Tag Archives: repentance

13 September. Before the Cross XXIV: The Image Of Death

 

rosary.rjb

Reading this poem by Saint Robert Southwell, I at once remembered my father’s rosary, with the skull below Christ’s feet. So although Southwell does not directly refer to the crucifixion, this is the image that comes to my mind. How Dad’s fingers have eroded the figure of Christ and the skull! May he pray for us still, as he prayed for his children every day. Reginald Billingsley would have been 100 years old last New Year’s Eve. A ‘hearse’ at Southwell’s time was a frame that held candles over a coffin. Robert Southwell was a Jesuit  missionary to his native England, and a martyr at Tyburn, London in 1595.

Upon The Image Of Death

Before my face the picture hangs
That daily should put me in mind
Of those cold names and bitter pangs
That shortly I am like to find;
But yet, alas, full little I
Do think hereon that I must die.

I often look upon a face
Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thin;
I often view the hollow place
Where eyes and nose had sometimes been;
I see the bones across that lie,
Yet little think that I must die.

I read the label underneath,
That telleth me whereto I must;
I see the sentence eke that saith
Remember, man, that thou art dust!
But yet, alas, but seldom I
Do think indeed that I must die.

Continually at my bed’s head
A hearse doth hang, which doth me tell
That I ere morning may be dead,
Though now I feel myself full well ;
But yet, alas, for all this, I
Have little mind that I must die.

The gown which I do use to wear,
The knife wherewith I cut my meat,
And eke that old and ancient chair
Which is my only usual seat,-
All these do tell me I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

My ancestors are turned to clay,
And many of my mates are gone;
My youngers daily drop away,
And can I think to ‘scape alone?
No, no, I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Not Solomon for all his wit,
Nor Samson, though he were so strong,
No king nor person ever yet
Could ‘scape but death laid him along;
Wherefore I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Though all the East did quake to hear
Of Alexander’s dreadful name,
And all the West did likewise fear
To hear of Julius Caesar’s fame,
Yet both by death in dust now lie;
Who then can ‘scape but he must die?

If none can ‘scape death’s dreadful dart,
If rich and poor his beck obey,
If strong, if wise, if all do smart,
Then I to ‘scape shall have no way.
Oh, grant me grace, O God, that I
My life may mend, sith I must die.

Saint Robert Southwell

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31 March. Before the Cross XVI: Repenting of Sanctions

 

cross.dreifontein (2)

Friar Chris writes to us from Zimbabwe, where he has been teaching. Thank you Chris, you have certainly had a fruitful time back in Africa! We are grateful for your sharing it with us and for inviting us to reflect on these issues. Agnellus’ Mirror is here for all manner of reflections!

When I was a teenager, I recall sanctions being imposed against the illegal continuation of a British colonial regime in Rhodesia. Struggles were taking place to replace that outdated structure and form a new nation, Zimbabwe, and by 1980 that had taken place. I also remember wondering how ordinary citizens can cope when many items which we consider to be essential are made unobtainable. When do sanctions become a big hammer used to crack a nut? How can anyone prevent them from becoming one more version of bullying?

This is a relevant question when the churches pass through a repeated catechetical exercise for newcomers to Christianity, which we call Lent. The danger is always the practice of frowning intensely about all the wrongdoings of the human race, but not seeing the changes of heart which need to be the true ‘penitence’ of a change of heart in ourselves. Letting go of our approval of strong arm tactics must often be an aspect of welcoming God’s peace and grace into our lives. Sanctions still exist in the southern African country of Zimbabwe, imposed not only by the United States, but also by the European Union. They seem to be a mode of coercion, not against a right-wing white-domination system, but against a mild version of socialism which happens to question the neo-conservative consumerist programmes favoured by the large market monopolies achieved by commercialist manufacturers. These are generally manufacturers who have done least to extricate the cultures of the world from environmentally-destructive practices.

