A Special Prayer Intention for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

14783420723_1300a7f49b_oBefore he was born, the parents of my godson (not yet a year old, born with a chromosomal abnormality), perhaps by special graces, selected St. John the Baptist as his patron in baptism. The Baptist has the distinction of having TWO solemnities each year. Today is the solemnity of his nativity, a fitting day to ask you to pray for this wee boy.

Recently, it was determined by medical professionals that our little John indeed has some limitation with his hearing, but that (with fairly minimal intervention) this limitation can be treated and improved! Praise God! Please keep praying for him and his parents!

Last night, while praying the office for the vigil of this solemnity, I was struck by the words of an ancient 8th-century hymn composed by Venerable Bede:

John, still unborn, yet gave aright
His witness to the coming light;
And Christ, the sun of all the earth,
Fulfilled that witness at his birth.

Of woman-born shall never be
A greater prophet than was he,
Whose mighty deeds exalt his fame
To greater than a prophet’s name.

I wonder if there is something particular about having the Forerunner as the patron of a boy with special needs. The Baptist is “witness to the coming light,” who shines faintly (as a reflection) of the Sun. He demonstrates our human dignity which, encumbered by original sin, is not yet in its fully resplendent glory. He is “flawed”, yet never was a greater prophet than he.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us!



Does Failing to Pray *Cause* Bad Things to Happen?

A lot of us know that we should pray, and a lot of us do pray, but not all of us fully understand why we pray or what prayer does. And, we might wonder, if prayer has good effects, does not praying cause bad effects?

What is Prayer? Gift, Covenant and Communion

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy. – St. Therese of Lisieux

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prayer can be viewed (1) as a gift from God, (2) as a covenant with God, and (3) as communion with God.

14758187256_190892b699_oIn terms of gift, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” (CCC 2259). “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.” (CCC 2260). “Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation and also a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God.” (CCC 2260).

As covenant with God, it is understood that “Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.” (CCC 2264). In praying to God, we offer ourselves as part of the covenant, furthering the personal relationship that we form with Him.

Prayer is communion with God, and “…the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him… Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ’s love.” (CCC 2265).

The Five Types of Prayer

God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what he is prepared to give. – St. Augustine

According to the Catechism, there are five primary types of prayer:

  1. Blessing and Adoration: “The prayer of blessing is man’s response to God’s gifts: because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One who is the source of every blessing.” (CCC 2626). “Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator. It exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us and the almighty power of the Savior who sets us free from evil.” (CCC 2628).
  2. Petition: “In the risen Christ the Church’s petition is buoyed by hope, even if we still wait in a state of expectation and must be converted anew every day… ‘with sighs too deep for words’ the Holy Spirit ‘helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.'” (CCC 2630).
  3. In Intercession, “he who prays looks ‘not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,’ even to the point of praying for those who do him harm.” (CCC 2635).
  4. Thanksgiving: “As in the prayer of petition, every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’; ‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.'” (CCC 2638).
  5. Praise: This form of prayer “…recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS. It shares in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God in faith before seeing him in glory.” (CCC 2639).

14796299733_0e2b23f163_o“The Eucharist contains and expresses all forms of prayer: it is ‘the pure offering’ of the whole Body of Christ to the glory of God’s name and, according to the traditions of East and West, it is the ‘sacrifice of praise.'” (CCC 2640).

Is Prayer Effective?

He “prays without ceasing” who unites prayer to works and good works to prayer. Only in this way can we consider as realizable the principle of praying without ceasing. – Origen

In a word, YES, prayer is effective. Christian prayer is cooperation with the providence of God and His plan of love. (CCC 2738). Jesus is the model of Christian prayer, whose heart “…seeks only what pleases the Father…” Thus, the prayer of the children of God should be centered on the Giver, rather than the gifts. (CCC 2739).

