The One vs. the 99

Today’s Gospel is one of the most well-known Gospel stories we have. We are told that, in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven we must become like a child.

Children are not jaded, cynical, or critical of themselves or others. They do not hold grudges. They reserve judgment because their only experience of the world is their own. Children wave and smile at complete strangers because to them, everyone is a friend. Children trust and do not worry.

Is it any wonder that Christ wants us to be like children? They have utter purity of heart. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

I desire deeply to see God in everything, but the cloud of “adulthood” makes that difficult. I am slow to trust others. I have unintended prejudices towards other cultures, races, disabilities. I worry almost all the time. With adulthood comes more freedom; but that freedom is a double-edged sword that brings along with it negativity, stress, and apathy. It causes me to be critical in my thoughts and actions toward others without first approaching their shortcomings with compassion.

We slowly let go of the purity of our hearts along the road to adulthood, causing us to lose our ability to see God in all things.

For all intents and purposes, I am one of the ninety-nine—a safe, comfortable sheep following the Shepherd, nourished within the sheepfold of the Church. I have not gone “astray” from the Church, but I catch myself judging the one that has. Like the brother of the Prodigal Son, I wonder why I am not the one being commended for staying faithful. Yet where does this false piety and need for justification leave me? It causes me to forget the times when I have been the 1 who needed rescuing. It depletes my ability to feel empathy towards the painful experiences of my fellow brothers and sisters. It creates an even deeper divide between them and me that was never supposed to be there in the first place.

You see, the shepherd who goes after the 1 does not abandon the 99. He is not saying that they don’t matter, that they aren’t as important to him, that their lives don’t bring value. He is intimately in-tune with the immediate needs of his flock. Right now, the 99 are okay. They don’t need him as urgently.

It is the same in our world today. As Christians, we too are called to go out and seek the lost. With our baptism comes the commission to comfort the afflicted and respond in humility and kindness to the needs of others. The word compassion comes from the combination of two Latin words. Com = with. Passion = suffer. Com-passion. To suffer together with.

Right now, our discriminated brothers and sisters need us to fight for their rights in human solidarity. Our immunocompromised and elderly brothers and sisters need us to protect them by wearing a mask and staying home when asked to. Our poor children caught in sex-trafficking need us to recognize their cries for help and do something. This Christian call to arms is by no means comfortable or easy, but it is absolutely necessary and utterly vital to our Christian mission.

As I contemplate the Good Shepherd’s heart, I am filled with awe, gratitude, and relief that He would do the same for me as He does for that one missing sheep. He will never forget me or give up on me. When I find myself lost, He never stops ardently pursuing me, and rejoices to welcome me home. Until then, I’ll do my part to keep the 100 sheep united.

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Sarah Rose hails from Long Island and graduated from Franciscan University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s in Theology & Catechetics. She is happily married to her college sweetheart John Paul. They welcomed their first child, Judah Zion, in 2019. She is passionate about her big V-vocation: motherhood, and her little v-vocation: bringing people to encounter Christ through the true, the good, and the beautiful. She loves fictional novels, true crime podcasts/documentaries, the saints (especially Blessed Chiara Luce Badano), & sharing conversation over a good cup of coffee. She is currently the Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry at St. Cecilia Church in Oakley, Cincinnati. You can find out more about her ministry here: https://eastsidefaith.org/young-adult OR at https://www.facebook.com/stceciliayam.

Letting Go

A colleague and I were discussing the age-old dilemma of finding new people to step up and share leadership in an organization. It doesn’t matter what type of organization you are in, the same people seem to make sure that birthdays are remembered, bake sales happen, and holiday functions get planned. We were realizing how even though it seems counter intuitive, sometimes, you just have to let go in order to have things start anew. Sometimes there has to be a vacuum, something has to not happen for people to become conscious again of how much these little events build community and bring us closer together. 

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” 

(I don’t know about you, but I have “Circle of Life” from The Lion King playing in my head right now.)

There is a cycle to all the things of this world, a time to sow and a time to reap. We tend to focus on the sowing and the reaping we do on a daily basis. The first reading today reminds us of “the one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food.” It is so easy to get so caught up in making things happen, that we forget the source of those things. We talk about providing for our families and getting what we need, as if it all relied only on our own efforts. Of course, we work to be able to fulfill our obligations and take care of our families but the source of all we have really comes from God. The food we make, we may grow it, but we don’t make it grow. When we use our talents to produce goods to sell or share, we always start with raw material that comes only from the Creator. 

