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“‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides’” (Matthew 6:25-33).
 
At some point in our lives, we all go through periods of worry-filled hysteria. If it’s not about work or school, it’s about money or family. We are people who are constantly concerned with our future comfort and contentment. Where will I live? What kind of job will I have? Will it be fulfilling? Will I make enough money? Is there someone out there for me? We believe our future happiness depends on getting the “right” answers to these questions.
 
In this gospel passage, the response is the simple and sometimes annoying catchphrase, “Don’t worry. Stop and smell the roses.”
 
Jesus is not simply saying, “Don’t worry.” He explains that worry is meaningless and will get us nowhere. Worry will not provide food or clothing; it will not add a single day to our lives. He asks us to question the value of the things about which we go crazy with worry. Essentially, he asks, “What is really important?” Jesus does not tell us to ignore our responsibilities; rather, he tells us to get our priorities in order.
 
“First, seek the kingdom of God…” This may seem like a very abstract concept that has nothing to do with our practical concerns; but if we are to take Jesus seriously, we must see his teaching about the kingdom of God as real and relevant in everything we do.
 
The Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx described the kingdom—or reign—of God as a time and place where love, equity, and justice prevail in a reconciling and peaceful society and all beings live to the potential that the Creator has instilled in them. When striving for such a world becomes our first priority, schoolwork, jobs, and financial security diminish in prominence. Loving our neighbor, respecting others, and showing kindness to the stranger, these are the most important things we will ever do.
 
– How do your worries keep you from living as God intends?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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extra mile“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants
to borrow.
 
‘You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust'” (Matthew 5:38-45).
 
By following literally Jesus’ words in the first part of the passage, we will live a Christian life by not seeking retribution, by giving to those in need, by helping others, and by loving everyone—our friends and enemies alike. But the point Jesus makes is that we should not just do the minimum but go beyond it.
 
It’s easy to interpret the part of this passage that speaks of “going the extra mile”—the origin of that oft-used phrase—to mean that, with a gracious spirit, we should do more than is required, but it would have have had a particular context for someone of Jesus’ time. A Roman soldier could compel a person in an occupied country to carry a load for a mile. The service was compulsory, but the distance was limited. Jesus tells his followers to go two miles—to give much more than what was required.
 
What Jesus suggests here is a method of pointing out the injustice of the required mile. The willingly-served second mile would draw attention to the unjust nature of the first. In the same way, acts of nonviolent civil disobedience by people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. exposed, and eventually changed, unjust societal structures.
 
Although it is impractical, if not impossible, to give to all who beg from us, if we recognize the needs of the desperately poor and work to correct the underlying systemic problems that lead to poverty, we are doing what Jesus instructs.
 
By asking us to love our enemies, Jesus challenges us to love others as completely as we are able, believing the best about their motives, wanting good things for them, recognizing that they are also loved by God, treating them with respect. We don’t have to like them, only love them.
 
How does this Gospel passage challenge you in regard to loving your enemies?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment.
‘You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
‘Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all. Let your “Yes” mean “Yes,” and your “No” mean “No.” Anything more is from the evil one’” (Matthew 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37).
 
When we start a new job or begin attending a new school, we usually receive a handbook of policies and procedures as well as various instructions for how to successfully navigate the new environment. There is something inherently relational about laws intended to foster community and harmony or protect us from hurting ourselves and others. This connection between relationships and the law is at the heart of this gospel reading.
 
The law of God, as given to Moses, was understood by the people as instructions for living: principles for living a moral life, guidance on how to enter into relationship with God, and how to best live in relationship with one another. Jesus is not asking his followers to dismiss the teachings of Moses but he is looking beyond the strict literal interpretation of the law, going deeper to pursue the underlying meaning.
 
Jesus invites us to consider not just murder, adultery, and false oaths but to examine the attitudes and motives that lie beneath the surface of such acts. Jesus is more concerned with how we act in relationship to one another. Am I completely honest? Are my words consistent with my actions? Do I seek revenge, or do I avoid retaliation? Do I honor the dignity of all people?
 
