine plan. And now we Christians know beyond a shadow of a doubt: God loves us with the love of a kind Father.

Christ crucified has revealed it: our heavenly Father has counted all our hairs, with the same kind of tenderness with which a mother would stroke the peach fuzz on her baby’s head. Christ crucified reveals the full extent of the Providence of God. The Father loves us this much; He loves us with the “amount” of love evident on the cross. And that amount = infinity.

Meanwhile: the cross also teaches us another important thing. If I might, maybe I’ll get a little personal here. I have vivid memories of how my vocation as a Catholic, and as a priest, began. Twenty-five years ago, the Lord helped me see something else in the crucifix: not just the love of the Father, but also the total trust that the incarnate Son had in His Father.

Ever since earliest childhood, I had loved Jesus and believed in Him as the Savior, as the One Who has atoned for sin, Who has revealed the fullness of the Father’s love for mankind. Then, when I was reaching adulthood, the Lord gave me this other gift. I saw how Jesus gave Himself over into the Father’s hands, trusting so absolutely that He died fearlessly, even serenely, on Mt. Calvary. The Lord helped me see how this trust of Christ on the cross could be a way of life—a way of life for all of us, and especially for us men called to be priests and to live a celibate life.

God will provide. I have nothing to fear. I myself may be obtuse and difficult; I may be weak-natured and prone to selfishness. And there are plenty of other people in this world who have the same problems, so we run up against each other in conflicts sometimes. But I can still dive headfirst into the great pool of love that is Christ’s Church, without holding anything back, because I have no evil to fear. Jesus trusted—unto death. And the heavenly Father took care of Him, lifting Him up from the grave, to immortal, heavenly glory. So the Father will take care of me, too.

priesthood

…Now, when Bilbo Baggins prepared to leave the Shire on his 111th birthday, he declared to his neighbors, “A hundred eleven years is too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits!”

Two years is too short a time to serve in Roanoke among the excellent and admirable Catholics of St. Andrews and St. Gerard’s. I wish I could have 111 more years, so Catholic Roanoke could really get good and sick of me.

Seriously though, I think we have to exercise a little patience with ourselves, as we gradually try to get over the shock of this pastoral transition. Maybe I could even say: we have to exercise patience with ourselves as we recover from the wound of this mysterious pastoral transition.

God sent His Christ, thus providing everything necessary for us to get to heaven. But it didn’t happen without wounds. As we meditate on God’s fatherly Providence, let’s remember: the two sparrows which got sold for a small coin, which the Lord said our heavenly Father had His eye on—they didn’t sell those sparrows, in the Temple courtyard, for pets. They sold them for… sacrifice.

The workings of Divine Providence don’t involve some happy-happy-joy-joy merry-go-round ride. No. God’s entire plan revolves around one precise center point: Mount Calvary. We have an altar at church for a reason: so that we can offer ourselves in sacrifice–along with the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus.

Certainly the transition of pastors in Roanoke spells relief for many people who find me intolerably tedious—whom I cannot blame at all, since I find myself intolerably tedious, too. But for me anyway, and I daresay for some others, this is a painful moment–me having to say goodbye to some dearly beloved hobbits. It is a moment of sacrifice, genuinely wounding sacrifice. Wounds like this don’t heal overnight.

But we trust. God provides. Jesus said: Do not be afraid!

So why should I feel discouraged, or why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely, away from heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion; my constant friend is He.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Profligate Seed Sewing in the Desert

A sower went out to sew the seed. And he asked himself, “Can God spread a table in the desert?

No. Not true. The sower most certainly did not ask such a question. To the contrary, he scattered seed liberally, prodigiously. He scattered seed in what may seem to us to be a scattershot fashion. He scattered the seed, full of confidence that God can give the increase.

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parableEven though birds peck, and the sun scorches, and thorns choke. Even in the desert, in other words: God can give the increase.

The Israelites marched across the Red Sea, as if supernatural amphibious units were transporting them to a grand invasion of the Promised Land. Things looked good. But then they came to the desert of Sin, and their march became a slog. They grumbled.

