Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sermon for Sunday, October 20 Luke 18:1-18 “Tenacious”

Tenacity is a virtue, in general. We admire those who have what we call “stick-to-itiveness,” who hang in there. Our stories are full of those who hang in there and keep pressing until their task is done. Nelson Mandela, who spent decades imprisoned on Robbin Island as a result of his fight against apartheid. Winston Churchill, whose parents thought he was mentally slow, and who faced political triumphs and reversals throughout his career. Olympic medalist Wilma Rudolph, who suffered from polio as a child but triumphed in track and field.

We laud these people who persevered.

And then there is the widow in our Gospel reading this morning.

Yes, she’s tenacious.

Yes, she has “stick-to-itiveness.”

But she is also a royal pain, especially to the judge.

Sometimes tenacity doesn’t feel so noble.

And we would laugh at the story and the miserable old widow who pestered the judge, and that would be the end of the story.

But it isn’t about the widow, this story, as much as she seems to be the center of the tale.

It’s something very different.

It’s all about the judge.

The judge, whom Jesus describes as “a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.” Not a very nice person, despite his power and fine robes and position in the community. Who knows what measure he uses to define justice? He doesn’t look to God. He doesn’t respect people. He has no one except himself. And his decision in the case of this annoying old woman is a prime example of this. He doesn’t decide in her favor because he thinks she is right. He doesn’t decide in her favor because it is required by Torah. He decides in her favor simply because she is a pain in his tuchus and he wants her to go away.

Not a very righteous giver of justice, even though justice is served.

So if we focus on the judge and see him as something less than a good judge, does that change our view of the widow. Widows were the bottom rung of the ladder in terms of status and power. If we want an example of someone who needs all the tenacity in their being simply to survive, the widow is it. Does she know that tenacity is the only way she can get justice? Is she a prophetic voice, much as the widow Anna was when Jesus was brought to the temple as a newborn? Is she, in fact, free to use her voice because she doesn’t have a husband saying “go back home and fix dinner?” Might she, in her annoying tenacity, be doing precisely what she is supposed to do, seeking justice for those who do not have justice?

So why does Jesus tell this story? What is he trying to illustrate? He’s a smart teacher, and knows that a funny story, using an aggravating old woman, a common comedy archetype, will draw his listeners in.  And he’s telling the story to remind his followers to keep praying and not lose hope.

Lose hope for what? The story certainly seems to be about justice, about respect, about fairness. Jesus’ followers – all the people of Israel, in fact – are oppressed by the Roman overlords. Jesus’ followers in particular are disrespected by the Jewish leadership. It is logical that Jesus’ followers would hope that things might be different, that they might be treated with respect, that they might escape the pressure of being the hated ones in a society where there were levels upon levels of hatred of those who were different.

So Jesus tells them this slightly silly story. Slightly silly, but mostly deadly serious. Because she wouldn’t let go. She wouldn’t stop asking for what she needed. She wouldn’t stop praying, even though her pestering of the judge might not look like praying.

Jesus does something unusual as he tells this parable. Most often, when Jesus tells a parable, he lets the story stand for itself and doesn’t explain it, and sometimes the disciples have to ask him what he means. But here,  He finishes the story by telling the followers the moral of the tale. He thinks it is important enough that he wants to make absolutely clear what he means. “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Here’s the emphasis on persistent prayer…those who cry to him day and night. And there is also the promise of relief, God quickly granting justice to them. But then there is a poignant coda: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

This is not about perseverance alone, although perseverance is important. This is not about prayer alone, although we are encouraged to pray without ceasing. This is not about justice, although we will have it at some point, perhaps sooner than later.

It is about faith.

Faith is what causes us to pray. Without faith, there would be no point to prayer. Faith is what inspires us to believe that justice will be served. Without faith, justice is a mere whim or legalism. Faith is what reminds us that some day, the Son of Man will return.

Are we tenacious enough to keep praying for justice for all? Can we persevere and be patient until the time when the Son of Man returns? Can we have faith enough to expect that God will hear us, respond to us, comfort us, teach us, until that day comes?

