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Backed Myself Into (and Out Of Maybe!) A 'corner'?


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There has been some discussion in some threads on private vows. I am a lay person under private vows to the evengelical counsels and some are dismissive of this - especially on the matter of obedience where some view that such a private vow (defining mine as "meaningless"???)should not be made out of a group context, meaning a community such as with Secular Third Orders, Secular Institues etc.

I now find that I am developing a "should" and backing myself into a corner - that i really should look again into a Secular Institute or Third Order.. I can't quite make out for myself if this is a sort of (very-strange-to-me) attraction so necessary to a vocation, or whether it is responding to the opinions of others and adopting a "should" that is not really my own and I tend to think that this is what I have done.


I have rung my spiritual director today and made an appointment for first week of February. What I will be seeking to clarify is if my vow of obedience to my rule of life and to my director on certain matters is indeed "meaningless" and can be made outside of a "group context" as a an individual - or if I really should be actually discerning re "group context" and for me this will probably be a Third Order to which in reality I feel no attraction, other than that jolly "should" looming over me that is not my own but belongs to others, which I think I am imposing on myself and calling my own original vocation into question and after over 35 years on this journey.


For my own private vows, Chastity is very obvious in both its negative and positive aspects. How Poverty and Obedience are to be lived out in the day to day are spelt out in my rule. None of my private vows to me are meaningless in that they provide me with the complete freedom to devote myself and my life to Jesus and His Kingdom. I have joyfully denied myself certain quite valid rights of the secular lay state in order to free myself completely of legitimate satisfactions of my state and devote all to God. His return to me has been five hundredfold and more. Certainly these vows ask a more radical type of living than ordinary secular life while in some aspects not as radical as in religious life. I did have the opportunity to progress in formation in monastic life and decided to leave in order to embrace fully the secular lay state but in a more radical manner through private vows than is normally asked by this state in life. I never ever viewed my vows as some sort of quasi type of religious life quite to the contrary in fact, rather the means to follow closely in the footsteps of Jesus in His own chaste, poor and obedient state and to joyfully devote my whole self and life and everything in it to Him aspiring to walk through life very much as His disciple and in the discipleship of His mother - and in the midst of general secular society.


Some years back I looking into both Third Orders and Secular Institutes and the pickings are very lean indeed here in South Australia and where something was available it is restricted to one community alone within an organization of numerous communities. With some I did find a distinct reluctance to consider me due to Bipolar and hence things went little beyond initial enquiry stage. This whittled things down to one Third Order community and I went along to a couple of meetings. They did not know what "charism" meant, nor what was the "charism" of their own religious order. There was no formal formation process within the various stages of 'formation'. Meetings had a sort of spiritual aspect in part in that a part of some spiritual book was discussed with a prayer at the beginning and end of the meeting. Other than those brief portions of the meeting, it was more like a social cuppa between friends. I do know that since that time, it seems that this Third Order community has undergone much contact with the religious in the Order and my hope would be that possibly they have grown and in a quite positive direction in every way.


My rule of life incidentally was ok'd by a priest theologian - and back then (over 35yrs ago now) also my director and confessor. He is now deceased. He also explained to me the potential to make private vows to the evangelical counsels to my stumbling hesitant questions never having heard of private vows. I went off and thought and prayed about it and then came back with questions. He had questions of his own. Finally, he advised that if I continued to feel a strong attraction towards private vows and under the terms we had discussed, then I was completely free to make private vows if I chose to do so. In fact, he was the one who advised me to seek an annulment, which would free me to either re-marry, enter the consecrated state or to make private vows to the evangelical counsels. He had explained to me that as long as I was viewed as validly married by The Church, then I am still validly married in the eyes of The Church and not absolutely free to make private vows to the EC. It took some years but eventually the annulment was approved and the exact wording in part of that Letter of Advice from the Tribunal are "no doubt you will be very happy to know that you are now completely free of the bond of marriage". I was very happy - having talked it all out with my sons and conveyed to them a rich spiritual understanding of their own position if I did receive an annulment - and began to discern about making my yearly renewed private vows perpetual vows and eventually did so.