I do not intend to compose an argument in favour of every governmental alliance built up technologically by the government of Zimbabwe. Geopolitics is an aspect of human circumstances which pervades news broadcasts but which mostly cannot be turned around by churches, even in their most valid calls for charity. Nevertheless, the current school student-led world-wide protests concerning the destruction of environments, which lament that we ignore paths that consider climate change, are genuine appeals for understanding grace and peace. Greater sensitivity to what makes sustainable community, not just sustainable industries, is a challenging and valid concern to introduce to our prayer lives.

In Zimbabwe at the beginning of 2019, a large increase in fuel prices was imposed, leading to rioting, six hundred arrests and a combination of woundings and deaths. With 90% unemployment, this added to an already existing awareness of shared vulnerability for great numbers of the country’s inhabitants. The effects of the sanctions only worsened the realities experienced by the most vulnerable. The cyclone which hit Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique in the middle of March brought flooding, with hundreds made homeless and a possible two hundred deaths. Lack of fuel has its further impact on limits to emergency services. I think for English readers, one factor which might capture the character of the problem is this: when there are raids or beatings, a call made to the police is likely to be met with a question, ‘when can you drive to the police station and pick up the police and bring them to the scene?’ That is an effect of crudely introduced sanctions, which seem to be an illegal measure for the sake of Western domination.

There are areas which feel these effects most, and others, especially for those with some kind of job, where an unimpressive but vaguely ‘normal’ level of daily existence continues to operate. Good numbers of Catholics continue to get to their nearest churches and celebrate the Eucharist as a community gift of solidarity. The teaching and training of young men to help the celebrations to be vibrant, kind, and compassionate continues to be taken on by a seminary and by a college in Harare which is nurturing members of several religious congregations. It takes time to acquire the kinds of perceptive insight and concern which make a genuine pastoral charism deepen and become evident. I have been spending three months teaching this group of young men, at Holy Trinity College.

The parish of the Nazareth House sisters next to the college has a strong lay commitment to developing genuine community gifts and relationships. The students are also involved in running prayer services and giving talks at a number of parishes, forming a network of Christians with shared convictions and sympathies. I try to explore connections between church history and theological developments, especially Vatican II, with them. One student asked me what the reasons are for the well-known decline of European Christianity. I explained it in terms of a lack of real understanding of community bonding and its qualities of transforming awareness. I said that those single diocesan priests who do have a sense of community are moved around with no respect for the needs and wishes of a local congregation. At the same time, where religious orders have been able, with slightly larger numbers, to create a good presence as a communal empowerment focus, they may not be known by believers living twenty miles away, so helping their good charism to spread to other areas will often not take place at all easily.

I have been staying with one of these student groups, the Franciscans, who are present now in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia as well as Zimbabwe. This group struggles to win new members, and has increased its ties of Franciscan commitment across the region since the late 1950s. I lived with the friars in the Zimbabwe custody residence, half an hour’s walk from the College.

The image of a carving of the crucified Christ that accompanies this article is in the small chapel of the friars’ residence. It comes from a centre for sculptures at Driefontein, some way outside Harare. We don’t know the name of the carver. I like the restrained honesty of the image. It speaks to me of the gift of Christ’s understanding of human hardship, of the human need for better interactions and interdependency. This is a thoughtful Christ, one who has clearly spent his life perceiving the pains and heartfelt longing of those to whom he brought forgiveness and hope. Although it seemed as though the hope was rejected by those who wanted to see him killed, I see in the face a possible mind, one which looked in love beyond the knee-jerk rejections and sanctions, which grew up like a wall to prevent his message. In his death he was open to the empowerment of his divine Father, the living God of all human aspirations for peace. There is no barrier to risen reality in this face, and no barrier to our risen realities in the gifts which come to us from the God, who heard his prayers, and who brings our prayers too into their realisation.

Chris Dyczek, OFM

Harare, March 2019.

