Start Reading Your Bible
It became a Catholic stereotype somewhere after the invention of the printing press and the time Bob Feller took the mound in Boston in 1948 that: “Catholics don’t know their Bible.” Many reasons exist for this worn idea. For one thing, until recently in human history – like not until the late 1400’s with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press – the cost of hand written books prohibited most people from owning them. Along with the rarity of book ownership came a low rate of literacy coupled with the reality that both the church and university often wrote in Latin; up until recently (late-1960's) the priest proclaimed the Prologue of John’s Gospel at the Mass in Latin. Then throw in the Western schism in the 1500’s with Martin Luther, followed by subsequent ruptures within Protestantism, and denominational fault lines developed with interpretations of Scripture passages wedged between ecclesial communities. Although this simplifies the issues at play way too much, there developed a hesitancy within the body of the Church towards the personal reading of Scripture due to the fallout that occurred after Lutheranism. Some church goers today still recount times when consecrated religious in Catholic schools would imply to pupils to just let the priest preach on the Scriptures because, if they tried to read it themselves, they might fall into heresy. We can look at this with sorrow while honoring the sincere desire to remain faithful to beauty of the Church’s teaching. At the same time, we can admit that the program of “suspicion first unto avoidance” of Scripture led to many Catholics losing out on a deeper union with the Trinity and losing out on having our attitudes and actions shaped by the very Word of God. With literacy rates relatively higher today than they presumably were in 1523AD, we might want to scale back the hesitancy. It’s time for Catholics to embrace reading, grappling with, and praying with the Sacred Scriptures.
There is no shame in needing help when starting to read the Bible for the first time. It’s a big book and can be intimidating if you’ve never paged through books and nested in the verses of the Scriptures. There’s no perfect starting place. But a reasonable place to start is: buying a Bible.
Buying a Bible
You’ll notice the myriad options when clicking around online for a Bible. It might feel overwhelming. Where to start? Which translation do I use? Why are there so many options? Let’s simplify this a little bit.
Catholics love the Word of God so much we have seven extra books of the Bible. If you’d like the learn more about the reasons why this is, click HERE. Suffice it to say, the disagreements that divided the Church in the West ran deep enough to create divisions about the number of books in the official listing of Scriptures. It’s sad, but it happened. And, so, look for a Bible with all of the books in it. Some Bibles will say “complete with deuterocanonical/apocryphal books” or “Catholic edition.” No need to get lost in the long word “deuterocanonical” or “apocryphal,” just know that’s the Bible you’ll want to purchase.
Now we move on to translations. I’m hesitant to do this because some people have very strong opinions about different translations. Then again, people have strong opinions about everything from thread counts of bed sheets to weather patterns, so that’s not strange. What will follow is my personal take on some translations and why I use them. Each translation attempts to solve its own problems and I am so thankful for those who spend their lives in offering us English translations of the Bible that draw us into God’s word.
I use different translations for different purposes. The New American Bible (NAB) is the translation the Catholic Church uses in these United States for the Lectionary (the readings at the Sunday Mass). If I’m getting ready for the weekend Mass, I’ll check out the NAB simply because the wording is the same. The NAB is available in paperback, too, so that can be a help. For Bible study I use the Revised Standard Version (RSV). I use the RSV for Bible study because the main commentary I use employs the RSV when expounding on the Scriptures. It helps me to see the connection between the commentary and the Bible I’m reading in that instance. If I’m giving a talk, I’ll sometimes use the New Living Translation (NLT) (Catholic Edition), because the translators have done, in my opinion, a pretty beautiful job of keeping true to the translation while making it easy to understand when hearing it read aloud. I have a New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) that is a study Bible with a lot of notations and many articles in it that I go to from time to time to unpack verses. And, those are the translations I use. I know Word on Fire has a book of the Gospels out. Ignatius Press has a Bible out. And these are all fine Bibles. The one’s I’ve outlined above are simply the translations I use most often and are not guided by any private revelation of Mary.