I am interested to hear the opinions of others. Certainly, I will be returning to this thread after I have spoken with my director early February and sharing her opinion here. She is a highly educated in Church matters and in theology and is a religious sister and had been novice mistress in her religious order. My last appointment, she shared with me that she had been chosen by her Order to undergo studies in Rome, from which she graduated. This was at the time that religious orders were striving to understand and implement Vatican II. She has been my director for over 7 years and has certainly never expressed to date any sort of hesitation re my vows.


I am pretty sure (not absolutely sure as yet) in writing this I have answered my own questions - but what my director has to say will be of interest. Also I am interested to read the opinions of others..........and in the Debate Forum :) where opinions of others can be raised, and I can speak to those opinions in agreement or in debate.


  • Is my private vow of obedience "meaningless" outside of a community or group context?
  • Have I adopted the "should" of others and as a sort of invalid expectation 'imposed', rather than my own completely free sighting and choice of a "should". After all, who wants to be living something that is in effect "meaningless"? I however certainly do not find my private vow of obedience meaningless at all.
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Well, I am right out 'the corner' now and in The Church's corner and I thought I had read something somewhere and I found it, meaning that in more than one Church Document, private vows, promises or commitment to the evangelical counsels in the secular lay state has Church sanction including in the Dogmatic Constitution on The Church, sub heading : "The Universal Call to Holiness in The Church". Thank you, Lord, and I praise you. I can lay aside now all my doubts and questioning and go on in Your Peace and in Your Joy. I rejoice, however, and I thank You that the issues raised were raised as I am now more informed than ever on what The Church has to say.

I didn't want to think that Fr D would ever have led me astray and now I know that he never has - unless something else crops up of course. :getaclue:  I thank You for the gift of Fr D also.


If anyone would like a definition of "vows" and in particular "vow of obedience" (also chastity and poverty), go to Fr Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary - here http://www.therealpresence.org/cgi-bin/getdefinition.pl




on November 21, 1964




39. The Church, whose mystery is being set forth by this Sacred Synod, is believed to be indefectibly holy. Indeed Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is praised as "uniquely holy," (1*) loved the Church as His bride, delivering Himself up for her. He did this that He might sanctify her.(214) He united her to Himself as His own body and brought it to perfection by the gift of the Holy Spirit for God's glory. Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification".(215) However, this holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others; in a very special way this (holiness) appears in the practice of the counsels, customarily called "evangelical." This practice of the counsels, under the impulsion of the Holy Spirit, undertaken by many Christians, either privately or in a Church-approved condition or state of life, gives and must give in the world an outstanding witness and example of this same holiness. [/quote]



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Dear Barbara,


I must confess that i haven't read the posts about private vows  on phatmass. Maybe when I have more time I will do so.


Personally I  consider Every Christian to be fully Consecrated in their state of life. All are called to Holiness through their own vocation. I know movements/ associations where married couples/ singles too  take private vows to live the evangelical counsels. Naturally the expression would be different.


There are some Religious Institutes that don't have all 3 vows -of obedience , poverty, chastity. Some have additional vows. What matters is the inspiration from Christ . So if one is committed to Follow Christ , the obedience to discern God's will in everyday circumstances without refering to a superior  of a group  , is certainly cherished by Jesus. How much more when this is done by someone who has been through much in life. God has mysterious plans for persons in situations caused by mysterious reasons.


There are Church recognized public associations whose members living alone or in community take private vows. They are part of Consecrated life. So are persons in Private vows.


This just came straight from the heart. Please excuse me for any incorrect terminology.




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Private vows are just what it sound like. The are part of the individual's faith and love of God. Nothing that brings us closer to holiness is bad or meaningless. Rules and orders were started originally be people living their lives for God and other people with common attractions of spirituality coming together. Bless you for defining your life in a rule, to have thought about such things is an amazing experience and I would let nobody to diminish the gift you have given to God.

