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Chief Shepherd of the Flock
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep. The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong to him, abandons the sheep and runs away as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; this is because he is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. (Jn 10:11-151)Yes, the Good Shepherd has laid down His life for us, His flock. From His pierced side, the Church was born. At the heart of the Churchs life is the priesthood. The Church, to such a great degree, depends upon her ministerial priesthood. Indeed, priests have been given a great privilege and a great responsibility. Included in the priests accepting the responsibility connected with his role in the Church is his obligation to strive for ever greater holiness in Christ. As we can see by the writings which follow, there is a most intimate connection between the fruitfulness of the priests ministry and his personal holiness.
Vatican II tells us: "Priestly holiness itself contributes very greatly to a fruitful fulfillment of the priestly ministry. True, the grace of God can complete the work of salvation even through unworthy ministers. Yet ordinarily God desires to manifest His wonders through those who have been made particularly docile to the impulse and guidance of the Holy Spirit...
"This most holy Synod desires to achieve its pastoral goals of renewal within the Church, of the spread of the gospel throughout the world, and of dialogue with the modern world. Therefore it fervently exhorts all priests to use the appropriate means endorsed by the Church as they ever strive for that greater sanctity which will make them increasingly useful instruments in the service of all of Gods People."2
What Vatican II puts before seminarians regarding spiritual formation can also obviously be implemented by priests: "Spiritual formation should be closely linked with doctrinal and pastoral training. Especially with the help of the spiritual director, such formation should help seminarians learn to live in familiar and constant companionship with the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son, in the Holy Spirit. By sacred ordination they will be molded in the likeness of Christ the Priest. As friends they should be used to loyal association with Him through a profound identification of their whole lives with His. They should live His paschal mystery in such a way that they know how to initiate into it the people entrusted to them. They should be taught to look for Christ in many places: in faithful meditation on Gods word, in active communion with the most holy mysteries of the Church, especially in the Eucharist and the divine Office, in the bishop who sends them, and in the people to whom they are sent, especially the poor, the young, the sick, the sinful and the unbelieving. With the trust of a son, they should love and honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was given as a mother to His disciple by Christ Jesus as He hung dying on the cross." 3
But, inasmuch as it is your offering and mine, and that of every other member of the Mystical Body ... we can limit the effectiveness of Gods great Act of Love; we finite beings can set bounds to the veritable flood of God-life made possible by the Infinite Son of the Infinite Father." 5
Yes, the effectiveness of each Mass, which makes the sacrifice of Calvary sacramentally present, depends in part on the holiness of the entire Church offering it with Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, including the holiness of the individual priest offering and the holiness of his participating congregation.
If all, then, have a responsibility to grow in holiness in order to render the Mass more efficacious, the priest has a special duty to do so. His goal must always be to grow in holiness -- to grow in union with Christ the Priest, this Christ Who leads us to the Father in the Holy Spirit with Mary at our side.
I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit
to make it bear even more.
You are clean already,
by means of the word
that I have spoken to you.
Remain in me, as I in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
unless it remains part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
"He told me about his conversion when he came to Trosly for the first time. His hours of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament and his contacts with Père Thomas were the two main causes behind his more radical turn to Jesus. As he told his story, it became clear that Jesus is at the center of his life. This would seem obvious for a priest, but such is not always the case. George has come to know Jesus in a way few priests have. When he pronounces the name of Jesus you know that he speaks from a deep, intimate encounter. His life has become simpler, more hidden, more rooted, more trusting, more open, more evangelical, and more peaceful. For George, being a priest at LArche means leading people -- the handicapped and their assistants -- always closer to Jesus.
"I now know for sure that there is a long, hard journey ahead of me. It is the journey of leaving everything behind for Jesus sake. I now know that there is a way of living, praying, being with people, caring, eating, drinking, sleeping, reading, and writing in which Jesus is truly the center." 7
From a spiritual classic we read about Jesus: "He is here with us in our churches, the same in Heart and mind as He was in those days when He pronounced the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Shepherd. As He never then showed coldness, aloofness or displeasure towards those who approached Him, no matter how stained their souls were with sin, He does not do so now. Our badness cannot modify His goodness, nor can it rob Him of His interest in us. He looks out on us from the Tabernacle with the same yearning love, the same expectancy, the same hopefulness which no rebuff on our part can chill, as He exhibited to all those whom He encountered while on earth...
