Pentecost 2015

Pentecost May 28, 2015

Three of the most important feast days of the church’s calendar are Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.  Christmas is surrounded by stories, legends, and traditions all addressing the incredible mystery of the birth of the Messiah.  Easter has its own embellishing traditions symbolic of the resurrection.  Pentecost however presents a problem.  In fact it is theologically considered the birthday of the church but there are not the plethora of stories and traditions and symbols that are attached to its celebration as there are to Christmas and Easter.  At the heart of Christmas is the birth of a baby.  At the heart of Easter is the resurrection of a dead man.  At the heart of Pentecost is the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the church with the sound of rushing wind and the sight of tongues of flame.  Humanly speaking, this does not give us much to work with in terms of repeatable symbols and the stuff of legends and traditions. Christmas says Santa Claus, a corruption of St. Nicholas but still a symbol of giftgiving.  Easter has the Easter Bunny, certainly of pagan origin, but the giver of Easter eggs, a symbol of new life.  The best we can do for Pentecost seems to be a dove and there is not really much we can do with that.

Nonetheless, Pentecost is an extremely important feast day.  It inaugurates the era of the Holy Spirit.  In the Old Testament we have the era of God the Father, in the Gospels we have the era of God the Son, but in the Acts of the Apostles and in the subsequent history of the church since the first century up until today and indeed until the second coming of Christ we have the era of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is a birthday.  A birthday begins with the birth of a child and, in this case it is the newborn people of God, the mystical body of Christ, the assembly of the faithful, the church.  Once born, a healthy child grows through the stages of childhood into adulthood and so forth.  And so it is with the church.  The church is a spirit filled reality which began 2000 years ago and is still growing onto its maturity in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is as real and operative today as she was in the upper room when she came upon the disciples with the sound of a rushing wind and the tongues of flame.

For me this reality is beautifully and powerfully expressed in the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.  He knew he was about to die and to return to his father and to leave his followers.  He said to them, “I will not leave you orphans, I will send to you a comforter who will remind you of all that I have taught.”  This is why the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Jesus.  The ongoing presence of the risen Jesus in the church is the presence of the Holy Spirit.

There are two very important facets to the existence of the church, one is human and the other is divine.  Throughout the passage of human history and awareness of the human aspect of the church is only too present.  We see it even in the Acts of the Apostles, a somewhat idyllic presentation of the early life of the church, yet not without its problems and its human weaknesses.  We see disagreements between St. Paul and St. Peter, between St. Paul and Timothy and St. Mark, between the Judaizing faction of the early Christians and those who are dealing with pagan converts.  Even a superficial glance at the subsequent history of the church up until the present day is apt to scandalize us when we look at the all too human aspects laid before us.

But we must never lose sight of what we might call the soul of the church, the reality of the Holy Spirit directing, correcting, supporting, nourishing and giving life to us individually and collectively.  We must never lose sight of the fact that we are the church, you and I.  We are sinners who fail but we begin again.  We have the Holy Spirit to bring us forgiveness, to reconcile us to one another, to remind us of all that Jesus has taught us.  As the church we are a strange mixture of the human and the divine, the holy and the sinful.  As Jesus taught us, we are a mixture of the wheat and the weeds which will be found growing together until the judgment of God separates them.

Today we celebrate our birthday, our divine aspect, the presence of the living risen Christ in our midst.  But we cannot celebrate that without in some strange way celebrating also our shadow side, our deficiencies, our failures.  As Jesus said to Julian of Norwich, “Julian, sin is necessary.  Otherwise how could I show my love, compassion and mercy.”  As we acknowledge our own faults and failings, we are then led to view the faults and failings of others in the church and outside of it with love and compassion.

I think the celebration of Pentecost is an occasion for optimism.  This does not mean we ignore or deny the all to present realities of our dark side, of our unloving activity, of our pride and selfishness and greed.  But it does help us to view them with the eyes of God which are eyes of forgiveness, compassion and love.  And it does allow us to remind ourselves of that beautiful message which Jesus gave to Julian of Norwich

All will be well

and everything shall be well

and you will see for yourself

that all manner of things shall be well.