We see the same thing socially, whether it is in our parishes, schools, families, workplaces or other groups. There is a cycle to events and happenings and sometimes the worst thing we can do is try to stop the cycle to continue something that we think is serving a need, but has outlived its purpose. By experiencing the ebb and flow of events, happenings, and even people in our life, we can reflect and come to truly value those things which are ultimately most valuable. We can step back from the things of creation and refocus on the Creator who calls all things into being. 

“Whoever serves me, must follow me, and where I am, there also my servant will be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.” 

My prayer for you today, is to allow the natural ebb and flow of nature, the transitions of daylight and darkness, of sowing and reaping to help whatever grain of wheat you are still holding tight to fall so that it may bear fruit and bring you closer to the one we serve, no matter what the season. 

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Sheryl delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.

Faith Over Fear

Ask any one of my friends – I’m a worrier. Maybe it’s a direct result of growing up with ever-changing Ohio weather and heartbreaking Cleveland sports that I tend to assume the worst in any given situation.

As a direct result of being a worrier, trust in God is always something I’m working on and something people (ex: the priests in my life) are always telling me to do.

Seriously, one recent Friday evening at the parish, I was lamenting a rainy weather forecast while inquiring about a backup plan for an outdoor First Communion group photo when both my pastor and my DRE told me, “Trust in the Lord, it won’t rain tomorrow morning.” And guess what? They were right. While it wasn’t exactly sunny, it did not rain on that beautiful, grace-filled morning.

Now, trusting in the Lord certainly applies in bigger situations than just a simple weather forecast (who can trust meteorologists anyways?), but since that one small instance, it’s been something particularly on my heart, in one way or another. Then I read this weekend’s Gospel passage and it all just hit me.

If we trust in the Lord, with Him working through us, we can do miraculous things. Peter calls out to Jesus who is walking on the water, Jesus tells him to come and so Peter walks on water too. It’s as simple as that.

One thing is key here, I believe – we must cry out to Jesus. Peter didn’t step out on the water on a whim, thinking he’d be able to walk over to Jesus. He called out to Jesus first and then trusted in Jesus’ answer, His command to “come.” And so Peter went – he succeeded in walking on water. I think we always forget about this part at the expense of what follows.

Peter’s trust in the Lord waned at the sight and strength of the fierce wind. That’s when he started sinking into the water, not because of the wind or the waves or the storm but because he stumbled in his trust. But what does Peter do when he’s in trouble? He cries out to the Lord for help and Jesus extends his hand to save him.

How many times do the storms in our lives overtake our life of faith and our trust in the Lord? My guess is far too many. Yet God is there in those dark moments, in the messiness and in the struggles. We can trust that He will be there and we can trust that He will answer our pleas, much like Jesus responded when Peter cried out to Him.

Try to live in the light of Jesus, not in the darkness of fear. And, yes, I’ll try to listen to my own advice too.

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Erin is a Cleveland native and graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Following graduation, she began volunteering in youth ministry at her home parish of Holy Family Church. Her first “big girl” job was in collegiate sports information where, after a busy two years in the profession on top of serving the youth, she took a leap of faith and followed the Lord’s call to full-time youth ministry at St. Peter Church. She still hopes to use her communication arts degree as a freelance writer and statistician, though. You can catch her on the Clarence & Peter Podcast on YouTube as well as follow her on Twitter @erinmadden2016.

The Book of Habakkuk, Today

The first thing I noticed about today’s First Reading was that I had no idea that Habakkuk was even a book in the Bible. The second and more important thing I noticed was how, upon a more reflective reading, it shook me to my core. The image I chose for today’s reading is a perfect portrayal of my reaction to today’s first reading.

It hit me in my soul.

Maybe it’s the Book of Habakkuk that’s got me feeling poetic, but the following words rang true in the same way echoing church bells make everyone pause for a moment.

LORD, you have appointed them for judgment,

O Rock, you have set them in place to punish!

Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence

while the wicked devour those more just than themselves?

(Habakkuk 1:12,13b)

Oof. These last few months have been so much turmoil and confusion on all fronts that it leaves one wondering why our rock, our Lord, seemingly stays silent.

However, this passage is not meant to be read alone and taken out of context. In fact, I went on to read the entire book of Habakkuk (it’s only three chapters) because Habakkuk’s laments are all about questioning God about why he does not stop evildoers. God then responds to Habakkuk with His own reasons, explanations, and a hopeful prophecy. One of these explanations is that while God may allow imperfect people and corrupt situations to occur, they exist to bloom goodness for His people.

What does this mean?

It means that God allows injustices because they can lead to change and something better.