"...A moment comes when a decisive sacrifice is asked ... It may be a mere nothing, but it involves a deliberate choice. The souls spiritual destiny (not necessarily its salvation) hangs in the balance, and it does not realize that it is so. Friendship with Jesus demands a certain renouncement and the soul pauses, hesitates and then -- refuses. It reasons that it can be saved without foregoing this thing -- it is not a sin to cleave to it. Conscience pleads that though it is not a sin to cling to the object desired, the delicate demands of friendship with the Lord call for its surrender. The soul replies that -- what it is pressed by grace to forego cannot be of such consequence and to cleave to it is not positively forbidden by Gods law. The decision is taken against the Lord. Instantly the ideal of life is lowered. It is no longer the love of Jesus which is its inspiring principle, but a selfish determination to secure salvation at the least cost to nature and to self. The gradual decline continues. Faults multiply. Every gratification that is not incompatible with Gods positive will is sought. There is less and less effort made to struggle against deliberate venial sins. The externals of a life of piety remain. There is nothing outstanding in the way of guilt -- but the habitual disposition of the soul is one of estrangement from God. Examinations of conscience do not disclose anything seriously wrong -- and yet, one feels that everything is wrong. And then comes over the soul a sense of isolation, of loneliness, of dereliction, and of powerlessness to move hand or foot to escape from the miserable impasse to which it has come. Its efforts at release, like those of the poor ensnared sheep, only serve to entangle it more securely in the thorns and briers. The soul lives under a haunting fear and is continually pricked by the thorns of remorse.
"In the state of utter helplessness it can do nothing but cry piteously to the Master it has abandoned. Its cries do not fall on deafness. The Good Shepherd is not far off and His approach is guided by the piteous bleating of the poor lost thing ... Our Lord wishes us to understand that nothing can oppose an insurmountable barrier to His love except one thing alone -- which he has given us Himself, and which He will not do violence to, even by His grace -- that is, our free will. He looks anxiously for the first stirrings of that will, its first feeble attempts to respond ... and as He notices them, His Heart throbs with pleasure. He craves our love, but He is too delicate to force it. It has no value for Him unless freely given ...
"...when it is a question of the soul and the souls life -- its nearness to or remoteness from God, there are no limits to be placed to the extent of His anxious tenderness. Hence His almost extravagant joy when the sinful or the lukewarm, surrendering to the assaults of His grace, turn to Him appealingly and cast themselves at His feet with a sincere confession of their helplessness and a humble appeal for help ... Jesus is good. In that lies the explanation of His attitude towards the weak, the erring and the helpless." 8
"All that the beginner in prayer has to do -- and you must not forget this, for it is very important -- is to labor and to be resolute and prepare himself with all possible diligence to bring his will in conformity with the will of God. As I shall say later, you may be quite sure that this comprises the very greatest perfection which can be attained on the spiritual road." 9
Again she states: "...love consists ... in the firmness of our determination to try to please God in everything."10
"Eternal Spirit, fill us with Your divine wisdom so that we may comprehend more fully the divine mysteries.
"Give us lights, Oh Holy Spirit, that we may know God. Work within the Heart, the spiritual womb, of the Virgin Mary to form us more and more into the image of Jesus."