May you be happy,

May you be free,

May you be loving,

May you be loved.

Father William Meninger

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Second Sunday of Easter April 12, 2015

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.”

This morning I would like to talk about some of these signs.  Signs that are not necessarily written in the Bible.  Today with our sophisticated knowledge of the sciences of physics and astronomy we have even invented a new word called astrophysics.  Among other things, this science  deals with our understanding of the origins of the cosmos.  I suspect that an astrophysicist would smile condescendingly at the naïve attempts of the Bible to describe  creation as a series of isolated events occurring over a period of seven days.  I think that even our junior high school science students would do the same thing.

If the Bible were to be written today, I rather suspect that it would begin with an attempt to describe the Big Bang!  Even if it were to do so, I fel quite sure that in a few generations readers would be smiling tolerantly at that naïve interpretation of creation.

However there is another account of creation from a theological point of view found in the Bible that is sublimely sophisticated and eternally relevant.  This is the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel where we read, “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  And all things were made through him and without him was made nothing that was made.”  This refers to the divine being of God, the second  person of the Blessed Trinity who is, as it were, the model for creation, the wisdom through and by which the Father brought about the advent of the cosmic beginnings and, indeed, of its subsequent evolution as it speeds through space and time towards whatever goal this same wisdom has ordained for its fullness.

The evolution of the cosmos and that small part of it, our world and our human race, is certainly to be seen as Signs that the son of God is bringing about that are not, if you will, written in the Bible But they are performed in the sight of all his disciples, indeed of all his followers, if we have but the eyes to see them and the faith to comprehend them.

The Bible does tell us about what we could call the second Big Bang.  This is an event however that happened in the silence of the night and which has reverberations that extend to the utmost reaches of the cosmos.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead constitutes a new creation.  This same Christ who was in the beginning with the Father and through whom everything was made is that Christ who rose from the tomb on Easter Sunday morning and by that rising re-created the cosmos, as he said, “Behold I make all things new.” This is not a creation that can be witnessed by astrophysicists but only through the eyes of faith.

St. John also tells us that there are many other things that Jesus said and did that are not written in this book.  Indeed, if they were written, the whole world could not contain the books that would be required. These things are still being written today for us.

You may accuse me, if you wish, of going from the sublime to the ridiculous in the following story.  But it is, I truly believe, one of an uncountable number of stories that speak to us of the presence of God in the events of our lives, nationally and individually.

A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in a seminar being held at the Aspen Inst. on the subject of Forgiveness and Vengeance.  We were dealing with this not only on an individual level but nationally and internationally.  Prominent in the discussion, as one might expect, was the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11.  One of the participants at the seminar, Joseph Daniels, is the president and CEO for the past 10 years of the 9/11 Monument and its Museum.  He spoke to us about  the museum which contains various artifacts that were taken from the thousands of tons of rubble and human bodies that were once the Twin Towers and its occupants.  One of these items was a complete Bible that was actually fused into a steel girder with its charred pages permanently open to the fifth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, The Sermon on the Mount, with this text: “You have heard it said an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth , but I say to you offer no resistance to one who is evil.  When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.”

Anyone who has ears to hear, let him hear.


May you be happy,
May you be free,
May you be loving,
May you be loved.

Father William Meninger

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The story of Jonah and the conversion of Nineveh which we heard in the first reading and the admonitions of St. Paul in the second reading are both related to the very first words which Jesus preached when he took up his cue from John the Baptist who had now been silenced by his imprisonment.

From that time on Jesus began to preach and he preached the same message that Jonah preached at Nineveh, that John the Baptist preached two thousand years later and that St. Paul preached: repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.

Precisely what does this mean? At hand, usually means something like, it’s just around the corner or very soon,or actually here. Well, we have to remember that the story of Jonah comes to us from three or four thousand years ago, the teaching of Jesus 2000 years ago and the teaching of St. Paul shortly after that. So was the kingdom of God really at hand as Jesus and St. Paul insisted? And is it at hand for us today?
To answer this question we have to know what the kingdom of God is. Jesus also told us that the kingdom of God is within us. He told us that it is coming and that it is present, and this I think is what it means to us today. The kingdom of God is at hand for us and it has been at hand for every generation since the times of Jonah and Jesus and St. Paul. The kingdom of God is the presence of God in our midst and our response to that presence. So these readings are relevant. They do not refer to something that is going to happen in the future,but it refers to something that is at hand that is happening now.