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12 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus VI: Healing Friendship Offered to All

stmaurice.pilgrims

But wait, what’s going on? There is some restlessness in the crowd now. The people seem dismayed. The ones nearest Jesus’ group have sent the perplexing message around: Jesus has gone to stay at a sinner’s house! How shocking! It can’t be true! Now the crowd is straining to see what is happening. Zacchaeus is too short to be seen clearly, but it’s clear enough that Jesus is smiling, and some of his closest companions are looking happy. One is even wiping his eyes. They see them preparing to leave together, and yes, they see that Zacchaeus is the centre of attention. Naturally. But look – yes, Zacchaeus is actually being embraced by some of Jesus’ friends. They seem to be speaking to Zacchaeus with expressions of relief and gratitude. Relief? Gratitude?? Because of Zacchaeus?? And Jesus and his friends are all heading in the direction of Zacchaeus’s house. The atmosphere in the crowd quickly becomes more hostile, and angry people are beginning to surround Jesus and his newly enlarged group. They don’t understand. That villainous chief tax collector, whom they all despised and had relegated to the outermost edges of their lives, is suddenly in the inner circle of this holy man’s friends. What is this?

But now, Zacchaeus is ready. He hears the bewildered comments and knows that it is up to him to do something, to act, to explain. Jesus is now his friend, and he is Jesus’ friend, and Zacchaeus has already decided on the changes he will make in his life. He declares his promise to Jesus with conviction – and it feels so wonderful, so free to declaim the words, Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ The bystanders have fallen silent.

Zacchaeus pauses, panting a bit. He knows Jesus understands the full import of his declaration: it means that now I am a new man. I have a new identity; I am the friend of Jesus, because Jesus has befriended me. Jesus did this completely out of the blue, not as a reward for any good deeds of mine for I had no good deeds. He offered his friendship because he is friendship, he is love. Jesus saw through my facade, my fake bravado, saw beyond the unscrupulous tax collector, the cheat, the bully – he saw through all that, he saw the hurt, frightened child. And now he sees my human potential and his friendship has healed me. Jesus confirms this in his words:

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

These words of Jesus are directed to Zacchaeus, primarily, but they are also words for the angry bystanders. They, too, need healing from their wound of self-righteousness, from their various facades of self-sufficiency and bravado. Jesus is here re-teaching the crowd the message that he repeats so often during his minstry: he has not come for those who suppose themselves to be righteous, capable and therefore deserving of God’s blessings. He has come for the lost, the rejected; he has come for the wounded – physically and emotionally. That refers to Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus knows it. That also refers to the crowd standing around Jesus in Jericho – and they are a bit slower to grasp the point.

If we are honest, we know that this refers to us, also. We need to be needed by Jesus. And we are. Jesus longs to be in a relationship of deepest friendship with us. His relationship with Zacchaeus can give hope to all who realize that they are precisely in Zacchaeus’s position.

SJC

(MAfr African Pilgrimage, St Maurice)

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March 1: David in Death Valley

badwater

Dear Friends,

It’s Wales’s National Day: Happy Saint David’s Day! Here is a little celebration piece. I heard recently from David York who in 2015 was getting started in long distance running. Not your average marathon, but as he put it that December 15:

I’m gathering together my things and heading off to Death Valley where I plan to run from Nevada, over the mountain range, down into the valley basin and continue on for 45 miles across the desert.  Please don’t ask “why?” Long story …. I’m facing the reality that I have become an increasingly penitent man (who is having one heck of a mid-life crisis!)  But the desert is a pretty good place to go and bond with the Creator, and I have a lot to offer up.  I swear I’m not insane, I’m just doing what I feel called to do.

And, if I could humbly ask of you, please pray for me and perhaps reflect upon Psalms 23 and 26. 

death valley1

A month later he wrote: 

Death Valley was amazing.  Apparently, I was meant to be there, as something was clearly waiting for me in the middle of Badwater.

I have one hell of a story to tell. Countless things went wrong. But if I had a chance to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat.  45 Miles across mountains and deserts: for the highlight of my (short) ultra-running life, Death Valley is the pinnacle.

 Death Valley is not about death, but life.  Death Valley is almost always the opposite of what it seems.

Regarding “Badwater”: keep in mind, this was part of the “Old West”. I’ll paraphrase the story:

One day an old man was passing across the desert and he took his horse up to some water.  The horse wouldn’t drink!  So… the old man put up a sign that said, “Bad Water”.  It never changed.