Compare this with the great divine sower of the parable. No slogging; no grumbling. He seems to dance His way across the arid plain. The pecking birds flutter around Him menacingly; the sun scorches down; thornbushes unfold their spikes to His right and to His left. But He utters nary a complaint. He just scatters seed far and wide. We might say that He appears to scatter life-giving seed in a footloose and fancy-free manner, even in the middle of the desert.

The seeds give life; they produce fruits; talents unfurl themselves in this world. To our judging eyes, these seeds may appear to have been misplaced, sewn in the wrong environment. Why is so-and-so such a good cook? God didn’t know what He was doing when He made her such a good cook. Why did He make such-a-one so thoroughly charming and confident? He didn’t know what He was doing. Why is that numbskull so good-looking? What was God thinking?

Jonathan Goldsmith most interesting dos equisThat’s us complaining, like the grumbling liberated slaves in the hard desert. We think we know better than the quiet, dancing, divine sower. Probably better not to sew seed around here at all. Better just to go back to Egypt. Freedom takes too much initiative and creative effort. Slavery is easier.

But how many times does it have to happen? Before we learn the truth? God can spread a table in the desert.

God can move hard-headed people like me to acts of kindness and humility. God can make selfish people like me into generous and loving and magnanimous Christians.

And it’s all because God provides. ‘God Provides’ is the #1 axiom of the world, because if God didn’t provide, there would be no world. If they were going to make a “Most Interesting Man in the World” ad with me in it, I would say, ‘I don’t often get the chance to order quail. But when quail’s on the menu, I always order it.’

God serves quail in the desert. The grumbling Israelites finally stopped talking and settled down to eat. The sun set over the dry and thorny landscape to the sounds of laughter and friendship.

The divine Sower does not take Himself so seriously as we take ourselves. He doesn’t have to, because the bag of seed He holds never runs out. Birds can peck all they want; the sun can scorch; thorns can choke. God will scatter more seed, and it will grow.

How Joseph Read the Signs

It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you. (Genesis 45:5)

Let’s talk about how to read the signs. God gives us signs regarding His will, His intentions, His plans. But how to read them? Joseph with the beautiful tunic can teach us.

Everyone know what happened between Joseph and his brothers?

When Joseph was young, his brothers treated him with shameful contempt. Joseph had charm and creativity, and he delighted his father. So his brothers despised him out of jealousy. They planned to kill him, but in the end sold him into slavery in Egypt.

Holman_Josephs_DreamBut Joseph’s fortunes rose while his brothers’ fell. Joseph became chief steward of Pharaoh’s enormous kingdom. Meanwhile, Joseph’s brothers suffered through an extended famine.

How, though, did Joseph understand all these twists and turns of fate? Let’s imagine him sitting in his silken robes as master of the Egyptian dispensary. He sees his emaciated brothers shuffle in, begging for food. We could hardly blame Joseph if he thought to himself at that moment: Well, looky here. Look at the tough guys. They hated me for no good reason. Now they are paying the piper, and I am in the driver’s seat. Revenge really is a dish that is best served cold.

Who could blame Joseph if he had thought along those lines? But he did not think that way at all. To the contrary, he never gave a moment’s thought to revenge; it didn’t even occur to him.

All Joseph could think about was the hunger of his family. He promptly and quietly saw to it that his brothers received plenty of grain. The same brothers who threw him in the cistern and sold him into slavery.

In fact, not only did Joseph completely ignore his opportunity for sweet revenge—he even went further in the way he read the signs. A smaller person could easily have seen the hand of a vengeful God at work in the sufferings of his brothers. In point of fact, the brothers themselves read the signs that way, interpreting their suffering as punishment for their injustice to Joseph. But Joseph saw the opposite.

Joseph brothersJoseph did not say to himself, Aha! God has justly punished these evil brothers of mine and put them into my power! Rather, he said: Aha! God has led me through all the trials and tribulations of my difficult, lonely life for one reason: so that I could help my brothers now and save them from starvation. A smaller person would have seen the hand of a vengeful God at work in his brothers’ sufferings. But Joseph saw the hand of a merciful God at work in his own sufferings.

This, I think, is the way to read the signs. Joseph knew God better than his brothers did. God does not move events for the sake of my own personal satisfaction; He moves them so that He may satisfy the needs of others through me. The universe does not revolve around me; my universe revolves around the people who need my help.