Marys presence to her son is a model for us, since, through this mother, God becomes our brother and has given her to us as mother in order to identify us with himself... We are humble children of this mother who has so profoundly adopted us in him... Mary has the mission of aiding the work of our divinization in Jesus Christ. She cooperates with him in this work of God." 11
The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ's faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators. On the contrary, through a proper appreciation of the rites and prayers they should participate knowingly, devoutly, and actively. They should be instructed by God's word and be refreshed at the table of the Lord's body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn to offer themselves too. Through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever closer union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 48) 13
Archbishop Luis M. Martinez offers us these inspiring words: "If we could dispose ourselves at least to think about what He suffered for each one of us! Our souls are enveloped in His tenderness and in His pain. We are the fruit of His love and His martyrdom. We increasingly receive His gifts of all kinds. We receive them tranquilly, at times joyfully. But those gifts are marked with the blood of Jesus, the blood from His veins and from his Heart. In order that we might taste the least of His consolations, Jesus had to taste the gall and vinegar of interior desolation...
"Each communion we receive cost Jesus the sacrifice of Calvary ... Holy Communion is a banquet from heaven prepared with the blood of Jesus and the bitterness of His Heart." 15
"At the Mass we unite in offering sacrifice to the Father. We all unite as one and give ourselves in such oneness with Jesus, in such love to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. We desire to die to all the things that are not of God and join in this great miracle taking place. The Father looks down and He sees the sacrifice of His Son being offered through His priest. Heaven unites to earth. Earth cries out in such jubilation at the great gift of the Almighty God, and we unite as creatures giving ourselves as a sacrifice to our beloved Creator. Do we experience the presence of God as His power flows through His priest, who takes ordinary bread and wine, and changes them into the Body and Blood of our Lord? Do we hear Jesus cry out, as He did at the Last Supper, with the intensity in His voice reflecting the knowledge of the upcoming events of His Passion and death?
"Do we hear the priest say the words of consecration with the emotion of Jesus, about to give His life for His beloved ones? And the earth stands still. There is, at that moment, the sacrifice of Calvary sacramentally made present through the words of the priest. Oh, that God so loved the world to give His only Son as a sacrifice, and that God wants us in this deep oneness with Him! I give You myself, my Savior, my beloved Jesus, as You so willingly gave Yourself to me on Calvary. I want to die and rise more and more with You in the deepest possible love for You and for those for whom You died a brutal, bloody death on Calvary, and for whom You rose gloriously from the dead!"
St. Clement, Pope, writes to the Corinthians: "Why are there strife and passion, schisms and even war among you? Do we not possess the same Spirit of grace which was given to us and the same calling in Christ? Why do we tear apart and divide the body of Christ? Why do we revolt against our own body? Why do we reach such a degree of insanity that we forget that we are members one of another?...
"We should put an end to this division immediately. Let us fall down before our master and implore his mercy with our tears. Then he will be reconciled to us and restore us to the practice of brotherly love that befits us ... A person may be faithful; he may have the power to utter hidden mysteries; he may be discriminating in the evaluation of what is said and pure in his actions. But the greater he seems to be, the more humbly he ought to act, and the more zealous he should be for the common good rather than his own interest." 17
"Since the entire Christian life is centered in faith, hope, and love, so also, then, is the life of prayer. In faith, hope, and love, we are receptive to Gods indwelling presence. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are intimately present to us, and we to Them.
"Our presence to God in prayer is a receptive presence. We must be open to God, we must be willing to listen to Him. Our attitude should resemble Samuels: "Yahweh then came and stood by, calling as he had done before, Samuel! Samuel! Samuel answered, Speak, Yahweh; for your servant is listening ." (1 Sam 3:10)
"Being open to God in prayer, listening to Him, asking Him what He would have us do, is based on the very basic truth that God is the One Who takes the initiative in the Christian life. God is granting His grace in abundance. The danger lies with us, with the possibility that we will be deaf to His call, that we will not listen properly, that our selfishness will blemish our openness.
"To be open to God in prayer means to make ourselves receptive to His love for us. It means a willingness to allow that love to direct our lives. It means, therefore, a desire to increasingly conform our wills to Gods will in love.
