A Storied Newspaper Empire Makes the Case for No Debt

When St. Paul wrote, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another,” he wasn’t just talking about personal relations.  The injunction to “owe nothing to anyone” turns out to be sound business advice, too.

Latest case in point:  Hearst Corp.  The owner of such storied newspapers as the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle remains debt free, Frank Bennack, retired ceo, told a media conference.  “I’ve always been a little risk-averse about having too much debt,” he said.

That’s enabled Hearst to ride through some difficult times in the media business.

“Despite the choppy seas, the company’s newspaper group, including the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle, will record its fourth consecutive year of profit growth in 2015. The magazine group will notch its second consecutive year of profit growth,” Steve Swartz, ceo, told the conference.

And to make a series of acquisitions that have propelled the company over the last 35 years from a newspaper and magazine publishing company with three TV stations valued at a total of $700 million to a $10 billion company today.

The fastest growing part of the business today?  Business information and business services.

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Christians Fear Genocide in Refugee Camps, Knights of Columbus Warns

Despite the promise of safe harbor, fleeing Middle Eastern Christians continue to fear the ongoing genocide — even in refugee camps — according to international observers whose voices are being amplified by a new advertising campaign sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.

Ad, which ran this week in Roll Call, Politico, and The Hill, highlights Christian fear of genocide in Middle Eastern refugee camps.

The ad, which ran this week in Roll Call, Politico and The Hill, quotes Lord David Alton and MP Fiona Bruce, who recently spoke out about the problem in refugee camps, citing press reports.

The British newspaper The Express reported in late October that “the fanatical jihadis are sending teams of trained killers into camps disguised as refugees to kidnap and kill vulnerable Christians. But refugees are terrified to report many of the killings in case they are targeted next, according to aid workers.”

The story added that when one terrorist got “cold feet” about his assignment, he “then revealed that he had been sent with an Islamist hit squad to eliminate Christians as part of the hate group’s ideological drive to wipe the religion off the map.”

In addition, it noted, “An aid worker at a United Nations (UN) run camp in Jordan, who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisals, revealed that the jihadis are also kidnapping young refugee girls to sell on as sex slaves.”

“It is increasingly clear that because Christians fear that the persecution and genocide will continue in these refugee camps, they often don’t enter them, and as a result find it nearly impossible to qualify for resettlement as refugees,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “This country and others should protect those who are experiencing this genocide. We must ensure that Christians and other religious minorities, who are the most vulnerable people in the region, receive the chance for asylum and don’t simply fall through the bureaucratic cracks.”

This is the second ad the Knights of Columbus has placed on this topic in these publications. The first was released last month and highlighted a quote by Pope Francis: “Genocide is taking place and it must end.” That ad called for passage of a House of Representatives resolution to protect religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.

In addition, the Knights of Columbus has donated more than $4.4 million to assist Christians and other religious minorities now facing extinction in the Middle East.

Most recently, the program donated $500,000 to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) earlier this month to support the Jordanian Catholic Church’s schooling of Syrian and Iraqi refugees at 18 Jordanian Catholic schools. Earlier in the fall, the Knights spent more than $800,000 to provide food assistance for more than 13,500 displaced families and brought an Iraqi child to the United States for specialized medical care.

Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization with nearly 1.9 million members worldwide. It is also one of the most active charitable organizations in the United States. The Knights also set a new record for charitable giving in 2014 with donations of more than $173.5 million and 71.5 million hours of service to charitable causes, much of it raised and donated by its more than 15,000 councils.

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Time for Fasting

Today is not just Veterans Day, but also the Feast of St. Martin.  It’s a day many members of the Confraternity of Penitents (CFP) dread — at least those who has passed a certain point in their formation —  because tomorrow begins a Great Fast, that will run every day (except Sundays and solemnities) until Christmas.

CFP members are in a sort of perpetual fasting state: two meals a day, no snacks year round.  So when they officially fast, they reduce further the amount of food they take in.

