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“’Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, our God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:36-40).

There are 613 precepts in the Torah which make up Jewish law. How does one decide which is the most important? In other words, what is the heart of the Torah?

Jesus’ response is simple. The heart of the Torah is love. Laws are signs and guideposts on our journey, helping us to learn to love with our full selves – our entire heart, mind, and soul. This law aids us in becoming better lovers of God, one another, and all of creation.

This passage is an invitation to see the world through God’s eyes and to love as God loves.

We have been loved into being, created for love in such a way that we are drawn to love as God loves. God loves and sustains the entire world, and loves each part of us at every moment. God’s love has no limits. God’s love is of excess and is poured out endlessly on us. His love is not conditional.

By saying that love is the heart of the Torah, Jesus is calling us to reciprocate this love and love as freely as God. We are invited to see the connection between love of God and love of neighbor. When we truly love those around us, we are showing our love for God.

How can you increase your consciousness of love in your life?

What would your world look like if you approached all people by trying to see God present in them?

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

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“The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?’” (Matthew 22: 15 – 17).

Jesus’ parables to chief priests and elders over the last few readings depicted them as the second son who did not fulfill his father’s wishes and as the tenants who killed the king’s messengers. These religious leaders tried, in the conversation recorded in this reading, to put Jesus in a no-win situation.

If Jesus said that it was permissible to pay taxes to Caesar, the crowds would see him as siding with the Roman occupation. If he said it was not permissible, then the Herodians (who collaborated with the Romans) could denounce him to the authorities.

“Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax’” (Matthew 22:18).

The Jewish custom was that the only valid currency in the Temple was official Temple money. Roman coins minted with the head of Caesar portrayed him as a demi-god, and this image of a false god was explicitly forbidden by the First Commandment. These Pharisees and Herodians, by having Roman coins in their possession, dared to breach the First Commandment within the Temple! Doing this showed their acceptance of the financial advantages to them of the Roman occupation of Palestine.

“He said to them, ‘Whose image is on this and whose inscription?’ They replied, ‘Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22: 20-21).

Those willing to use Caesar’s coin should repay him in kind, as they received their money from Caesar. Jesus raised the debate to a new level by bringing up repaying God. The Pharisees and the Herodians should be more concerned with repaying God with the good deeds that are due to Him.

Jesus challenges us to look at where we get our money and how we spend it. This reveals our true priorities. Has our money, as it did with the Pharisees and Herodians, entered the space of the sacred? Do we find fulfillment in making money and buying things, instead of in our faith and in doing good deeds?

How do you spend your money? What does it tell you about your values and priorities?

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

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Miriam_DemjanovichAlmost twenty years ago, I had the privilege of attending St. John Paul’s mass at Giants Stadium. There had been a lottery at my church in Verona, New Jersey, and I was chosen to attend along with my wife, Janet, and about 40 other parishioners. Janet could not attend because of work responsibilities.
 
It was a very damp and cloudy morning, and we hoped that the rain would hold off until after Mass. However, it started to rain right after the Gospel was proclaimed, and we were completely drenched. Yet, it was a most memorable and holy day that I will always cherish.
 
So after I read about the beatification mass for Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark, I knew that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This time, Janet came with me, and it was a very rainy morning once again. Camera trucks from all of the television networks, including EWTN were on Central Avenue, and it was fairly empty outside. We thought that we were early. Once we entered, though, we found that the cathedral was filled to capacity. We were lucky to find two chairs in the back along the side wall.
 
At 9:30 the procession began, and it lasted for at least 15 minutes. The Sisters Of Charity were well represented and processed down the middle aisle followed by the deacons, priests, bishops, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and the celebrant, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints. During the rite and formula of beatification, the cathedral was silent, but then it erupted with such joy and celebration. Blessed Miriam Teresa’s portrait was then uncovered as Michael Mencer—whose boyhood recovery from macular degeneration is attributed to Sister Miriam’s intercession—carried her relics, which were placed next to her portrait.
 
