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“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (John 20:19-23).
 
This appearance of Jesus to the disciples is marked by his offer of peace. As the disciples hide in fear in a locked room, it is peace that Jesus offers them, not once, but twice. He then offers them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and asks them to be forgivers—people who do not hold grudges or build barriers, but people who are about reconciliation.
 
This greeting of peace is important for the gathered disciples. For the Jews, one of the signs of the coming Messiah was a reign of peace, a time when the lion would lay down with the lamb, and all would live in harmony. Jesus fulfills this expectation by exhibiting in a very tangible way that God’s reign is at hand. This greeting also comes at a time of fear and uncertainty for the disciples. Their leader, who many betrayed before his death, has been executed, and they rightly fear for their own lives. Instead of chastising them, Jesus offers them his peace. He invites them to trust beyond their concerns for security, to experience him in a new and different way, and to offer the same to others through the gift of forgiveness.
 
This offer of peace extends to us today. We are invited to believe in the God who works in new and creative ways, to trust beyond what we might see or feel. We are called to be peacemakers in our relationships by loving as God has loved us and offering forgiveness to those who have offended us. It’s often difficult to do, but throughout time people have discovered that in holding others’ sins bound they actually hold themselves bound. God’s Spirit longs to heal our wounds, yet we can prevent ourselves from experiencing God’s peace when we cling to the offenses that have hurt us. Each day, each hour, the Spirit that was given to the disciples is present in our own lives, offering us the opportunity to give and receive the gift of peace and healing.
 
- How have you experienced the gift of peace through the giving or receiving of forgiveness?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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This wonderful day, O Christ, is yours.
Help us to experience Easter in our hearts.
Turn our own empty tombs
into signs of new life, signs of hope.
Give us grace to share our hope
with those we love
and especially with those
who need new life and courage and hope
in their own lives.
Alleluia! Amen.
 
 
 
Excerpted from PrayerTime, Cycle A: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from RENEW International.
 

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God of our dyings and our risings,
we pray as another Lent gives way to Easter glory.
Bathe us in your mercy; flood us with your light;
transform us into your Easter people.
Hold us close to your heart, dear Triune God,
for, safely sheltered there,
our deepest longings are fed and fired.
From your holy haven,
may we come and go to serve your people
until all are brought finally home in you,
our journey and our journey’s end. Amen.
 

 
 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year A: Let Yourself Be…, available from RENEW International

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The Easter Triduum begins on Holy Thursday and concludes with the Eucharist of Easter Sunday. The Easter Vigil, celebrated on Holy Saturday, begins at night with the lighting of the new fire, ideally outdoors, a reminder that we are moving from death to new life! In the early Church it was indeed a vigil; the congregation slept over for the three days of the Triduum; they came in and out of the assembly, stopping to eat and sleep as needed. Traditionally on Holy Thursday, the catechumens—those who had spent the Lenten season fasting and in penance seeking to enter the community—gathered with the deacon at a source of living water, such as a lake, river, or sea. The catechumens would be stripped naked and submerged in the water and held down, symbolic of dying to a former way of life. As each rose up from the water, the deacon would ask, “Do you believe in God the Father?” The catechumen would answer yes and be dunked again. Then he or she would be asked, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son?” The catechumen would respond, “I do,” and be dunked a third time. Finally, the catechumen would be asked, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” After responding, “I do,” the catechumen would come out of the water and be wrapped in a white, towel-like garment (the white symbolizing peace; baptism removes all sin and gives us peace). Then the deacon and the newly baptized would process into the midst of the community gathered in prayer with the bishop. The bishop would anoint the catechumen with oil in front of the community, confirming in public what had been done in private at the water source. The newly baptized and confirmed would then join the community for the remainder of the Eucharist. Remember that in our time during Lent the catechumens leave Mass before the Gospel and do not participate in the Eucharist. The sacraments of initiation would be then completed.
 
The Liturgy of the Word at the vigil is long; there are many readings telling the entire story of our salvation history. It starts with Genesis from the Hebrew Scriptures and ends with Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The gospel reading is the story of the resurrection.
 
Many churches celebrate the Easter Vigil in two or three languages to acknowledge the demographics of the community. We are one Church, one Body of Christ, no matter what our language.
 
The Easter Vigil is our most sacred liturgical feast and celebration. It celebrates God’s unconditional love and our long history of articulating that love in sign and symbol, word, and song. Knowing why these symbols are used encourages us to reflect on their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual meaning in our daily lives. May we truly rejoice this Easter!
 
Sister Honora is the Assistant Director at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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“On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.’ So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:1-9).
 
Every canonical Gospel makes it clear that the empty tomb was discovered by women, and in each account, Mary of Magdala is among them. In John’s Gospel, she is the only one to discover the empty tomb. She runs to tell Simon Peter and “the other disciple,” and they set out for the tomb. When they arrive and enter, it is the other disciple who “saw and believed.” Peter does not yet believe. Both, however, “did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
 
It is indeed a dark moment for them. Mary, already overcome with grief, finds that her beloved teacher has been taken from his resting place. She runs to her companions, but they too don’t understand what has happened and offer no comfort. The empty tomb is the bridge between Jesus’ earthly ministry and his resurrection. It is through this dark moment of unknowing that the disciples must pass to encounter the risen Jesus, the life that will come from death.
 
It is ironic that on this day, the summit of our Christian celebration, we are presented with an account of the confusion, uncertainty, and sorrow of that first Easter. This gospel reading speaks to our own experiences of sadness, grief, and death. Often, we don’t understand, we don’t see how or where God is working in these situations. We want to trust, but we find ourselves lost in the darkness, hoping to find a light. In the readings that follow Easter we are given the hope that ultimately light and life will have the final word.
 
- How have you been able to find God at a time of darkness or grief?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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