If I may be irreverent for just a moment, I am reminded of a Peanuts cartoon in which Linus had been reading this text in the Bible and was telling Charlie Brown and Lucy that the kingdom of God was at hand. Immediately Charlie Brown and Lucy panicked, threw their arms up in the air and started running around in circles shouting, “The kingdom is coming. The kingdom is coming. Hurry up! do something, do something!” As ridiculous as that seems, there are people today who are doing precisely that.

What about us? What should we do? I think we have to recognize the kingdom of God where it is and respond to it in loving obedience. And where is it? Well it is at hand! It is here! It is now! It is where God is present and where his presence is acknowledged in faith and in love.

God is present to us in many ways but let’s look at just the ways in which God is present to us now, this morning, and here in this chapel.

We are taught that in the liturgy God is present to us in four ways. This is how the kingdom of God is at hand.
In the 1st Way, God is present in the individual soul in grace. So you and I, each one of us brings the presence of God to this assembly. The 2nd Way, God is present in the church, that is in the assembly, that is where ever two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, he is there. In the 3rd Way, God is present in the inspired Scriptures when they are read and listened to by the people of God. At the end of the reading the lector says, “This is the word of God” and where God speaks, God is present. And at the end of the gospel, the priest says, “This is the Gospel of the Lord”. And we respond, ” Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” And so we acknowledge the reality of Christ in the gospel. And the 4th Way, God is present in Jesus Christ in his body and blood in the Eucharist we are celebrating. This is not a static presence so that we should stand in awe at the presence of the consecrated bread and wine on the altar. But it is rather a presence in relationship, a presence in which Christ Jesus is giving himself to us as the living bread which has come down from heaven and is given to us as a pledge of eternal life. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you shall not have life in you but my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed and he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life in him and I will raise him up on the last day.”

In a marvelous way we acknowledge the presence of Christ and the kingdom of God in one another when we share the peace of Christ in the kiss of peace and the common sharing in the Lord’s table in Holy Communion. Let us then not hesitate to live the reality of the readings today, to recognize the kingdom of God present to us and in us and in our relationship to one another. And to further that presence and that relationship, let us live out this kingdom when we leave this chapel with the understanding that it is not those who say, “Lord, Lord” who belong to the kingdom but those who do the will of my father. So the kingdom of God ultimately is manifested in our daily lives, in our relationships with one another and in everything that we say and do. We truly live out the kingdom of God expressed in our prayer, “thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as in heaven,”


May you be happy,
May you be free,
May you be loving,
May you be loved.

Father William Meninger

Christmas 2014

Along with this homily for the fourth Sunday of Advent, allow me to extend to you my prayers, blessings and best wishes for a holy and happy Christmas. May it be for you a renewal of the presence of Christ in your life and your consent to the workings of God’s love.
 
Today’s gospel, the story of the Annunciation, is an intimately beautiful cameo of the mystery of God’s love for the human race. It has been embellished through thousands of literary interpretations, sculptural concretizations and magnificent paintings. All of these images are the fruits of artistic imagination, individual interpretation and personal faith. It is fascinating to see the variety of truly beautiful expressions of this visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary and her consent to God’s will. Very often, especially in the high Middle Ages, we see magnificent paintings of Mary dressed as a noblewoman surrounded by the accoutrements of a royal palace. Somehow or other, even with these exaggerations, she takes on the homely, individualized aspects of the artists’ time, nationality, and geography. Perhaps we could say she is given a certain relevance to the viewers for whom the artists are painting. This is a recognition that the mystery of the Annunciation is not confined to the village of Nazareth in the first century.

We really do not know the circumstances of this mystery, where Mary was at the time, what she was doing, and even how old she was. All we know about the angel is that his name was Gabriel and he was sent by God.
 