Let us pray:

Gracious God, the one who offers eternal justice, give us the faith to pray and keep praying until your reign on earth is realized. Keep us faithful and prayerful, and keep us looking forward to the day when the Son of Man returns and finds us still faithful, still praying, still serving, as you would have us serve.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sermon for Sunday, October 13, 2013 Luke 17:11-19 “Made Well/Making Well”

One of my reminders of middle age and beyond is what happens just about every day when the mail arrives. Invariably there is at least one piece of correspondence relating to medical stuff – either an insurance statement or a bill for the copayment. I’m not unique in this – I suspect that every one of us who are past 50 have this experience.

We go to the doctor, we get fixed, and we pay. Thank goodness for medical insurance, because most of us would not be able to pay for care for our medical issues without it.

So the bills come in, and we send off a check or pay the bill online. It’s a transaction, pure and simple. A service is provided and we pay for it.

Is this what is going on when we hear today’s gospel, where Jesus heals a group of lepers, and only one comes back to say thank you? Is Jesus is unhappy because he didn’t get paid in words of thanks? Because only one, and indeed the most unlikely one, a Samaritan, said thank you? It grieves Jesus, not because the Lord expects payment for his work of healing, but because those words of thanks are a recognition that God has done something remarkable in those lepers’ lives.

Should Jesus have sent a bill? Perhaps he might have sent something that says “Jesus Medical Center LLC. Your insurance has paid two words of thanks for your treatment. Please remit five words of praise and thanksgiving. Payment is due immediately, or the fires of damnation will lick at your ankles!”

It doesn’t work that way, of course. Jesus attends to our needs of heart and mind and body because he loves us and doesn’t want to see us suffer, not because he expects payment.
But a little thank you, a little acknowledgment that God’s power is so great it can even fix those deemed unfixable, is not so great an expectation. Even Jesus likes to hear that we understand where the good things in our lives comes from.

And thus the Lord’s reaction to the absence of gratitude…he wonders how quickly these newly cured lepers have forgotten how life was before they were healed, how only one seemed to remember and be grateful.

And Jesus responds with a statement that seems a little redundant: “Go, your faith has made you well.”

Umm, Jesus…he was already restored to health. No more leprosy. You just did it a little while ago. Why do you say at this point “your faith has made you well?”

Maybe it wasn’t about the skin disease. Maybe it was something else that was made well. 
Maybe this Samaritan was somehow healed of a broken relationship with God. Maybe he learned to trust a Jewish rabbi, which was counter to every single thing he had probably been taught as a Samaritan child.

Maybe it was not only his skin that was changed, but his heart. And the mark of the change was not just cleared skin but the grateful appreciation the now-cured man showed. The Lord healed his skin disease and he responded by acknowledging the Lord’s divine power in making the healing happen. For this man, the curing was a conversion experience, one that generated a healthy soul.

Ah, yes – conversion. Henri Nouwen reminds us “to be converted means to experience a deep shift in how we see and think and act. To be converted is be clothed in our right mind, to come to ourselves the way the younger son did when he was starving far from his true home (Luke 15:17-20). It is a shift of attention in which we set our mind on divine things (Matt. 16:23). “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).”[1]

For each of us – and we each have had some sort of conversion experience or we wouldn’t be here in this place – the conversion in our own hearts that says “I acknowledge the gift of Jesus Christ in my life” demands that we also respond.

What does the response look like?

The start is that “thank you” that the healed leper said by returning and thanking Jesus. But another part of it is what we do after we say thank you.

When something marvelous has transformed us, we want to shout it to the rooftops, don’t we? We want to share that feeling with those who long for it. We want everyone to know how it feels. But how to make it happen?

We give.

We give so others can participate in our vision of how we have been healed, converted, transformed. We give so we can help others even as we continue to be healed, because healing is not a one-moment change, it is a lifelong process.

We give, too , because when we see our lives and our world and our church in this way, our priorities and our relationship to our resources shifts – it is a tool for the building of the reign of God.

And in doing this, we are not merely carrying out a financial transaction, as if we are paying God for fixing us. We are building a relationship between the people we now understand ourselves to be, part of the Body of Christ, and the work we are called to do, to spread the word and to transform the world.

Today you will receive your pledge packet. If you look at it as a burdensome obligation, a check you need to write like a check for your medical bill, you’re missing the point. It is, instead, an opportunity to bring the same kind of conversion of heart and soul that you have experienced to others who so desperately need it, as at one point or another we all have needed it.