There are actually some tiny fish that live in the Badwater basin pools.  But the entire basin is salt.  For as far as you can see.  You can look a few hundred feet up a mountain wall and see a sign letting you know where Sea Level is located.  In pictures, the salt looks like snow.  When driving alongside it, you experience the illusion of water in a lake.  Again…. Death Valley is not what it seems.

Wishing you peace and all good things,

 bro. dave, ofs 

I don’t remember why this never became a blog post back then, but tomorrow will reveal why it has done now.

Appendix

The following is from Pope Francis’s first address to the young people gathered in Panama on January 24.

With you, we want to rediscover and reawaken the Church’s constant freshness and youth, opening ourselves to a new Pentecost (cf. SYNOD ON YOUNG PEOPLE, Final Document, 60). As we experienced at the Synod, this can only happen if, by our listening and sharing, we encourage each other to keep walking and to bear witness by proclaiming the Lord through service to our brothers and sisters, and concrete service at that.

I know getting here was not easy. I know how much effort and sacrifice was required for you to participate in this Day. Many weeks of work and commitment, and encounters of reflection and prayer, have made the journey itself largely its own reward. A disciple is not merely someone who arrives at a certain place, but one who sets out decisively, who is not afraid to take risks and keeps walking. This is the great joy: to keep walking. You have not been afraid to take risks and to keep journeying. Today we were all able to “get here” because for some time now, in our various communities, we have all been “on the road” together.

WT

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16 February. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVIII: Brother Ruffino 5, the beautiful sermon.

chris-preaching

The folk of Assisi beholding Saint Francis in the self-same guise as Brother Ruffino, made mock of him, deeming that he and Brother Ruffino had grown mad through overmuch penance.

Saint Francis entered into the church where Brother Ruffino was preaching these words “Dearly beloved, flee from the world and put away sin; render to others their due, if ye would escape from hell; follow the commandments of God, in loving God and your neighbour, if ye would go to heaven; do penance, if ye would possess the kingdom of heaven.”

Then Saint Francis went up into the pulpit, and began to preach so marvellously of the contempt of the world, of holy penitence, of voluntary poverty, and of the desire of the kingdom of heaven, and of the nakedness and shame of the passion of our Lord Jesu Christ, that all they that heard the preaching, men and women in great multitude, began to weep most bitterly with devout and contrite hearts; and not there alone, but in all Assisi was there that day such weeping for the passion of Christ, that never had there been the like.

And the people being thuswise edified and comforted by this act of Saint Francis and Brother Ruffino, Saint Francis re-clad Brother Ruffino and himself and so re-clad, they returned to the House of Portiuncula, praising and glorifying God, that had given them grace to overcome themselves, by the contempt of themselves, and to edify the little sheep of Christ by good example, and to show how greatly the world is to be despised. And on that day so much did the devotion of the people towards them increase, that he deemed himself blessed whoso could touch the hem of their garment.

Let’s pray that Brother Chris’s work in Zimbabwe is prospering. Lord hear us.

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15 February. Little Flowers XLVII: Brother Ruffino 4, the beautiful sermon.

 

chris-preaching

Of the beautiful sermon preached in Assisi by Saint Francis and Brother Ruffino

Brother Ruffino, through continual contemplation, was so absorbed in God, that he became as it were insensible and dumb, spake but seldom, and therewithal had neither the gift of preaching, nor boldness nor eloquence therein; nevertheless Saint Francis on a time bade him go to Assisi and preach to the people whatsoever God might inspire him withal. Wherefore Brother Ruffino answered: ‘Reverend father, I pray thee pardon me and send me not; for, as thou knowest, I have not the gift of preaching, but am simple and ignorant.’

Then quoth Saint Francis: “Seeing that thou hast not obeyed incontinent, I command thee by holy obedience that thou get thee to Assisi naked as thou wast born, save in thy breeches only, and enter into a church and preach unto the people.” At this command, the said Brother Ruffino stripped himself and went to Assisi and entered into a church, and having done reverence to the altar went up into the pulpit and began to preach; for the which cause the children and the men began to laugh, and said: “Now look you how these fellows do so much penance that they become fools and are beside themselves.”