Note: If you need a large print edition, it would be worth the extra cabbage for the ease of reading and prayer.
Think about what you’ll be doing with your Bible. You’ll be praying with and studying your Bible. That means you’ll want a Bible that you can transport easily, one that doesn’t weigh fifty pounds, and a Bible that doesn’t take up the entire kitchen table after you open it. It’s so much up to personal preference here. The main point is: if you don’t have a Bible, it is time to get a Bible.
Before concluding, I want to speak to one of the most important aspects of reading the Bible: our mindset and heartset.
We do not read the Bible to “get through it” and “finish” the Bible. If the mindset is “Bible in a Year” means done with the Bible for the next 20 years, then we need a little adjustment of the heart. We need reading and praying with the Bible to become a pattern and habit in our daily life. This will be a big change for some people, but it is so worth it. We read the Bible during the course of our day and pray with the Scriptures regularly because it is through the Scriptures that we encounter the Living Word and become shaped by that Word. If we do not allow the Word of God to shape us through the Sacred Scriptures, then we are missing out on Heaven’s graces, promises, and blessings.
Next Post: After you get your Bible, where do you start?
Jesus' Presence at Communion
When did the Church start teaching about Jesus’ Real Presence in Eucharist when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, i.e., the Mass? Would you believe me if I said some of the earliest documentary evidence of this teaching dates back to year 50AD? That’s 50AD, by the way, and not 1250AD or 1550AD or 1950AD. You’ve probably heard of Saint Paul the Apostle. He wrote many of the letters in the New Testament section of your Bible. Paul started evangelizing the metropolis of Corinth around year 50AD and we get a sense of what he taught his early church about the Eucharist in 1 Corinthian 11:23-33. Did Paul use the language of “transubstantiation” to describe Jesus’ Real Presence at their Eucharist? No. Not because Jesus wasn’t present, but because the effort to utilize Aristotelian philosophical categories with theologically precise doctrinal language had not yet gained inroads in Christian thought. Paul did write this in 1 Cor. 11:23-27 about his teaching to the early Church:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the chalice, after supper, saying, ‘This chalice is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.
In verse 27 Paul mentions that receiving the Eucharist unworthily profanes “the body and blood of the Lord.” Earlier in the letter he makes this connection more explicit: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation [Greek koinonia, English communion] in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16). Paul recounts this teaching to remind the Corinthian church what he already told them over the course of his time in Corinth. This is startling documentary evidence for faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. And, Paul did not simply connect this presence to the gathered believers united in faith-filled fellowship. Paul drew this union into the remembrance of Jesus’ own Last Supper, what we now call “the Mass.”
Paul “received from the Lord [Jesus]” the prayer and faith in the Eucharist and “delivered” it to the church; another translation could read “handed on to you.” When we speak of “tradition” we mean precisely this: being handed something from a previous generation. Paul states that he received, was handed, the Eucharist and its prayers from the Lord himself. Although nuanced debates remain concerning Paul’s choice of words about the Eucharist and their meaning, we do know that Paul did not simply manufacture the Eucharist and its prayers from thin air. He believed he received them from Jesus the Lord. And we see powerful resonance between Paul’s account and the other gospel accounts of the Last Supper, see Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:17-19. What does this mean? Teaching about Jesus’ Real Presence in Holy Communion connected with both the prayers of Jesus (the Last Supper) and the elements used (bread and win) did not originate with a Medieval church, but with the very first generation of believers. Although John the Evangelist does not include the Last Supper prayers concerning the Eucharist in his Gospel, he does give us chapter 6 of his Gospel (check out these verses from John’s Gospel chapter 6:32, 51-58). We have, then, multiple historical accounts from several sources about Jesus Last Supper and the Church’s grappling with his Real Presence in Communion, and one source relates teaching that happened around year 50AD, which is before the gospel books themselves were written; so, we are talking about an early, early account of Christian teaching, “fresh off the press.”