God has given us the law not to make life difficult, not to be prohibitive, but in order that we might live life to the fullest extent. Through his expression of the law, Jesus shows us how to love others in the same way God loves us–with compassion, dignity, and respect for all.
 
– In what areas of your life do you need to be more attentive to the “spirit of the law” and not merely the “letter of the law”?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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twitter_pontifexIn one of his short stories—“The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether”—Edgar Allen Poe wrote, “Believe nothing you hear and only one half that you see.”
 
This statement, which has been altered in various ways and attributed to writers other than Poe, is nonetheless good advice if it means that one should not casually accept things for which there is no evidence.
 
If anything, this caution applies more than ever in this age of “Photoshopped” images, digital animation, and posts that litter social-media sites.
 
I saw an example the other day when a member of my high school class posted on Facebook an image of Pope Francis accompanied by the following statement, attributed to him:
 
“It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a way, the traditional notion of God is outdated. One can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money — for many, nature can be a church. Some of the best people in history do not believe in God, while some of the worst deeds were done in His name.”
 
“Oh,’’ gushed another classmate, who now lives in the Midwest, “I love this man. He’s talking about me.”
 
I don’t know if she meant that she’s an atheist—which I doubt, that she doesn’t go to church, or that she finds God in nature.
 
Regardless of what she meant, she was responding to a statement that Pope Francis did not make and, for the most part, would not make.
 
The graphic, which has been circulating in the digital world for some time, is one example of a problem that has accompanied this papacy almost from the first day—a compulsion on the part of some to hear the pope as fulfilling their wishful thinking.
 
To be sure, Pope Francis has given us a fresh perspective on topics such as atheism.
 
He has spoken of our obligation to respect the intellectual integrity of people, including atheists, who don’t agree with us. He has also reiterated—perhaps in plainer language than we are used to—the Church’s consistent teaching that, as Father Thomas Rosica has repeated it, “those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”
 
The pope has not, however, issued a license for us to adopt the spirituality we find most convenient and comfortable, even if that means no spirituality at all.
 
And anyone who has read what this pope has written or listened to what he has said knows that he would not dismiss so lightly the value of worshipping God in the assembly of the Church.
 
On the contrary, he has stressed the importance of the Church as the Body of Christ as the source from which the “new evangelization” will flow out into the community and to the outskirts of society.
 
In the past, the teachings of the popes have been somewhat inaccessible, both because of the formality of their language and the means of their distribution.
 
But the homilies, speeches, and documents of Pope Francis are not difficult to understand and not difficult to find.
 
In this “information age,” we can easily read them or read about them in responsible publications.
 
If we want to know what Pope Francis teaches, we should not rely on Facebook to tell us.
 

—Facebook launched on February 4, 2004


 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father’” (Matthew 5:13-16).
 
This reading is an exhortation to Jesus’ followers that they are “salt of the earth” and “light to the world.” It is another example of Jesus using the stuff of life—like salt and lanterns—to illustrate his point. Salt was, and still is, used to flavor food. In the time of Jesus, it was also used to preserve and purify it. The interesting thing about salt is that once it is applied it becomes part of the food. To be salt of the earth is to be a part of creation, an integral part of the world, and the world was created good.
 
We come to know and see God through the stuff of the earth. Yet we are also to be the “flavor” of the earth, to enrich society. Food tastes different with salt, and through our witness, the world looks different through the perspective we bring.
 
Jesus also encourages us to be the “light to the world.” In the Scriptures, light is associated with God and with truth, while the absence of light is analogous to the absence of God’s presence.
 
When a light goes on, things that were hidden are revealed, and we can see the world around us. Jesus tells us we are light, just by being who we are. We are called to “let this light shine,” to give meaning to our world, to the people we encounter. When we let our light shine, we are better able to see the light in others, to see them for whom they really are, and not who we may have thought they were. And it can also bring clarity to situations in our lives and in our world.
 
– How have you responded to Jesus’ challenge to “let your light shine” so that the goodness of your actions is recognized and praise is given to God?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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