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Private Vows are different from Public Vows, but people who tell you that Private Vows are meaningless don't know what they're talking about.  If private vows are meaningless, then St. Cecilia's vow of chastity was meaningless, as was any other private vow a whole host of saints made and took seriously. 


Vows are promises made before God.  Public vows are generally more serious than private ones (GENERALLY), and solemn vows are more permanent than temporary vows.  Ultimately they help draw our attention to taking a practice very seriously.  One way you can look at the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, obedience) is being about virtuous, particularly about the seven deadly sins.  Chastity covers lust and gluttony.  Poverty covers greed and envy.  Obedience covers pride, wrath, and sloth.  


I think it's important to note that you should take everyone's opinion here with a grain of salt.  It's still the internet, after all, and there are lots of people even on this forum who have strong opinions that aren't actually what the Church believes.  The Church allows for a great diverse spirituality among her members. :)  Kudos for finding Lumen Gentium - that's the first thing I thought of. 

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Thank you very much for those who have posted, each post being an affirmation.  With all that has taken place over the last few years on the vocation to private vows to the ECs, I feel that it is all down in writing in a quite public place available to all and especially to those who are investigating for whatever reason the vocation to private vows to the ECs in the lay state.  I am still considering writing a blog, while hesitating to be THAT public.


And here comes a bit more of my history and a very much UNFOLDING journey. When I first made private vows (and still today) it was a matter of defining things for myself as I had never heard of private vows (PV) before (back probably close to 40 years ago now) and as a potential in Church understanding for a lay person (i.e. PVs to the evangelical counsels). I had left monastic life realizing that religious life was not my vocation and with both a sadness and a sense of real relief. Hence initially, I was inclined towards considering PVs a form of religious life in the world.


 Time rolled on and after a discussion with a priest who made the more than a passing comment to "imitate Mary in Nazareth", I began to reflect on the very much to a large degree life of Our Lady and in Nazareth it was a hidden life.


Who am I and where am I in the scheme of things began to be my question. For some reason "the scheme of things" just disappeared as a question for myself and "Who am I?” more the foucs.  Where am I no longer mattered to me or where I may be in the scheme of things.  My strong awareness was that this would unfold given time and it has in that my personal charism is a hidden life in secular society wherever and however I may find myself.  It is rather sad to me that this hiddenness is now largely exposed at least on the internet - sad and yet it is a place that seems rightful for me.   I came to the conclusion that I was a baptized person in the lay state and for the secular life. From that flowed as time rolled on an understanding that I was called to be a quiet and hidden 'leaven' in the world in secular life and for The Gospel, or "The Kingdom". I realized that my PVs gave me the freedom to be totally committed in every aspect of my being to this identity and in a radical manner and so I defined my way of life as a rule of life. I could see that the evangelical counsels lived in a radical manner in a stable form of life (such as mine) was not an imitation of religious life but moreso of the way Jesus lived His own life and in the midst of secular society and as a lay person.  Since The Church proclaimed Mary’s discipleship as THE discipleship, I was reflecting on the life of Mary and what was paramount was that her life except for rather rare occurrences in The Gospels was indeed very much hidden life.  This certainly connected for me to the life of St Therese of Lisieux who also lived a quite hidden life even in her monastery amongst her fellow sisters, even her blood sisters.


What did hit me in a quite major way was that despite the hiddenness of the lives of Mary, Joseph and Therese, their contribution to The Church and to mankind has been, and is, a quite major one – an indispensable one.  There was absolutely no focus nor work on their part (other than loving God and neighbour in the course of their lives) – the work or result of their lives was all entirely a work of The Lord.   I concluded that The Lord alone makes saints even if their lives have been entirely and absolutely hidden from all.  This ‘arrival’ established in me another major shift of focus (in the main) off myself and with simplicity and lack of strain on Jesus and His Gospel alone, with my patron saints as advocates and guides, mentors.