Theologically the Annunciation marks the real beginning of the Jesus story. If you want to put it in more sophisticated terms, it represents the presence of God in the human race in a new and unique way. It is a real answer to the one time popular song “What If God Became One of Us”. Or, as St. John puts it, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
 
It is because of this mystery that Mary has been given such an exalted place among the mysteries of Christian revelation and the devotion of the Christian church. As some of the early fathers like to put it, our salvation, the incarnation of the Son of God and the redemption of the human race was dependent upon the consent of Mary.
 
It would seem that in some ways, this does not entirely make sense. How could this insignificant nobody make such a decision. This is especially true when you consider that Mary did not realize the impact of what she was doing, had no idea of its magnitude and had no particular status in the hierarchy of the human political pantheon. How could she then be a spokesperson for the human race? How could her personal faith, her theologically uninformed consent inaugurate the presence of God in the bosom of his earthly creation as a human being? Concretely how could she speak for the human race? For the human race today? Even more concretely how could she speak for you and for me?
 
In a very real sense, the answer to these questions is that Mary could not do these things. Her consent enabled their possibility but it’s concrete application in our lives depends upon our consent. Through an incredible variety of manifestations, God sends his angel to each one of us, and we are given the opportunity to take our cue from the Virgin Mary and to say, “Be it done to me according to your will.” We are even given this opportunity to enter into the mystery of the Annunciation many times. Today, here, in our world, yours and mine, the presence of Christ depends upon our consent. Every blessing, every joy, every suffering, pain and tragedy that enters into our lives calls forth from us the same loving, humble consent that Mary gave. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word”.
 
Christmas is a reaffirmation of this mystery. It is an acknowledgment that we consent to the presence of Christ in our midst. That we are willing to recognize that whatever we do to the least of our brothren, we do to and for Christ who is present among us. That we are one with Christ even as he is one with the Father. That he has sent us the Holy Spirit to be his continued presence in our world and to remind us of all that he has taught. That he is born into this world through the consent of Christians and that his peace, which surpasses all understanding, is ours only through our humble, loving and personal consent to the words of the angel Gabriel: “The power of the most high shall overshadow you.”
 
It is especially at Christmas that we are invited, along with Mary, to bring the Christ into the world, into our personal worlds. We are reminded that, not only on Christmas, but every day of our lives the angel of the Lord comes unto us and calls forth from faithful and loving hearts our consent to God’s will on earth even as it is in heaven.


May you be happy,
May you be free,
May you be loving,
May you be loved.
 
Father William Meninger

November 16, 2014

The story in this morning’s Gospel of the servants and the talents must have been read, reflected upon, and preached about millions of times in the history of the Christian church. One wonders if it’s possible to say anything new about it. But of course we have not heard all of these millions of reflections and so there is just an off-chance that I might be able to hone in on one of them  that you have not heard.
 
I would like especially to look at the very first lines of the gospel. A master going on a journey invested three of his servants with different amounts of talents. A talent, at the time of Jesus, was a Roman measure of monetary exchange of considerable value in silver. Notice one servant was given five talents, another three talents and another one talent. But the thing I want to emphasize this morning is the next line that says each one was given talents according to his ability. It is interesting isn’t it that the word talent, as we use it today, is a result of this gospel. It has come to mean precisely what that verse says, an ability.! When we say someone has a talent for a particular activity we mean he has an ability to do that activity. And so it is obvious to us as we look at ourselves and those around us that we all have different abilities some more and some less.

So as the master expected from the servants that they would develop their talents according to their ability he would have been satisfied if the servant with the least talent brought him the least profit from his investment. But the servant was afraid to take a risk. I think we would say today that he was lacking in faith both in God and in himself. We cannot use the excuse  that we lack talents, that we lack abilities. Everybody has at least some talents, some abilities, in fact, everybody has  many abilities if we would only recognize them and not bury them in the ground, as it were.
 
