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Advent_WreathOur liturgical seasons are marked by symbols and colors and actions and events to be remembered and celebrated. As we gather to share faith in our small communities, let us mark this season of preparation with images to remind us of who we are and what we are about.
 
The Advent wreath reminds us that this is the opening season of the liturgical year. We are waiting for and anticipating the coming of Christ at Christmas. Advent is a time for “waiting in joyful hope” for the coming of our Savior. We are making a journey, and we mark it by lighting a candle each week until all four are lit.
 
The Advent wreath offers liturgical colors and lights, none chosen by accident. Evergreens remind us of everlasting life, and each candle represents one of the weeks of Advent. Three candles are purple, the liturgical color of the season, and one is rose/pink for the third week of Advent as a sign of hope and joy that Christ’s coming is indeed near.
 
We may be preparing the readings of the coming Sunday or using a Lectionary-based small-group resource such as PrayerTime or Advent Awakenings. We may also use our Bible (readings are often listed in the parish bulletin or can be found online at www.usccb.org) or a missalette.
 
The Advent wreath is a visual reminder of the great gift of life given to us in the birth of Christ to be celebrated at Christmas.
 
Consider using this Advent wreath blessing in your small group.
 
May you enjoy the Advent journey with joyful anticipation and celebrate the signs and symbols of this blessed season.
 

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening or at midnight, or at the cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:33-37).

 

Advent is a time for prayerful reflection, a time to be particularly alert to the promptings of God’s grace. The Advent call in the Gospel is to “Be watchful! Be alert!” (Mark 13:33). This is not a call to passively wait for the risen Jesus to come again. This is a call to engage in an active watchfulness by putting your spiritual life in order. It is a challenge to put Christ at the center of your life, over all other pursuits, ambitions, or involvements.

 

Advent is a time for generous good works in which kindness and care for others supersedes self-absorption and concern. Openheartedness creates room for Christ’s vital presence. The distractions of Christmas can often lead to a passive waiting for the coming of Christ. You may find Christmas coming and going with little change in your life. So, “be alert!” and focus on the significance of this holy season.

 

In what ways is God’s grace urging you to a more conscious awareness of the presence of Christ and a deeper relationship with him in this Advent season?

 

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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“’Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me’” (Matthew 25:34-36).

This is the end of Matthew’s apocalypse series ─ a succession of parables in which Jesus talks about the end times. In it, Jesus sets out the standards for final judgment.

“’Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one these least of brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40).

God’s love and care is for all people. Those who treat others with compassion are blessed and experience the reign of God. By showing love to others, we show love to God. God created all of us and dwells in everyone.

We will be judged based on our acts of kindness to the needy. We are not being asked to donate huge amounts of money or give every free hour to volunteering. We are being asked to share a little of our food with the hungry, to visit the sick, or to sit with a hurting friend. We don’t do these things just to enter the kingdom of heaven. We do these things because Jesus tells us that what we do to the least of our brothers, we do to him.

Do you make it a habit to reach out to help those around you? How does your faith impact the things you do every day?

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

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It was common in the time of Jesus for a master to leave some servants in charge of his affairs when he went on a journey. This master knew his servants well. He entrusted the savvier ones with greater responsibility. But even a less qualified servant might be left with some responsibility – as in the case Jesus describes in one of his parables.

“After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had receive the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back’” (Matthew 25: 19-26).

The master was risk taker. He didn’t just allow things to happen; he made them happen. Keeping his talent safe wasn’t good enough. Growth was the only option.

“His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten’” (Matthew 25: 26-28).

In their master’s absence, the successful servants acted just as the master would. For their accomplishments, the master rewarded them with more responsibility. The “wicked” servant did not follow his master’s example. He was punished by having his one talent taken away and then being thrown to the darkness outside.

