First Martyrs of the Church of Rome
Image: Christian heroes and martyrs | William A. Foster | The Library of Congress

Saint of the Day for June 30

(d. 64)

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First Martyrs of the Church of Rome’s Story

There were Christians in Rome within a dozen or so years after the death of Jesus, though they were not the converts of the “Apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 15:20). Paul had not yet visited them at the time he wrote his great letter in 57-58 A.D.

There was a large Jewish population in Rome. Probably as a result of controversy between Jews and Jewish Christians, the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in 49-50 A.D. Suetonius the historian says that the expulsion was due to disturbances in the city “caused by the certain Chrestus” [Christ]. Perhaps many came back after Claudius’ death in 54 A.D. Paul’s letter was addressed to a Church with members from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.

In July of 64 A.D., more than half of Rome was destroyed by fire. Rumor blamed the tragedy on Nero, who wanted to enlarge his palace. He shifted the blame by accusing the Christians. According to the historian Tacitus, many Christians were put to death because of their “hatred of the human race.” Peter and Paul were probably among the victims.

Threatened by an army revolt and condemned to death by the senate, Nero committed suicide in 68 A.D. at the age of 31.


Reflection

Wherever the Good News of Jesus was preached, it met the same opposition as Jesus did, and many of those who began to follow him shared his suffering and death. But no human force could stop the power of the Spirit unleashed upon the world. The blood of martyrs has always been, and will always be, the seed of Christians.


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Painting titled The Virgin and Child with Saints Peter and Paul
Image: The Virgin and Child with Saints Peter and Paul | Girolamo Figino

Saint of the Day for June 29

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Saints Peter and Paul’s Story

Peter (d. 64?) Saint Mark ends the first half of his Gospel with a triumphant climax. He has recorded doubt, misunderstanding, and the opposition of many to Jesus. Now Peter makes his great confession of faith: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29b). It was one of the many glorious moments in Peter’s life, beginning with the day he was called from his nets along the Sea of Galilee to become a fisher of men for Jesus.

The New Testament clearly shows Peter as the leader of the apostles, chosen by Jesus to have a special relationship with him. With James and John he was privileged to witness the Transfiguration, the raising of a dead child to life, and the agony in Gethsemane. His mother-in-law was cured by Jesus. He was sent with John to prepare for the last Passover before Jesus’ death. His name is first on every list of apostles.

And to Peter only did Jesus say, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17b-19).

But the Gospels prove their own trustworthiness by the unflattering details they include about Peter. He clearly had no public relations person. It is a great comfort for ordinary mortals to know that Peter also has his human weakness, even in the presence of Jesus.

He generously gave up all things, yet he can ask in childish self-regard, “What are we going to get for all this?” (see Matthew 19:27). He receives the full force of Christ’s anger when he objects to the idea of a suffering Messiah: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Matthew 16:23b).

Peter is willing to accept Jesus’ doctrine of forgiveness, but suggests a limit of seven times. He walks on the water in faith, but sinks in doubt. He refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, then wants his whole body cleansed. He swears at the Last Supper that he will never deny Jesus, and then swears to a servant maid that he has never known the man. He loyally resists the first attempt to arrest Jesus by cutting off Malchus’ ear, but in the end he runs away with the others. In the depth of his sorrow, Jesus looks on him and forgives him, and he goes out and sheds bitter tears. The Risen Jesus told Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep (John 21:15-17).

Paul (d. 64?) If the most well-known preacher today suddenly began preaching that the United States should adopt Marxism and not rely on the Constitution, the angry reaction would help us understand Paul’s life when he started preaching that Christ alone can save us. He had been the most pharisaic of Pharisees, the most legalistic of Mosaic lawyers. Now he suddenly appears to other Jews as a heretical welcomer of Gentiles, a traitor and apostate.

Paul’s central conviction was simple and absolute: Only God can save humanity. No human effort—even the most scrupulous observance of law—can create a human good which we can bring to God as reparation for sin and payment for grace. To be saved from itself, from sin, from the devil, and from death, humanity must open itself completely to the saving power of Jesus.

Paul never lost his love for his Jewish family, though he carried on a lifelong debate with them about the uselessness of the Law without Christ. He reminded the Gentiles that they were grafted on the parent stock of the Jews, who were still God’s chosen people, the children of the promise.