According to the entry on prayer found in the Catholic Encyclopedia maintained at NewAdvent.org, God does not change His will or action in hearing our prayer, “…but simply puts into effect what He had eternally decreed in view of our prayer.” He can do this directly by imparting “…some supernatural gift, such as actual grace, or indirectly, when He bestows some natural gift.” God can and does also sometimes miraculously intervene, “…and without employing any of these causes, He can produce the effect prayed for.”

14796299243_26cb9b2e38_oSeeing the effects of prayer require proper orientation. As the Catholic Encyclopedia states, in praying “…we should ask for nothing unless it be strictly in accordance with Divine Providence in our regard… We are to ask also for temporal things, our daily bread, and all that it implies, health, strength, and other worldly or temporal goods, not material or corporal only, but mental and moral, every accomplishment that may be a means of serving God and our fellow men. Finally, there are the evils which we should pray to escape, the penalty of our sins, the dangers of temptation, and every manner of physical or spiritual affliction, so far as these might impede us in God’s service.”

When we ask for things in prayer that fall outside of Divine Providence, then we are not well disposed to observe the effects of prayer, because we are looking for the wrong effects.

Regardless of whether God answers a prayer by delivering the particular gift that we request, prayer advantages us in many ways. Praying “…elevates our mind and heart to a knowledge and love of Divine things, greater confidence in God, and other precious sentiments.” Often what we actually receive is “…of far greater benefit than what we ask for. Nothing that we might obtain in answer to our prayer could exceed in value the familiar converse with God in which prayer consists.”

Does Failure to Pray Cause Bad Things to Happen?

We pray, not that we may change the divine decree, but that we may impetrate [beg for] that which God has decreed to be fulfilled by our prayers. – St. Thomas Aquinas

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, prayer is necessary for salvation, because “Without prayer we cannot resist temptation, nor obtain God’s grace, nor grow and persevere in it.” However, the “bad thing” that appears to occur does not come about because you fail to pray.

When we pray we are admitted to an opportunity to be (not necessarily the) cause of an effect. St. Thomas Aquinas states that Divine Providence concerns not only “…what effects that shall take place, but also from what causes and in what order these effects shall proceed.” (Summa, Q. 83). And, the order of effects is key to our conception of prayer, because we live on a temporal plane, while God lives outside of time and space. Thus, we cannot always adequately see the fulfillment of God’s will in prayer, at least until we see God in Heaven.

14783192753_9c42e5cc3a_oAquinas continues that “human acts [e.g., prayer] are the causes of certain effects….. it must be that men do certain actions, not that thereby they may change Divine disposition, but that by those actions they may achieve certain effects according to the order of the Divine disposition… For we pray not that we may change the Divine disposition, but that we may impetrate that which God has disposed to be fulfilled by our prayers, in other words, ‘that by asking, men may deserve to receive what Almighty God from eternity has disposed to give’…”

So, in reply, Aquinas would state that we need to pray to God, not to make known our needs and desires (because God already knows all of that), or even so that God’s will may be done (as though our praying is the condition precedent to His will being accomplished) but so that we may be reminded of the necessity of having recourse to God’s help. And, our motive in praying is not to change God’s will but that by praying “we may obtain what God has appointed.” (Id.).

When we pray, we are joined with God in communion, and He frequently builds up our faith by giving us a vision of ourselves as a cause of an effect. And we are all called to be united more fully with God in seeing that His will be done.

Weekend Report & Prayer Requests

It was a great weekend. We enjoyed nice warm weather for the season, sunny skies, and had some (brief) opportunities to rest and pray!

The freezer door, teeming with bacon

The freezer door, teeming with bacon

On Friday evening, we had a “family date night”, frozen cheese pizza, etc. and a movie, which was fun. Earlier in the day went to the butcher to pick up our pig. It’s always a special day when the freezer is once again fully stocked with a pig’s worth of pork, even if, being that it was a Friday in Lent, we had to wait until Saturday morning “family breakfast” to sample the bacon and sausage.