From all that flowed my personal vocational identity as a quite hidden life living the evangelical counsels in a radical manner for my particular state (lay state) and for The Kingdom as present in potential in secular life. “Sacred secularity” as Sr Lauren terms it.  It is not something that we impose on secular life, rather the seed is there already in the Work of The Holy Spirit, ours to foster and care for that seed.    Finally, with a sense of real freedom, I was able to divorce myself totally from concepts of religious life.  Rather I was looking to Jesus and His mother and His saints, Therese of Lisieux, and St Joseph as patrons etc. of my quite hidden way of life. In all these unfoldings what was becoming paramount, coming to the light and in focus, was The Blessed Trinity - a hidden and unremarked, most ordinary and unremarkable) life in, and in imitation of, Jesus to the Glory of The Father in the Grace and power of Holy Spirit.  "He must increase, I must decrease" (St Paul)  "How on earth can such as I do something like this?" was my question until I found Peace and rest in "God can do all things".



When I was given a computer and discovered Catholic discussion sites and soon became aware that private vows to the ECs could be a very hot topic with much disagreement about the vocation and as a valid vocation.  I came out the closet on Catholic discussion sites anyway and I assessed this move as a necessary one for myself.


My vocation again went into a state of questioning with some posts into VS recently on private vows and  a recent thread in the VS on consecrated virginity.  While questioning matters of personal importance and associated conclusions on which one has arrived is always rather difficult even painful, a return to a state of insecurity, it is also very spiritually healthy.  It is a revision of one’s life - a review of life.


Thomas Merton made an important statement for me in his little book “Contemplation in a World of Action” writing that detachment may also ask a readiness also to let go of one’s sense of security.  Hence, at various times in my journey of over 35 yrs in PV to the ECs, I have had to let go of my place and sense of security in order to “so I leave my boats behind, leave them on familiar shores, set my heart upon the deep to follow You again once more” (“Galilee Song”***see below ).  Do this often enough :) and a lack of a sense and place of security becomes a friendly and familiar sort of place (“He had no place to lay His Head”) – it loses completely its sense of threat and danger and will become a place of welcome.   It has always been for me a transition place and hence when I find myself once more in that place, it is with a strong awareness of “transition”. It is a very real springboard of spiritual growth.  Nowadays, letting go of my space and sense of security poses no problems other than a gentle quiet desire to work through the questions it does pose.  Hence this thread and sense of “backed into a corner”.  I thought myself into this place, and I have researched and written myself out of it again and I hope grown in the process gaining more insight into my particular and personal vocation.


Nowadays, I know that waiting in the place of 'no security' is security indeed in Jesus, waiting for me to let go of a place of security I had found - to "lead me on" **** see below)


Merton, for me, made another important statement in reflecting on the eremitical life “sit in your cell and your cell will tell you what to do”.  At first this struck me as funny but I decided to give it a whirl anyway.  I was amazed at what came out of that “sitting” quietly alone and how a routine of life just flowed naturally and hence a workable one for me as an individual.  I find that this “sitting in the cell” alone and quiet imposing nothing in particular on oneslef is a wellspring of Grace.  In this sitting in the cell, it is often writing down my thoughts as they come to me (fast touch typist) that the answer also comes.  When I write, I am totally unable to have a flow of thought unless I feel that I am indeed writing to a person or persons.  Most all my letters sit in Word never to be printed and posted - and often not even completed.


But I very much thank you for the affirmations.  This is like “cream on the cake” for my own conclusions which are still very much in the journey of clarification process.  And history will doubtless repeat and I will arrive only to depart once more.  When does the journey to holiness ever remain stationery in this life?