Reflection

We would probably go to confession to Peter sooner than to any of the other apostles. He is perhaps a more striking example of the simple fact of holiness. Jesus says to us as he said, in effect, to Peter: “It is not you who have chosen me, but I who have chosen you. Peter, it is not human wisdom that makes it possible for you to believe, but my Father’s revelation. I, not you, build my Church.” Paul’s experience of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus was the driving force that made him one of the most zealous, dynamic, and courageous ambassadors of Christ the Church has ever had. But persecution, humiliation, and weakness became his day-by-day carrying of the cross, material for further transformation. The dying Christ was in him; the living Christ was his life.


Saint Paul is the Patron Saint of:

Greece


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Stained glass window of Saint Irenaeus in Église Saint-Irénée, France
Image: Stained glass window of Saint Irenaeus | Église Saint-Irénée, France | photo by Gérald Gambier

Saint of the Day for June 28

(c. 130 – c. 202)

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Saint Irenaeus’ Story

The Church is fortunate that Irenaeus was involved in many of its controversies in the second century. He was a student, well trained no doubt, with great patience in investigating, tremendously protective of apostolic teaching, but prompted more by a desire to win over his opponents than to prove them in error.

As bishop of Lyons he was especially concerned with the Gnostics, who took their name from the Greek word for “knowledge.” Claiming access to secret knowledge imparted by Jesus to only a few disciples, their teaching was attracting and confusing many Christians. After thoroughly investigating the various Gnostic sects and their “secret,” Irenaeus showed to what logical conclusions their tenets led. These he contrasted with the teaching of the apostles and the text of Holy Scripture, giving us, in five books, a system of theology of great importance to subsequent times. Moreover, his work, widely used and translated into Latin and Armenian, gradually ended the influence of the Gnostics.

The circumstances and details about his death, like those of his birth and early life in Asia Minor, are not at all clear. However in 2022, Pope Francis named Saint Irenaeus a Doctor of the Church.


Reflection

A deep and genuine concern for other people will remind us that the discovery of truth is not to be a victory for some and a defeat for others. Unless all can claim a share in that victory, truth itself will continue to be rejected by the losers, because it will be regarded as inseparable from the yoke of defeat. And so, confrontation, controversy and the like might yield to a genuine united search for God’s truth and how it can best be served.


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Statue of Saint Cyril in Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora do Sameiro, Braga, Portugal
Image: Statue of Saint Cyril in Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora do Sameiro, Braga, Portugal | photo by Joseolgon

Saint of the Day for June 27

(378 – June 27, 444)

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Saint Cyril of Alexandria’s Story

Saints are not born with halos around their heads. Cyril, recognized as a great teacher of the Church, began his career as archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt, with impulsive, often violent, actions. He pillaged and closed the churches of the Novatian heretics—who required those who denied the faith to be re-baptized—participated in the deposing of Saint John Chrysostom, and confiscated Jewish property, expelling the Jews from Alexandria in retaliation for their attacks on Christians.

Cyril’s importance for theology and Church history lies in his championing the cause of orthodoxy against the heresy of Nestorius, who taught that in Christ there were two persons, one human and one divine.

The controversy centered around the two natures in Christ. Nestorius would not agree to the title “God-bearer” for Mary. He preferred “Christ-bearer,” saying there are two distinct persons in Christ—divine and human—joined only by a moral union. He said Mary was not the mother of God but only of the man Christ, whose humanity was only a temple of God. Nestorianism implied that the humanity of Christ was a mere disguise.

Presiding as the pope’s representative at the Council of Ephesus in 431, Cyril condemned Nestorianism and proclaimed Mary truly the “God-bearer”—the mother of the one Person who is truly God and truly human. In the confusion that followed, Cyril was deposed and imprisoned for three months, after which he was welcomed back to Alexandria.

Besides needing to soften some of his opposition to those who had sided with Nestorius, Cyril had difficulties with some of his own allies, who thought he had gone too far, sacrificing not only language but orthodoxy. Until his death, his policy of moderation kept his extreme partisans under control. On his deathbed, despite pressure, he refused to condemn the teacher of Nestorius.