Meantime, Saint Francis, bethinking him of the ready obedience of Brother Ruffino, the which was one of the most noble gentlemen of Assisi, and of the hard commandment he had laid upon him, began to chide himself, saying : Whence comes to thee such boldness, thou son of Peter Bernardoni, vile wretch, to command Brother Ruffino, that is one of the most noble gentlemen of Assisi, to go and preach to the people like a madman? By God, thou shalt have proof in thine own self of what thou biddest others do.” And straightway in fervour of spirit he stripped himself in like fashion, and set out for Assisi, and took with him Brother Leo to carry his habit and that of Brother Ruffino.

Brother Chris sent us this image of himself preaching, modestly.

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5 February. From the Franciscans of Zimbabwe VI: Understand what I feel!

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Another view of Franciscan formation comes from Novice Brother Karabo Emmanuel Leballo.

Pax et Bonum! (Peace and Goodness).

Religious life has always been shaped by a profound realization of the mystery of God and by evaluation of the reality of the times. Throughout the ages, Christ, the Son of God has walked among us and has exercised a real and absolute claim on the lives of human beings. Today, as yesterday and tomorrow, Jesus attracts young men and women inviting them to follow him.

I write this article as a Franciscan Novice who is embracing a vocation to consecrated life. What this means for me is that my life should embrace penance and repentance which St Francis of Assisi expresses as a life of perfect joy.

To be a follower of St Francis can be joyous but very demanding, as it is centred on the values of prayer, fraternity, evangelisation, minority and work. This life becomes meaningful when it is believed, acted and shared. After all, this is a vocation to religious life as Thomas Aquinas explains that “religious life, being founded on Christ’s own advice is a better way to life. And therefore, he says, if someone wants to enter religious life (has a good intention) and does not have any definite obstacles then he should go for it. At first one makes a personal discernment and after there is an approval by the church authorities.

God does not call us to holiness simply as individuals but as members of the church, the mystical body of Christ. It is not suddenly expected that those who enter into religious life will be immediately perfect. What is required is for them to tend to perfection and to embrace the means of growing in perfection. A true vocation is nothing other than a firm and constant will in the one who has been called to serve God in accordance with divine majesty.

Novices on pilgrimage

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November 10: Remembering

poppy.OTTfigure

I came across this little Staffordshire souvenir figure under a church war memorial last November. A hundred years on, it’s difficult to understand who would design such an ornament, or who would have bought it. As boys I remember us getting more run-of-the-mill designs for my mother’s collection, but we once gave her a Great War tank model, not thinking of the loss of life and all the human suffering it represented.

But what does this figure represent, other than a present from Bishop’s Stortford? Is the soldier a killer or a victim? Brave or resigned, or hoping for a ‘Blighty’ wound to get himself sent home for a month or two? Did it remind its first owner of a loved one lost? And how did it feel to see it if you were a returned front-line soldier, after the War? Pure white was not very often seen amid Flanders mud.

Caught in that moment when he goes Over The Top to kill or be killed: how do we bring this to God? This is not man-for-man fighting – the machine gun that may get him will be many yards away, and unless it comes to bayonets he won’t see the one he kills.

Perhaps it is fitting to put him down, as the parishioners did, in front of the Cross on the War Memorial; without a word, with the poppies around him.

What can we say? With our current weaponry we have no right to feel morally superior. Piloting deadly drones from hundreds of miles away or threatening to press the red button; or indeed having others do so in our name: lives on ‘our side’ are not at risk as those going over the top were.

Father forgive us for we do not want to know what we do.

 

 

 

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5 October. Little Flowers XXXXI. Francis and the Robbers, 2.

flowers.francis.illustrationYesterday we read how Brother Angel, the guardian, chased away the three robbers who came begging at the friary. Francis sent him to bring bread and wine to them, bread and wine that he himself had begged.

The obedient guardian came up with the robbers and offered to them the bread and the wine, and said all that Saint Francis had laid upon him.