The U.S. Catholic bishops require Catholics to fast just two days a year — Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  As anyone who has done that will tell you, a one-day fast is nothing.  Fast for 30 or 40 days and you will definitely experience hunger.  “It’s real suffering,” one member says.  Another observes that the No. 1 reason people don’t pledge to live the life of a penitent is fasting.  Done well, it’s really difficult.

So why fast?  To begin with, Jesus expects us to.  He didn’t say, “if you fast . . .”.  He said “When you fast.”  (Matthew 6:16).  He also said there are many demons that “can be driven out only by prayer and fasting.”  (Matthew 17:21).

Second, fasting not only makes us hungry, it makes us humble.  It’s likely that someone doing a sustained fast will sneak a bit of food at some point, an action that shows our human weakness.  Good likes humble people.

Third, it give us the opportunity to pray.  As hunger pangs wash over us, we can “offer it up” to God, praying that those who lack sufficient food — especially refugees from Islamic State and others in the Mideast — might have food.

Fasting during advent using to be standard for Catholic.  In times such as these — with Christians under attack in the Mideast, and our own government seeking to require us to do things we shouldn’t, in good conscience, to, more of us ought to be fasting.

But most of us won’t.  So as you enjoy the chocolate in your advent calendar, pray for those who are fasting, and for their intentions.

And if you’d like to try sustained fasting, here are two helpful suggestions:

  1.  Simply cut back the amount you eat.  Suppose you regularly have dessert at dinner — or a cocktail.  Eliminate the desert or cocktail.  It isn’t much, but . . .
  2. Or, using a program like MyFitnessPal.com, determine your recommended caloric intake — and don’t exceed it.  Or, if you routinely eat less than your recommended calorie count, cut your normal intake by 100 or 2oo calories a day.

For another view, see “Whatever became of Advent Fasting and Penance,” by Msgr. Charles Pope, here.  For a fuller description of St. Martin’s Fast, from CFP, see here.


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Book Review: Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy

My wife likes murder.  Whether it’s a fictional account or a real-life story presented on TV, she loves to read and watch murders.  My youngest daughter likes horror flicks.  The bloodier the better.

Me?  Mary Poppins is more my style.  As is No, No Nanette, a 1928 musical which I saw a number of times in the early 1970s.  My approach to life is summed up in a song from No, No Nanette — “I want to be happy.”

As a professional journalist, I’ve covered my share of grisly stories.  When it’s part of the job, I can do that.  When it’s on my time, in my easy chair, I don’t like them.

Our family has had it’s share of sorrow:  We lost our second daughter, Susan, in utero to consackie B virus.  Our older daughter had a severe case of depression at age 16.

So it should be no surprise to readers that I put down the just-released Chiara Corbella Petrillo:  A Witness to Joy by Simone Troisi and Cristiana Paccini (Sophia Institute Press).

The outline of the story is well known:  A young Italian couple gives birth to a child who dies within an hour.  A second child dies even quicker.  Then they have a successful pregnancy, but learn Chiara has cancer.  They have to make a choice:  the baby or Chiara, and they chose to not treat Chiara’s cancer until after the baby is born.  That decision costs Chiara her life.

The title accurate reflects the book’s message.  Each saint has a particular charisma, and Chiara’s was to be a witness to joy in the face of great tragedy and adversity, much as the Blessed Mother was a witness as she stood at the foot of the cross.

It’s an important book, well-written and well edited.  There are many people who will benefit from reading it.

As for me, I’m more like St. Peter who ran from the Lord’s suffering, but rejoiced at His resurrection.

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How Confessing ‘Little’ Sins Can Change Your Life

I think we miss the whole value of Confession if we focus just on major sins — because we probably don’t have that many of them.  But the “little” sins — the venial sins — well, I have plenty of them, whether its eating far too much (my doctor put me on a 1400-calorie-a-day diet, so overeating is the sin of gluttony) or being really angry at some of our local drivers, or . . .  And I suspect that if you think about it, you have one or two venial sins you’d like to work on.

Confession is just perfect for that.  You have an accountability partner who should be able to give you really good advice that will make you, in Matthew Kelley’s great phrase, the “best version of yourself.”  Confessing the “little” sins has changed my life, and I’ll bet it can change yours, too.