Reflection

Lives of the saints are valuable not only for the virtue they reveal but also for the less admirable qualities that also appear. Holiness is a gift of God to us as human beings. Life is a process. We respond to God’s gift, but sometimes with a lot of zigzagging. If Cyril had been more patient and diplomatic, the Nestorian church might not have risen and maintained power so long. But even saints must grow out of immaturity, narrowness, and selfishness. It is because they—and we—do grow, that we are truly saints, persons who live the life of God.


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Blessed Raymond Lull
Image: Life of Raymond Lull | reproduced in An illustrated history of the Knights Templar, James Wasserman | photo by Thomas le Myésier

Saint of the Day for June 26

(c. 1235 – June 28, 1315)

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Blessed Raymond Lull’s Story

Raymond worked all his life to promote the missions and died a missionary to North Africa.

Raymond was born at Palma on the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea. He earned a position in the king’s court there. One day a sermon inspired him to dedicate his life to working for the conversion of the Muslims in North Africa. He became a Secular Franciscan and founded a college where missionaries could learn the Arabic they would need in the missions. Retiring to solitude, he spent nine years as a hermit. During that time he wrote on all branches of knowledge, a work which earned him the title “Enlightened Doctor.”

Raymond then made many trips through Europe to interest popes, kings, and princes in establishing special colleges to prepare future missionaries. He achieved his goal in 1311, when the Council of Vienne ordered the creation of chairs of Hebrew, Arabic, and Chaldean at the universities of Bologna, Oxford, Paris, and Salamanca. At the age of 79, Raymond went to North Africa in 1314 to be a missionary himself. An angry crowd of Muslims stoned him in the city of Bougie. Genoese merchants took him back to Mallorca, where he died. Raymond was beatified in 1514 and his liturgical feast is celebrated on June 30.


Reflection

Raymond worked most of his life to help spread the gospel. Indifference on the part of some Christian leaders and opposition in North Africa did not turn him from his goal. Three hundred years later Raymond’s work began to have an influence in the Americas. When the Spanish began to spread the gospel in the New World, they set up missionary colleges to aid the work. Saint Junípero Serra belonged to such a college.


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Grave Monument for Jutta, wife of Count Louis II of Thuringia, Saint George Parish Church, Thuringia
Image: Grave Monument for Jutta, wife of count Louis II of Thuringia | Saint George Parish Church, Thuringia | photographed by Wolfgang Sauber

Saint of the Day for June 25

(c. 1200-1260)

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Blessed Jutta of Thuringia’s Story

Today’s patroness of Prussia began her life amidst luxury and power but died the death of a simple servant of the poor.

In truth, virtue and piety were always of prime importance to Jutta and her husband, both of noble rank. The two were set to make a pilgrimage together to the holy places in Jerusalem, but her husband died on the way. The newly widowed Jutta, after taking care to provide for her children, resolved to live in a manner she felt was utterly pleasing to God. She disposed of the costly clothes, jewels, and furniture befitting one of her rank, and became a Secular Franciscan, taking on the simple garment of a religious.

From that point her life was utterly devoted to others: caring for the sick, particularly lepers; tending to the poor, whom she visited in their hovels; helping the crippled and blind with whom she shared her own home. Many of the townspeople of Thuringia laughed at how the once-distinguished lady now spent all her time. But Jutta saw the face of God in the poor and felt honored to render whatever services she could.

About the year 1260, not long before her death, Jutta lived near the non-Christians in eastern Germany. There she built a small hermitage and prayed unceasingly for their conversion. She has been venerated for centuries as the special patron of Prussia.


Reflection

Jesus once said that a camel can pass through a needle’s eye more easily than a rich person can enter God’s realm. That’s pretty scary news for us. We may not have great fortunes, but we who live in the West enjoy a share of the world’s goods that people in the rest of the world cannot imagine. Much to the amusement of her neighbors, Jutta disposed of her wealth after her husband’s death and devoted her life to caring for those who had no means. Should we follow her example, people will probably laugh at us, too. But God will smile.


Blessed Jutta of Thuringia is the Patron Saint of:

Prussia


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Painting of Saint John the Baptist
Image: St. John the Baptist | Alessandro Rosi

Saint of the Day for June 24

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Saint John the Baptist’s Story

Jesus called John the greatest of all those who had preceded him: “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John….” But John would have agreed completely with what Jesus added: “[Y]et the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28).

