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“The devil said to him, ‘I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.’ Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’ When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time” (Luke 4:6-13).
 
This is the first week of the Lenten season, so it’s no surprise that our reading describes the aftermath of a fast. Jesus fasted and wandered the wilderness for 40 days. After this ordeal, the devil tried to tempt him, and Jesus resisted.
 
If we treat Lent as a season of deprivation, we miss the point. Jesus’ responses to the devil’s temptations can teach us something about our own Lenten preparations.
 
The temptations in this reading are the same distractions that threaten to keep us from our mission. The temptation to turn stone into bread is the temptation to set aside our relationship with God for the sake of quick and easy fulfillment of desire. The desire for glory and authority over nations is the same as our own desire for domination in interpersonal, business, or political spheres. And the temptation to put God to the test is the same as refusing to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
 
Jesus resisted attachment to pleasure and power and skirting of accountability. These same temptations threaten our own relationships with ourselves, with others, and with God. By rejecting them, Jesus says “Yes” to contentment, unity, and responsibility.
 
Jesus drew his strength from the 40 days of being “full of” and “led by” the Holy Spirit. Forty days from now, we will be ready to more fully experience Easter joy, to celebrate the great Easter liturgies, and, in word and action, to spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and forgiveness of sins.
 
How have your desires for pleasure, power, or unaccountability interfered with your relationship to yourself, to others, or to God? In what way have you overcome these temptations?

<Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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The_Way_of_the_CrossAs we enter the holy season of Lent the Church calls us to prepare our hearts for the celebration of our redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We come together as Church in special ways as a reminder that this is a time set apart.
 
Lent presents wonderful opportunities to deepen the bonds among the members of our small groups. If your church regularly gathers for Stations of the Cross, participating as a group can be a deeply moving experience as you share Christ’s journey to Calvary. You might participate in a parish-wide reconciliation service or come together as a group before or after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.
 
Rice Bowl is a program sponsored by Catholic Relief Services for Lent. It combines prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, three things we are called to do during this season. You can participate in Rice Bowl as a group. There are daily prayers and recipes for meatless meals you can prepare together and share. There is even an app to make it easier to participate. You can then make a group donation to support the work of CRS.
 
If your parish does not already have any of these services, your group could help organize them, sharing your own spiritual renewal with your fellow parishioners. Whatever you do, do it together, and allow this sharing to bring you closer to each other as a spiritual community.

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“I desire mercy not sacrifice.” Matthew 9:13


fitnessI am always up for a challenge. To kick off the New Year, one of my RENEW colleagues, Eartha, invited everyone on our staff to participate in a 30-day challenge. Each of us was free to select any challenges that would help us become healthier people. I took on three challenges: lose 5 pounds, exercise 30 minutes a day, and abstain from sugar. There is a chart on the wall in Eartha’s office, and each day we are to put a check mark on it if we meet our challenges. We are on day 12, and I am happy to report I have 12 check marks after my name.
 
On my birthday, I received a Fitbit as a gift, and since joining the RENEW challenge I religiously check my active minutes daily. I am also trying to achieve the goal of 10,000 steps per day, and on the days I’m short I walk around the convent or jog in place until my Fitbit happily vibrates. The sisters I live with just laugh and shake their heads—even the cat looks at me funny.
 
In declaring a Year of Mercy, Pope Francis challenged us to do what he calls mercy-ing. He describes mercy as more than being merciful but actually doing an act of mercy, and, once again, Pope Francis is leading by example. He has personally committed to mercy-ing every Friday during this Year of Mercy. On the first Friday, he made a surprise visit to a small nursing home on the outskirts of Rome and then visited families who care for loved ones who are in a long-term state of coma.
 
As I reflect on my participation in the 30-day health challenge and how it has helped me to jumpstart living a healthier life in 2016, I have begun to think about Lent as an opportunity to jumpstart living a more merciful life. I don’t have a “mercybit” to record my mercy-ing but I can use a journal or record my acts of mercy on the notepad app on my smart phone. For me, keeping track of my weight or steps makes me more aware and intentional, and that is also true of my spiritual life. So this year, I am thinking of Lent as a 40-day challenge, and my number one challenge will be weekly mercy-ing. Just like the pope, I am going to plan it, do it, and record it. It might be an act of mercy that I already do, but I will do it more intentionally. I am thinking of people whom I have been meaning to visit but for whom I just haven’t made the time. I plan to be more aware when I am acting without compassion, judging harshly, not giving someone the benefit of the doubt. I intend to reflect on my life and become more aware of any unforgiveness that still lingers in my heart and consciously forgive and let go. Before Lent begins I will plan weekly acts of mercy-ing. If I miss one, I will not give up on it but make sure I do it the next week.
 