Have you been healed? Has your heart been lifted? Has your life been transformed? Do you want to partner with God in transforming other lives? Go back to Jesus. Say thank you for your healing, your conversion, your transformation…and know that it will continue for the rest of your days. Then pledge to bring that experience to others by giving generously, not just to keep the lights on and the temperature regulated, but to be a light to the nations. Make it possible for others to be healed as you are healed. Give, because the Lord has given so much to you.   Amen.

[1] Henri Nouwen, “The Spirituality of Fundraising,” p.4

Saturday, October 12, 2013

In honor of our 16th anniversary, to the husband who was so gracious he served as my chauffeur and valet as I performed an out-of-town wedding on our anniversary...

I share with you a true story:

Brides are crazy. This is a fact, not a judgment.

I know this, because I’ve been a bride.

I was crazy. How do I know? I made my own wedding cake.

You know all those “Baking with Julia” shows on PBS that have famous patissiers tossing off goodies with the venerable queen of the kitchen? Baking a wedding cake isn’t like that, although I did use Martha Stewart’s recipe from that series for the cake (not the filling or frosting or décor – that was Rose Levy Beranbaum all the way).

Here’s what happens.

A week before your wedding, when you are most insane, you buy a lot of sugar, and a very lot of cake flour, and a very, very lot of unsalted butter (it must be UNsalted, not regular butter), plus some other ingredients that require you to go to the extremely special cake and candy supply store way the other side of the universe.

You sharpen wooden dowels in a pencil sharpener to provide the support for the layers, which will weigh as much as Martha Stewart (her pre-menopausal weight, not her pre-jail weight, thank heavens), and then wash them for fear of giving your guests graphite poisoning.

You measure the quantities of ingredients. This is called mise en place but might well be called planning the D-Day invasion. Alternatively, one might call it the Bay of Pigs, at least in my kitchen.

You realize that your Kitchen-Aid mixer, although the ne plus ultra of mixers when you got it several years ago, cannot accommodate the very large quantities of ingredients you are going to have to mix.

You portion the ingredients into manageable amounts for the now-inferior Kitchen Aid mixer, organizing by layer size, since you’re making this cake in tiered layers.

You mix the ingredients, carefully following the directions.

You realize that you haven’t turned on the oven to preheat it, so you turn it on and have to wait.

You realize that you haven’t prepared your baking pan, so you spray it with a little Pam (should have used softened butter, but you forgot to get enough to meet that need), put in the parchment paper, which you didn’t cut as neatly as you wished you had, then spray it with Baker’s Joy . Will anyone know you aren’t using the butter and flour? Will this spell doom for the marriage?

You pour the batter into the pan and are on the verge of putting it in the oven when you realize you’ve forgotten to add the vanilla.

You pour the batter back in the mixing bowl, add the vanilla, re-prepare the pan, pour the batter back in and put it in the oven, praying that the leavening power of the baking powder hasn’t been compromised. (Do soldiers fear the power of their missiles is affected if there is too long a wait before they are fired? I think not. Baking is harder and more unforgiving than war.)

You hover over the oven. The rule about watched pots doesn’t apply to baking, where the art of the hover is finely tuned. You debate whether to open the oven when the timer rings, wondering once again about that faithless thermostat which is usually wrong, and how it might affect the cooking time. You test the cake with a cake tester, which took you ten minutes to find in your cooking tool drawer because it is so small, but it is better than a toothpick because it is EQUIPMENT.

You take the cake out to cool and wonder if perhaps you left it in too long because the cake has already shrunk from the sides of the pan and Rose and Martha told you not to let that happen. Will anyone taste the dryness of the overbaked cake? Will we be divorced by our first anniversary?

You repeat the process for the remaining layers. Timing must be adjusted for each because of the different sizes. But the change in timing is not a linear thing, and besides you’re miserable at math, so all you can do is hover and pray.

The cake layers cool. You drink a cup of coffee. You wish for a stiff shot of scotch, but fear the effect that might have on the cake.

