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“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).

In event described in this Gospel reading, the disciples were invited to a special encounter with Christ, and, through them, the whole world was invited as well.

Imagine the fear and doubt the disciples must have experienced as they made their way toward the meeting place in Galilee. They must have hoped that the words the women spoke were true, that Jesus was no longer in the tomb and had risen from the dead, yet they probably tried not to get their hopes up too high. They may also have been afraid of what Jesus would say to them. They had, after all, abandoned him after his arrest.

Jesus did not only appear to them. He told them some of the greatest news in the Gospel, that he would be with them (and us) always! He commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This encounter helped the disciples move from hiding in fear to being courageous evangelizers.

Like the disciples, we may at times be hesitant to believe that God will meet us where we are, and to allow our encounters with God to make a difference in our lives. However, having faith and responding to our encounters with the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – will open up new horizons for us and may help us to find needed direction in our lives.

What encounters have changed the direction of your life? How did you see God in those encounters?

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

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“‘I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you’” (John 16:12-15).

The story of Pentecost is the story of the early Church. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were fulfilled, and the believers began to spread the Good News.

The Pentecost story in the first reading in the Acts of the Apostles is a reversal of the Tower of Babel story. In the Book of Genesis, we are told of a time when all people spoke the same language. The people banded together to create a tower that would reach up to Heaven. The tower had such grandeur that the people praised the builders instead of God. Since people had used the gift of language to rebel, God took away their common language and scattered them (Genesis 11:1-0). This is the perfect example of what not to do with a divine gift. The people in the story fell in love with their gift and forgot the giver.

In the Pentecost story, the people who spoke all of the languages of the known world gathered in Jerusalem and, suddenly, they were able to communicate as one again. This gift came directly from God.

This is important to remember as we think about the gifts that we’ve been given. Whether we are physically strong or charismatic, these are gifts from God. Our response to these gifts is to use them in gratitude.

Of course, we may also have the opposite problem. Instead of feeling pride in our gifts, we may feel jealous of the gifts of others. Too often we beat ourselves up for not being strong enough or smart enough. Instead of using our own gifts, we waste our energy wishing for the gifts of others.

But we are not in competition with one another. As a community of Christians, we are a single body with a single mission to proclaim the Good News. Each member’s task is to figure out how his or her unique set of skills and talents can help all of us reach that common goal. There is one mission but many ministries.

Your gifts are God-given, and the best way to give thanks to God for those gifts is to use those talents in the service of God and others.

What are some of the prime passions and talents God has given you? How do you use them?

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

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Rembrant: Ascension of Christ“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs” (Mark 16:15-20).

The Ascension is a beautiful development in the story we have been following for the past forty days. Jesus was “taken up” and seated “at the right hand of God” before our very eyes.

In this Gospel, Mark assures us the Resurrection has taken place— the Ascension is the culmination of the resurrection narrative. Jesus ascended from the warm embrace of his community of believers on earth. He was teaching and affirming at the moment of his ascension. He was with those he loved, his friends and followers, and assured them that they were ready to begin the serious work. Before the Ascension, he gave them instructions.

This Great Commission to the disciples was to proclaim the Gospel to all creation.

These are our instructions, too. The faithful fulfillment of our duties is to proclaim that God is with us and God is gracious. This simple and blessed assurance is our job.

As the disciples had grown and developed in the Easter narratives, we faithful continue to grow and mature, to evolve and change. Now we do so as living witnesses, developing the gifts that God has entrusted to us, bearing fruit by sharing the word with others.

The Ascension is far from the end of the story. The faithful are on earth, and Jesus is at the right hand of God, readying us for the next stage. The story is really just beginning.

How do you proclaim the Good News in your own life? How can you be a better witness of Jesus through your actions and in your conversations with others?

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

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“’I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely. I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth’” (John 17:13-19).

John’s Gospel is one of contrasts—to be of the spirit rather than of the flesh, this world as opposed to heaven, light instead of dark.

This passage from John was part of Jesus’ last discourse before his passion and resurrection. This reading is used in the liturgy between the feasts of the Ascension (when Jesus ascends to heaven) and Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit descends upon the followers of Jesus).

In John’s Gospel, to follow Jesus is to live in the light. “The world” here refers to those who have not understood Jesus’ message—those who ultimately arrest and kill him. Jesus knows that he will depart from the disciples’ presence. He is preparing them for the time when he will no longer be present in the flesh but will be with them in a different way. He tells them that they will be protected by God, as they are entrusted to be the bearers of Jesus’ mission.