It means that the bad will pass, good can come of it, and as the last lines of the Book of Habakkuk say, although there is bad in the world, “I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God” (Habakkuk 3:18).

~

If you’re interested in learning more about the Book of Habakkuk, watch this neat video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPMaRqGJPUU. It’s surprisingly relevant!

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Veronica Alvarado is a born and raised Texan currently living in Michigan. Since graduating from Texas A&M University, Veronica has published various articles in the Catholic Diocese of Austin’s official newspaper, the Catholic Spirit, and other local publications. She now works as the Content Specialist in Diocesan’s Web Department.

Follow Me

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (MT 16:24) This is the first line from today’s Gospel. It always catches my attention. This sentence reminds me that I need to get out of the way, no matter what my current situation may be, and I must follow Jesus. It is my choice to make freely in each and every moment of my day.

I didn’t say this is something that comes easily to me. A cartoon I saw earlier this week sums up my daily challenge beautifully. Jesus is pictured with several followers (Bibles in hand). He says to them: ‘The difference between me and you is you use scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what scripture means.’ Wow, drop the mike!

Love is the answer! My cross must be looked at with eyes of Love! I must choose to carry on in my daily life through Jesus’ Way of Love.

At this point in life, my choices for the upcoming day are more easily made when I begin with prayer, scripture, or as my schedule now allows, morning Mass. I did not choose that as a youth or young adult. I typically made the choice to pray when in crisis or when reminded by a friend.

The Church honors today the love and choices of eight martyrs. Pope Saint Sixtus II (and his companions, all martyrs) chose the Love of Christ by defying the Emperor Valerian’s persecutions in the third century. Church services were forbidden, yet Pope Sixtus the Second held Mass in a cemetery chapel. The chapel was raided while the Pope was preaching. He was beheaded by soldiers along with four of his deacons. Three more deacons were executed later that day.

I am never sure how the next moment or day may unfold. I can, however, rely and count on the Lord, my God and Savior to be with me through each and every situation I find myself in.

As we begin this new day please pray with me the words of  Blessed Charles de Foucauld.

Father, I abandon myself into your hands,
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you;
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father. Amen

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Beth is part of the customer care team at Diocesan. She brings a unique depth of experience to the group due to her time spent in education, parish ministries, sales and the service industry over the last 25 yrs. She is a practicing spiritual director as well as a Secular Franciscan (OFS). Beth is quick to offer a laugh, a prayer or smile to all she comes in contact with. Reach her here bprice@diocesan.com.

Lord, It Is Good That We Are Here

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. People often ask for signs in moments of despair or hopelessness. No greater sign can be given than the Transfiguration. In order to strengthen the Apostles-specifically Peter, James, and John-and give the three of them a glimpse of His divinity, a sign of hope for what they believe in. Peter’s response to Jesus’ transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah is, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”

Lord, it is good that we are here. 

What a powerful statement! It is good that we are here. Not only in His glory, but at the foot of His Cross, as John was. The Transfiguration is a sign of what Christ’s suffering will bring about for the world: glory! However, that glory was not attained without suffering. Jesus endured the Passion to bring about our redemption. When we unite our sufferings to the suffering of Christ, we are filled with the hope of the glory of the Resurrection. That hope is what Jesus gives to us in the Transfiguration. He gives us the hope that will get us through whatever present suffering we might be experiencing and the hope that guides our faith.

May we remember that it is good that we are “here”…wherever “here” is. Be it with our families, with our friends, at work, at the grocery store. It is good that we are here and that we know the Glory of God. When “here” is a place of despair, loneliness, or suffering, may we remember the Transfigured Lord and pray, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”

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Dakota currently lives in Denver, CO and teaches English Language Development and Spanish to high schoolers. She is married to the love of her life, Ralph. In her spare time, she reads, goes to breweries, and watches baseball. Dakota’s favorite saints are St. John Paul II (how could it not be?) and St. José Luis Sánchez del Río. She is passionate about her faith and considers herself blessed at any opportunity to share that faith with others. Check out more of her writing at https://dakotaleonard16.blogspot.com.

Spiritual Desert

If I can be completely honest I am facing a great time of spiritual dryness in my life. I have so many blessings and I know God is present in my life, and He always will be, but I feel so distant from Him. How do I draw closer to Him in these times of feeling down and out, of feeling like I don’t know my place or just a lack of inspiration to draw closer to Him?

I know we have all experienced times like these, including the saints. Mother Teresa is one of the saints infamously known for not feeling God’s presence for 50 years. She devoutly served Him and trusted His presence even though she experienced this dryness for decades.  I cannot imagine how much of a struggle this must have been for her, trying to serve individuals with great needs in Calcutta within the spiritual desert she found her soul in. Ultimately she knew God was with her and she had one key source that continued to keep her going – Jesus in the Eucharist.