John spent his time in the desert, an ascetic. He began to announce the coming of the Kingdom, and to call everyone to a fundamental reformation of life. His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. His baptism, he said, was for repentance. But one would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John was not worthy even to untie his sandals. His attitude toward Jesus was: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

John was humbled to find among the crowd of sinners who came to be baptized the one whom he already knew to be the Messiah. “I need to be baptized by you” (Matthew 3:14b). But Jesus insisted, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15b). Jesus, true and humble human as well as eternal God, was eager to do what was required of any good Jew. Jesus thus publicly entered the community of those awaiting the Messiah. But making himself part of that community, he made it truly messianic.

The greatness of John, his pivotal place in the history of salvation, is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself—both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. John attracted countless people to the banks of the Jordan, and it occurred to some people that he might be the Messiah. But he constantly deferred to Jesus, even to sending away some of his followers to become the first disciples of Jesus.

Perhaps John’s idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God was not being perfectly fulfilled in the public ministry of Jesus. For whatever reason, when he was in prison he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. Jesus’ answer showed that the Messiah was to be a figure like that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. John himself would share in the pattern of messianic suffering, losing his life to the revenge of Herodias.


Reflection

John challenges us Christians to the fundamental attitude of Christianity—total dependence on the Father, in Christ. Except for the Mother of God, no one had a higher function in the unfolding of salvation. Yet the least in the kingdom, Jesus said, is greater than he, for the pure gift that the Father gives. The attractiveness as well as the austerity of John, his fierce courage in denouncing evil—all stem from his fundamental and total placing of his life within the will of God.


Saint John the Baptist is the Patron Saint of:

Baptism


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Drawing of Saint John Fisher from the book
Image: from a book entitled The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey | Authors: George Cavendish, Hans Holbein, and Bruce Rogers

Saint of the Day for June 23

(1469 – June 22, 1535)

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Saint John Fisher’s Story

John Fisher is usually associated with Erasmus, Thomas More, and other Renaissance humanists. His life therefore, did not have the external simplicity found in the lives of some saints. Rather, he was a man of learning, associated with the intellectuals and political leaders of his day. He was interested in the contemporary culture and eventually became chancellor at Cambridge. He had been made a bishop at 35, and one of his interests was raising the standard of preaching in England. Fisher himself was an accomplished preacher and writer. His sermons on the penitential psalms were reprinted seven times before his death. With the coming of Lutheranism, he was drawn into controversy. His eight books against heresy gave him a leading position among European theologians.

In 1521, Fisher was asked to study the question of King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow. He incurred Henry’s anger by defending the validity of the king’s marriage with Catherine, and later by rejecting Henry’s claim to be the supreme head of the Church of England.

In an attempt to be rid of him, Henry first had Fisher accused of not reporting all the “revelations” of the nun of Kent, Elizabeth Barton. In feeble health, Fisher was summoned to take the oath to the new Act of Succession. He and Thomas More refused to do so because the Act presumed the legality of Henry’s divorce and his claim to be head of the English Church. They were sent to the Tower of London, where Fisher remained 14 months without trial. Finally both men were sentenced to life imprisonment and loss of goods.

When the two were called to further interrogations, they remained silent. On the supposition that he was speaking privately as a priest, Fisher was tricked into declaring again that the king was not supreme head of the church in England. The king, further angered that the pope had made John Fisher a cardinal, had him brought to trial on the charge of high treason. He was condemned and executed, his body left to lie all day on the scaffold and his head hung on London Bridge. More was executed two weeks later. John Fisher’s liturgical feast is celebrated on June 22.


Reflection

Today many questions are raised about Christians’ and priests’ active involvement in social issues. John Fisher remained faithful to his calling as a priest and bishop. He strongly upheld the teachings of the Church; the very cause of his martyrdom was his loyalty to Rome. He was involved in the cultural enrichment circles as well as in the political struggles of his time. This involvement caused him to question the moral conduct of the leadership of his country.

“The Church has the right, indeed the duty, to proclaim justice on the social, national and international level, and to denounce instances of injustice, when the fundamental rights of man and his very salvation demand it” (Justice in the World, 1971 Synod of Bishops).