I am signing up for a 40-day Lenten challenge: mercy-ing. Will you join me? Remember, the Lord said, “I want mercy not sacrifice.” Our God is a God of mercy and desires for us to receive mercy, be mercy, and go forth each day mercy-ing.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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No_FearThe first miracle Peter witnessed at the hands of Jesus drove the fisherman to his knees—a catch of fish so heavy that Peter’s boat was in danger of sinking. Peter realized that if Jesus could do this he also was able to look into Peter’s soul and observe the sins hidden there.
 
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” Peter begged.
 
Peter didn’t realize how merciful God is. But Jesus assured him: “Do not be afraid.”
 
These are same words with which Moses encouraged the Hebrews as they fled Pharaoh’s soldiers. The same words with which the angel Gabriel comforted the young Mary during the visitation.
 
In fact, this is the most frequently repeated phrase in the Bible—both Old and New Testaments: “Have no fear” or “Do not be afraid.”
 
This is one of the reasons why—when Peter, James, and John brought their boats to shore that day—they “left everything and followed him.”
 
Left everything. And followed him.
 
Think about what any of us would do in that situation. Jesus says to each of us today, “Do not be afraid.” It is left to each of us, however, to “leave everything” and follow him.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Jesus, help me walk away without hesitation
from the things of this world that keep me from following you.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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“After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.’ Simon said in reply, ‘Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:4-11).
 
Anyone who knows fishing knows that night fishing produces the largest yield. In the incident described in Luke’s Gospel, Simon and his companions had just finished their night of work and were preparing to pack their things away. They were exhausted. They had been up all night working, and they had caught nothing.
 
As they packed up, Jesus came along and asked to use their boat. After talking to his people from the boat, he told the fishermen to lower their nets “one more time.” Simon objected but did as Jesus suggested. Once Peter did this, he and the other fishermen were amazed by the number of fish they caught.
 
This contrast between what humans think is possible versus what is possible with God is a central theme in Luke’s Gospel.
 
We have all had moments of doubt and disbelief. In times of struggle, we may even doubt that God hears us or is with us. When facing doubts about our future, our relationships, or even our world, we often make assumptions about what is possible and what is not possible. In these moments of doubt and disbelief, we must trust that God is with us and that anything is possible with God.
 
When have you experienced someone challenging your perception of God and the way God works in others. How did you respond?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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palm-trees-705843_1280During this Jubilee Year of Mercy the Church offers us a general pardon, an indulgence that is open to all, and the possibility of renewing our relationship with God and neighbor. It’s an opportunity to deepen our faith and to live with a renewed commitment to Christian witness.
 
In calling the Jubilee Year, Pope Francis focuses the attention of the world on the merciful God who invites all men and women to return to him.
Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite nun for more than 50 years, reminds us that “God liked to walk and talk in the garden in the cool of the day with the man and woman he created.”
 
The initial rite of the Jubilee Year on December 8 was the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This door is opened only during a holy year. It is shut tight during all other years.
 
This rite of the opening of the Holy Door illustrates the idea that, during the Jubilee Year, the faithful are offered an “extraordinary pathway” to salvation.
 
When we repent, it’s as if the door to the Garden of Eden is open to us once again. And we can walk in the garden with our God.
 
Our prayer today:
 

My God, I have wandered far from the path you want me to follow.
Thank you for your mercy in allowing me to walk at your side once again.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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“And he said, ‘Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.’ When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away” (Luke 4:24-30).
 
In this Gospel, Jesus returned to his hometown and encountered people with whom he had grown up. Last week, we heard about the first part of his visit in which he read from the book of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue. This week, we hear that Jesus suggested that he was the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy.
 
Those present might have been able to accept that one of their own was the Messiah, the one who would restore Israel by destroying enemies and vanquishing all who were not the chosen people. However, Jesus asserted that God’s mission and ministry were meant for all people, not just them. His words revealed a message of love that extended even to the Gentiles. Those who were listening to Jesus were challenged to extend their vision of who counts as God’s people. In fact, they were so challenged by it that it drove them to anger and to want to get rid of Jesus.
 