On Saturday I brewed 10 gallons of The Oliphaunt. I’m refining the recipe just a bit. I wanted to increase flavor and body just a few degrees, so I upped the Roasted Malt and Flaked Oats by 4 ounces. Also, this batch will ferment with good ole’ “Chico Strain” rather than the “British Ale” from Wyeast, because that’s what I had on hand. Now that I’ve got my beer gas and stout faucet, I’ll be trying to keep a stout or porter on hand most of the time.

On Saturday evening, I cooked a “Hogmen’s Pie” (i.e., Shepherd’s Pie, but instead of lamb [=Shepherd’s] I used ground pork from the pig). There is still some of the first batch of The Oliphaunt from Christmas, which paired well with the pie. Fr. A ate three heaping helpings and we managed to drop off some for Mrs Q’s mother who was sick with a cold (pray for her!).

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 6.18.08 PMThen we had our “men’s group” monthly gathering, with the requisite whisky, pipes and cigars. This month we discussed the first half of Benson’s Lord of the World, which, as you should know by now, Pope Francis has mentioned on two separate occasions during interviews. There was a bit about Carroll’s 1917; Fr. A and I recently finished it and are both excited to discuss it. We’re hoping the rest of the group will read it for an upcoming meeting.

Sunday was Mass, followed by RCIA, followed by a couple of EMHC visits. Then, in the afternoon, we took a drive so I could submit two beer entries in the National Homebrew Competition. Last year I did not do very well. One of my entries earned a Bronze, but it was a dark time in brewing for me; if you recall, I was having trouble with some kegs.

Since it is still Lent, and during Lent we are called to prayer, fasting and almsgiving, perhaps you could help me in the prayer department? It’s for a personal intention. Something has started for me, and it will take years — years — for it to reach any kind of endpoint. It is not the kind of the thing that I have any kind of real control over; my prayer is to get out of the way and let His will be done. At some point in the future I may be able to share a bit more about it.

God bless you!

Some pressing prayer intentions:

– For our godson (just a few months old, born with a chromosomal deletion; he’s very small) who went to the pediatrician and tested positive for RSV. Praying a hospital admission is averted. And for said godson’s father who interviews for a job tomorrow.

– For the grandmother of a family with whom we are very close, recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that has metastasized.

– For the repose of the soul of our brother-in-law’s cousin, who recently died while still a young man to an extended illness.

– For our two youngest kids, sick this week with normal crud.

– For anyone suffering depression, anxiety, or despair, that they be comforted by the saving mercy of our Lord.

– For a safe and fruitful Walk for Life 2015 in San Francisco this Saturday.

– For conversion of hearts, and the reconciliation to the Church of several close loved ones.

– For two personal intentions.

Will you please pray?

On Retreat, first part: Assisi

I have the most wonderful, supportive and generous wife. She’s been sacrificing a weekend each month to be trained as a catechist for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program. I think she’s done three or four of the nine weekends so far, and she knows it’s been “a little extra” for me to have the four kids by myself each weekend. But what kind of Catholic husband would I be to grouse about my wife who {gasp} is learning to teach kids about the faith?

The training has been beautiful for her though — like mini retreats — in part because there have been opportunities for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, chances to stay at the nearby seminary, masses at a nearby convent, and she’s gotten to go to each session with one of our dear family friends.

Knowing that I might like to get away myself, Mrs. Q suggested that I take my own retreat, and, boring guy that I am, I decided a return to the Eternal City was in order, but that this time I’d divide the time in Assisi, where I’d never been before.

I love retreats, but I’m not so much a fan of the “directed” ones where part of the time consists of “workshops”, “fellowship”, “group work”, or anything taking place in a “multipurpose room” or “cafegymatorium”.