Here’s a reflection from Msgr. Charles Pope that delves into this a bit more.

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What Europe Can Learn from St. Stephen of Hungary

Night after night, our TV screens are inundated by heart-wrenching images of Syrian and Libyan refugees fleeing the violence wreaked by the Islamic State upon their native land, of the bodies of refugee children washed up on the shore.

Surging into Europe, they are causing European politicians great angst:  Will the Muslim hordes over-tax their social services?  Will they change their culture?  We’re told there hasn’t been such a refugee flow since World War II.

The Europeans are getting exactly what they deserve.  They chose, willingly, to ignore Jeremiah 22:3:  “Do what is right and just.  Rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor.”

Whether they welcome refugees or not isn’t the point.  The moral imperative is to “rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor” — not merely to provide sanctuary for those who manage to escape the war zone.

Rescue is an active verb.  It doesn’t imply sitting around, waiting for desperate people to turn up on your doorstep and then welcoming them.  It implies going to the place where they are in danger, and ending the danger.  When it’s just one or a few suffering at the hands of an oppressor, simply getting the victim out may do the job.  When the victims are hundreds of thousands, rescuing the victim may involve eliminating the oppressor.

But wait, many will say.  Didn’t Jesus tell us that when someone slaps us, we should turn the other check?  He did.  But that begs the question:  Europe is not the one being slapped, it’s the refugees.  The refugees are doing exactly what people always do in such circumstances — try to get away from danger.  That’s why they are flooding into Europe.

Jesus also made clear that he didn’t come to repeal or repudiate the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.  And, as noted, the Prophet Jeremiah makes it clear that the “right and just” action is to “rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor.”

There is no way around  military action to rescue these victims from the hand of the oppressor.  Europe’s leaders — and President Obama — know it.

So why haven’t they done anything?  The short answer is cowardice.  Europe was pretty much decimated by World Wars I and II.  There’s no stomach to run the risk of repeating those disasters.

A somewhat longer answer is the same reason that you haven’t seen Arab or Muslim nations step up:  They know they don’t have the experience to be competent from the get-go.  Their troops haven’t engaged in sustained combat, and their generals and other leaders don’t have experience directing major military actions.

Only the U.S. has that sort of experience, and President Obama has made clear he hasn’t the stomach to engage and defeat ISIS on the ground, which is what is required to “rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor.”

Which brings us to St. Stephen of Hungary. King of that nation around 1,000 A.D., he fought only defensive wars — wars needed to defend his people and their lands from others.

Catholic doctrine speaks of a “just war.”  All war is hell, as all soldiers know.    Some suggest that because Jesus said, “Blessed be the peacemakers,” war is simply prohibited.  But they conveniently ignores Jesus’s teaching, which is fully in line with that of Jeremiah:  “Let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one” (Luke 22:36).

And if one believes, as Catholics profess, that all Scripture is divinely inspired, how can one ignore Ecclesiastes 3:3, which tells us frankly, “There is a time to kill”?  Or Luke 3:14, which tells us that when asked by soldiers what they should do, John the Baptist didn’t tell them to lay down their arms.  Instead, he counseled: “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” Why didn’t he tell them to lay down their arms?  Because their job was to maintain the “Peace of Rome;” they were the peacemakers.

In Romans 13:4, St. Paul tells us that “rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

What has happened in Syria and Libya is a crime of the highest order.  It is long past time for the nations of the world — and especially for Europe and the Muslim nations of Arabia and North Africa — to intervene to re-establish peace and to enable the refugees to return to their homelands.

It would help immensely, of course, for much of the fighting to be done by the refugees themselves.  They need training on an immense and urgent scale.  They need leaders who have been in battle, who can provide the example.  People learn quickly in combat, but casualties can be greatly reduced if inexperienced troops are accompanied by experienced soldiers.  That means, unfortunately for Europe and the U.S., there will need to be “boots on the ground.”

Finally, it is not adequate to war war to simply quickly destroy ISIS and similar elements.  There must be a concrete plan and a commitment to return the refugees to their homeland and to rebuild the society ISIS has destroyed.

