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We’ve all been in situations in which someone has hurt or injured us. Sometimes we find it difficult or even impossible to forgive the offender. Or perhaps we have been the one who has done the hurting. Whichever the case, we have all had to deal with people who “sin against us.”

The early Christian community had similar difficulties. In the midst of the turmoil that accompanied the transition between Judaism and early Christianity, and under the pressure of persecution, they had to deal with the question of what to do with those who had sinned against them. Matthew drew on his Jewish heritage to offer ways to welcome back a member of the community: first, try to speak with the one who has harmed you one on one; then invite friends or witnesses to mediate if necessary; and finally, go to the Church community for support to aid you in the disputed matter. Throughout the process, be mindful that God has given you the power to “bind and loose” your grievances.

When we bind the sins against us, we are holding on to grievances and are unable to release ourselves and others. Our own anger can eat away at our body and spirit. By loosing sins, we are able to let go and forgive. We can free ourselves from carrying this burden and free others from carrying it as well.

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18: 18),

This is great advice! But great advice isn’t always as easy as it sounds. When we are hurt, we want little or nothing to do with the one who has hurt us. We may bottle the pain up inside or speak about it to anyone but the one who has harmed us. The Gospel teaches us to air out the issue. If the person does not hear us, the Gospel says to go to the community for help. This shows that forgiveness is a process. Forgiving and forgetting are not the same things. Forgiving is recognizing that those who have caused us pain are also loved and created by God. This God is calling both them and us into new and greater life.

In what situation have you found it difficult to forgive? Where is that situation now?

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

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“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.’ He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” (Matthew 16: 21-23)

Last Sunday, Peter was the “rock” that Jesus would build his Church upon. He was called to be the foundation for the Church and his witness would nourish the Church forever. Rocks, however, can also be obstacles.

Jesus’s reaction to Peter shows Peter’s transformation from a “rock” to a “stumbling block.” Peter was observing and judging Jesus through human eyes. Looking at it from the human perspective, it does not make sense to suffer. “God forbid, Lord!” However, instead of looking at it with human eyes, Jesus wanted Peter to judge things with the eyes of God.

Jesus is prompting us to do so as well. When seen through the eyes of God, dying or letting go of something is the bridge to new and greater life.

How often do we see the world through human eyes? As humans, we want to alleviate pain. By seeing the world through God’s eyes, we see that suffering is not the end. Times of suffering or letting go of something have the potential to become moments for transformation. Those moments in which we are broken open are moments when we are open to new possibilities and new life.

If we see things with human eyes, we can lose our foundation. Not only will we ourselves begin to crumble, but we can cause others to trip and fall. Yet, when we see things through the eyes of God, and act accordingly, then we will share in the strength of God, and become a rock for ourselves and for others.

Look at how you respond to life’s challenges. Do you do so as a “rock” or as a “stumbling block?”

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

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Who_do_you_say“When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” (Matthew 16: 13-17)

Jesus’ way of teaching was usually by telling stories and asking questions. He didn’t lecture but created a dialogue with his disciples in order for them to gain deeper understanding. Today’s reading begins with Jesus asking his disciples who the people say the Son of Man is. They answered him with various prophets. Like these prophets, Jesus brought messages from God. But Jesus was not only a prophet.

Jesus, the good teacher, proposed another question to his disciples in response to their answer. Simon Peter spoke for all the disciples and answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This answer shows just how close to Jesus they were, and how well they had come to know him. Like the crowds, they had seen Jesus perform miracles and had heard his parables. However, they had also been given private explanations of his teachings. Through God’s grace, they had been given a very special gift: recognizing Jesus the Messiah.

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Matthew 16:17).

This is what greatness looks like in the kingdom of heaven. It is not in moving mountains but is born when God comes to dwell within us and when God reveals himself to the world through us. We become what we are meant to be when we become mirrors who reflect the glory of God.

Grace can be seen in Simon Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question. Grace in the disciples comes not just from hearing Jesus preach, but also from living with him – inviting him into the ordinary times of life, recognizing him as a constant companion, and having conversations with him not only when things are rough, but also when things are good.

Today we must remember that and commit ourselves to setting our own wills aside so that God can make himself known to the world through our words and actions.