Notice that the gospel says nothing about how these talents were invested. Perhaps that is not important to the story. It is simply important to state that the talents were used. But then it becomes important to us because to use our talents and not bury them away we have to know what they are. Sometimes today we use the word talent as referring to a very special ability that would, for example, make us famous or wealthy. But that is not at all what Jesus means by talent. We have simply to look at our abilities and how we use them.
 
For God to reward us for our talents, we have to be aware of them, use them, appreciate them, and allow others to benefit from them. This is why we are given talents.

Just to appreciate that, let’s look for a moment at some of the many talents we do have and who does benefit from them. Keep in mind that we are given talents according to our abilities and so some are able to make greater use of them than others. But this does not matter. What matters is that we take the one talent, or the three talents, or the five talents and not bury them in the ground but use them for the benefit of ourselves and our neighbors. Look at the ways we do this. Look at our educational system, look at our governments, our political systems, look at the structure of our economic system, our health system even our prison system, as good or bad as it might be, and see how many hundreds of thousands of people are involved in exercising their talents through these things for the benefit of others. Look at how we use our talents to support one another in our families, in our church communities in our neighborhoods. To feed our children physically and spiritually, to educate them, to correct them, calls forth from us the use of our talents and abilities.

Whatever our occupations are, however we earn our living, whatever it is we do for the benefit of the society in which we live, locally, nationally or internationally is to exercise our abilities our talents. The results may not be discernibly great. It’s possible we may never  get even our 15 minutes of fame. But nevertheless our abilities are needed and heeded by a God who sees the fall of even the smallest sparrow. The Lord has given us many or few talents but they are all needed because he has also given us, each in our own situation, those who need our abilities to grow physically, intellectually and spiritually.

As we use our abilities and talents for ourselves and others we are storing up treasures in heaven. Nothing of this treasure is lost. No one can steal it, Rust cannot corrode it. It returns to us full measure, pressed down and overflowing. It is through our abilities, great or small, that we love God and one another. There is no other way.


May you be happy,
May you be free,
May you be loving,
May you be loved.
 
Father William Meninger

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The doctrine on Original Sin as taught by by the Catholic Church has received greater or lesser prominence throughout its history. Prior to the fifth century does not seem to have been prominent. After the fifth century and the writings of St. Augustine, it took on a more significant place. In our day, or at least in my lifetime, it has been prominent indeed. Its meaning has always been somewhat obscure because it is a mystery. At the same time precisely because it is a mystery of faith it has to be relevant to our daily lives.
The Catholic Catechism teaches us that Original Sin is not a sin as we commonly understand that word but rather it is a state or, you could even say, a matrix in which we are born and live out our lives. One of the results of Original Sin is that our understanding of God is obscured and, on our part,  we have lost that awareness which sees God as a loving, compassionate, nonjudgmental source of our very being and the goal of our lives. Our traditional understanding of Original Sin also obscures for us one of the most important, supportive, and encouraging teachings of our faith. We are created in the image and likeness of God. And while Original Sin may obscure this reality it can never erase it.
 
There is something or someplace within us which belongs entirely to God. Which has never been darkened, defaced, or obscured by the errors of our intellect, the meanderings of our imagination or the brutalities of our will. It is present within us and, if we let it, it will shine forth through the shadows of our discouragements and failures, it will be a bulwark in the face of our weaknesses and a never ending hope to call us forward in spite of personal misfortunes and social or even worldwide tragedies.
 
We seldom hear this preached on a Sunday morning but it is a basic teaching of our Christian revelation. It has never been lacking in the mystics or those who seek God in contemplative prayer. Julian of Norwich says, “There is that higher part of us that has never known sin and never will”. St. John of the Cross reminds us that the human soul, as unruly as it may be, in its natural state is as perfect as when God created it.
 
It is not difficult to get in touch with this place within us and the God who dwells there. Love, in all its many manifestations, comes from here and finds its fullness here. That is why love unites everything, as Henry Nowen says, “The heart of God, the heart of all creation, and our own hearts become one in love.”
 