Each layer must be torted, or split into two equal layers, so there is a place for the mousse filling to go. Getting the split even, so that the final assemblage doesn’t look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, requires a few technical tricks (or trucs, as the French patissiers might say). Your powers of concentration are waning, your mother and Julia never taught you the trucs, and one of the layers does not look quite perfectly even. You contemplate making a replacement layer. You burst into tears and jettison that idea.

The cake layers must be frozen, since it is four days before the wedding, and nobody’s recipe will last that long. There are too many other steps that must be completed.

You go to bed.

You rise to face the challenge of the mousse. In a descent into a deeper trough of madness, you decide to make two different kinds of mousse to fill the cake, one chocolate, one not. You are modifying someone’s mousse filling recipe, which is tricky even when sane. You don’t know if the mousse will freeze, which it will need to do to hold the cakes for the buttercream phase.

You make the raspberry base for that mousse. Making the base takes longer than you expect. You think this project will never get done.

You wait for the raspberry base to cool. You do not think of melting the chocolate for the chocolate mousse, even thought this will require a cooling period as well, because you are insane. Rational thought has left the building.

You finish the raspberry mousse, and take out the frozen torted layers to fill, rewrap, and put back in the freezer. You thank the gods of baking and your landlord, who had a big freezer in the basement of the house you are renting. The gods are smiling.

You start the chocolate mousse, melting the chocolate, doing all the whipping cooking tasting adjusting things that one does for the chocolate mousse. It is 7 p.m. and the child wants dinner. How dare she interrupt this process with something so mundane?

You stop and cook dinner for the child. It is 9 p.m.

You take out the layer that will have the chocolate mousse. You fill it, but realize that proportionally there isn’t enough mousse to make that layer the same height as the other layers. It will be ½ inch shorter. You burst into tears.

You dry your eyes, rewrap that slightly shorter layer, and put it into the freezer.

You go to bed.

Waking is not pleasant. Today is the day of the buttercream. This is not your mother’s buttercream, made with confectioner’s sugar, butter, and a little vanilla and maybe warm cream. No, this is a classic buttercream, made with an Italian meringue base per Rose’s Cake Bible ( the chemistry text for those who bake – Rose is the Marie Curie of the field).

This is not only classic buttercream, it is VAST QUANTITIES of classic buttercream. Rose takes pity on you and gives you the proportions of ingredients for a cake the size of the one you are making, but once again the iniquitous Kitchen Aid is unequal to the task. You must break the ingredients into smaller portions (mise en place times two) and pray that the two different batches are the same in appearance, so the finished cake doesn’t look like the Washington Monument, with a demarcation line where work stopped when they ran out of money.

Buttercream completed, you bring up the layers to be frosted. You unwrap each one, dust off any crumbs, and apply what is called a crumb coat of frosting to, logically enough, keep any crumbs from marring the final finish coat. Invariably a few stray crumbs manage to sneak by, but you are on a roll. The cakes, being frozen, take the icing quite well. You finish off each layer by running a hairdryer over it to slightly warm the frosting so you can smooth it. You think that you have truly descended into madness, using a hairdryer on a cake.

You put the layers, unwrapped, into the freezer for a brief time to harden the icing before you rewrap them. You put the leftover buttercream into a plastic tub and put it into the refrigerator. You think little of that act at the moment, but it will be your salvation later on.

After an appropriate time, you once again take the layers out for the assembly. Each layer is on a thick cardboard pedestal. Just layering them without supports will cause them, once the cake defrosts completely, to sink like the lava dome at Mount St. Helens. You hammer in the wooden dowels with a rubber mallet as you construct the layers. This is just as Martha and Rose have taught you. Baking as construction project. The assembly is now almost three feet tall and weighs as much as a six-year-old child. You put it back in the freezer.

You think about what ordering a cake from the supermarket might have been like.

You sigh.

You go to bed.

The prospect of making flowers from an odd substance called gum paste sounds crazy. That’s alright, because we have already established that you are crazy. Gum paste, an amalgam of gum Arabic, sugar, glucose and other household chemicals, gives you a material that you can use to create the most delicate of flowers. You have decided that you are going to make gum paste flowers because Rose talks about them, and you’ve seen them in wedding cake books, and you know you can make the most beautiful things that are just like the flowers in your bouquet. Somewhere, the notion of just getting more of your flowers to decorate the cake, rather than creating an imitation of them, has slipped away, perhaps with your sanity.

