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eleanor_roosevelt_mccallsWhen I was a boy, my mother subscribed to six women’s magazines.
 
I was a compulsive reader even then, so I leafed through “McCall’s” and “Ladies Home Journal” and so forth as soon as they arrived.
 
One thing that caught my eye was a column written by Eleanor Roosevelt, who by then was the widow of
Franklin Roosevelt.
 
Mrs. Roosevelt wrote more than one column, but the one I read faithfully was a question-and-answer feature called “If You Ask Me.”
 
Besides the fact that I was just a nerdy kid, I was fascinated by the give-and-take of that format.
 
Recently, I discovered that all of those columns, along with other work by Mrs. Roosevelt, has been archived by The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and I have started to re-read them.
 
Actually, I started with the first column, which appeared sixteen months before I was born, so I’m reading some for the first time.
 
In the column that appeared in June 1941, one of the questions submitted by readers was whether Mrs. Roosevelt thought religion should become a more dominant part of daily life.
 
Mrs. Roosevelt wrote that it should, adding “but there is only one way … and that is by bringing it out of the church and into the lives led by religious people.’’
 
Mrs. Roosevelt, who was a church-going Episcopalian, made this same point on other occasions, and she also wrote that for Christians, the model for living out religious faith was the radical lifestyle of Jesus.
 
And she took her own advice in the sense that she was—to use a 21st century expression—“out there,” seeing first-hand what was going on in the country and beyond.
 
Even in the 1940s, Eleanor Roosevelt had the air of a fuddy-duddy about her; in fact, she often mentioned that because she was so old-fashioned in her manners as a child she was nicknamed “Granny.’’
 
But she was a pioneer in campaigning against racism and other forms of prejudice and working on behalf of women and labor and youth—and that made her very unpopular among some Americans, and she was—and still is—a controversial figure for other reasons.
 
That’s a complicated story, but what interests me at the moment is that statement Mrs. Roosevelt made seventy-five years ago.
 
One the one hand, it might seem self-evident that religion practiced in church is of little value if it isn’t practiced outside of church.
 
But in the second decade of the twenty-first century, when Pope Francis says virtually the same thing—making of himself a living example—the idea is treated in many quarters as though it were a new revelation.
 
In fact, though, Jesus made the same point in the first century in his criticism of pious people who wouldn’t help a stranger in need.
 
There is a lot of angst over the declining numbers of people who attend Mass regularly, or at all.
 
But the pope and other Catholic leaders argue that folks will be attracted to the Church, not by seeing other folks going there but by seeing and hearing those who do go to church also witnessing to their faith by what they say and what they do at home, at school, at work, and in the community—including, as Francis likes to remind us—those parts of the community that are farthest from the Church.
 
It’s such a simple concept, but a concept that, in our own time, Pope Francis sees as an ideal yet to be achieved.
 
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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“As [Jesus] was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people” (Matthew 4:18-23).
 
Because the kingdom of heaven has come near, Jesus invites some fishermen to follow him. They immediately leave behind nets, boat, and father, and follow Jesus. Just like that, Jesus has four companions in ministry.
 
Although he can be, Jesus is never a one-man show. The first executive decision he makes is to call a community into existence around the Word of God that he preaches.
 
God always calls a people and enters into a covenant with “us.” So around Jesus “we” are formed. We have to change to become part of this new people. We have to leave some things behind in order to embrace our new identity and purpose. There is perhaps something symbolic in what the four new disciples collectively leave behind: nets, boat, and father.
 
Nets capture, contain, and limit and give us a sense of control. The boat represents our ability to come and go as we please, to be independent and free. And a father may be the stories and traditions that give us our identities.
 
Nets and boats and fathers are essential to meet our needs for control and opportunity and roots. But when Jesus comes and proclaims the transforming kingdom of God, we will have to give up some of those things in order to be embraced by this new reality. Perhaps we leave nets and boats and fathers to have them given back to us again. We will still be in the family fishing business. Only what we fish for will change.
 
