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Thanksgiving Day is my favorite holiday. It is less stressful than Christmas, and its focus on gratitude for faith, family, and country instead of gift-giving is an opportunity to reflect on and delight in the blessings of life and the giver of all good gifts. The familiar smells and food and table fellowship help awaken me to gratitude particularly for people past and present who have loved me.
 
Thomas Merton, a monk and spiritual writer, reflects in his book Thoughts in Solitude on gratitude as the heart of the Christian life. “Every breath we draw is a gift of God’s love, every moment of existence is a grace for it brings with it immense graces from God. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.” Gratitude, then, is a contemplative stance towards life that sees all as gift and grace and leads to joy. Gratitude is more than saying a polite thank you. Instead it is a spontaneous feeling that arises from a heart that is free and supple. When I start thinking “I earned” or “I deserve” or “I wanted,” my grateful heart turns into a bitter one. Gratitude is, yes, delighting in the gift whether it is a new iPad or a sunrise or a turkey dinner, but more importantly it is a feeling of joy directed toward a person for giving me something good. It is a joy that comes not merely from the gift but from the act of giving, and it is directed toward the giver.
 
I look forward to Thanksgiving with my family not only for the turkey and stuffing but more importantly for that overwhelming feeling of gratitude I feel particularly as we take a moment to thank God for the blessings of the past year. I ask God for the grace to be responsive to the family members with whom I will share the Thanksgiving meal this year and to be awakened and renewed to the goodness of God in each person, in nature, and in myself.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.
 
Portrait of Thomas Merton by Frank Peabody.

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All_Souls“Jesus said to the crowds: ‘Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me,that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day’” (John 6:37-40).
 
There are many people who have departed earthly life but are not forgotten by us or by God. Yesterday was All Saints Day, and today we celebrate those who have not been declared saints but who have lived lives of holiness and who have touched our lives and our faith. You might remember a loving grandparent, aunt, or uncle, or friend who has died. Today we recognize that these people may no longer be with us, but they are still present in spirit and with God.
 
Today’s gospel reading is set in the midst of a discourse in which Jesus describes himself as the “bread of life” (John 6:35-51). Jesus explains in this reading that on the last day we will be reunited with everyone who believes—no exceptions.
 
How do we tap into this powerful source of life and nearness to God? When we receive the body and blood of Jesus in the elements of bread and wine, we are incorporated into Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We receive the promise that we, too, will be among those who join him on the last day. Our “Amen” says that we are willing to take on the challenge to live as Christians—to follow Jesus in word and deed. The Eucharist is our hope to share in God’s glory.
 
The life and unity we are promised is not limited to some future life with saints and angels but is already available to us here, today, in our unity with all people. As we care for the sick, the poor, the displaced, or the sorrowful, we help to build that unity. As we celebrate the sacraments—especially the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life—we live in Christ, but we also do so in the ordinary times of our lives as we grow closer to those all around us.
 
Whenever new people come into our lives, we share with them the unity that will be complete only in the end. And whenever people leave us through death, we can confidently place them in the protection of God, who cares for them and promises to bring us back together again one day. In God, there is no goodbye—“God be with you” is forever.
 
How does the celebration of the Eucharist help you feel connected to those who have departed from your life?
 
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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SCC_PrayerBeing creative with the opening and closing prayer can help participants grow by experiencing a variety of prayer forms. Familiar prayers can be reassuring, and they should be a part of the group’s overall experience, but sharing new words and forms can capture the participants’ attention, help them appreciate prayer as a conversation with God, and deepen their understanding of their place as members of the Body of Christ.
 
Here is an example of an opening prayer that includes quieting down:
Begin the meeting as usual. When you arrive at the moment of opening prayer, invite everyone to close their eyes, take three breaths—inhaling and then slowly exhaling. Then say:

I invite you to remember all those who have blessed you by sharing faith
with you.
Think back through your life . . .
Who inspired and blessed you as an infant and in your early childhood….Who comes to mind during your elementary school years….Consider now those who inspired you as a pre-teen, teenager, young adult, when you were in your 20s and early 30s…in middle age…in your wisdom years.
Take a moment and, as we remember All Saints and All Souls, celebrate those people, living or deceased, who have been part of your faith journey and offer a silent prayer of gratitude.

 
Allow for thirty seconds of silence, and then lead the group in praying the “Glory be.”
 
A companion closing prayer may be offered:
 
Let us pray now for those who have asked for our prayers or those for whom you have promised to pray:
 
Allow thirty seconds of silence and begin:
 
I invite you to pray aloud or in silence…

For family and friends (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For the sick (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For those in the headlines (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For those affected by natural disasters (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For the hungry, abused, and abandoned (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For world peace (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.

 
And we close with the prayer Jesus gave us…Our Father

 
Feel free to vary these according to the group’s need and the season of the church year. There are many sources of prayers, including the Prayers and Devotions on the web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
May you enjoy God’s attentive listening and God’s presence in one another.

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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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