As mentioned above, did the language about the Real Presence get honed in over the centuries? Of course. With any group of individuals involved in thinking about specific issues, technical language develops. This development in language does not translate into a development or change in the reality so described. The language the Church uses to describe the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in Communion during the Mass can be nuanced, technical, and sound a bit foreign to the Scriptural accounts given above. But the reality to which those theological words point take us all the way back to Jesus himself, and to Jesus who handed on to the Apostles what was eventually handed down to us: the Sacred Host of Jesus’ Real Presence in Holy Communion. Mind. Blown.
Next time we gather together at Mass, take a moment to make a prayerful act of faith in the Real Presence of Jesus during Mass, especially in Holy Communion.
I remember when it “clicked” for me and I started enjoying baseball. This happened pretty recently, just last year. Up until that point, I was mostly bored watching baseball and couldn’t see beyond what seemed like the silliness of a grown man trying to hit a ball with a wooden stick. A couple priest friends of mine started taking me to Indian’s, wait...no, uhm...Guardian’s, I mean...the uh, Guardindian’s...okay, hold it, let's go with the, uhm, the Cleveland Baseball Team games, and I started listening to a podcast and watching some Jomboy breakdowns. I forget which game it was, but somewhere early in the 2022 season, I was at a ballgame and I felt the tension amp up, the mind games between the pitcher and batter clarified, the runner on first added pressure, the now-no-more shift in place added its own factor, and the team effort that is baseball revealed itself. My baseball sensibility went from “oh, hotdogs and a nice day with friends at a ballpark” to “oh, this is intense!” It didn’t happen overnight. It took time and I’m thankful for my buddies’ willingness to field my very stupid questions with passion and patience. These experiences help me see the chess game of baseball and a bit more of the game within the game. It didn’t hurt that the Guardians (Indians) had a rockstar season. It was heartbreaking to watch the weather in cahoots with MLB and the Yankee’s market base work to end our run. There’s always next year! Maybe you feel sad for me that it took this long to get into baseball. Maybe you’re sad for me that I’m “wasting” my time with baseball. Either way, I think there’s lessons in this story for us about evangelization.
We do not usually “get into” something without experience, insight, and the help of others. This is true for baseball and it is especially true for Catholicism. Getting to the ballpark, watching the start of the game, experiencing the ups and downs with the crowd, trying to figure out what Slider is and why Ketchup never wins (always bet on Mustard), and overhearing what is still mostly baseball-gibberish of my friends, Patches and KJ, all worked together to help me appreciate and learn to enjoy baseball. My Catholicism followed a similar pattern. My family introduced me to the Church. I ended up not practicing my faith much, I was a maybe-CEO (Christmas and Easter Only) for a little bit. Then, at the end of high school, a friend, who, for the sake of anonymity I will call “Rick Turkey,” invited me to a youth group event. I accepted the challenge and, upon arrival, felt like I entered a land of strange music and weirdos. But, the Christian “gibberish” - like the baseball gibberish – ended up moving my heart and I opened my life up in prayer to Jesus, and the rest is history. I entered RCIA in order to receive Confirmation and had more questions answered to help turn the Catholic “gibberish” into an understandable language. I gained more insights and experiences while attending Mass and reading my Bible. It was a whirlwind of a conversion. But, to my surprise, and perhaps to the surprise of those who knew me at the time, I really enjoyed my faith and got hooked on the truth, goodness, and beauty of Catholicism. Everyone needs a Patches, KJ, and Rick Turkey in their life. We all start out not really “getting” stuff and our knowledge grows over time when people patiently walk with us. Experiences help open up new questions and confirm what we’ve come to know already. It’s a continuous cycle of maturation with any passion in our lives.
Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, take a moment to think about something you are passionate about. How did your passion start? Who taught you about cars, crafts, cooking, or cattle? When did you experience that hobby or passion for the first time? What opened your eyes in such a way that you wanted to dig deeper into that aspect of your life? Odds are you’ll discover in the story of your passions some experiences, insights, and the help of others. Now ponder this: I had a Rick Turkey get me back into my faith, and I had a Patches and KJ get me into baseball. What makes you think you can’t be a Patches, KJ, or Rick for someone else when it comes to faith. “But...but...I don’t know enough. I’m not holy enough. I’m not...” Well, Patches doesn’t know everything about baseball. KJ doesn’t have the game figured out. And, I’m pretty sure Rick wasn’t a canonized saint when Monsieur Turkey got me to a youth group event at a church. If you love Jesus and love your faith, then you’re ready to share it with others. You don’t need to be a “professional” any more than I needed KJ to work in the back office of the Guardians in order to teach me about baseball; KJ does not work for the Guards, KJ simply likes baseball, that’s all it took. Too often we think “I’m not the one” to evangelize, and make all sorts of excuses. But I think that humility only qualifies you more. People don’t want experts and finished products bringing them to Jesus. They want friends and disciples who know they need a Savior and who aren’t done growing. That is, hopefully, you!
A Banquet, Some Pharisees, and Patches
What do you call it when a pirate updates his/her iPhone? An iPATCH...(and, that’s when the readership of Fr. Jacob’s Hatchery hit rock bottom).
In the Gospel of Mark Jesus offers a parable in relation to fasting that involves patchwork. In Mark 2:15, we see Jesus sitting at table with “tax collectors and sinners” after Levi’s call. Apparently, self-righteous fuddy-duddies got invites, because the ever-watchful Pharisees keep an eye on Jesus’ and his apostles’ caloric intake throughout the festivities; who doesn’t love nosy neighbors?! Then some of John the Baptist’s disciples and Pharisees approach Jesus and ask him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast” (Mark 2:18)? We can reasonably assume that the day of Levi’s feast landed on a day set apart for fasting by the Pharisees & JBap’s disciples. This was a religious custom picked up by the Pharisees that gained a lot of ground in the first century, and it eventually became a public display of one’s seriousness concerning the religious law. For Jesus, who preached in synagogues and who worked miraculous signs, to not fast would have been rather shocking. We can forgive the Pharisees et al. for their puzzlement: How can someone who isn’t taking the law seriously – in their mind’s understanding of what it means to take the law seriously – present himself as a holy rabbi let alone the Messiah?
Jesus responds with a few parable-metaphors, but the patches story strikes me. After describing himself in terms of the bridegroom delighting in a wedding banquet with his wedding party, Jesus spins a cautionary yarn about needlework: “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made” (Mark 2:21). Wow! Right? Just, wow. Wait...what? Is it okay if I’m honest for a moment? Are you seated? (Please tell me you’re not driving and reading!) Recently, when I read this, I was confused about what a patch had to do with fasting. I was corn-fused, as they say (which is a step above “confused” but a notch below “flabbergasted”). Why did Jesus bring up this insight about crafts and cloths and patches when asked about fasts?
ASIDE: When you come across a passage or section of Scripture that corn-fuses you, remember what the apostles did when they scratched their heads in wonder. “And when he was alone, those who were about him with the Twelve asked him concerning the parables” (Mark 4:10). Those closest to Jesus asked him (we would call that prayer today), “What in the world are you talking about?” when they didn’t “get” it. Jesus liked that, because it meant (1) they listened and (2) they trusted him enough to ask. Mark goes on to tell us about Jesus’ desire to share the meaning of his words with us: “privately to his own disciples he explained everything” (Mark 4:34b). When you’re not sure what is going on in a Scripture passage or section, pray. Take time to sit with the word of God. Ponder how the images, story line, place, characters, etc. intertwine with other parts of the Bible. How does that section fit into those before and after? Do you have a study Bible with notes and references to other parts of the Bible? If so, use those notes and look up those references. You will be amazed at the great fruit given when we do not rush God’s word but truly give our time and heart over to Him in His word.