We had that plan in World War II, which is why within five years of the end of the war Germany and Japan both were functioning reasonably normally.

By destroying ISIS, other Muslim countries, Europe and the U.S. can “rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor.”  By having a massive plan to quickly rebuild Syria and Libya, the U.S., Europe and Muslim allies can be the peacemakers of whom Jesus spoke in the Beatitudes.

St. Stephen of Hungary would have understood that.  One can only hope that the hardened hearts of today’s political leaders in Europe, and, yes, the U.S. can also come to understand.


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Does a Decent Income Lead to ‘Hardness of Heart’

Yesterday, in “What I’m Reading,” I noted a Michelle Singletary column in the Washington Post in which a reader complained that “life is expensive even for the top 5%.”

Interestingly, the column ran just a day before the Gospel reading at Daily Mass was about the good young man who observed all the commandments, but wanted to know “what good I must do to gain eternal life?”

St. Matthew recounts Jesus’s response:  “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor.”  The reading tells us the young man went away sad, because he had many possessions.

There are a couple of things to note about this reading.  First, the young man was good.  He observed all the commandments.  It’s very important to understand this point.  He wasn’t the rich man who stepped over Lazarus.

But when challenged to “sell what you have and give to the poor” he couldn’t bring himself to do it.  This is why Jesus, in another reading, remarks how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus’s response to the good young man was an invitation to poverty.  That call is embraced by religious, who own nothing and share all they earn or have with the community to which they belong.

But what about us, ordinary laypeople with families?  Or who hope to have families?  Most parents live that same spirit — they view what they own as being held in trust for their families.  If they are fortunate, they hope to be able to pass some of that along to their children.  So the evangelical concept of poverty embraced by vowed religious isn’t that different from what is practiced in families rich and poor.

But poverty as a spiritual counsel, especially as it applies to ordinary laypeople, is about more than what’s in the bank, or the size of one’s home.  It’s about detachment from the desire for riches, from avarice. It’s about not forgetting the poor.

“Our culture does a poor job of schooling us” in how to deal with abundance, says Msgr. Charles Pope.  “We’re repeatedly told we can never have enough.”  For the most part, he says, we simply don’t know how to tell when we have “reached the point at which we can say, ‘My family and I have what we need, and even a good bit of what we want.  Now it’s important to give out of our abundance.”

It’s important to “cultivate what we call the spirit of poverty, to learn to be content with and grateful for what we have,” Msgr. Pope adds.  “By the spirit of poverty we learn to be detached from the excesses of this world. By living more simply, we are able to be more generous both with our children and with the poor.”

And that’s what made the family Michelle Singletary wrote about so interesting.  Certainly, they had budgeted every penny left over after paying their taxes.  One can argue that they don’t need a house that requires a $2,500-a-month mortgage payment.  But in the Washington, D.C., area that doesn’t indicate an excessive house.

It’s also worth noting that the family is more generous than many in its income bracket, giving 5% of their income to charity.  This is a good family, working hard to be generous and to meet their responsibility to their children, budgeting $16,500 for college savings and $2,648 for various school expenses and tutors.

But, this family, Singletary notes, is “spending more money on recreation, travel, gifts and entertainment than some families have in annual household income.

“I’ve heard from parents who have saved adequately for their kids’ college education yet complain that poorer families are eligible for need-based financial aid,” she says, adding:

“They say things such as, ‘I’m being punished for saving.’  Or they protest, ‘Why should families that were irresponsible get rewarded?'”

If we cultivate a spirit of detachment, we’re more likely to be grateful for what we have, and to be more generous with those who have less.

And we should never begrudge assistance to those in genuine need.  After all, we might find ourselves in that position too.  A recent Pew Research Center poll found that over a 40-year working life, 60% of Americans spend at least one year on a poverty-level income.

The challenge the good family Singletary wrote about should undertake, especially if they are Catholic, is to increase their donations over the next five years to 10% of their income.