And a sorry to burden those who might labour through this long post with many words - yet again.  But I have written it, posted it and can now move on, unless some other post brings me back to explain or clarify.  I know what I mean, but have I conveyed in writing what I mean?  I do tend to write very quickly often with little editing and checking - although the short time edit is available on PHatmass now, I try to do so before posting.  :)

I do admire Sr Laurel's posts - concise, clear, and to the point!  While totally unable to imitate same.


Affirmation is an important quality in life.  One way or or the other, we all seek affirmation - both to affirm (it is a sort of identifying with the other, a sharing)  and to be affirmed and find a shared identity in some way.  It is an important quality of community, of loving fraternal community.  It is a quality of Peace and of Unity so dear to the Heart of Jesus the night before He died.  Sincere and unaffected, honest, affirmation received and given.  A 'declaration' of 'in this we are one'.  Ultimately we are all seeking in the depths of our being Perfect Affirmation by Perfect Affirmation - Unity.  And in eternity we will find all those loose ends and lack of unity and affirmation have found their Alpha and their Omega and in Perfect Unity and Affirmation. :sos:............ :cheers:



Galilee Song


Deep within my heart, I feel voices whispering to me.

Words that I can’t understand; Meanings I can’t clearly hear!

Calling me to follow close, lest I leave myself behind!

Calling me to walking into evening shadows one more time!



So I leave my boats behind!

Leave them on familiar shores!

Set my heart upon the deep!

Follow you again, my Lord!


In my memories, I know how you send familiar rains

falling gently on my days, dancing patterns on my pain!

And I need to learn once more in the fortress of my mind,

to believe in falling rain as I travel deserts dry!



As I gaze into the night down the future of my years,

I’m not sure I want to walk past horizons that I know!

But I feel my spirit called like a stirring deep within,

restless, ’til I live again beyond the fears that close me in!


Lead Kindly Light

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path, Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Savior, lead me home in childlike faith, home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

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Gosh I am 'a looser' on PHatmass.  Not only does my cherished edit facility disappear all too quickly, but I have lost my "Props" facility too.  Props to all posters from me, with much humility (such as I can muster anyway) and gratitude.

  Ah well, all problems and questions in life find a response from Jesus in The Gospel "the last shall be first and the first shall be last"....................................sometime.............or other....................methinks!.............  :)   FAITH in all things, the sweet silence and darkness of FAITH.  Where He found Faith He worked miracles!  Lord, You may not have found Faith like the centurian's "even in Galilee" ................ but look what you find amongst Your own in the 21st century!


Off me pulpit, till next time :spammer:

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This little blurb here represents my view of vocation.


Communio (summer 2010, "Living and Thinking Reality in its Integrity", David L. Schindler). The first kind of sets the stage, and the second brings home what I'm trying to say.