You make the alchemical mixture. You start to form it into flowers, many flowers, many different kinds of flowers, each tinted slightly differently. You make gum paste roses, gum paste jasmine, gum paste ivy. You dust them with bits of edible gold dust, a silly thing to worry about since these flowers, though made in large part with sugar, taste awful, and no sane person will eat them.. You use the same sculpting techniques Rose has taught you when you make roses from chocolate modeling clay; at least that tastes like a grown-up Tootsie Roll. This tastes like you might expect from something called gum paste.

At midnight, you are still crafting gum paste flowers and assembling little sprays of them for the cake.

You fear you have developed diabetes from all the sugar products you’ve used over the course of the cake-making. You’ve read somewhere that a chef said he thought all chefs were fat because they absorbed fats through their skin. Perhaps this has happened to you.

You wonder if you will still be able to fit into the wedding dress you made for yourself – another foray into madness.

You put the assembled flower sprays into flat plastic shoeboxes (clean, of course) with tissue paper to protect them and keep them dry.

You go to bed.

You rise the next day, knowing that various relatives are coming to town today. You start the day by making the frightening trip to church with the cake. It will wait there, slowly defrosting for a day, in the huge refrigerator where it will share space with the half and half for coffee hour and the apple juice and baby carrots for the children in Sunday School.

You pray no one will touch it. You leave a sign on the door saying (in a very Christian way, of course) “Don’t touch this cake or you will die a painful, horrible death.”

You go home, take a shower, and dress for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. Your back hurts from carrying the cake.

Your directions to the rehearsal dinner are fatally flawed: one of the key road signs has been stolen. The out-of-town guests drive miles out of their way before finally making it back to the gathering. You are mortified. The children are bored.

You go to bed wishing you had just gone down to Town Hall, gotten a damned marriage license, and went to Bermuda.

You wake up the morning of your wedding, and realize that the sky is blue and you are happy. For some reason this shocks you, perhaps because you are insane.

You dress in casual clothes to go to the church and finish the assembly and decorating of your cake. You do not have any coffee, because you want your hands to be steady.

It is Sunday, and you arrive during the normal Sunday service. The giant refrigerator is in the kitchen where the coffee is prepared for the post-service Coffee Hour. Edgar, the 92 year old man who has made the coffee since the Johnson Administration, is there. His moods swing between charm and curmudgeonliness. He is reasonably sane, though.

You are insane.

The cake awaits you in the refrigerator.

You will take it out and put it on one of the rolling carts, for final decoration and moving into the chapel, where your reception will take place. You reach in to take it out of the refrigerator. Edgar says, “Let me help you, dear.”

“No,” you say.” I’ve got it.”

He helps anyway, tipping the cake into your chest. Fortunately, this is as far as it tips, and you manage to get it onto the cart with no further problem…except for the two roundish dents in one side of it.

You contemplate killing Edgar, but realize this will not solve the cake problem and will distress your guests, not to mention your fiancé, who is opposed to murder on principle.

You realize that there may be enough extra buttercream to address the dents. You smooth it on, put the golden ribbon decoration around each layer, add some additional buttercream edging in swirls and flourishes, gently place the gum paste flowers, glistening with the gold petal dust, on the cake, and carefully move it into the chapel. You manage to safely transfer it to the top of the piano, where it will be displayed during the reception. You say a prayer to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and Saint Honore, patron saints of bakers, to keep it safe while you go home to prepare for the evening wedding ceremony.

You go to the hairdresser, where Lucien has made a special trip to fix your hair. He makes it excessively poufy a la Priscilla Presley (the early, Elvis years), but you still feel lovely, particularly after the drink of brandy he gives you to calm your nerves. He makes the child look like a little princess, which she is anyway. You go home to dress and put on the makeup.

By now the boys are in their tuxes. They have relented after making cash offers to be spared the indignity, offers which you have refused. You complete your preparations. You are on some other planet now, watching yourself move through the various preparatory steps to making a marriage.

You think this is what hope is, doing this again, loving again after a disaster.

You go to the church, you see your beloved, you know that this is more than hope, it is belief in the essential rightness of this love.