That’s doable:  To increase their giving next year to 6% from 5%, they would need to simply trim the $32,598 they spend on recreation, travel, gifts and entertainment by 7%, or $47 a week. . . one fewer latte’s a day at Starbucks.


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What I’m Reading

The Seven Deadly Sins, by Kevin Vost, Ph.D., Sophia Institute Press

We’ve all heard of the Seven Deadly Sins.  But can we name them?

Kevin Vost has done a great service in writing this book.  Not only does he name them — actually, there are several different lists, depending upon who is compiling the list — he gives us their history, going all the way back to Evagrius Ponticus, who lived as a monk in semi-isolation in Egypt in the late Fourth Century.

After giving us the history of each of the Deadly Seven, Vost notes that St. Thomas Aquinas describes the three stages of spiritual perfection as the avoidance of sin, which consumes the effort of beginners; the pursuit of virtue, which is “the focus of proficients” and the enjoyment of God by the perfect.

He lays out seven steps toward conquering the seven deadly sins — examination of conscience, embracing the sacraments, watching the steps of our movements toward sin, practicing prayer, cultivating virtue, immersion in the world of the spirit and the imitation of Christ.

And then he gets down to work.  Analyzing each of the seven deadlies, Vost not only details the elements of each sin but also its “daughters.”  For instance, the death-dealing daughters of sloth are malice, spit, faintheartedness, despair, sluggishness about the Commandments, and wandering of the mind after unlawful things.

Each chapter contains questions that can be the basis for an examination of conscience, making the book a particularly valuable tool in developing the (in Matthew Kelly’s phrase) better version of ourselves.

After reading the book once, the best way to take advantage of it is to go back and focus on each of the seven deadly sins, one per week, as the basis for examining our conscience and developing habits and virtues to counteract the sin.

It’s a book worth getting.  And using.

Other things I’m reading:

What’s at the Root of the Financial Favoritism Debate? Plain Old Greed.  Michelle Singletary, personal finance columnist of The Washington Post is becoming the hairshirt of the well-paid, well-fed in the nation’s capital.  In this column, she recounts a family making $240,000 that complains “life is expensive even for the top 5%.”  That’s especially true when one has a $29,932 house payment, spends $12,203 on travel and $12,202 on utilities and telephone.

That’s fine, Singletary says.  “Your responsible money habits have rewarded you richly.  njoy the results of your labor.  Even be proud of your self if you like.”  Just don’t begrudge assistance given to those who are less blessed.  “Stop looking at what those less fortunate or less responsible than you have.  You don’t need what they’re getting,” she writes.

Pope Francis on the Divorced and Remarried:  10 Things to Know and Share.  By Jimmy Akin.

Do You Really Agree? Or Are You Following the Herd?  David DeWolf writes about the dangers of snap judgments.

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Americans View Debt as Necessary, But Hate It

“Owe nothing to any man, but to love one another,” St. Paul told the Romans (Romans 13:8-10).

That little piece of advice is ignored by eight of 10 Americans. Not that they are happy about it, a Pew Research Center study found. Half of Black and Hispanic GenXers as well as Millennials regret owing so much for student loans.

The study also found that GenXers mortgage debt tops other generations’ at similar ages.

We generally feel conflicted about debt, the study found. Indeed, 69% of Americans indicated debt was a necessity in their lives, but they wished they didn’t have to have it. But almost exactly the same percentage (68%) said loans and credit cards have expanded their opportunities, allowing them to make purchases or investments their savings and income along couldn’t support.

Not only that: While most Americans view debt as a necessity in their own lives, they view it as a negative force in the lives of others. In a finding that reminds us of Jesus’ warning about seeing the splinter in another person’s eye while ignoring the beam in our own, the Pew study found 79% of Americans believe other people use debt irresponsibly and mainly to live beyond their means (85%).

Among young Americans, the study finds, debt is part of a more complicated story; the “virtuous cycle” of debt fueling asset accumulation may be indicative of healthier balance sheets among the more financially secure, while having less debt may indicate lower incomes, less financial security, and the prospect of shakier balance sheets in the future, it says.

When everything works well, debt can be helpful in building one’s nest egg. It can let you buy a house, make investments, have a second home.