16: "There is much that needs to be sorted out here. A state of life, properly understood, gives objective form to an "existential" as distinct from "office-bearing" participation in Christ's eucharistic love. Each of the baptized participates in Christ's Eucharist both existentially and "officially", in the sense that ordained priests are always first members of the Church, and that all members of the Church, by virtue of their Baptism, exercise a priestly office, manifest, for example, in the capacity themselves to baptize in certain circumstances. This emphatically need not, and does not, imply attenuation of the clear and profound difference between the laity and the ordained priesthood. What I mean to emphasize here is simply that a state of life, for example, consecrated virginity, is as such not a clerical state. It seems to me that an awareness that this is so opens the way to a deepened appreciation for the state of consecrated virginity as a distinctly lay state, recognized already officially by the Church in Pius XII's Provida Mater, and indeed in Vatican II's renewed teaching regarding the laity and their "wordly" vocation. My statement is also meant to carry the implication that the vowed life of the three evangelical counsels, which expresses the gift of one's whole self- possessions, body and mind- indicate the most objectively fitting existential form for the priest's office-bearing participation in the Eucharist and the sacramental life of the Church. But again, all of this needs more sustained development that can be offered in the present forum. For a reflection on the relation of the life of the evangelical counsels and the vocation of the laity, see Balthasar, Laity and the Life of the Counsels (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003).
17: The suggestion here that there are only two states of life [consecrated virginity or sacramental marriage] raises many questions within the Church today. On the one hand, there is the common perception that the priesthood as such is a state of life, which in the proper sense it is not. On the contrary, it has its sacramental-ontological reality as an office, indeed as an office that, as I have suggested, bears an objective fittingness for a vowed life of the three evangelical counsels. On the other hand, there is also an increasing tendency today to affirm that singleness as such can qualify as a state of life. But neither is this properly so, because a state of life requires saying forever to God in a vowed form. And the character of this vow that constitutes a state of life has its ultimate foundation in the dual character of the human being's original experience, in original solitude and original unity, or filiality and nuptiality, both of which have their center in God. A state of life, properly speaking, is the mature person's recuperation in freedom of one's call to fidelity to God forever, which occurs either through consecrated virginity, and thus remaining "alone" with God; or through marriage, and thus promising fidelity to God forever, through another human being. But it is nevertheless crucial to see here that the single life, if not (yet) actualized by either of these vows, does not thereby remain merely in a kind of neutral place where one remains suspended in a mode of inaction and unfulfillment. On the contrary, as we have indicated, there is a call for the gift of one's whole self implicit already in the act of being created: and this call is immeasurably deepened in the act of being baptized. The point, then, is that this call is actualized in the tacit and mostly unconscious fiat which, in receiving creation, and in turn the new creation in Christ, already begins one's participation in a promise of the gift of one's self to God. The call to be faithful to God forever with the wholeness of one's life is implied, and is already initially realized, in a natural form, at one's conception, and again, in a supernatural form, at one's Baptism. As long as one remains single, then, the relevant point is that one can already begin living the fiat of total availability to God, and, in this sense, realize the fundament of what becomes a state of life when recuperated in the maturity of one's freedom in the form of a vow of consecrated virginity or marriage. What one is meant to do as long as one is single, in other words, is to live one's total availability: to wait with active availability for God's will. Of course, it has to be recognized that humanity, and the cosmos as a whole, exists in a deeply disordered condition by virtue of sin. And therefore it has to be recognized as well that the call objectively to a consecrated state of celibacy or to marriage may never be historically realized- as is the case that everything in the cosmos exists in a broken condition, sometimes a seriously disordered condition that must be accepted, even with much suffering. 

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Thank you very much, NO.  I must confess that most of it is beyond me on an initial read. I need to give it more time and with a dictionary Catholic and secular.  This is not at all a reflection on what you have to say as I am quite confident that with a more careful read it will have a much to say to me. Needing time and a more careful read with a couple of dictionaries open is a reflection on my own very real poverty in many directions. :)

Others may indeed grasp it on an initial read - or far more quickly than I can. :)

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I just did a quick Google.  There is a lot of interesting reading it seems to me on the Communio website http://www.communio-icr.com/:


Time to water the garden, put the rubbish tins out and then Evening and Night Prayer.  Up very early tomorrow,then  two buses, for volunteer work.  Two buses home and then a walk to the shops and back again hauling my poor overloaded trolley (wheels about to give way but can't afford a new one.  Have to buy spectacles my optician says) just to somewhat stock the pantry again. Repeat the whole procedure Fridays.  Praise The Lord!


Edited by BarbaraTherese
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Thank you very much, NO.  I must confess that most of it is beyond me on an initial read. I need to give it more time and with a dictionary Catholic and secular.  This is not at all a reflection on what you have to say as I am quite confident that with a more careful read it will have a much to say to me. Needing time and a more careful read with a couple of dictionaries open is a reflection on my own very real poverty in many directions. :)
Others may indeed grasp it on an initial read - or far more quickly than I can. :)


It took me some time to digest as well. :) Luckily when I first read it I happened to be on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, so I had nothing but time. :smile3:

I just did a quick Google.  There is a lot of interesting reading it seems to me on the Communio website http://www.communio-icr.com/:

Their articles are typically very high quality. :)

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