– What things do we have to give up and walk away from in order to approach and possess them anew? What will you do?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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“John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.” I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.’ John testified further, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God’” (John 1:29-34).
 
John proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29). These words have become enshrined in the eucharistic invitation to share in the Lord’s body and blood. But what an odd image! A Lamb of God.
 
This image recalls the servant so prominent in the Book of Isaiah who is led to the slaughter like a lamb (53:7). And it links Jesus with the lambs ritually slaughtered in preparation for the Passover meal (Exodus 12:21-27). In the Book of Revelation much is made of the Lamb who was slain (5:6) but now sits in triumph on the throne (22:1).
 
The image of Jesus as the Lamb of God must have had a powerful impact on early Christianity. A weak and passive animal is made the image of God’s victory over sin and death. This would have contrasted markedly with those who longed for a warrior king.
 
They thought we needed a superhero, and we got a Lamb! Perhaps this is how God operates. Love is vulnerable. It does not coerce. It is available and faithful. Perhaps to counter our desire for a quick and final fix, God sends a Lamb as a sign that love takes time to heal, to win over, to triumph. The paradox of a helpless Lamb who triumphs catches our attention and forces us to wonder about how God really functions on our behalf.
 
– Are you confident in the power of vulnerable love to triumph in the end? Why?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet…’ Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’ After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:1-5; 7-12).
 
Who are these magi? They are searchers. They are observers of the night sky and the forces of nature. They are not afraid to get up and follow their instincts and hunches about where the divine is calling them.
 
Most people assume that the star leads the magi directly to Bethlehem and to Jesus, but it doesn’t. The rising of the star leads them to Micah 5:1 and 2 Samuel 5:2, Scripture that speaks of Jesus’ coming. This small detail is extremely important. The Gentile magi must immerse themselves in the atmosphere of Jerusalem and the history of Israel found there, or they will never find the King of the Jews.
 
So the magi sojourn in Jerusalem where they are enlightened. The star is no longer simply an object in the night sky but the star that “shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). Now the star is a true guide to Jesus. They pay homage and offer gifts.
 
But not everyone sees Jesus as worthy of homage and gifts. Some will see the King of the Jews who will proclaim the kingdom of God as threatening the “kingdoms” that are already here. There is no room for another kingdom, especially one calling for an end to violence and greed and one promoting the justice and reconciliation of the Torah or Law. So while the magi do homage, others plot murder.
 
This same choice lies before stargazers and Bible readers today. It is not about stars or about words on a page. It is about hearts open to the future that God wants for us, or hearts hardened around limited self-interests. The magi chose. How do we choose?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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newborn_baby“So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke2: 16-19).
 
It is not unusual that new mothers, sometimes immediately or sometimes when they regain some strength and the opportunity to reflect a bit, will treasure and ponder the wonder of the new life brought into the world.
 
Mary hears from the shepherds their tale—a story of angels and heavenly song and prophecy. The birth of this child, they say, is good news not only for her and
Joseph but also “for all the people” (Luke 2:10). What a message to treasure and ponder!
 
The ultimate destiny and meaning of Mary’s infant child will become more clear to her. Like many mothers, she treasures this child and ponders on what
is still to come.
 
We honor Mary as the Mother of God. But in some ways her greatest “honor” is that she is the first disciple of her son. Her response to the angel Gabriel, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), is the decision of a disciple choosing to obey and follow. As disciple, she has a unique role to play.
 
She is to be the Mother of the Messiah, the Mother of Emmanuel, the Mother of God. Her “yes” sets her on the way to becoming mother. She is disciple first, then mother.
 
She treasures her choosing that has taken flesh in her son, Jesus. And she ponders what it may mean to follow and obey this same son. Perhaps we share Mary’s moment. We treasure the wonder of God’s love revealed in the birth of her son.
 
And we, too, ponder what it means to follow and be changed by such a love.
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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