It can be difficult to hear and accept words that draw us out of our comfort zone, but our call is to live out the mission of Jesus, loving God and all of God’s people.
 
When have you experienced someone challenging your perception of God and the way God works in others? How did you respond?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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bibleIn announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis drew our attention to Psalm 136, where the phrase “His mercy endures forever” is repeated no less than 26 times. By one count, this refrain appears in the Bible 41 times.
 
Why is this refrain ubiquitous in both Old and New Testaments?
 
Francis explains: “To repeat continually ‘His mercy endures forever’ seems to break through the dimensions of space and time, inserting everything into the eternal mystery of love. It is as if to say that not only in history, but for all eternity man will always be under the merciful gaze of the Father” (Misericordiae Vultus, 7).
 
Before his passion, Jesus prayed this psalm. Matthew attests to this in his Gospel when he says that, “when they had sung a hymn,” Jesus and his disciples went to the Mount of Olives.
 
When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he did so in the light of his mercy.
 
Within the very same context of mercy, Jesus entered upon his passion and death, conscious of the great mystery of love that he would consummate on the cross.
Knowing that Jesus himself prayed this psalm makes it even more meaningful for us to take up the refrain in our daily lives by praying these words of praise: “His mercy endures forever.”
 
Our prayer today:
 

I thank you every day Lord,
for your enduring mercy.
It is only because of your mercy that I am saved.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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angel-645594_1920Recently I read an inspiring book by Chris Lowney entitled Heroic Living. He reminds the reader that we were born to change the world. He outlines three important skills to live heroically: discover your mighty purpose, choose wisely and make every day matter. Jesus lived a heroic life with both fire and focus—fired by God’s Holy Spirit and focused on healing the spiritually and physically poor.
 
In Sunday’s Gospel (LK 1:1-4; 4:14-21) Jesus began his official ministry by proclaiming a passage from the prophet Isaiah in his home synagogue. In this passage he articulated his mighty purpose—a purpose worth living for and more importantly, one worth dying for. He read with clarity and conviction: God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free. The words of Isaiah became his own and Jesus ushered in a new era, the arrival of the reign of God embodied by his loving words and life changing actions. God’s unconditional love entered the world with a new intensity as Jesus chose to give his daily attention to everyone he met and to make every day matter. He chose to spend his days eating with sinners, touching the unclear, living on the margins, bringing hope to the downcast and always in communion with his God. He lived with a mighty purpose, died with a mighty purpose and transformed the world.
 
God has anointed and consecrated each one of us. The purpose of our lives coincides with the purpose of Jesus’ life. We are called to be the best versions of ourselves, to change our part of the world. Like Jesus, we can care about what and who God cares about. We can be witnesses of hope and healing for family, for friends, for neighbors, for strangers. We can lift burdens, help people to see their own goodness and the goodness of others. We can live each day with gratitude. Empowered by the Spirit of God, we can live heroic lives—we can step up and live for a mighty purpose, make wise choices, and make every day matter.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:14-21).
 
In this Gospel reading, Luke demonstrated the authenticity and legitimacy of Jesus and his mission. Luke wanted his readers to accept Jesus as the Son of God because of what Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue and how he lived out that mission.
 
The good news announced in the synagogue was becoming a reality as Jesus spoke it. Jesus was teaching the people that the kingdom of God was already present. This message is as important for us today as it was for those who heard Jesus in the synagogue.
 
We see in all the Gospels that Jesus was a charismatic and powerful speaker. Jesus commanded people’s attention and impressed them with his eloquence. These gifts, Luke wants us to understand, are evidence of the presence and the power of the Spirit within Jesus.
 
If you had been in the synagogue that day, would you have been convinced by the message, the messenger, or both? Many may claim to be moved by the Spirit, but their actions are at odds with what they preach. With Jesus, we see an essential unity between what he said and what he did.
 
How can you be more open to God’s call in your life and the world around you?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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invitation-941497_1920What greater example of God’s mercy toward sinners is there than the invitation to the tax collector, Matthew, to become a follower of Jesus?
 
Saint Bede the Venerable, an English monk of the seventh and eighth century, said, “Jesus saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him.”
 
The tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as Jesus invited him. He joined a band of men whose leader had no riches at all.
 
Matthew immediately took Jesus into his home and arranged a party, inviting the only friends he had—other tax collectors and sinners.
 
