Waking up to see Christ–reflection on the transfiguration by Father Steven LaBaire

I am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

This Sunday’s gospel tells us that Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain (Luke 9:28-26) to pray. Apparently the three disciples got a bit sleepy, however. (Maybe all that mountain climbing was tiring.)

Nonetheless, we’re told that “becoming fully awake,” they got to see Jesus in a new light.

They “saw” him in a way they never before experienced. And, a voice beckoned them to “Listen, to my chosen Son.”

Words will never adequately describe what Peter, James and John experienced that day.

Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Transfiguration (All Souls), Flickr Creative Commons

These three “students” of Jesus probably couldn’t grasp the meaning of it all either. It would take some time to take it all in.

But this much is sure: They “woke up;” they became fully awake and were able to “see” Christ in a new way.

The Church in her wisdom has told this story at the beginning of Lent for centuries.

Why? Because Lent should be about “waking up” and seeing things (especially our faith) in a “new way.”

Where in life might we possibly be “snoozing” and unaware of what’s really going on?

Our marriages? Our kids? Our health? Our relationships? Our parish?

And while the gospel doesn’t give a quick “wake up” remedy, it does imply that opening our eyes will involve moving beyond our comfort zones—like the strenuous workout of a mountain climb.

–You need to get to the mountain top in order to appreciate the view and “take in” the vista. (Usually not much of a “view” at the comfy lodge at the foot of the mountain!)

“Seeing in a new way,” is the fruit of prayer. If prayer is stretching our hearts and minds to see things as God sees them, then prayer will push us beyond our ourselves and challenge us to look at the bigger picture of our lives and the world. Prayer will dare us to gaze even into the “beyond” of eternity.

from www.agungjordan.xyz

Oh, and another thing: We tell this story because, sometimes we “snooze,”  the wider Church snoozes too.

The Church, in all her structures and organizations,  during Lent, is being challenged to “become fully awake” and listen more attentively to Christ.

So, what have you chosen to do for Lent this year?

Whatever it is, do you think it will “wake you up” to life? (If it don’t think it will, there’s still time to change what you’ve chosen.)

Alert to what’s happening around us, may we  hear Christ calling us to be bold visionaries for life’s journey.

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Learning from temptation–Gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

I am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the story of the tempting (or testing) of Christ in the desert wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).
We’re told that after his baptism in the Jordan River but before undertaking his public ministry, that Jesus fasted for 40 days.
After his fast, he was tempted.

Luke describes three temptations:

  • To give into thinking that the needs of the body are all that matter;
  • To worship something or someone other than God (idolatry);
  • To try to manipulate or to control God.
http://www.bibleimages.ca

Bodily needs

The three temptations can be stated in another way: We can be tempted into believing that our bodily or physical needs are all always the most important, or the only ones. (And yet, we know that the world is full of well-fed, full-bellied, in-shape people who experience life as meaningless and without purpose. The soul matters.).

Forms of idolatry

We can be tempted into making our work, our popularity, or money, our possessions, or a whole host of other things, the center and goal of our lives. (But this is simply a form of idolatry. God calls us to a more abundant path of love. But God sets the priorities along the path. We neither invent nor determine them.).

Trying to control God

Finally, we can be tempted into trying to manipulate God into serving our purposes. (“I’m a good person, I go to church, I give to the poor. But I smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day. I’m sure God will take care of my health and protect me from any illnesses. “I know my son drinks excessively and drives. But I put a Miraculous medal on the dashboard. I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Oh really?)

In the wilderness, (and at other times in his ministry) Jesus was tempted in ways similar to these.

All are tested

What we can forget is that this story is the story of every Christian. In the wilderness of the world, each of us has and will be tested. Sometimes we resist, sometimes we fail.

treat-depression.com

And, what’s more: In every age, the Church has been tempted in these ways. And in every generation, the Church resists and the Church succumbs to the temptations. That’s because the Church is made up of imperfect, sometimes weak people, like us.

Temptations are part of our journey through life. The Gospel on Sunday tells us that there would be more ahead for Jesus. (That’s the last line of the Gospel!) Doing what is right is sometimes a struggle; even like an inner battle of sorts. Temptations can teach us a lot about ourselves too.

But God’s Spirit leads us, as it did Jesus.

Pray to resist evil

We pray that this same Spirit would impart the grace to resist what is evil. When we fail, may the Spirit lift us and give us what we need to mend what we have broken or injured.

Above all else, may that Spirit give us vision to see beyond the wilderness of this imperfect, broken world.

Eyes to see that eternal, undying Easter, where God’s love has triumphed over our every test.

