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“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22

 
CarolinaI spent a few wonderful days this summer at the pool and beach with my niece Lindsey and my grandniece Carolina. Carolina, still fresh from God, is 19 months old and has a contagious smile. Her “talking” is limited, but her facial and hand expressions communicate clearly and continuously. Although her favorite place is in her mother’s arms she is friendly and warm to all, including complete strangers. When someone comes into sight, her eyes light up, she bursts into a smile, and she gives her signature half wave.
 
One evening, Lindsey and I were walking on the boardwalk, pushing Carolina in the stroller, and we were immersed in conversation. We could not easily see what Carolina was doing, but we suddenly became aware of the reaction of those we passed by. One person after another broke into a smile and gave Carolina a half wave back. Carolina shares her pure joy freely, and those who receive it experience its glow and respond to it with their own joy. Joy can’t be manufactured or forced, but rather it is free and spontaneous. Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and Carolina has that gift in abundance.
 
Joy, of course, is at the heart of Pope Francis’ letter “The Joy of the Gospel.” He exhorts us to attract others to Christ not through a convincing argument but through our joy. Joy is deeper than happiness. We can enter a time of suffering but still experience moments of joy. Joy is an everyday decision that springs from love, hope, grace, and gratitude.
 
Five ways to practice joy:

1. Entrust your life to God, and express gratitude daily.
2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
3. Spend time with children, and take in their spontaneous joy.
4. Do something fun regularly.
5. Enjoy the company of people who make you laugh.

 
Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit—preceded only by love (Galatians 5:22-23). It is through the Spirit that God shares joy. Pray for the gift of joy and, like Carolina, smile freely, greet others warmly, and be surprised by the joy that returns to you.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage.And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you.* Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20: 10-16).

“It’s not fair!” How many times in a day do we say this? How many times do we hear it from spouses or friends or children? This Gospel confirms how little things have changed over the past 2,000 years.

Put yourself in the position of those hired first in the parable of the laborers and the vineyard. Of course it doesn’t seem fair. These workers “bore the day’s burden and the heat” and got paid just as much as those who worked only a few hours. The landowner refuted this charge of injustice by saying, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20: 13–15). In reality, the landowner was fair to each worker because they each received the agreed upon wage for their work.

Is your attitude that of the generous landowner? Or is it that of the workers who felt that they had been cheated? These workers were concerned only with themselves and focused on being the victims of the perceived unfairness. “It’s not fair” usually means “It’s not fair to me.”

The Gospel according to Matthew was written for those with a Judeo-Christian background. For that audience, the appearance of the Gentiles later in the “day” was an unsettling development. Imagine what it must have felt like to live according to long-held traditions and then discover that newcomers to the community not only didn’t have the same traditions but were not even expected to uphold them.

Perhaps this parable is saying that we should not judge what God does in terms of “fairness.” God’s love is not dependent on what we do. It is unconditional and unchanging, even when we do not deserve it. Once we believe and embrace this fact, we will begin to understand the true meaning of love. And once we begin to understand that, we have a better chance of putting it into practice by offering this unconditional love to all people.

Why is it hard to believe in God’s immeasurable goodness? How can you believe more strongly?

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

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Are you a good listener? Do you recognize a good listener when you are speaking? What qualities and characteristics come to mind when you think about good listeners? See if these four are also on your list.
 
Vulnerability invites each of us to reflect on this question: How do I measure my ability to expose my mind and heart to another’s thoughts and experience?
This characteristic of a good listener, vulnerability, speaks of an openness to what is being said, so much so that you as listener may experience discomfort due to unexpected aspects of the sharing. Being a good listener may also expose you to the pain, complexity, and frustration of the human condition. There are no preconceived ideas here.
 
Acceptance moves each of us to ask: Do others have to fit into my way of being and doing?
This quality says, “I take you at face value and don’t have a mold into which you must fit. I give you respect and reverence which make God’s love present.
 
Expectancy prompts each of us to wonder: Do I hope for good things to happen in my interaction with others?
The value in expectancy is the belief that we will arrive at greater truth and awareness of the beauty of each other. The heart of hope searches for the good.
 
Constancy makes us sensitive to this plea: “Please don’t excuse yourself as I express myself.” Do you have a pocketful of “how to get away” expressions?
The beauty of this attribute is that no matter what, I will stay until you have finished sharing. I will not interrupt, and I certainly won’t finish your sentence or story. Such faithfulness can be challenging. In the face of difficult, repetitious, or complicated talk a constant listener is a true reflection of God’s faithfulness.
 
These four qualities invite us to consider how we listen to others and to pray for the grace of God to transform us when we find ourselves struggling or unable to do so.
 
From Sowing Seeds: Essentials for Small Community Leaders, based on On Listening to Another by Douglas V. Steere

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“Jesus said to Nicodemus: ‘No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved
through him” (John 3:13-17).
 
On this solemnity, the way we Catholics remember the cross in our liturgy is a paradox. We pray that the tree of defeat became the tree of victory. Jesus, whose ministry put in motion our tradition, was nailed to a tree and left to die, and almost 2000 years later we wear on a chain around our necks a miniature representation of that event. We erect a symbol of Jesus’ death at the front of our churches. Our Scripture even explains that “we should glory in the cross” (Galatians 6:14). It seems as if we are glorifying a moment that perhaps we would rather forget.
 
At the time of Jesus, many Jews were waiting for a savior who would restore worldly glory and power to Israel, one who would overthrow the oppressive powers of the Roman Empire. Instead of teaching happiness through power, however, Jesus taught love through vulnerability. The cross is the ultimate symbol of that vulnerability, and it is through living out this vulnerable love that we come to know our salvation.
 
In the Gospel, Jesus refers to a story of Moses and the Jews during their journey from Egypt to the “promised land.” Many were grumbling about their plight in the desert and God sent a plague of serpents to bite them. God instructed Moses to erect an image of a serpent in the center of camp, and said that anyone who looked upon the image would be healed. John is explaining to his readers that Jesus’ death on the cross is to be viewed in the same way. When we exalt the cross, Jesus’ love becomes present through humility, and we can be saved because we believe in God’s power over sin and death.
 
The Gospel prompts us to “see” with the eyes of faith when we look upon the cross. To “see” the cross means to see it in the light of the truth that Jesus brings throughout his ministry. If we can “see” ourselves into the Paschal Mystery, then with Christ we shall be “lifted up.” The cross stands as the ultimate, if paradoxical, sign of triumph—but it also a reminder of the route to that triumph.
 
What is your experience of the cross, and how does the cross guide you in your life?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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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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