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StorytellingEmbracing the reign of God, facing the challenge of conversion, and embarking on our spiritual journeys are frequently made possible through the storytelling that takes place in small communities.
 
When men and women share faith stories, and their parish respects and values these stories, both the individuals and the parish community grow deeper in their faith life. In the large parish, there is often nowhere to tell the stories of our faith journeys; yet, it is clear that telling our stories, and listening to others’ stories, are valuable aids to interpreting the meaning of our lives.
 
As we look at the concept of story in relationship to small Christian communities, we note certain elements:

  • The Gospels are narratives, the stories of Jesus as remembered by members of the early Christian communities. Every time small communities read the Gospel they are reviewing the story of Jesus and reflecting on how it intersects with their lives.
  • When we share our faith stories, we are telling—and perhaps hearing for the first time—how God is acting in our lives. It is often in the telling itself that we experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. This helps others believe in the God who is really at work in us.
  • As we hear others talk about their lives we realize how God is present and acting in their lives.
    Not only do we hear the narrative of Jesus’ life but we also start to apply the Word to our lives today.

  • As we listen to one another we have a sense of the Spirit acting in the community.

 
In all of these aspects we are trusting in Jesus’ words: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).
 
We trust that Jesus is present and that his story is being retold and applied to our lives. We might call this an immanent experience of God. Yet in the sharing of Scripture and of life experiences, there is also a profound search for God—for the answer to the question, “Who is God?” The search that takes place in small Christian communities can lead to an experience of the transcendent God who dwells in mystery.
 
Telling our faith stories, or faith sharing, is recalling a time, a life event, a situation, a word, a moment of grace when God touched our lives, challenged us, or spoke to us. God speaks to us in various ways: through the silence of our hearts; through the Word of God; through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist; through the presence, words or actions of another; or through nature.
 
Why do we share faith? We share faith in order to

  • recognize and take ownership of how God is acting in our lives
  • reveal to others how God is at work in our lives, our world
  • welcome and encourage the faith of others
  • witness to divine mystery
  • build up another
  • lead us to conversion of heart

 
Faith sharing helps us to make connections with others and allows us to see and hear how sacred our lives are and how precious all life is. Our spirits are touched by someone else’s story and this builds up our faith, hope, and love.
 
Adapted from Small Christian Communities: A Vision of Hope for the 21st Century, © 1997, RENEW International.

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“After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’ As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Mark 1:14-17).

After the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus enters Galilee proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand and all must live according to God’s will. While proclaiming this Good News, Jesus calls his first four disciples, who are all fishermen. While this may sound normal to us, this was not normal behavior in Jesus’ time. A teacher didn’t seek his disciples, he attracted them. In this case, Jesus reached out first and gathered those who would become his closest followers.

Simon and Andrew immediately dropped their nets to follow Jesus. Without hesitation, they gave up everything they had known to follow the one who had chosen them, the one they put their trust in.

After Simon and Andrew, Jesus called out to James and John. They left behind their father, Zebedee, and followed Jesus. This, too, was not typical behavior; this was against the cultural values of Jewish society in first century Palestine. In those times, one never abandoned a father. Yet, these disciples were compelled to follow Jesus above all else, even if it meant forsaking their home and all they had known and loved.

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

We, as disciples, are called to be with Jesus and to do his will. Knowing that Christ is with us is what gives us strength to do the work that we are both privileged and challenged to do. Some may be called to be missionaries and leave home and family; some may be called to follow Jesus by being home with their families. We are all called to be “fishers of men” and spread the Good News to others.

How is Jesus calling you today? How can you be a “fisher of men” in your daily life?

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

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“John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ — which translated means Teacher — ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’ So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day” (John 1:35-39).
 
Our role is like the role of John the Baptist — to point out Jesus to others. Once we do, we must let go and allow them to follow Jesus in the way they feel called, not in a way that we choose. Once we have shown them Jesus, it is their task to discern what is it they want to do.
 
Jesus’ question is at the heart of the discernment process of every vocation. He asks those following him, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38). He is asking them, “What are the desires of your heart?” and “What do you feel you are being called to do?”
 
The response of the disciples is, “Where are you staying?” (John 1:38). They seem to ask, “Jesus, what are you all about?”
 
Christian vocation in life starts with a relationship with Jesus and his people in the Christian community. It is Jesus who will be able to direct us to what we are truly seeking. He offers the invitation to the disciples and to us: “Come, and you will see” (John 1:39).
 
We are all called to enter into a relationship with Jesus and to model our lives and values after his. Let us enter deeply into this loving relationship.
 
How do you take on the role of John the Baptist and point out Christ to others? How do you continue to grow and develop in your relationship with Jesus?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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Baptism_of_Christ“This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well
pleased’” (Mark 1:7-11).
 
John says there will be a difference between the baptism he offers and the baptism Jesus will offer. The vision Jesus has upon coming up out of the water describes that difference in dramatic fashion. The Spirit descends from heavens “torn open,” rending the boundary that separates heaven and earth. God walking among us in the flesh emphasizes that the Spirit is with us, suffusing all of creation.
 
The word “baptize” literally means to dunk or dip, which means that when we are baptized we are immersed in the Spirit of God. When the heavens are torn open as the Spirit descends, the whole of creation is bathed in divinity.
 
This means that when we are sent forth from Mass “to love and serve the Lord,” or even when we go to work, the gym, or the store we, as Christians, are commissioned to bring the presence of God with us to all we encounter—to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and build a world of peace and justice for all.
 
When in my life have I been aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit?
 
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.
 
Image by Dave Zelenka

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As each year begins, many people resolve to exercise and get fit. Beginning a new year is also a good time to reflect on our spiritual lives and enhance our spiritual fitness as well.
 
Here are some helpful activities to enhance your spiritual fitness for the new year:
 
 
Prayer: Reserve time for daily prayer. Intentionally spend half of your prayer time quietly listening to God whispering to your soul.
 
Examen: A fruitful extension of a healthy prayer life for many people has been a daily examen. Many have grown deeply in their relationship with God through this daily process promoted by St. Ignatius. It is a helpful method for revealing God’s presence to us on our journey through life. An audio explanation of the five simple steps of the daily examen is online here: examen.
 
Sacraments: Receive the graces of the sacraments as often as you can. Begin a new year with a fresh start. If it’s been a while since you’ve been to reconciliation, commit to go soon and place a monthly reminder on your calendar to return. Mass is celebrated daily at most parishes. Attend when possible and / or try to read and reflect on God’s Word in the scripture readings for daily Mass. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides them online at: Mass readings.
 
Focus and Habits: Develop spiritually healthy habits to replace former negative patterns of behavior or thought. Do something good when tempted to do wrong or when you realize that you’ve been negligent or indifferent. Recognize when you detect yourself slipping into uncharitable, unloving, selfish, or unholy thoughts. When this occurs, take a breath and pray a silent brief prayer asking for the grace to navigate every situation in a manner pleasing to God. Remember that when Peter began sinking into the lake, he cried out to Jesus, and Jesus immediately helped him.
 
People: A sign of a healthy spiritual life is our care for others and how we treat people. Reach out to others in need in a deliberate way. Be a living sign of God’s love for others by performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The works of mercy are explained in paragraph 2447 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and are online at: works of mercy.
 
In caring for others, make every day an All Souls Day and remember to offer prayers for the forgotten souls in Purgatory. This is a generous act of care and love.
 
These back-to-the-basics ideas, when implemented in our lives daily, can deepen our relationship with God, fill us with greater peace, and help each of us on our journey to holiness.
 
Happy New Year.
 
Christopher Burns is a member of RENEW International’s Resources and Publications team.

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