"In prayer, then, God desires our openness. He wants us to listen. He wants us to allow Him to reveal Himself to us in greater depth. He also desires that we allow Him more and more to reveal ourselves to us -- both the good and the bad. He desires that we allow Him in His love for us to reveal to us those hidden and unrecognized recesses of our being where we still resist Him. He wants to engrave His image upon us ever more deeply. He desires to possess us more completely so that we may more fully be ourselves. Gods possession of us in grace is oriented toward bringing our total being to fulfillment. Grace perfects nature, brings it to a maturity otherwise not possible. Our uniqueness, then, along with all the other aspects of our persons, finds fulfillment in grace. Prayer, in which we open ourselves to being more intimately possessed by God, is truly a special opportunity to fulfill our search for personal authenticity -- for becoming in greater depth our true, unique selves.
"Prayers dialogic love-presence, uniting the Christian with God, is centered in Christ. This fact flows from the mediatorship of Jesus: He draws us to the Father in the Holy Spirit.
"In prayer, the Father, in the Holy Spirit, speaks to us through Jesus. Through His incarnate Son the Father has revealed Himself and His plan for our salvation. The Father, under the delicate touches of the Spirit, enlightens us in Christ concerning lifes meaning. The Christian can understand his or her existence only in the light of Christ. Hans Urs Von Balthasar says: Those who consider Christian contemplation outdated and turn to the values of the world to give them fresh force are victims of illusion. Only in Christ do things attain their ultimate meaning and end ... 18
"We are imprinted with a Trinitarian, Christ-like image. Christ, through His life, death, and resurrection has shown us how to live a God-like, a Trinitarian type, existence. In the quiet of prayer the Father bids us to look at His Son and to assimilate the mysteries or events of His life, death, and resurrection more radically into our own lives. These mysteries possess a perennial reality, a perennial dynamism. As we variously experience Christ -- and prayer is one of the chief means through which we do so -- we also experience these mysteries. We are to incorporate them ever more dynamically into our lives. Because of the fundamental transcendency of Christs mysteries, they are always supremely relevant to each Christian of any age. They possess a perennial vitality to meet all exigencies.
"As we gaze upon Jesus, we deepen the understanding of our own lives in the light of His. In prayer we are deepening the conviction that Jesus has the meaning of life. We come to realize more in the depths of our hearts that without Him there is no consistent and meaningful unity to all our work and play, success and failure, happiness and joy, pain and sorrow. In prayer we achieve a deeper realization of what Jesus meant when He left us these words:
I am the Way; I am Truth and Life.
No one can come to the Father
except through me. (Jn 14:6) 19
" All that I have written seems to me as a little straw, concluded St. Thomas Aquinas toward the end of his life. His humble assessment of himself and his works was accurate. For is not indeed everything that the mind can achieve really only straw before the greatness of God and his incredible designs? He is a God, however, who is glorified by our gathering all the straw we can for his service and the directing of our own free willed lives, while vigorously routing a temptation toward torpor of intellect.
"Yes, a mind is for using. Its sound conclusions call for the most serious pondering. And for the heart to claim absolute sovereignty whether over life itself or the decisions that make for lifes unfolding pattern is clearly an unjustified and perilous assumption. Yet, for the mind to insist on its supreme authority in decision making, including the decision to disregard the evidence of the heart, is a counter insistence fraught, if not always with peril, at least with frequent and sometimes very serious loss to the proprietors of mind and heart. Indeed, it is the mind that delivers to the will the evidence on which the will pronounces. Nonetheless, cerebral conclusions need enfleshing with what only the heart can contribute: the finding of love that can never, if the love is real and true, be at enmity with the mind but which can sometimes unseat the minds best justified decisions or even topple them. The mind of the father of the prodigal son in the Gospel must surely have rendered the father completely just conclusions: the son must be penanced. He must make reparation. He must become practiced in contrition. He must come to assess himself as a thorough-going rotter. Its all for his own good, before there be any expression of such unduly swift and overly facile pardon as might leave the boy forever unaware of the heinousness of his crimes.
"The father might well have then had it in mind to show welcome, once the sons state of soul had been made clear to him. It was good, clear thinking. But the fathers heart got the better of any sound conclusions of reasonableness. He just held out his arms to his returned renegade son. And threw a party. This is Jesus revelation of how the heavenly Father forgives ...