Amen.

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Honoring our roots as Christians–Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-2; gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

The gospel this coming weekend tells us that Jesus while in Nazareth went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. At the appointed time, he was handed a scroll from which he read the appointed reading for the day.

Jesus was a Jew. Sometimes Christians forget this: Jesus was a Jew.

Jesus was raised in a Jewish home. Like all Jewish males, he was circumcised. When he was 13, he had a Bar Mitzvah. He celebrated Hanukkah and Passover. He learned the Hebrew scriptures. He prayed the psalms. He made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. And today, we’re told that he was in the habit of going to the Synagogue on the Sabbath.

Last Sunday, Pope Francis visited the Synagogue of Rome. He reminded those present that there is an inseparable bond between Christians and Jews. He spoke of how Christians and Jews are called to work together to overcome all forms of violence and terror.

But he added a rather interesting observation:

“In order to understand themselves, Christians must understand their Jewish roots.” In other words, if you want to understand what it means to be a Christian, you have to seek to understand the faith out of which the Church was born. And the Church was born within a Jewish matrix.”

Javier Jewish praying
Javier Jewish praying, Flickr Creative Commons

Think about these simple facts:

  • One reason why we sing or say the responsorial Psalm at every Mass is because the psalms are the prayers that Jesus grew up with. When you pray the psalms you are praying what Jesus actually prayed.
  • When the deacon or priest carries the Gospel book to the lectern at Mass, he is imitating the rabbi carrying the Torah scroll to the reading desk.
  • The unleavened bread we use during Mass, evokes the unleavened matzo bread of the Jewish Passover, reminding us that we are all called to leave behind “Egypt” –whatever places or relationships that imprison, enslave or oppress. “Exodus” is a on-going part of life.

As a Jew, Jesus understood that God had intervened in human history; that the human story was not arbitrary or meaningless. We Christians see the human drama, despite its tragedies, as headed toward an ultimate fulfillment and destiny. That’s why hope is characteristic of a Christian.

And there’s so much more…

  • How could someone tell the story of your life without understanding what means to be a 21st century American?
  • So, how can we claim to understand Jesus and his message without understanding his Jewish faith?
  • How could we say that we really know someone, without striving to understand from what and where they come?

Let’s pray for a Church that honors her roots;

  • for an openness to understanding more about our connection with the Jewish faith;
  • for a future where we find strength for living from the wisdom our past;
  • and for overcoming the amnesia that would keep us from understanding who we are.

Amen.

A personal note

st. joseph rectory
from The Catholic Free Press

I would like to extend to Father Steven and his parishioners a hearty congratulations for the reopening of the fully renovated rectory at Holy Family! Three of the four suites in the home will be used to house retired priests. This is the first time that I can recall a parish literally being brought back from the dead (Holy Family is housed at St. Joseph’s Church on Hamilton Street, once slated for closing in the 1990’s, and saved by the parishioners). This is indeed a happy occasion! You can read more about this amazing story at the Catholic Free Press website.

A Blessed Christmas to You, and a New Year full of promise!

nativity

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:15-20

Thank you to all my dear readers for an amazing year! I look forward to many wonderful times with you in 2016 and all the new friends we will meet.

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Healed of Christmases Past–the cure is in plain view

Here is my December column for the Catholic Free Press.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It’s here. The Christmas season. How does this make you feel?

Is it excitement as in days of old when you were a child?

Or, is it long to-do lists that never end? Shopping till we drop? Noise and chaos and endless obligations that make us tired and cranky while all the while we are told to be “merry?”

Is it dread, trying to stretch limited financial resources to fulfill gift obligations? Is it regret, frustration and guilt that we cannot buy what we wish for our loved ones?

Is it loneliness? Are we missing someone, loved ones who have died or moved away? Do we feel empty, sad or bitter?

Miguel Fraga, Flickr Creative Commons
Miguel Fraga, Flickr Creative Commons

The Christmas season evokes powerful memories and emotions, magnifying every joy as well as all the hurt, disappointment and loss we have experienced in our lives. Our reaction to any unattended and festering wounds will be visited upon everyone around us, especially those we love.

Tucked away in the midst of all this is a liturgical season often overlooked: Advent. It is the antithesis of a chaotic, noisy commercial Christmas; a soothing and sanguine contrast to a season clouded by wounds and losses. Advent does not look mournfully to the past; it draws our attention to a hopeful future while being firmly rooted in the here and now.