I cannot find the words to describe how I felt during the beatification rite. It was amazing and spirit-filling to witness the beatification of a woman from Bayonne, New Jersey and a sister from the local congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth.
 
Two one-of-a-kind spiritual events within twenty years!
 
Richard Michalowski is RENEW International’s Controller and proud father and grandfather.

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In September, Deirdre Malacrea, my RENEW colleague, and I attended the three-day international meeting in Vatican City on Pope Francis’ exhortation on the new evangelization, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). We joined 1,500 pastoral workers from 60 countries. The highlight of the conference was the talk by Pope Francis. After a morning session, we went out to lunch and had to return to the hall through security in anticipation of the pope’s appearance. The security lines were a mass of people. Typical Americans, Deirdre and I began to discuss how we could better organize the crowd, but we quickly abandoned that discussion and joined in the mad push. I lost Deirdre in the crush of the people, and entering the hall I lost hope for a decent seat. That is until I heard Deirdre calling to me. Using her American ingenuity and tough-minded Jersey attitude she landed us seats in the fourth row. When the pope entered the hall the atmosphere was electric, and I found myself lifted from my seat by the enthusiasm of the crowd. Instead of shouting “Derek Jeter” I joined the masses chanting “Papa Francesco.”
 
Pope Francis quieted the crowd with his humble presence, and his immediate and everyday language was compelling. He cautioned us against “clericalism”—looking down on the people we serve—and being too caught up in the institution, status, and rules of the Church. Instead he called us to preach and bear witness to the mercy of God. He reminded us of one of his favorite images of the church, a “field hospital” where all people who are suffering and wounded are welcome to come for healing, and he exhorted us to foster a church that is proximate and open and gives priority to the weak and poor. His concluding remarks were words of hope and encouragement—go about the work of evangelization with “patience and perseverance.”
 
I encourage you to read and reflect on The Joy of the Gospel. In this exhortation, Pope Francis encourages all Christians to embark on a new chapter of evangelization. He outlines a new vision for the Church, and he calls each local community to implement this vision according to its own culture and circumstance. This is exactly what we at RENEW are focused on as we develop our new pastoral process, Be My Witness: Formation for the New Evangelization.
 
In the words of Pope Francis: “Go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ… I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than a fear from going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of being shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying us: “Give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37)” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49).
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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In the time of Jesus, everyone owed much to the king. He was responsible for safety, trade, and everything the community had. Given this fact, everyone was obliged to be loyal to him. Imagine the king’s anger at having his invitation to a celebration refused by those who owed him so much! After his servants were killed, “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” (Matthew 22:7). New subjects were gathered who showed loyalty and celebrated with the king. However, when the king saw a guest who hadn’t put on a wedding garment, he said to his attendants, “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Matthew 22:13). That subject was willing to take what was offered, but not willing to give back what was due.

Instead of focusing on the king’s actions, look at this parable as a lesson in consistency of faith and life.

The king expected the outward profession of his subjects’ sense of personal loyalty. The first group of subjects professed loyalty, but did not act on it because they did not attend the celebration. This reminds us of times when we profess that we believe but do not let our faith guide our daily actions. Other subjects killed emissaries of the king. They rejected the king, just as we may at times choose to do things that are contrary to the challenge to love one another. The last group of subjects was willing to profess their loyalty and act on it by attending the celebration ─all except for the one subject who refused to dress respectfully but wanted to reap the benefits of the party. It is this third group that Jesus challenges us to be – by both professing our faith outwardly and allowing it to guide us internally.

“For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22: 14).

God calls us all to be in a relationship. But our response and the consistency of our response are up to us. We owe everything to God, just as the subjects owed everything to the king. All God asks us to do in return is to be consistent in heart and action in our response.

That consistency can be a tougher task than it appears. How do you respond to God’s call? Are your actions always consistent with your beliefs?

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

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