"It is a most wondrous partnership, that of the mind and heart." 20
"Jesus knew all those who persecuted Him, and He loved them. Jesus has a constant awareness of each person as the unique creation of the Father, including those who persecuted Him. And He loved them. Yes, He loved them, even to His brutal death on the cross.
"I have an awareness more and more that I love my brothers and sisters of the human family so much because I see them as created by my loving Father. He loves them so much. He is one with them. How can I not love them? I see less their faults and more their beauty as His creation. I know Jesus gave the last drop of His Blood for them. How could I hate anyone that He loves so much! To love Jesus is to love my brother. I cannot love Jesus and hate my brother. Jesus is one with him. I am one in Him and He is one in me. My brother is one in Him. If I am one with Jesus and I love Jesus, then I must love my brother because he is one with Jesus and we are all one, united in Jesus our Redeemer Who died and rose that we may live, Who died and rose that we may be all profoundly one in Him and one in each other."
"It was very beautiful. Deep peace. Sheep on the slopes behind the sheep barn. The new trellises in the novitiate garden leaning and sagging under a hill of roses. A cardinal singing suddenly in the radiant tree, and piles of flagrant logs all round the woodshed waiting to be cut in bad weather.
"I looked at all this in great tranquility, with my ... spirit quiet. For me, landscape seems to be important for contemplation. Anyway, I have no scruples about loving it. Didnt Saint John of the Cross hide himself in a room up in a church tower, where there was one small window through which he could look out at the country?" 23
"Work brings peace to the soul that has a semblance of order and spiritual understanding. Agitation -- a condition of spirit that is quite normal in the world of business -- is the fruit of tension in a spirit that is turning dizzily from one stimulus to another and trying to react to fifteen different appeals at the same time. Under the surface of agitation, and furnishing it with its monstrous and inexhaustible drive, is the force of fear or elemental greed for money, or pleasure, or power. The more complex a mans passion, the more complex his agitation.
"All this is the death of the interior life ..." 25
"Lord Jesus, Chief Shepherd of the Flock, we pray that in the great love and mercy of Your Sacred Heart that you attend to all the needs of Your priest-shepherds throughout the world. We ask that You draw back to Your Heart all those priests who have seriously strayed from Your path, that You rekindle the desire for holiness in the hearts of those priests who have become lukewarm, and that You continue to give Your fervent priests the desire for the highest holiness. United with Your Heart and Marys Heart, we ask that You take this petition to Your heavenly Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen".
The above prayer is taken from the prayer manual of Shepherds of Christ Associates, a facet of Shepherds of Christ Ministries. The associates are members of prayer groups which meet regularly to pray for all the needs of the entire human family, but most especially for priests. If you would like a copy, or copies, of this prayer manual, and further, if you would like information on how to begin a Shepherds of Christ prayer chapter, contact us at:
Shepherds of Christ
P.O. Box 193
Morrow, Ohio 45152-0193
Phone (toll free): 1-888-211-3041
Dear Blessed Virgin Mary, I consecrate myself to your maternal and Immaculate Heart, this Heart which is symbol of your life of love. You are the Mother of my Savior. You are also my Mother. You love me with a most special love as this unique priest-son. In a return of love I give myself entirely to your motherly love and protection. You followed Jesus perfectly. You are His first and perfect disciple. Teach me to imitate you in the putting on of Christ. Be my motherly intercessor so that, through your Immaculate Heart, I may be guided to an ever closer union with the pierced Heart of Jesus, Chief Shepherd of the Flock, Who leads me to the Father in the Holy Spirit.
Dear Ed,Just want to tell you I liked your 1999, Issue Three, with its two articles on "Personal Uniqueness" and "Jesus". Ill be looking for a chance to use them in my retreats and liturgies. Thanks a lot.
Bob Thul, S.J.
Please receive my cordial greetings.