Jorbasa Fotografie 4. Advent 2011, Flickr Creative Commons
Jorbasa Fotografie 4. Advent 2011, Flickr Creative Commons

Advent features the key players of our faith: Mary, Joseph and of course, Jesus Christ. It features some of the most moving and poetic passages from the Bible–prophesies of old heralding the coming of the Messiah as the shoot of Jesse, filled with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and of strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord (from Isaiah 11).

Barta IV Jesus Joseph Mary, Flickr Creative Commons
Barta IV Jesus Joseph Mary, Flickr Creative Commons

It documents the greatest act of obedience in history when a young virgin accepts the invitation from God to bear his Son. That obedience is not an onerous “do not” but a joyful “I do!” as evidenced by Mary’s rushing to the side of her kinswoman Elizabeth (thought barren yet pregnant) and spontaneously praising God with her and the babes in their wombs in the exquisite prayer of the Magnificat.

It illustrates sublime acts of trust, surrender, generosity and courage in Joseph who fully embraces the responsibility of taking Mary to be his wife despite the fact that she is carrying a child not his own. Going against the grain of longstanding tradition and enduring the naysayers, he knows there is a bigger picture to consider: Mary’s child is God’s Son. And he makes room for them.

So how does all of this help to sooth frazzled nerves, heal the wounds of Christmases past and fill empty and grieving hearts?

I can’t say how specifically. I only know that each year as I focus on Advent and turn away from a commercial Christmas, I have felt that soothing, that healing. My empty heart is filled.

I still grieve for loved ones. I still struggle with squeezing out the last dollar. I still battle with a heart that is small (although it is growing). I only know that the other day when I went to the Christmas Tree shop to finish off a gift basket for church, I felt serene, even enjoying the experience. To me, the Christmas Tree shop is the quintessential representation of a frazzled, noisy, chaotic commercial Christmas. And yet I felt deep contentment.

It’s the fruit of Advents past, reflecting on the readings, listening to the music, and looking to Mary and Joseph as the examples. Philippians 4:8 sums it up perfectly: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (NIV)

Immersion into the refuge of Advent has healed my Christmas.

Be a Light: Living Christmas through Advent by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

The Advent wreath, located on the right side of the sanctuary is a centuries-old Christian tradition.

Christine McIntosh Advent wreath completed, Flickr Creative Commons
Christine McIntosh Advent wreath completed, Flickr Creative Commons

The wreath itself is rich in symbolism: Evergreens signify undying life; life even amidst the barrenness of winter.

The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning and no end, symbolizes the eternity of God, and everlasting life found in Christ.

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent.

Three candles are violet and one is rose. The violet candles represent the color of the sky before sunrise; a sign of hope and a new beginning.

The rose candle lit on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, signifies the joy that hope and a new beginning bring.

The progressive lighting of the candles expresses light overcoming darkness; the light of Christ conquering whatever is contrary to love, mercy and compassion.

Of course, the wreath is meant to signify what Christ calls us to do: Bring light to wherever there is darkness.

Darkness is not confined to San Bernadino, California or Paris, or to the hearts of those who would wish us or anyone harm.

All kinds of shadows and shades of darkness can be found around us:

  • In the home where a child is beaten by hands or by hurtful words;
  • In the office where injustices and dishonesty are overlooked in the name of profit;
  • In the loveless marriage where partners are deaf to the needs of the one they promised to love and cherish;
  • In the residence where the elderly waste away, abandoned by their families;
  • On the playing field sidelines where the push to win the game at all costs, crushes a child’s feelings;
  •  Among friends when an addiction is never addressed;
  •  In our mouths when we speak criticism without being willing to help in the solution;
  • In cyberspace when a 14 year feels as if her reputation has been destroyed;
  • In popular culture, when prayer is mocked and faith is labeled as a “weakness of the intellect.”
  • In that family, where the gay son has been disowned and told that he does not belong;
  • Or, in a parish, when numbers of people and the almighty dollar are more important than fidelity to what Christ taught.
martinak15 83/365 Light in the Darkness, Flickr Creative Commons
martinak15 83/365 Light in the Darkness, Flickr Creative Commons

None of us are strangers to shadows. We pass through them every day.

Advent beckons us to bring light to wherever there is darkness, whatever be the shade.

How are you being called to bring  “light” to someone, somewhere?

Pray for an increase of light. Pray for the nerve (and for the energy) to be that light.