Mother Teresa made it a priority to ensure that she and her sisters had time before Jesus in the Eucharist every single day.  The source and summit of our faith was the center of her ministry and provided her with the grace she needed to keep going, loving God and loving others with the love of Christ. The graces received from the Eucharist are beyond our human understanding.

At the end of the day, we can all learn from Mother Teresa. We must draw our strength from the Eucharist. Jesus is there waiting for us. Whether we visit Him in person or watch a live stream (I have one in Poland that I love to watch on Youtube) Jesus is with us and we are with Him. During these times of uncertainty, He wants to remain hopeful in Him, no matter where we are at on our spiritual journey. I feel as though I write often on struggle, anxiety, and spiritual dryness but I hope that this honest post will bring you hope. Know that you are not alone in the desert, Christ remains with us always (no matter if we feel distant from Him – He never leaves our side), and go forward with courage on the mission God has for you. Draw close to Him in the Eucharist, whether online or in-person and trust Him to be with you as you find your Calcutta.

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Nathalie Shultz is a joyful convert to the Catholic faith and a competitive swimmer with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  She loves to share her passion for Catholicism with others, including her conversion story and how God continues to work miracles in her life through her OCD. She is the Director of Religious Education for the North Allegan Catholic Collaborative of parishes. Nathalie is married to her best friend, Tommy Shultz. Her favorite saints include St. Peter the Apostle, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. John Paul II.  She is also a huge fan of C.S. Lewis. If you have any questions for Nathalie, or just want her to pray for you, you can email her at rodzinkaministry@gmail.com

Parish Priests: Saints or Sinners?

Today is the memorial of Saint John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests. We frequently discuss our pastors and their associates, especially when it comes to difficult or controversial decisions that they make. Given my role working for a parish with four priests and four deacons, I think that it might be good to discuss parish priests from the inside.

Depending on your background as a faithful Catholic, you might have one of two attitudes towards parish priests. You may see them as wonderful men who can practically do no wrong, entrusted with sacred faculties to act in the person of Christ. The pastor is both leader and servant and is able to manage all things through the strength of the God who has empowered him to exercise ministry. With a little prayer, he can handle any challenge of parish life. At times, it seems that he can do no wrong.

On the other hand, you may see priests as fragile, flawed men whom God has unfathomably graced with power beyond their merits. They can do amazing things, but at the bottom, they are human and broken like the rest of us. They have divine assistance, but they desperately need our help. At times, it seems like they are no better than the average person.

Each of these conceptions has a grain of truth to it, as we can see from the special readings for Saint John Vianney. On the one hand, priests are given “authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness” (Matt 10:1). They are sent as God’s messengers to admonish his people, spread the good news, and proclaim liberty to the captives. Parish priests are given abundant grace to overcome every situation, priming them for holiness.

On the other hand, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few” (Matt 9:37). Priests may have power, but they can be outnumbered. They cannot always bear the weight of their duties. The first reading from Ezekiel speaks of a priest’s immense responsibility for those who turn away from God: “I will hold you responsible for his death if you did not warn him” (Ezek 3:20). Priests have awesome power, but they also have a grave responsibility. Sometimes it is too much for them to handle gracefully.

An accurate perspective on parish priests needs to take account of both of these attitudes. Yes, priests are given immense power, authority, and grace. They have been privileged for holiness. Yes, priests are flawed, fragile human beings with responsibilities too great for man to bear. They are much like the rest of us.

As a liturgist working under an eight-man clergy team, I see both sides of this reality routinely. There have been many times in which a priest is being casual and lighthearted one moment and stoic the next. When discussing logistics or community life, jokes are frequent. When preaching from the ambo or explaining the Sacraments, the tone becomes loftier and more serious. Some of the priests I would consider the most simple and unintelligent have given the most profound homilies. Behind the unassuming personality and need for assistance lies an icon screen in an office, or a frequent habit of Adoration. The priests with whom I work are fragile and human, but they are blessed with grace and authority. In the less serious moments, the fragility is front and center. In the context of priestly duties, the sanctity is showcased.

Priests are men like the rest of us, struggling to maintain a life of prayer and sacrifice. Each of them has his own quirks and imperfections, and each is uniquely challenged by different aspects of parish life. Yet, while parish priests are human, they have been changed by God in their very being. They are priests after the order of Melchizedek, and nothing can take that character away from them. Their souls have been marked.