It was really an opportune moment and a gracious one to come in touch with a "Shepherds of Christ" issue. I was nearly overjoyed by the spiritual nourishment it contained. As a parish priest, I would find it highly useful if I could regularly receive it.
Also, please send me the newsletter in book form and the newsletter audio cassettes. Yours in Christ,
Fr. Felix Rashid
Tanzania, East Africa
I have come to know that your newsletter, "Shepherds of Christ", so rich in spiritual resources and so useful, are now available on audio-cassettes.
I would be very grateful if I could have them, since I can no longer read.
Would you kindly place me on your mailing list and send also 10 copies of "Shepherds of Christ", together with some copies of the prayer manual for distribution?
May the good Shepherd bless your precious work and keep you in His loving care.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Luigi Gerardi
Scripture quotations are taken fromThe New Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday.
Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation,I Will Give You Shepherds, St. Paul Books and Media, No. 25.
M. Raymond, O.C.S.O.This Is Love, Bruce, p. 106.
Maurice de la Taille, S. J.,The Mystery of Faith, Book 2, "The Sacrifice of the Church", translated by Joseph Carroll and P. J. Dalton, Sheed and Ward, p. 240.
Henri Nouwen,The Road to Daybreak, Doubleday, pp. 70-71
Edward Leen C. S. Sp.,In the Likeness of Christ, Sheed and Ward, pp. 205-216.
St Teresa of Avila,Interior Castle, translated by E. Allison Peers, Doubleday and Co., "Second Mansions", p. 51.
Ibid., "Fourth Mansions", p. 76.
René Laurentin,A Year of Grace With Mary, Veritas Publications, pp. 113-114.
Ibid, No. 48.
Pope Puis XII, Encyclical Letter, Mystici Corporis, AAS, XXXV, pp. 232-233.
Archbishop Luis Martinez,Only Jesus, B. Herder Book Co., pp. 212-213.
Ladislas Orsy, S.J., "On Being One With the Church Today",Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, Vol. VII, January.
St. Clement, Pope, from a letter to the Corinthians, as inThe Liturgy of the Hours, Catholic Book Publishing Co., Vol. III, pp. 455-456.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar,Prayer, Sheed and Ward, p. 53.
Edward Carter, S.J.,Prayer Perspectives, Alba House, pp. 12-16.
Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.,Forth and Abroad, Ignatius Press, pp. 121-123
St. John of the Cross, "Sayings of Light and Love",The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D., Doubleday and Co., No. 70.
Thomas Merton,No Man Is An Island, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., as in Through the Year with Thomas Merton, edited by Thomas P. Mc Donnell, Doubleday, p. 105.
Thomas Merton,The Sign of Jonas, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., as in Through the Year with Thomas Merton, Ibid., pp. 105-106.
Thomas Merton,Faith and Violence, University Notre Dame Press, as in Through the Year with Thomas Merton, Ibid., pp. 144-145
Thomas Merton,No Man Is An Island, op. cit. p. 153.
Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter,Redeemer of Man, United States Catholic Conference, No. 15.
1999, ISSUE FIVE
Shepherds of Christ
Shepherds of Christ Ministries
P.O. Box 193
Morrow, Ohio 45152-0193
Shepherds of Christ, a spirituality newsletter for priests, is published bi-monthly by Shepherds of Christ Ministries, P.O. Box 193, Morrow, Ohio 45152-0193. While distribution is free of charge to all priests in the U.S., and growing internationally, donations are still very much appreciated. Inquiries and comments are welcome, as are address changes and addresses of the newly ordained. Permission to reproduce intact is granted for non-commercial use. Editor Father Edward Carter S.J. is Professor of Theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. John Weickert is President. Good Shepherd illustration is by Brother Jerome Pryor, S.J. Layout and design are by Joan Royce. Also dedicated to the spiritual advancement of priests is a worldwide network of lay/religious prayer chapters, Shepherds of Christ Associates, headquartered at 2919 Shawhan Road, Morrow, Ohio 45152, telephone toll free 1-888-211-3041, fax 513-932-6791.