Amen.
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Hope in the midst of darkness – Isaiah 29: 17-24

Thus says the Lord GOD:
But a very little while,
and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard,
and the orchard be regarded as a forest!
On that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book;
And out of gloom and darkness,
the eyes of the blind shall see.
The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD,
and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

auntjojo Surely..., Flickr Creative Commons
auntjojo Surely…, Flickr Creative Commons

For the tyrant will be no more
and the arrogant will have gone;
All who are alert to do evil will be cut off,
those whose mere word condemns a man,
Who ensnare his defender at the gate,
and leave the just man with an empty claim.
Therefore thus says the LORD,
the God of the house of Jacob,
who redeemed Abraham:
Now Jacob shall have nothing to be ashamed of,
nor shall his face grow pale.
When his children see
the work of my hands in his midst,
They shall keep my name holy;
they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob,
and be in awe of the God of Israel.
Those who err in spirit shall acquire understanding,
and those who find fault shall receive instruction.

from http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120415.cfm, Friday of the First Week of Advent

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Join Susan on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 4pm at The Barrow Bookstore in Concord. MA
for book signing/launch of Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message

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Book #2 is here! Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message book signing this Sunday in Concord, MA

barrow bookstore with books

Louisa May Alcott:Illuminated by The Message is here!

Book Signing/Launch this Sunday, Dec. 6, 4 pm (I will also be signing copies of River of Grace – bring yours!)
Short presentation followed by conversation and signing.
The Barrow Bookstore, 79 Main Street, Concord, MA (rear of the building, behind Fritz & Giggi)

introduction graphic

Part of the Literary Portals to Prayer series by ACTA Publications.
Other classic authors in the series include Elizabeth McGaskell, William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

You can purchase your copy of Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message online: Regular edition and Large Print available. Makes a great gift!

See you on Sunday!

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Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
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Great reading for all ages, and you can win a copy! The Chime Travelers series by bestselling author Lisa M. Hendey

You could win a copy of both books in the Chime Travelers series!

Find out how at the end of this post … great gift for the child in your life (even if it’s you!).

When’s the last time you treated yourself to a good children’s book?

How did reading it make you feel?

As an almost-60 adult with no small children in my life at the moment, it feels like a guilty (and secret) pleasure. I mean, shouldn’t I be reading more challenging books? It was after a conversation with a distinguished professor of children’s literature that I realized reading children’s literature is totally acceptable at any age. And besides, it’s fun!

That said I couldn’t resist reading my friend Lisa Hendey’s new Chime Travelers series. Initially I was drawn in by the imaginative and vibrant illustrations by Jenn Bower. This is Hendey’s first foray into juvenile fiction. As a writer myself I was curious as to how she made that transition; I’m happy to say that she has done it quite well.

chime travelers both books

The premise

I read the first two books, The Secret of the Shamrock and The Sign of the Carved Cross and fell in love with the series. The premise revolves around twins Patrick and Katie who are mysteriously sent back in time whenever the bells of St. Anne’s chime (thus Chime Travelers). In each case they meet a saint with a name similar to theirs and embark on an adventure. As they come to know and love the saint, they are inspired by the faith and life of that saint which in turn, draws them closer to God. Their lives are never the same again. Patrick meets St. Patrick, the great saint of Ireland, and Katie meets Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be canonized.

jaqian St. Patrick, and Raymond Bucko, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in front of Santa Fe Cathedral, Flickr Creative Commons
jaqian St. Patrick, and Raymond Bucko, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in front of Santa Fe Cathedral, Flickr Creative Commons

Kid-friendly

Episcopal Diocese Common-wafers, Flickr Creative Commons
Episcopal Diocese Common-wafers, Flickr Creative Commons

The series is geared for children in grades 2-5 with the very typical problems that kids face such as not fitting in, making fun of other kids, being unkind to newcomers, trying to please the popular crowd, jealousy, being bored with church, guilt over past actions and so forth. By being exposed to these great saints, Patrick and Katie come to love their faith especially through the sacraments (Patrick with Reconciliation; Katie with Baptism and Holy Communion). I found myself becoming attached to St. Patrick and St. Kateri as I grew to know them and almost felt sad when the children were transported back home.

Empowering young people to change

Hendey does not make the twins change instantaneously but rather slowly, over time. In the second book, The Sign of the Carved Cross, we can see Katie noticing and wondering how her brother has changed since he experienced his time-traveling adventure, unaware that the same would soon happen to her. By being changed from within, both children begin treat others with more kindness, patience and understanding.

Saints are real people

Children love exciting stories about real people and our Church has so many of them to offer through the Saints. The Chime Travelers series does a great service in exposing our young people to people who lived their faith authentically and boldly while dealing with their own weaknesses and sins.

Great for adults too!

And since reading children’s literature acts a vacation for my overworked and weary mind, this adult loved them too. I highly recommend the Chime Travelers series for all ages. I’m keeping my copies for the future grandchildren.