You have the ceremony. The music is lovely, the flowers are lovely, the words spoken are lovely, you remember nothing of it but the quality of the light in the evening.

You are still floating during the reception. The toasts happen, kind words are spoken, people seem genuinely happy for you. People bring you food. You eat, but do not taste.

The time comes for the cutting of the cake. There it sits, in all its glory. The work of a week, of a lifetime, waiting to be sacrificed on the altar of love. You wonder, for a moment, if it will taste good. You cut, with the cake server your mother used at her wedding. You each take a bite.

It tastes sweet. It is sweet. All is good.

Happy 16th, my love. It only gets sweeter as the years march on.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Sermon for Sunday, October 4, 2013 Blessing of the Animals

A colleague reminded me of an old story about St. Francis of Assisi, whom we honor today as we bless the animals. In the little town of Gubbio in the Italian hills, the people were frightened. The town was being ravaged by a ferocious wolf. It was eating livestock and people alike.
The townspeople were terrified, huddled behind the safety of the town walls.

Then Francis of Assisi arrived, and heard what was happening and took pity on the people and the wolf, and decided to go out and talk to the wolf.

“No! No!” they shouted. “He’ll destroy you!”

But he went anyway.

And he hadn’t been out long, when this enormous wolf charged out of the bushes – growling and snapping his teeth. But Francis, eyes filled with pity and determination, made the sign of the cross over the charging wolf and said, "Come to me brother Wolf. I wish you no harm."

And the wolf knelt at his feet, meek as a lamb.

Then Francis spoke again to him, and got a little upset:
"Brother Wolf, what you’ve been doing is sin. You shouldn’t be killing people. So stop it. I want to make peace between you and the people of Gubbio. They’re not going to hurt you. But you can’t hurt them either. Do you understand?"

Then the wolf looked up at him with sorrowful eyes and nodded his head with understanding and remorse. And he lifted up his paw and put it in Francis’ hands.

"Good. All your past sins are forgiven." And Francis said, "Come on. Come with me. We’ve got some work to do."

And the wolf followed Francis into the town. And the people were amazed. And Francis spoke on behalf of the wolf. He explained what had happened and that the wolf was repentant, but then said, “Will you forgive him? And will you promise to feed him?”
And the whole town agreed and made peace with him. And, just to show that the wolf understood, he again lifted his paw and placed it in Francis’ hand as a sign of his pledge.

And from then on, the wolf lived in the village and walked from house to house and the people gave him food. Not even the dogs barked at him. He was just another member of the town of Gubbio. And he lived amongst them for another two years, until he died in peace.
That sounds like a story from Pixar or Disney, doesn’t it? Just another fantastical fairy tale, made up to burnish the reputation of a saint. But apparently while workers were making renovations to the centuries-old church in Gubbio, they pulled up some of the stone pavers inside the church where people had been laid to rest. And there – amongst the other dead – were the remains of a very large wolf.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s true, maybe not. But we do know that St Francis had a reputation for loving animals, even unlovable animals like rats and mosquitos. He saw them all as part of the whole of God’s good creation. If we remember the creation story, it’s pretty obvious that God created all the creatures and he was pleased with his creations. He called them all good, not just the so-called nice animals. And all of them, all of God’s creation, were a reflection of God’s love for humanity, which was charged with the responsibility to take care of all the creatures.
St. Francis understood this theology of creation, and lived it. He saw everything on the earth as a sign of who God is and how God loves us.
For most of us, our animal companions, be they dogs or doves, lizards or llamas, cats or chameleons, are creatures whom we love. They keep us company. They listen to our complaints. Their fur absorbs our tears. They tolerate our play and they keep us company. They teach us about love, that pure and unconditional love that God gives us. If we want to understand God, we should follow the lead of St Francis. Look to the animals. Look to God’s creation. It is there that we see the sweet and diverse generosity of the Creator. It is there that we see acceptance regardless of our age or our abilities or our occasional bouts of bad temper. It is there that we learn how to love as God loved us so much that he provided all of Creation.
So today we honor our animal companions, and in doing so we honor the Creator God who made us all, both animals and humans. We thank God for this gift, so beautifully offered, and we pray for the grace to share that love with equal generosity to animals and to each other.