As they sat at the banquet table, Pharisees pointed an accusing finger. But Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark, 2:17).
 
Sharing a meal—breaking bread together—is one of the most intimate things we do as humans. When Jesus sat and ate with Matthew, it was a signal of his great mercy toward sinners, and an invitation to us to sit with him at the communion table.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Matthew gave a banquet for you, Lord, at his earthly residence.
Grant that I set a pleasing banquet for you in my heart
through my faith and love.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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“Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, ‘Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.’ So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (John 2:6-11).
 
The hosts of a wedding celebration that ran out of wine would have been embarrassed in front of their families and friends. Jesus averted disaster for this newlywed couple and their families by changing the water into wine.
 
This passage gives us insight into who Jesus is, and who we are as members of the body of Christ. Just as Jesus turned water into wine, we, as Christians, are led from water (through our baptism) to wine (our participation in the Eucharist). We live our faith, initiated in baptism and renewed by our sharing of Christ’s body and blood.
 
Jesus’ action at the wedding in Cana, as well as the symbolism of changing water into wine, remind us that God’s love and care permeate our entire existence. No concern of ours is unknown to God, for God truly cares for us deeply and personally.
Like Jesus, we can be witnesses to the love of God for others when we, nourished by the sharing in the water turned into wine at Cana, use our spiritual gifts to comfort someone else.
 
Who are you being called to attend to today? How can you meet their needs and be Christ to them?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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fog-524071_1280The Hebrew word hesed is often translated as “mercy.” But “mercy” as commonly understood today does not do justice to the richness and depth of meaning of hesed.
 
A fuller translation of hesed would encompass concepts such as trustworthy, loving, powerful, steadfast, loyal. This is a fuller sense of God’s loving power and action, which extends beyond forgiveness alone.
 
The author of Psalm 136, which repeats “his mercy endures forever” 26 times, reflects on the glory of God and marvels at how he constructed the heavens and cast the stars into the sky. But more than anything else, the psalmist is awestruck by God’s mercy.
 
God’s enduring mercy is beyond our understanding. Maybe this is why the word appears so many times in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as in the New Testament.
 
The ancient Levite song leader would sing the first half of each verse of Psalm 136 and the congregation would sing the refrain. This reminded the congregation—just as we need to be reminded today—that all we are, all we have, and all we do depends on God’s mercy, trustworthiness, steadfastness, loving kindness, and loyalty.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Lord, help me always remember
that although you are the only one I have reason to fear,
you have chosen through your mercy
to be someone I never need to fear.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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“After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22).
 
In baptism, we, too, are proclaimed to be God’s beloved. We, too, are filled with the Holy Spirit and chosen to live out the same mission as Jesus did. And in baptism, we are freed from sin. Jesus’ baptism described in this Gospel passage is a window to our own destiny, to our own call to live in Christ. Jesus’ baptism revealed that God loved him and had chosen him. Our baptism reveals that we are also loved and chosen by God and belong to his body, the church.
 
Jesus’ mission was to go into the world and preach that God’s love is for all people. Ours is the same.
 
How do we preach? We preach by our words and our actions, just as Jesus did. We evangelize by having a loving attitude towards those around us and by being truly present and attentive to the people in our lives. We use our talents to help others and our voices to speak for those who are voiceless. When we put flesh to the works of mercy, we, too, are truly the sons and daughters on whom God’s favor rests.
 
What does your baptism mean to you? In what ways have you been called to witness the love of God?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available in the RENEW International online store.

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CrossEarly Christians came to understand that the name of Jesus had great power, and that the recitation of his name was itself a form of prayer.
 
Heeding St. Paul’s guidance to pray without ceasing (Thessalonians 5:17), their ancient, short prayer became known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
 
In the Eastern churches especially, this prayer became most popular. It is silently recited over and over throughout the waking hours, usually in rhythm with breathing. This is why it is also known as the “prayer of the heart.”
 
It is a prayer rich in theological and spiritual meaning.
 
The words form the essence of the Christian faith in echoing Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).
 
This prayer also emulates the words of the repentant publican whom Jesus describes in Luke’s Gospel: “Have mercy on me a sinner” (18:13).
 
The Church sets aside the first month of the year to honor of the holy name of Jesus—and to remind us of the power of Christ’s name and to encourage us to pray in his name. Why not make a New Year’s resolution for 2016 to always have the Jesus Prayer on our lips and in our hearts?
 
Our prayer today:
 

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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