So, why is this reading used between the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost? Perhaps it is because as Jesus’ mission in the world had come to an end, he passed this mission along to the disciples. We, too, are the disciples of Jesus and must take up the mission of Jesus in the world. The end of the physical presence of Jesus was directly connected to the beginning of the new Church, which is enlivened and protected by the spiritual presence of Christ.

God is with us, no matter where we are or where we are going. Like the disciples, perhaps we also need to hear that we are protected, even as we are living through challenging times. This reading reminds us that every ending is another beginning—the beginning of something more powerful than we could have imagined.

What “in between” times have you been through? How have you experienced the presence of God in these times?

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

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Dom_Helder_CamaraEarlier this week, the Vatican opened the cause for the canonization of Dom Helder Camara, the “bishop of the poor” and one of the most influential Latin American church leaders of the twentieth century.
 
I never met an archbishop who was smaller in stature than me. However, his smallness of height was no indication of the influence of his soul and life. He was almost 70 but seemed older with a wizened brown face, battered by years of exposure to the harsh sun of drought-ravaged Brazil. I remember, above all, his gentleness and his concern for everything in the world around him, including animals and plants (which had earned him the nickname of St. Francis).
 
It was the early 80s; I was pastoral associate at St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn, N.Y. Dom Helder had been nominated four times for the Noble Peace Prize, but it was never awarded to him. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, Riverside Church in Manhattan recognized his greatness and invited him speak at an evening of prayer during a major disarmament conference. I had the good fortune to be his host for the weekend. No fancy hotels; no special meals. He drank tea, and he ate bread and vegetables.
In 1959 Dom Helder was appointed archbishop of Olinda e Recife, a very poor diocese in Northeastern Brazil. He rejected the pomp and ceremony of his rank. He always wore a battered brown cassock, adorned only by a simple wooden cross. This was what he wore that weekend to Riverside Church. For me, one who is so concerned about appearances and wardrobe, this was a reminder of what is important.
 
Dom Helder also refused to live in the archbishop’s house! “I’m not one of those evil elitist Church-people you know. The poor are at the center of MY Gospel,” he said. He lived in a small, three-room house behind the sacristy of the cathedral. During his tenure, he was informally called the “bishop of the slums” for his clear position on the side of the urban poor. He encouraged peasants to think beyond their conventionally fatalistic outlook by studying the Gospels in small groups and asking what conclusions could be drawn for social change. He was active in the formation of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference in 1952, and he served as its first general secretary until 1964. In 1959 he founded Banco da Providência in Rio de Janeiro, a philanthropic organization to fight poverty and social injustice by making it easier for poor people to receive loans.
 
Dom Helder Camara founded a seminary where the formation of the priest candidates in social action was as important as formation in theology.
 
When we arrived at Riverside, the church with its two balconies, which seats 1900, was jammed. After bringing Dom Helder to the sacristy, I squeezed into a spot in the balcony. The music was glorious; the procession included 25-foot-high puppets mocking armaments as a way to peace. High-ranking clerics from all over the world processed into the church, the colors and designs of the vestments were astounding. As Dom Helder entered the nave the congregation stood and applauded for what seemed to be a solid twenty minutes. Tears ran down my cheeks. I recall that as he spoke that evening he made a statement that has often been quoted since: “When I feed the hungry they call me saint. When I ask why they are hungry they call me a communist.”
 
Camara attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council and was instrumental in developing the document The Church in the Modern World (Lumen Gentium). Perhaps Camara’s greatest achievement was to help organize the historic meeting of CELAM (Consejo Episcopal Latinoamerican or the Latin American Episcopal Conference) in Medellin in Colombia in 1968. In a decisive break with their old role of supporting the rich and the powerful, the bishops declared a “preferential option for the poor,” openly identifying themselves with the excluded and the exploited. It was an important victory for the progressive wing of the Church, which at that time was enthused with the ideas of liberation theology sweeping through the continent, particularly Brazil.
 
Will people call Oscar Romero, a martyr for the faith who will be beatified this month in El Salvador; Dom Helder Camara of Brazil; and Pope Francis of Argentina and Rome communists because they actually love the poor?
 
You can read more about Dom Helder Camara in his downloadable book, The Spiral of Violence.
 
Sister Honora is the Assistant Director at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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