But things don’t always go well. Another study recently found that 60% of American adults will spend at least one year with a poverty-level income. If your income is at a poverty-level, even for a year, debt can become a burden crushing one’s spirit.

To own a house has almost always required a mortgage, and often the total cost of housing — mortgage, property taxes and insurance — is no greater than the out-of-pocket cost of renting.

For the most part, it’s a good bet that the value of a house will increase overtime, even as regular mortgage payments reduce the mortgage balance, meaning a home owner comes out ahead.

That’s far different than running up large amounts of credit card debt to pay for 60″ TV screens, $150 headphones for one’s iPod and similar things. That sort of debt can justly be considered as just pure evil.

What about student loans? They are every bit as dangerous as credit card debt, and perhaps more so. There’s no guarantee that the student who has a student loan will be able to find a job that enables them to pay off the loan. I know several teachers who came out of college owing $25,000, only to see their student loan balance balloon to over $100,000.

St. Paul had it about right, it seems. We should “owe nothing to any man.” But if we have to borrow, it should be for a mortgage because we have to have a (modest) roof over our heads.

But we really don’t need those things acquired through credit card debt — the 60″ TVs, the Club Med vacations, etc. — and so we should have an iron-clad, no-exceptions policy: Never use a credit card if one cannot pay it off immediately.

In today’s society, that would be tough, a real penitential act, at least at first. But a few years of not paying high interest on credit cards and other consumer debt will result in most people coming out ahead.

What to do:

  1. Pay off credit cards.  Off up the TV you don’t buy, or the exotic vacation you don’t take, as a prayer for those families who seldom have enough to eat, who never take a vacation or buy a fancy TV.
  2. Don’t use credit cards if you cannot pay them off immediately.
  3. Pay off student loans and home mortgages as quickly as possible.



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What I’m Reading: The Seven Deadly Sins (Book Review) and More

I’ve never been a fan of those checklists of sins that you find in pamphlets on confession.  Yes, I understand the idea is to help someone who hasn’t an idea of what a sin might be to identify how their actions, thoughts or words offended God.

But at least for me, I would go through those lists and sometimes not check off a single one.  Made me feel like the pharisee, able to say to God, “I thank you that I’m not like other men . . . ”

That’s one reason I really appreciate Kevin Vost’s excellent new book, The Seven Deadly Sins.  It gets right to the heart of the matter.

Why did I get put on a 1,400-calorie diet by my cardiologist?  Because I committed the sin on gluttany, eating and drinking entirely too much.  Why did I manage to run up a $250,000 debt?  Envy.  Envy of other publishers who were building substantial empires.  I could have been content with what I had, but no.  I envied them.  The wages of sin is debt.

When I pound the steering wheel in anger at the drivers on the Washington Beltway, I’m committing the sin of wrath.

(An aside:  None of those checklists I’ve seen talks about eating too much, or seeking to be a mogul, or getting angry at other drivers.  But I’m very sure these are real sins.  Maybe not as soul-killing as abortion or denying the faith, but sins none the less.)

Vost gives us the history of the Seven Deadly Sins, tracing them back to pagan times.  He notes how the theology was developed by St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Cassian and others.  He identifies the “daughters” of each of the Seven Deadly Sins.  The daughters of Lust, for instance, are blindness of mind, thoughtkessness, inconstancy, rashness, self-love, hatred of God, love of the world, and despair of a future world.

There are material for examining your conscience scattered throughout the book.

In the future, I’m not looking at those checklists.  Instead, whenever I feel I’ve been oh-so-perfect, I’ll pick up this book.  That should send me running to the confessional.

The Seven Deadly Sins is a book worth getting, worth reading and worth keeping.

I’m also reading:


Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do (review next week)


Planned Parenthood

Stacy Trasancos, Ph.D., takes a look at what’s been happening elsewhere.  The bad news, even if Planned Parenthood was shut down, abortionists would keep harvesting body parts from babies.  Read more here.

Other Issues

Communities with Beautiful Scenery, Weather Have Lower Rates of Religious Affiliation

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