The image in that short verse – Mark 2:21 – speaks about an attempt to fix a tear in a cloth. A “wound” in a garment took place and the owner wants to “heal” that hurt. When we place that insight about the image alongside fasting, we begin to catch Jesus’ point, I think. When fasting becomes simply an externalized practice that, of itself, signifies to the practitioner their own righteousness, then it attempts to “heal” a “wound” with a new patch on an old cloth. Put another way, fasting – the unshrunk (new) cloth patch – is good and helpful, but when applied in the wrong way it will make the “wound” worse. Throughout the Scriptures, fasting represented acts of humility and repentance. The Pharisees seem to take the fast and place it like a badge of pride over their torn garment. Thus, Jesus warns them about their fasting. Instead of drawing them to inner healing and freedom, their fast makes them prideful; the very problem they want to fix is getting worse, pride.
The point Jesus makes, this warning about pride in our devotional life, can help us today. Jesus does not tell the Pharisees that his disciples will never fast or shouldn’t fast. The opposite is true, Jesus states that his disciples will fast when he departs from them. These religious practices can open us up to the healing presence of the Trinity. But we must keep our eyes on Jesus while fasting or praying other devotions. Our prayer life isn’t meant for show and we don’t need to prove anything to God. When we live our life in communion with the Trinity, the saving love of Jesus gives us new hearts and fills us with his Holy Spirit (Mark 2:22). If we find that our prayer life and devotions lead to a self-righteous attitude that cramps our compassion towards people we regard as (and who very well may be) “sinners” - you know, the people Jesus had no problem loving, defending, saving, and dining with, those people who are sinners – then we need a “heart check.” We might be putting a new patch on an old garment that needs renewing inside-out. Better to hit the Pause Button on a devotional practice and reevaluate our attitude and mindset, bringing ourselves before the tender mercy of Jesus, then go on making the wound in our heart worse by our efforts to “fix” it.
Who Do You Think You Are?
Google lists “Who am I?” at the top of its most searched questions with the word “who” in it (“Who escaped from Alcatraz?” ranks number eight). People spend countless hours listening to motivational speakers and many dollars on self-discovery retreats, seeking an answer to this foundational question: Who am I? In our day, the topic of identity can trigger heated debates and upend a casual conversation. People can place their identity in their work, their love(s), hobbies, habits, and even the concerts they’ve attended. Do these people or things really provide an adequate anchor for our identity?
To root our identity – the heart and core of our identity – in family history, work, hobbies, or our pet ownership (“I’m a dog person” or “I’m a goat person”) courts danger. What happens when the family goes through a season of disruption? What happens when the job doesn’t work out? What happens when you can’t do the hobby you love or your favorite band breaks up? If we ground and root our lives in these passing things, they do not last and they often limit the horizon of our personality.
Of course, this is a blog by a Catholic priest, so you knew a transition to Jesus would happen eventually. Buckle up: this is that moment. Jesus did not ground his identity in his family’s approval, work, accomplishments or “failures.”
Family: “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him [Jesus], for
people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind’” (Mark 3:21). (Jesus didn’t stop his ministry though)
Work: “He came to his hometown and began to teach...they were astounded and said, […] ‘is not this the carpenter’s son.’ […] And they took offense at him” (Matthew 13:54-55, 57).
Accomplishments: “The Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Fatherdoing” (John 5:19)
“Failures”: (After he’s betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, beaten, deserted by many of his disciples, crucified and at the point of death with everything seemingly lost, Jesus makes this prayer) “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
When some of his family thought he was out of his mind, he kept moving forward. When people dismissed him because he was no longer doing carpentry work as they thought he should, he kept moving forward. When he succeeded, he didn’t get lost in self-congratulations but kept his heart on the Father’s will. When he had absolutely nothing left and it looked like his public ministry was a colossal failure, he commended all of it to his heavenly Father in trust. And, in that relationship with his heavenly Father we find the true anchor of Jesus’ identity, an anchor that granted him inner strength to endure persecution and remain in hope throughout his life and even in dying.