You could win a copy of both books in the Chime Travelers series!

Find out how at the end of this post … great gift for the child in your life (even if it’s you!).

Come and meet Lisa Hendey, author of the Chime Travelers series:

How did you come to write the stories? Did you choose the Saints that you wrote about?

lisa hendey
lisahendey.com

I had been in conversation with the publisher, Servant, about potential book projects. At one of our meetings, I humorously shared with them an idea that I had for a children’s book. The concept for Chime Travelers was “born” during a fun backyard chat with my nephew Patrick one day. We daydreamed about a little boy who traveled in time to meet his patron saint. In our family, the name “Patrick” is quite common and we have a true devotion to the “apostle of Ireland”! When I shared the idea, Claudia Volkman and Louise Pare were able to see the vision for the story and we began to conceptualize what has since become an entire series of books. I chose the initial two saints (St. Patrick and St. Kateri Tekakwitha) and campaigned to have the first two books released simultaneously. Children who read these types of books want to have them quickly if they love them. The upcoming books, based on the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi, will be coming this spring and the fifth book is planned for release in the summer.

How were you able to make the transition from writing nonfiction to fiction?
Did doing the research help you to get into the mindset?

The transition was such a joy but also much more challenging than I had predicted. We have an excellent editor, Lindsay Olson, who is a true children’s literature specialist. And I must also rave about our illustrator Jenn Bower who has truly brought the series to life with her art. Making the transition to fiction involved relying on the research skills I’ve honed as a non-fiction author, but also setting loose my imagination. The challenges related to helping the characters truly come to life, capturing the senses and attention of our young readers, and also building upon the stories of the saints while being very respectful of their true life legacies. Even though the books are short, we want them to be educational and also close in detail to the real facts of the saints histories.

How different is it writing for children than for writing for adults? Are the rules you need to follow?

I’ve learned so much! One big difference is that it’s important to help the kids enter into the action of the scene rather than simply describing it to them. This was a huge challenge for me initially and something I’m still learning about. I’ll also share that I’m quite verbose (note my answers here for an example of that!) These books need to be tight, concise but also full of rich imagery. One “rule” I’m still learning about is giving our characters “agency” – that is to give them a voice or power over their situations. This is why you’ll find our main characters Patrick and Katie at the center of the action in the Chime Travelers series. We want the children who read these books to understand that they too have power and that their actions matter–especially within our Church and in their own families. I believe that our children can make our Church and our world better. I hope that with these books, we’ve given them role models to see that they too can emulate the saints in living lives of great courage, valor and import.

How does it feel to be carried away to a distant land in a distant time with a special Saint? Do you have a favorite?

Many have heard me say that I often write in my sons’ old tree house, a space my husband built for them years ago. I have a rocking chair and desk there, and I truly love to go into that space to “Chime Travel”. To be “carried away” in time and to dwell in the lives of the saints is somewhat like the beautiful form of Lectio Divina. I often do my historical research and then simply pray and begin writing. I find so often that I become caught up in the scenes I’m writing, as if I see the action or hear the dialogue in my head. I’m afraid that probably sounds a bit crazy! But in truth, these books are a gift of love for the Church and our saints. For that reason, I feel strongly that the Holy Spirit is often at work in my tree house, guiding me along a path to the stories we are creating.

Where the magic happens ... used by permission lisahendey.com
Where the magic happens … used by permission lisahendey.com

I have scores of favorite saints – the first two books tell two of their stories. My “favorite” saint probably varies every day, depending upon whose spiritual friendship I most need! My “go to” is my personal patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux, but I also have a deep love for Venerable Fulton Sheen, for St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope of Molokai, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. I love St. Therese of Lisieux because as she did in her own life, I greatly desire to be a missionary in our world. Like St. Therese, I will likely never travel extensively to foreign mission fields. But her Little Way, her life and legacy have taught me that my own mission field can be a vast and beautiful “love letter” to God in its own unique way. In general, I love the saints and working on this project has been a great way to share that love with children everywhere.

How can you win both books in the Chime Travelers series?

Be the first to leave a comment and the books are yours! Comment away …

Find The Secret of the Shamrock and The Sign of the Carved Cross on Amazon.

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What scares the sh*t out of you? What can you do about it?

What is fear to you?

  • Is it the monster in the closet that looms over you in the middle of the night?
  • Is it those butterflies that won’t stop fluttering in your stomach?
  • Is it that dread you wake up with, morning after morning?

Continue reading “What scares the sh*t out of you? What can you do about it?”