And sith it was the will of God, these robbers as they ate the alms of Saint Francis, began to
say among themselves Woe unto us, miserable wretches! how grievous are the pains of hell that await us, who go about not only robbing our neighbours, and beating and wounding, but likewise slaying them; yet we feel no whit remorse of conscience, nor fear of God; and lo! this holy brother that hath come to us and humbly hath confessed his fault for diverse words he justly spake against our wickedness; and more than this, hath brought us bread and wine and so bounteous a promise from the holy Father; of a truth these be holy brothers of God, and merit the paradise of God; and we be sons of eternal perdition and merit the pains of hell, and every day increase our own damnation; and we know not whether we can turn us from the sins that we have done up till now. Come, what is it that we needs must do?

Let us go,” said one, “unto Saint Francis ; and if he gives us hope that we may find mercy of God for our sins, let us do whatsoever he bids us, and so deliver us. Thls counsel was pleasing unto the others; and so they all three being agreed gat them in haste to Saint Francis, and bespake him thus: “Father, for the multitude of sins and wickednesses that we have committed, we deem it not possible to return to the mercy of God; but if thou hast any hope that God will receive us into His mercy, lo! we be ready to do whatsoever thou shalt tell us, and to do penance with thee.”

Thereat Saint Francis, dealing lovingly with them and in kindly fashion, comforted them with many examples : and making them assured of the mercy of God, promised them of a surety to obtain it for them from God, and setting forth to them how that the mercy of God is infinite; and that if we had sins without number, yet the mercy of God is greater than our sins, according to the Gospel; and the Apostle Saint Paul saith: “Christ, the blessed One, came into the world to save sinners.”

Through the which words and the like admonishments, the three robbers renounced the devil and all his works. And Saint Francis admitted them into the Order.

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9 September. Little Flowers of Saint Francis: XXXVIII: The Wolf, 2.

287px-Sassetta,_san_francesco_e_il_lupo

Saint Francis and the wolf By Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta 

Spake Saint Francis again: “Brother wolf, sith it pleaseth thee to make and hold this peace, I promise thee that I will see to it that the folk of this place give thee food alway so long as thou shalt live, so that thou suffer not hunger any more; for that I wot well that through hunger hast thou wrought all this ill. But sith I win for thee this grace, I will, brother wolf, that thou promise me to do none hurt to any more, be he man or beast; dost promise me this?”

And the wolf gave clear token by the bowing of his head that he promised.

Then quoth Saint Francis: “Brother wolf, I will that thou plight me troth for this promise, that I may trust thee full well.” And Saint Francis stretching forth his hand to take pledge of his troth, the wolf lifted up his right paw before him and laid it gently on the hand of Saint Francis, giving thereby such sign of good faith as he was able.

Then quoth Saint Francis : “Brother wolf, I bid thee in the name of Jesu Christ come now with me, nothing doubting, and let us go stablish this peace in God’s name.” And the wolf obedient set forth with him, in fashion as a gentle lamb; whereat the townsfolk made mighty marvel, beholding.

And straightway the bruit of it was spread through all the city, so that all the people, menfolk and womenfolk, great and small, young and old, gat them to the market place for to see the wolf with Saint Francis. And the people being gathered all together, Saint Francis rose up to preach, avizing them among other matters how for their sins God suffered such things to be, and pestilences also: and how far more parlous is the flame of hell, the which must vex the damned eternally, than is the fury of the wolf that can but slay the body; how much then should men fear the jaws of hell, when such a multitude stands sore adread of the jaws of one so small a beast? Then turn ye, beloved, unto God, and work out a fit repentance for your sins; and God will set you free from the wolf in this present time, and in time to come from out the fires of hell.”

And done the preaching, Saint Francis, said: “Give ear, my brothers: brother wolf, who standeth here before ye, hath promised me and plighted troth to make his peace with you, and to ofFend no more in any thing; and do ye promise him to give him every day whate’er he needs: and I am made his surety unto you that he will keep this pact of peace right steadfastly.”

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