This is not just a pretty theological abstraction. There is an intimate union in the depths of our own heart of God’s Holy Spirit and our own inmost secret self. He is, Julian of Norwich tells us, closer to us than we are to ourselves. We are God bearers. We carry God into all the events of our lives. If we will but permit it, God will be a part of every relationship. He will transform every failure. He tells us, “Before you call upon me, I say to you, here I am.” Not only is God present in you as an individual but he is present, whether you recognize it or not, in everyone else. You and I are called to recognize the glory of God in each other. It is, as Thomas Merton says, “like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a son that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely”.
 

May you be happy,
May you be free,
May you be loving,
May you be loved.
 
Father William Meninger

22nd Sunday, 2014

I think that historically in the United States the Catholic Church has missed the boat, if you will, regarding three secular holidays. They should long ago have been baptized and brought into the liturgical calendar as religious holidays. Those days are Memorial Day, Thanksgiving and Labor Day. These are days in which, in various ways and for various reasons, the entire nation turns to God without the prompting of any church or religion.

So this weekend, we are celebrating Labor Day. Even if the church has not done so, the Benedictine and Cistercian orders of monks have, since at least the fifth century, baptized and sanctified the notion of labor, of physical work. St. Benedict says in the Holy Rule that a man is truly a monk when he earns his living through the work of his hands. And the motto of the Benedictine family is “ora et labora”, work and  prayer.

In the traditional language of the Christian church each one of us is called to express his Christian commitment through what are known as ‘The Works of Mercy’. They are known as corporal works of mercy if they have to do with physical activity, and they are known as spiritual works of mercy if they have to do with spiritual activity. There are seven corporal and seven spiritual Works of Mercy. It would be helpful if I just list them for you at this point.

The corporal works of mercy:

feed the hungry

give drink to the thirsty

clothe the naked

shelter the homeless

visit the sick

rehabilitate prisoners

bury the dead

 

The spiritual works of mercy are:

instruct the ignorant

Council the doubtful

admonish the sinner

Bear wrongs patiently

forgive offenses

comfort the sorrowful and the afflicted

pray for the living and the dead

 

A little reflection will show that these works of mercy actually embrace all of the multiple types of labor that each one of us engages in in our daily lives in order to serve God, ourselves, and one another. What we must never lose sight of is that this labor, these works, are holy. They are the manifestations of our Christian commitment to one another and to God. These are the works that occupy most of our waking hours. They are the ways in which we earn our living. They are the ways in which we contribute to our nation, our community, and to the human society of our talents, no matter how great or small they may be.

Whatever your present life work is, however you earn your living, however you live your retirement you are involved in the service of your neighbor, of God and of yourself by way of one or more of the corporal or spiritual Works of Mercy. You might hold a high political office, or be a busboy; You might work on the stock exchange or be a cashier in City Market; You might bake monastery cookies or drive a delivery truck for Costco. In all of these things, if you have the right intention, your labor is sanctified and becomes your contribution to the support of the human community, whether  to those close to you or to the world at large. Yes, you have to work to earn a living but if you are a Christian, it has to be more than that. It is not at all unusual, and I find it personally heartbreaking to hear, someone speak of his work as ‘the rat race’. Your labor, your work, whatever it may be, exalted or menial is a work of mercy and should be a labor of love.

When you are invited, at the offertory of the mass, to gather around the altar, you bring more than your physical self. You bring as an offering to God your talents, your service, your labor, the works of mercy in which you engage yourself. I would like to say that all of these things become transformed into the body of Christ but it would be more true to say that they are transformed into the body of Christ when you actually perform them and at the Sunday mass you simply bring Christ to Christ. You are the real offering.

How sad it is to think of how much labor is really wasted. How the greater part of someone’s life is simply thrown away in order to get money, to achieve power, to amass material things. This very same labor can be transformed by a transformation of our mind, of our attitude, of our intention.

What a difference it can make in our lives if we see our labor as a work of mercy, as a service to one another, as an offering to God. This Is what Labor Day should mean to us.  it is a reminder that God has given us this world to be transformed by the work of our hands. It is a celebration of the ways in which we use our world and its resources, our talents and our jobs to better the lives of one another.

May you be happy,

May you be free,

May you be loving,

May you be loved.

 

Father William Meninger