If others were to guess who you think Jesus is, based on how you talk about him, would they guess correctly?

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

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tomb_of_maryToday we celebrate an event that took place at the end of the Virgin Mary’s life on earth.
 
The church believes that when that time came, Mary was taken body and spirit into the presence of God – an idea that is incomprehensible to us because it is completely outside our experience.
 
The church does not say, because it has no evidence, whether Mary died and was then assumed into heaven or whether she was taken while she was still living, but the church has taught for many centuries that God would not allow the woman who bore the Christ child to undergo the corruption of the grave.
 
This was formally defined as Catholic dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
 
The document the pope issued had an impressive name: Munificentissimus Deus—the most benevolent God.
 
And the church identifies Mary with the woman described by the author of the Book of Revelations: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
 
And yet the woman—or, rather, the girl we read about in the gospel passage proclaimed at Mass today, a girl rushing to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, didn’t have any of those trappings of glory.
 
On the contrary, she was as simple and obscure as she could possibly be, and she had every reason to believe that she would stay that way.
 
But simple doesn’t mean naïve.
 
Simple doesn’t mean simple-minded.
 
Simple doesn’t mean ignorant.
 
In fact, it may be because she was such a simple person whose mind wasn’t cluttered up with ambition and greed and suspicion that Mary had such clear vision.
 
There’s a great deal of meaning in Elizabeth’s remark to Mary: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’’
 
Mary was a unique human being in a few ways.
 
She was conceived in her mother’s womb without the stain of original sin.
 
She conceived a child through the direct action of God’s Holy Spirit.
 
And she gave birth to that child who had within him both the nature of humanity and the nature of God.
 
No other human being can make these claims.
 
But still, Mary was a human being, and she had to cope with these extraordinary circumstances by using her human faculties.
 
Elizabeth says “blessed are you who believed” because Mary had accepted God’s will, as she understood it, through the exercise of her own free will and her Jewish faith.
 
And that didn’t end with the birth of Jesus.
 
In recent years, the church and religious scholars have put increased emphasis on Mary’s role—not only as the mother of Jesus and then as the queen of heaven — but also as the first and most faithful disciple of Jesus.
 
The scriptures necessarily focus on the ministry of Jesus, but it is clear in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles that Mary didn’t just wave good-bye to her son and stay home in the empty nest.
 
On the contrary, Mary closely followed her son’s ministry, visibly identified herself with him even as he was dying on the cross, remained among the apostles and other disciples in those uncertain and dangerous days after the resurrection, and was present when the Holy Spirit infused the infant church on the occasion we know as Pentecost.
 
In doing this, of course, she set an example for us who are no less human and no more human than she was.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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The Canaanite woman’s appeal is not an unusual one. Many times throughout the Gospels we find people petitioning Jesus to heal their loved ones. In this instance, however, Jesus’ response is surprising. He is unconcerned and becomes quite hostile as her pleas continue. Jesus tells her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” But she will not be deterred and continues her pleas. The Canaanite woman finally perseveres, and her daughter is healed.

So, why was Jesus so unreceptive to the woman in the beginning? The context of this Gospel gives us the answer. The majority of Matthew’s audiences are converts to Christianity from Judaism. This passage reflects an understandable presumption from this group that Jesus’ message was meant only for the Jews. This community also included Gentiles, converts from paganism. These two groups, who were so different in their religious backgrounds and culture, were united in their profession of the Christian faith and became the new People of God.

The manner in which this encounter unfolds depicts this struggle. Jesus, as a Jewish male, is at risk of becoming “unclean” by speaking with a Canaanite woman. Yet through his conversation with this “untouchable” woman, we witness a change in Jesus’ responses. It is here that we come to recognize the inclusive love intended for the Jews was meant for the Gentiles as well.

“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matthew 15: 28).

It’s the intensity of the Canaanite woman’s conviction and the passion of her faith that enabled Jesus to change his perception in the end.

So what is Matthew challenging us to learn through this episode? Should we question the way we listen to some voices and not others? Are there certain people or messages that are difficult for us to hear? If we take this story to heart,the witness of Jesus urges us to expect the call to conversion in some of the most unlikely places, and to be attentive when we hear it.

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

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