While I do respect the people who like such retreats, my response (as a curmudgeon-introvert) is that I am surrounded by plenty of people ALL THE TIME (especially the young, disruptive, yammering types), and so when I go on retreat my objective is to find some solitude, and to pray and attend Mass. The ideal retreat also has food, preferably sans tofu.

Before leaving, the anxiety really set in. Travel can be stressful, and I wouldn’t say that doing international travel solo once before makes me a pro. It didn’t hurt that on the longest leg, on a flight less than a third full, a priest sat down directly next to me, and we sparked up a conversation. The safe arrival without much hassle also resolved a lot of that pre-journey worry.

If I could properly articulate the spiritual fruits of this experience, I’d be writing a bestselling Catholic book rather than just blogging. But then again, *I* wouldn’t buy a book on spiritual fruits from a guy like me, because it seems unseemly for the non-saint to describe another’s relationship with God, which is entirely subjective, and personal.

In other words, I couldn’t tell you what *you* would find in Assisi, but I’d certainly suggest that it is a place for those looking to deepen their spiritual life, and in particular to ask some of the fundamental questions about how God calls us closer to Himself, and whether (for most of us) this is a process undertaken easily or with some difficulty.

After all, to model the saints who came from this place, it would appear that life might be fraught with hardship and discomfort. How is it that such a path appears hard, and yet is undertaken so joyfully by so many holy men and women, as if nothing — no comfort or wordly pleasure — could possibly compare to living in God’s light?

And if I said that after a couple days here I have an answer, you’d be wise to inquire about the other snake oils on offer. But I do have a measure of newfound personal clarity, that God called me here to show me something, and that in time, he will use what I have seen and felt to continue his work on me.

The two saintly “stars” of Assisi are St. Francis and St. Clare. Both have basilicas, beneath which their respective tombs can be found. Both provide examples of what turning one’s life completely over to God looks like. Both established religious orders with hallmarks of simplicity, poverty, and paradoxically, JOY.

If we truly want to know and love God, then we need to make time to develop that relationship. We don’t have to travel across the world, but we do need to stop pretending that it is possible to be Christian and not know Jesus personally. After all, would you really know your spouse if you never dated him or her, or traveled together?

Prayer is conversation. Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament is visitation. Mass is sharing a meal together. Pilgrimage to holy places is like returning to a birthplace or family home. True relationship generates desire to do these things.


Beginning of Year Opportunities for Spiritual Works of Mercy

Happy New Year! This follows a recent post providing a brief introduction on indulgences and the fact that a plenary indulgence can be gained by reciting the Te Deum on the last day of the year. You can gain another plenary indulgence today by reciting another ancient hymn of the Church, the Veni Creator Spiritus:

Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our souls take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

O comforter, to Thee we cry,
O heavenly gift of God Most High,
O fount of life and fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.

Thou in Thy sevenfold gifts are known;
Thou, finger of God’s hand we own;
Thou, promise of the Father, Thou
Who dost the tongue with power imbue.

Kindle our sense from above,
and make our hearts o’erflow with love;
with patience firm and virtue high
the weakness of our flesh supply.

Far from us drive the foe we dread,
and grant us Thy peace instead;
so shall we not, with Thee for guide,
turn from the path of life aside.

Oh, may Thy grace on us bestow
the Father and the Son to know;
and Thee, through endless times confessed,
of both the eternal Spirit blest.

Now to the Father and the Son,
Who rose from death, be glory given,
with Thou, O Holy Comforter,
henceforth by all in earth and heaven.

End of Year Opportunities for Spiritual Works of Mercy

I posted this last year regarding the plenary indulgence available on December 31:

There are two (principal) types of indulgences: partial and plenary. In the vocabulary of the Church, an indulgence removes some (or all) temporal punishment for sin. What that means is that in gaining indulgences, we can shorten (partial) or eliminate (plenary) the consequences of sin (i.e., time in Purgatory) for ourselves, or, for the souls already in Purgatory.

