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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing’” (John 15:1-5).

Lent is about “pruning” bad habits and eliminating things that get in the way of our relationship with God, our selves, and others. Easter, on the other hand, is about the resurrection, new beginnings, and joy. It is the result of this pruning – a strengthened and invigorated relationship with God or a renewed outlook on life and faith. New life begins from where we have changed or withdrawn from old, unhealthy behaviors.

Think about it this way: When we are consumed by anger, we don’t have as much energy going toward love. We take that energy away from love to feed our anger. If we prune away that anger, we have that much more energy to give to something more constructive.

Now that Lent is over and the “pruning” is complete, we can see how we are connected to Christ and we can choose where to grow by redirecting our energy. Easter is a time to begin anew and become who we now can become only because those old encumbrances are gone.

Only branches that are connected to the vine produce grapes. So, too, will we be fruitful as long as we maintain our connection to Jesus. The Gospel tells us that as long as we live in Christ, even if we occasionally need a little pruning to make us stronger or better, we will always be fruitful.

How have you strengthened your relationship with God this Easter season?

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

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Jesus-The-Good-Shepherd“Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep’” (John 10:11-15).

At one time or another, most of us have probably worked just for the financial reward—we punch in, punch out, and go through the motions. On the other hand, have you ever worked at doing something that you loved? Perhaps something that was challenging but that you found meaning in, and that you felt called to do?

In this gospel passage, Jesus spoke of himself as the good shepherd, as compared to the hired hand. The life’s work and call of a shepherd was to watch over his flock. It was his responsibility to see that no sheep went astray or was preyed upon. A shepherd didn’t just do his job; he was deeply invested in his sheep and herded them with care and concern. Jesus contrasted the good shepherd with the hired hand. The hired hand has no concern for the sheep but only for the reward of earning a day’s wages. When the wolf comes, the hired hand takes off, protecting only himself.

We know that, as the good shepherd, Jesus loves and cares for us. As Christians, we are called to share that love and care with those we serve and those with whom we work.

Ask yourself—are you just doing your job, or are you living out your vocation? Are you the hired hand, working only for the reward of money, prestige, or a line on your resume? Or are you the good shepherd who responds to the call of God, finding and giving meaning to the work you do and the people you encounter?

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

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Carvaggio-Supper At Emmaus“And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them. He said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, ‘Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’” (Luke 24:40-48).

In this final post-resurrection appearance, the two disciples were startled and terrified when Jesus appeared to them. Can you imagine—Jesus who had died was in their midst? Was he a ghost? Jesus realized their fears and disbelief and invited them to look at him and touch him. He even asked for food to show them that there was no doubt that he was alive.

In their joy, the disciples came to understand not only the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but to realize that it was also their destiny and calling. Death never triumphs; life and love always have the final say. They were the witnesses of this glory and joy and were charged with spreading this Good News to “all the nations” (Luke 24:47).

Just as the disciples were part of this story and mission, we are too. Jesus lives in and through us. As witnesses of the risen Christ, we are invited to proclaim this Good News throughout our day-to-day encounters, our relationships, and the very way we live our lives. What better way to live than to share the joy of the love of Christ through our words, actions, and our encounters with each and every person we meet?

How do you witness the risen Christ in your life?

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

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“Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nail in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.’ Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed’” (John 20:24-29).

Jesus was crucified around 30 AD, and the Gospel of John was written sometime around 100 AD. John’s community was struggling to keep faith in the face of persecution, the absence of Jesus, and the realization that Jesus’ return was not imminent.

Despite the joy we feel as we celebrate Easter, we can’t close our eyes to the fact that the world can be a cruel and unjust place. We are surrounded by examples of poverty, neglect, abuse, and apathy. We can become burdened by these things and lose touch with the loving God who created all things good and sent Jesus to redeem us from our sins. When this happens, doubt can be like a black cloud hanging over us.

The story of “doubting Thomas” is used to communicate this limited thinking. Thomas wanted obvious, empirical evidence. He was unable to let his present experience penetrate his grief over the loss of his rabbi and friend.

Unlike Thomas, we will never “see” Jesus and put our hands into his nail marks. However, we are asked to have faith in Jesus Christ present in the world. Our thinking about faith can never be limited to nailmarks. We can see Christ at work in the world in all of our positive encounters, and we can use that to inspire us to greater belief. We can believe that we were created beautiful and holy. We can believe that things can change for the better, no matter how hopeless a situation may appear.

Let us use this Easter season to respond to Jesus’ invitation to believe in him and to accept the peace that the risen Jesus gives to us. God wants nothing more than for us to live fully and respond to his call – to break free of doubt and proclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

When have you experienced doubt? How were you able to overcome it? How did it affect your faith?

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

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“All things seem possible in May.”
 
That observation by naturalist Edward Teale rings true: In May, the memory of winter fades away, new life springs from the earth, and summer no longer seems like an empty promise.
 
This atmosphere of rejuvenation and hope—ideas that are related to motherhood—has inspired Christians in many cultures to dedicate the month of May to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
 
In a way, they are emulating people who came before them: the ancient Greeks dedicated May to Artemis, a goddess associated with such things as hunting, wildlife, wilderness, and childbirth.
 
For the Romans, May was the month of the goddess Flora who, as her name implied, was associated with flowers and with the season of spring.
 
The Christian practice of dedicating the month to Mary arose as early as the end of the thirteenth century when King Alphonso X of Castile wrote about devotions to Mary on certain days during the month, but its popularity really began to flourish in the sixteenth century among Jesuits who encouraged it among their students in Rome, as well as in churches in Genoa and Verona.
 
Honoring Mary during May has been endorsed by the popes, including Pope Leo XIII, who wrote twelve encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the rosary, Pope Pius XII who wrote that the custom of prayer to Mary in May was “of special import and dignity,’’ and Pope Paul VI who said the month of prayer to Mary was an especially appropriate time to pray for peace.
 
Because honoring Mary as “Queen of the May” arose from popular piety, it is practiced in different ways in different cultures.
 
The most well-known devotion is the “May crowning” in which a statue or icon of Mary is the focus of a procession, prayers, hymns, and some physical manifestation such as a floral crown.
 
In many places, this crowning takes place on or near May 1, and in some parishes in the United States it takes place on Mother’s Day—the second Sunday of the month. In some parishes, the procession and crowning involve the children who have recently received first Communion.
 
This May crowning practice waned during the 1970s and 1980s, but it has become popular again in more recent years, and many Catholic adults are again hearing a refrain they know from their youth:
 

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.

 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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