With Jesus’ baptism we have a window into the foundation of Jesus’ identity and mission:
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:9-11).
We see in this passage an ikon (ikon in the Byzantine Catholic sense of “window into eternity”) of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Son takes to himself our humanity and enters the waters that represent the cleansing of our sinfulness through the incarnate Son. The Heavens are opened by this saving grace, and the Father’s lavish generosity pours forth upon redeemed humanity in Christ His perfect Gift of Gifts, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit anoints Jesus Christ and the Father speaks from eternity into eternity the truth of the Son’s identity and our own in Jesus: You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Through faith and baptism, we enter into the life of Christ who lives his life in us. In some ways, the trajectory of Jesus’ entire life and ministry points towards this adoption into the Father’s heart:
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17).
God the Father did not make a mistake when you came to have faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, Redeemer, Healer, and Lord. Paul writes that the Father “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world/cosmos...He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:4, 5). Spend time in this truth about who you are in the Father’s heart through Jesus Christ...He sent Jesus Christ to redeem us because He wants us as His children so that He can lavish his love upon us (Eph. 1:8). Because of Jesus’ saving grace in our lives, we receive the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and reveals our sonship/daughtership in Christ. This relationship is not founded on our efforts but, first and foremost, on the will of the Father. It is from this relationship we see revealed our truest, deepest, surest identity.
When we step into a life in which we find our identity not in passing things, nor even in some excavated awareness of our self, but in the relationship with the Father through Jesus by the Holy Spirit, it is then that the immeasurable glory for which we are meant unfurls like a banner of love over our lives. The Father’s love through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit is not some mystical, sage aphorism meant to be stenciled on shiplap and forgotten in the attic five years from now. The Father’s love, our adoption into His family, our being seated with and in Christ at the Father’s right hand (Eph. 1:20; 2:6), radically transforms us from the inside-out and ushers us towards a royal existence in the Heavenly Kingdom. When our mission flows from our identity rooted and grounded in the love of the Father through Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:17), then we don’t fear His judgment nor other’s aspersions, we keep our eyes on what the Father is doing and joyfully persevere in faithfulness (Colossians 1:11).
Who are you? If you’ve allowed some-thing to take your identity out of the Father’s relationship He set for you in Christ Jesus, then joyfully repent in gratitude. I encourage a joyful repentance and not a “worldly sorrow” that turns us in on ourselves and forgets the gracious mercy of the Father (2 Corinthians 6:9-10). Simply apologize and turn to Jesus and ask the Holy Spirit to grant you a deeper revelation about who you are in the Father’s eyes. Simple. Easy. Awesome! You can live in this union with the Father through Jesus Christ. When we read the Scriptures – especially spending time with the Gospels – then we see unveiled for us what an identity grounded in the Father’s love looks like. This belongs to us as disciples of Jesus. Rejoice!
Fr. Jacob Bearer is a Catholic priest. He's about 6' to 6'4'' tall depending on which Convenient Store he's exiting. Although he enjoys kidney beans in chili, Fr. Jacob does not like baked beans and counts this as one of the toughest blotches on his character. He's been the administrator of SS. Edward's and Lucy's since January of 2022. Thank God for the Hatchery...this is a place where the author can share thoughts and ideas that don't quite seem right for the bulletin and won't exactly make for a homily (except for the times when the homily is posted with a sound file or used for a blog post). God bless you...and the hatchery.
SS. Edward & Lucy Parish
Office Phone: (440) 548-3812
Office Email: email@example.com
Fax number: (440) 548-2221
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Parkman, Ohio 44080
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SS. Edward & Lucy Parish
P.O. Box 709
Parkman, Ohio 44080