May Joseph be a sign for us. Scripture teaches us that all things work for the good of those who love God. All things work for our good—when we understand that our true good is really the good of our neighbors. So let’s put it Joseph’s way: All things work for the good of the people that the people who love God love.

Shaken and Bestirred

“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do…For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” (Matthew 16:21,27)

I guess there are two kinds of Sunday Masses: run-of-the-mill Sunday Masses and Masses on the Sunday after an earthquake. At the run-of-the-mill Sunday Masses, distractions can get in the way. We don’t always open our minds to the Word of God like we should.

The same thing can happen at Mass after an earthquake. But coming to church after facing the possibility of sudden death and destruction can sharpen our attention somewhat.

Things like earthquakes can leave us wondering about the Providence of God. Thanks be to God, we did not suffer any serious damage this week. No injury, no loss of life. But we know well that sudden and apparently senseless death can come. Innocent people die in accidents every day. Others suffer unjustly. Why? Isn’t God in charge?

Maybe a televangelist, out there somewhere, has declared that the people of the mid-Atlantic must be sinners—since the Lord sent us an earthquake—but not really bad sinners—since the earthquake was only 5.9 on the Richter scale.

God is God, after all. He can send earthquakes, hurricanes, and plagues on whomever He wants to send them for whatever reason He has for sending them. But it does not require too much investigation on our part for us to discover that, if the Lord meted out His justice upon sinners strictly in the form of earthquakes, then there would not be a city left standing on the face of the earth. Washington, D.C., would not be standing, but neither would Rocky Mount, or Martinsville, or any other town.

The Word of God helps us to focus the matter. In the end, the Son of Man will come in glory with His angels, and He will repay us justly for our deeds.

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Words from the Center of the Earth

Mount Zion, true pole of the earth, the Great King’s city! —Psalm 48

Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Some reflections on our visit to the empty tomb:

That Jesus Christ rose from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is one of the most solidly established facts of ancient history.

It is not just that there are no bones in the tomb. (We pilgrims can say that we have seen this with our own eyes.)

It is also that there are multiple, independent eye-witness accounts of people who saw and spoke with Christ after He had been crucified and died.

History cannot be an exact science. The smarter bet is: Jesus Christ rose and walked out of the Holy Sepulcher. It is more likely that He did than that He didn’t.

The historical fact that Jesus came back from the dead is not itself an article of faith. We did not go on pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher just because Jesus rose from the dead there. We—and countless pilgrims before us—went to the empty tomb because of what the resurrection of Christ has to do with us.

Other people besides Jesus Christ have come back from the dead. We read in the gospels that Lazarus came back from the dead, the son of the widow of Nain came back from the dead, Jairus’ daughter came back from the dead.

But the man who rose from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world. The man who came back from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is the Head of the Body of the Church. The man who came back from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher rose to everlasting life, the first fruits of the final resurrection.

This man’s coming back from the dead has everything to do with us. It is the most important fact of all the facts of life. We believe that because He walked out of the tomb, we can hope for every good thing from God.

Here is how Pope Benedict put it when he visited the Holy Sepulcher in May:

Here the history of humanity was decisively changed. The long reign of sin and death was shattered by the triumph of obedience and life.

Here Christ, the new Adam, taught us that evil never has the last word, that love is stronger than death, that our future, and the future of all humanity, lies in the hands of a faithful and provident God.

The Holy Sepulcher is the center of the world. All time, all history, revolve around it. The entire universe revolves around this little cave.

We do not live in a chaos of darkness careening towards nothing. No: We live in the loving hands of the God who raised His Son from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Pope Benedict at the Holy Sepulcher

Parochial-School Graduation Sermon

mortarboardI successfully completed primary school during the Reagan administration. Our teacher refused to call the ensuing ceremony a “graduation.” A Congressman spoke to us, we sang a few songs–our ‘promotional exercises.’

The picture of fourteen-year-olds parading around with mortarboards on their heads is a little laughable. I was fortunate enough to graduate from a prestigious high school; we received our diplomas wearing jackets and ties. You have to finish college before you qualify as a scholar.

All that said, here is my sermon to the young men and women finishing their course of study at our humble parish primary school…

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