Through original sin, and in our own lives in which we commit various sins, our soul suffers under the weight of sin, but the ultimate punishment (death and separation from God) is no more, because we are saved by Jesus Christ. However, just because God forgives sin does not mean that He removes all of the consequences of sin for us. Just like the lad who hits the baseball through his neighbor’s window, we must “pay to repair the window” — we must face the consequences of our sin.

God is infinitely merciful, so that even His “consequences” are especially helpful and loving to us. Purgatory exists so that we might “work out” the consequences of sin and its stain on our souls before entering into heavenly beatitude with God. It is a promise that even if we fail to allow ourselves to be perfected in this life, we need not worry about work yet to be done, because God will help us get there even after death. Purgatory is the fire that “purges” all that remains as separation between us and God. It is the final Clorox cycle on our souls. It purifies and whitens!

And, don’t forget that Purgatory is not a proving ground. It is not a place where God decides whether we are saved; rather, our salvation is already guaranteed — we’re on the way to Heaven!

However, souls in Purgatory cannot pray for themselves, which is why it is a spiritual work of mercy to pray for the souls there.

On the last day of the year, you can gain a Plenary Indulgence (the best kind!) if you recite the Te Deum, an ancient hymn of the Church:

O God, we praise Thee, and acknowledge Thee to be the supreme Lord.
Everlasting Father, all the earth worships Thee.
All the Angels, the heavens and all angelic powers,
All the Cherubim and Seraphim, continuously cry to Thee:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory.
The glorious choir of the Apostles,
The wonderful company of Prophets,
The white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee.
Holy Church throughout the world acknowledges Thee:
The Father of infinite Majesty;
Thy adorable, true and only Son;
Also the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
O Christ, Thou art the King of glory!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When Thou tookest it upon Thyself to deliver man,
Thou didst not disdain the Virgin’s womb.
Having overcome the sting of death, Thou opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all
Thou sitest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou willst come to be our Judge.
We, therefore, beg Thee to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy
Precious Blood.
Let them be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory.

V.  Save Thy people, O Lord, and bless Thy inheritance!
R.  Govern them, and raise them up forever.

V.  Every day we thank Thee.
R.  And we praise Thy Name forever, yes, forever and ever.

V.  O Lord, deign to keep us from sin this day.
R.  Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.

V.  Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have hoped in Thee.
R.  O Lord, in Thee I have put my trust; let me never be put to shame.

Holy Father announces Plenary Indulgences…..

…..for the occasion of the upcoming “Year of Consecrated Life”. Recall that, there are certain conditions that must be met in order to obtain a plenary indulgence. Even if you are not disposed to receiving a plenary indulgence — that is, complete remission of all temporal punishment due to sin — because, for example, you retain some attachment — however small, to sin — since the attachment can be to sins that are venial only — the indulgence you receive may be partial, which is still a spiritual work of mercy, and doubtless is appreciated by a soul in Purgatory.

14595318679_6b223e630e_oI don’t think we’re supposed to spend much time trying to figure out whether indulgences are truly plenary or partial. Over the years the Church has developed in its own understanding of the authority given to “bind and loose”. If God (and Heaven, and by extension Purgatory) stands outside of time and space, it becomes nebulous to quantify “time” in Purgatory. And yet, we believe (and it seems, know) that some prayers, some work, some actions, are more efficacious than others.

God knows our hearts and He knows the intention we bring. He accepts all earnest prayers, and we know that He is just and merciful. We can trust that when we are called to pray for souls who need prayers, our prayers have effect. So just do it.

The Souls in Purgatory Cannot Pray Themselves to Heaven

We (members of the Body of Christ, alive today here on earth) are the Church Militant. This is an important thing to understand today, on the Solemnity of All Saints, the eve of the Commemoration of All Souls.

Nice. God finally installed wi-fi.

Occasionally I get a page view from Vatican City, but just imagine the credibility of a blog that “Dispenses Orthodox Catholic Joy” and is visited by non-Militant members of the Church!