It is important to remember these things about our parish priests. When a complete picture of the priesthood informs our actions, we begin to treat these men differently. Knowing the authority and power of the priest, we address him as “father” and make every effort to avoid insulting the Lord whom he represents. Knowing the humanity and fragility of the priest, we are unafraid to converse with him as a companion on the road to heaven. We recognize that at times he will need our help and that at all times he needs our prayers.

With these things in mind, let us give thanks for our parish priests: human, yet acting in the person of the divine. Saint John Vianney, pray for our parish priests.

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David is the Associate Director of Liturgy for a group of parishes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he is not spending time with his wife and infant daughter, he is writing on philosophy and theology for various online publications. You can find some of these in Crisis Magazine and the Imaginative Conservative, and you can contact him at ddashiellwork@gmail.com.

Trust in the Power of Christ

This is my all-time favorite passage in scripture. Firstly, we see Jesus go off by himself to pray. As if preparing for the opening night of a play or an amazing feat of strength, Jesus goes off by himself to focus on the miracle he is about to perform, and more importantly, the message he is going to send.

Secondly, you can almost feel the fear in the hearts of the disciples. The boat being tossed by the waves, their minds knowing from their trade how quickly the sea can turn from a friend to a foe. A single second is the difference between life and death. Jesus allows them to stay in the boat until they mistake him for a ghost and he immediately shows to them who he is. The disciples realize how much they need the Lord, and immediately he shows himself to them.

Thirdly, he shows them how they can trust. Trust in the power and might of God. Trust in his promises. Trust in his love. Trust in his mercy. So Jesus prays, helps the disciples see their need for God, and then fulfills this need through his miracle of walking on the water and calming the storm.

The question is how do we respond? The disciples responded in three ways. There were those who remained scared and stayed in the boat. Fear overcame them and they did not trust. There was Peter who walked out on the water towards Jesus. His eyes fully fixed on Christ and his promises. And then finally there is Peter as he sinks, getting distracted by the waves that crashed about around him and losing focus on the Lord.

Which one are we? Are we afraid? Are we walking and trusting? Or are we starting to sink? The answer to wherever we are at right now in our lives is what Jesus taught us. Pray, realize our need for God, and then allow the Lord to perform wondrous miracles in our lives. May we be honest with ourselves about where we are and strive to trust, even when the waves crash. God Bless!

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Tommy Shultz is Director of Evangelization for the North Allegan Catholic Collaborative and the founder of Rodzinka Ministries. In these roles, he is committed to bringing all those he meets into a deeper relationship with Christ. Tommy has a heart and a flair for inspiring people to live their faith every day. He has worked in various youth ministry, adult ministry, and diocesan roles. He has been a featured speaker at retreats and events across the country. His mission and drive have been especially inspired by St. John Paul II’s teachings. Tommy is blessed to be able to learn from the numerous parishes he visits and pass that experience on in his presentations. With a degree in Theology from Franciscan University, Tommy hopes to use his knowledge to help all people understand the beauty of The Faith.

He Answers All Our Needs

When was the last time you felt like you were on your own? Where it felt as though it was all up to you? Perhaps you felt discouraged or alone facing a certain challenge. I for one have a habit of worrying that makes trusting God a constant choice I have to choose again and again. I have to give up the reins and remember that He answers all my needs.

This is the beauty of the Scripture readings today. We are reminded that Jesus takes care of our every need and we face absolutely nothing alone. In the First Reading, we hear God’s invitation to those who are thirsty to come to the water and drink without cost. He asks us, “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” For He alone satisfies our heart’s desires and offers it to us without cost. We don’t need to do anything to deserve this gift. He freely gives it to us.

The Responsorial Psalm reiterates the truth that “The hand of the Lord feeds us, He answers all our needs.” In the Second Reading, we are asked “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” As we read on, we find that nothing can separate us because “we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us”. We are never alone, He is on our side and always with us. We can do all things through Him. Our Gospel Reading ties all these readings together with Jesus’ miracle of the five loaves and two fish, feeding five thousand people. The disciples wanted Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they could go into town and buy their own meals, but Jesus had other plans. He provided for the needs of those before Him, He didn’t let a single one of them go without eating. “They all ate and were satisfied.”

Let us remember in times we feel alone or struggle to trust, that He invites us to come and drink. That nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, He is always on our side. Let us remember that “The hand of the Lord feeds us, He answers all our needs.” When we go to Him and open our hearts to His love, we will be like the crowd that day, satisfied.

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Briana is the Pastoral Minister at St. Mark Church in Cleveland, OH. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Catechetics from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH, and is excited to use these skills to serve the Church.