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Saint Thomas More
Image: Sir Thomas More | Hans Holbein the Younger

Saint of the Day for June 22

(February 7, 1478 – July 6, 1535)

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Saint Thomas More’s Story

His belief that no lay ruler has jurisdiction over the Church of Christ cost Thomas More his life.

Beheaded on Tower Hill, London, on July 6, 1535, More steadfastly refused to approve King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage and establishment of the Church of England.

Described as “a man for all seasons,” More was a literary scholar, eminent lawyer, gentleman, father of four children, and chancellor of England. An intensely spiritual man, he would not support the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Nor would he acknowledge Henry as supreme head of the Church in England, breaking with Rome, and denying the pope as head.

More was committed to the Tower of London to await trial for treason: not swearing to the Act of Succession and the Oath of Supremacy. Upon conviction, More declared he had all the councils of Christendom and not just the council of one realm to support him in the decision of his conscience.


Reflection

Four hundred years later in 1935, Thomas More was canonized a saint of God. Few saints are more relevant to our time. In the year 2000, in fact, Pope John Paul II named him patron of political leaders. The supreme diplomat and counselor, he did not compromise his own moral values in order to please the king, knowing that true allegiance to authority is not blind acceptance of everything that authority wants. King Henry himself realized this and tried desperately to win his chancellor to his side because he knew More was a man whose approval counted, a man whose personal integrity no one questioned. But when Thomas More resigned as chancellor, unable to approve the two matters that meant most to Henry, the king had to get rid of him.


Saint Thomas More is a Patron Saint of:

Attorneys
Civil Servants
Court Clerks
Lawyers
Politicians
Public Servants


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Painting titled The Vocation of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga
Image: The Vocation of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga | Guercino

Saint of the Day for June 21

(March 9, 1568 – June 21, 1591)

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Saint Aloysius Gonzaga’s Story

The Lord can make saints anywhere, even amid the brutality and license of Renaissance life. Florence was the “mother of piety” for Aloysius Gonzaga despite his exposure to a “society of fraud, dagger, poison, and lust.” As a son of a princely family, he grew up in royal courts and army camps. His father wanted Aloysius to be a military hero.

At age 7 Aloysius experienced a profound spiritual quickening. His prayers included the Office of Mary, the psalms, and other devotions. At age 9 he came from his hometown of Castiglione to Florence to be educated; by age 11 he was teaching catechism to poor children, fasting three days a week, and practicing great austerities. When he was 13 years old, he traveled with his parents and the Empress of Austria to Spain, and acted as a page in the court of Philip II. The more Aloysius saw of court life, the more disillusioned he became, seeking relief in learning about the lives of saints.

A book about the experience of Jesuit missionaries in India suggested to him the idea of entering the Society of Jesus, and in Spain his decision became final. Now began a four-year contest with his father. Eminent churchmen and laypeople were pressed into service to persuade Aloysius to remain in his “normal” vocation. Finally he prevailed, was allowed to renounce his right to succession, and was received into the Jesuit novitiate.

Like other seminarians, Aloysius was faced with a new kind of penance—that of accepting different ideas about the exact nature of penance. He was obliged to eat more, and to take recreation with the other students. He was forbidden to pray except at stated times. He spent four years in the study of philosophy and had Saint Robert Bellarmine as his spiritual adviser.

In 1591, a plague struck Rome. The Jesuits opened a hospital of their own. The superior general himself and many other Jesuits rendered personal service. Because he nursed patients, washing them and making their beds, Aloysius caught the disease. A fever persisted after his recovery and he was so weak he could scarcely rise from bed. Yet he maintained his great discipline of prayer, knowing that he would die three months later within the octave of Corpus Christi, at the age of 23.


Reflection

As a saint who fasted, scourged himself, sought solitude and prayer, and did not look on the faces of women, Aloysius seems an unlikely patron of youth in a society where asceticism is confined to training camps of football teams and boxers, and sexual permissiveness has little left to permit. Can an overweight and air-conditioned society deprive itself of anything? It will when it discovers a reason, as Aloysius did. The motivation for letting God purify us is the experience of God loving us in prayer.


Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is the Patron Saint of:

Catholic Youth
Teenagers
Seminarians


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