We the Church Militant cannot be certain which members of the faithful of God belong to the Church Triumphant (among the Communion of Saints in Heaven) or the Church Suffering (undergoing the purifying fire of Purgatory). We don’t see the “stats”; God is the admin. We can, however, give thanks to God for Purgatory, and ponder the extent of such loving Mercy that even in death, God makes provisions for us. 

The Church Suffering (those souls in Purgatory, destined for Heaven) cannot pray from themselves. It is a spiritual work of mercy to pray for the dead. But prayers aren’t useful for everyone who has died. Why do we pray, and for whom do we pray?

We do not pray for the souls in the Hell. A soul in Hell sends itself there and cannot escape. Such a prayer would be fruitless.

We do not pray for souls in Heaven. A soul in Heaven is already in that perfect state of Beatitude; essentially a person in Heaven is a saint; we might ask a saint to pray for us, but we do not pray for a saint. There is nothing added by our prayers to the blessings poured out upon the souls in that are already in Heaven.

We pray for the souls in Purgatory, who like just about all of us, undergo spiritual purification after death before joining our Lord in Heaven. Purgatory is not necessarily fun, because it is a type of separation from God. In fact, it might be painful. It might be lonely. It might even be frightening. A soul in Purgatory will want to leave, because Heaven is in sight and Purgatory is supposed to be temporary.

Because souls in Purgatory cannot pray themselves out, it falls to us to pray to God and the saints for them. When I pray for souls in Purgatory, I can’t help inserting a rather self-serving prayer that someone will take pity and pray for me when my time in Purgatory comes.

Tomorrow is All Souls’ Day. The Church offers a plenary indulgence on November 2 for the faithful who (1) visit a Catholic Church and while there pray for the souls in Purgatory (say one “Our Father” and the “Apostles Creed”, one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” for the Holy Father’s prayer intentions), (2) receive Holy Communion, and (3) go to confession within 20 days (before or after) of All Souls’ Day. You can also gain a plenary indulgence (one soul in Purgatory for each day) between November 1 and November 8 by visiting a cemetery and praying there.

In order for these indulgences to qualify as “plenary” (i.e., complete remission of all temporal punishments of sin for the soul in Purgatory = go straight to Heaven) you must be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin. Because of the question of one’s own “attachment to sin”, it’s difficult to know whether your spiritual work of mercy on behalf of the faithfully departed in Purgatory will qualify as plenary or partial. That’s okay, and in a way has the upside of leaving us unconcerned with any focus upon the “merits” of our “work” and once again reliant upon God and His graces. Just do the spiritual work and let the Lord sort out the merit.

As much as we are called to make our lives an expression of caritas, but sometimes lack the means (due to time, lack of money, or some other obstacle) to care for the physical well-being of others, we can all pray for the dead, out of love, regardless of our particular situation. This type of work for the good of the Church has great merit in the eyes of God.

Regarding my Prior Prayer Intention…..

Posted here, and updated here: mom asks readers of this blog to please continue your prayers.

After some “good news” test results ruling out the most common potential things that may be going on with our little godson, yesterday mom and dad received a piece of dreaded “bad news”; the results from one of the genetic tests shows a chromosomal abnormality — a deletion of some genes on the first chromosome — that may lead to some health issues, physical problems, and possibly mental impairment.

They are being referred to a geneticist and some other specialists for more work-up and to try to figure out some kind of prognosis.

So, I think everyone still very much needs your prayers, especially for relief from anxiety and worry about the future. Right now he’s just a little baby, doing regular baby stuff (praise God!). Perhaps one thing to pray for is a simple miracle that as he grows, his development isn’t tremendously affected by the genetic issue. And also please pray that as they (prudently, because they do need to learn as much as they can) try to investigate what may await them in the future, God provides comfort and assurance, peace and joy. Because one thing that is certain is that this little guy is a blessing.