Once we discover the talents we have been entrusted with, we must show gratitude to God for these gifts by nurturing them and putting them to good use. As members of the Body of Christ, we must use our talents to promote the values of God. When we do, we find our greatest success.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells this parable in the midst of other stories about the end times. As we wait for the second coming of the Son of Man, we must act as Jesus did. If we do so, we can be proud to present these accomplishments to God when we meet him face to face.

What gifts and talents have you discovered in yourself? How might you use them in ways that will build up the Body of Christ?

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

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“Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’ His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his Body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (John 2:13-22).
 
The Lateran Basilica was dedicated in the fourth century, housed the bishop of Rome (the pope) for centuries, and is still considered the mother church of all churches. Yet it is sometimes difficult for many Catholics to understand the importance of commemorating the dedication of a church. In much the same way, it was difficult for the people in today’s gospel reading to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words. The Scripture explains that when Jesus spoke of the destruction of the Temple he was speaking of his own body. If Jesus meant himself when he said “Temple,” what do we mean when we say “Church”?
 
This is a question that has been discussed and debated throughout the history of Christianity. There is a whole discipline, called ecclesiology, dedicated to the question of what “Church” means. This week’s liturgy can help us explore that question. The second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians says that we are God’s building, and it challenges us to recognize ourselves as the temple of our God. In an opening prayer and in the preface for this feast, the Church is described as a temple of “living stones.”
 
In today’s gospel reading, the moneychangers have violated the sanctity of the Temple as the house of worship, and Jesus angrily drives them out. To us, the Gospel says we should rid ourselves of the things that prevent us from being what we are intended to be: a dwelling place for the Spirit, a temple of the Lord.
 
Before the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, Christians met in houses to listen to the Scriptures, to pray together, and to “break bread,” an expression commonly used by early Christian communities. These communities were small, and their members were often persecuted for believing that God dwelt within them.
 
With this dedication began the possibility of gathering these small Christian communities together to worship their God as one Church of living stones, a Church of which the foundation stone is Christ.
 
Part of today’s feast is celebrating the freedom to be Christians in public. These readings also call us to the responsibility that comes with that freedom. Do others look at us as living stones? Do we look at ourselves as living stones—as even more a part of the Church than any building could ever be?
 
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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A Franciscan priest, probably in his fifties, visited our parish a couple of years ago.
 
Because of his order, I mentioned to him that I had been baptized by a Franciscan, Fr. Kilian McFall, in 1942.
 
“That must have been at St. James in Totowa,’’ he said.
 
“That was almost seventy years ago,” I said. “How did you
know?”
 
“Oh,” he said with a wry look, “we remember our people.”
 
I was stunned. I never knew Fr. McFall, because he left St. James when I was very young, but I knew about him because my mother frequently mentioned that he had baptized my brother and me.
 
His name came up in a more public way in the 1950s when a street alongside the St. James church property was changed from McKinney Place to Kilian Place. Still, ask most people in Totowa today who “Kilian” was, and they won’t know. Street names are like that.
 
In an idle moment sometime after my conversation with that friar, I did a Google search on Fr. McFall’s name, feeling certain that nothing relevant would turn up. But the search led to a page, devoted to Fr. McFall, on the web site of the Holy Name Province of Franciscan Friars—a province that embraces the East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida and some overseas missions.
 
There was a photograph of Fr. McFall—the only one I had ever seen—and a biographical sketch that recounted his assignments in New York City, Totowa, North Carolina, and Florida.
 
Concerning his ministry at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street in Manhattan, where Fr. McFall served twice for a total of more than ten years, the bio had this to say:
 
“Fr. Kilian’s kindness and good judgment in practical matters made him a popular confessor at St. Francis. He had a special compassion for the sick and spent a great deal of time visiting them.’’
 
Indeed, Fr. McFall spent the last two years of his life as a hospital chaplain in West Palm Beach, where he died in 1955 at the age of 52.
 
For seven decades, Fr. McFall was a benign if shadowy figure—someone who had touched my life in an important way and then retreated into the past. With my parents, who brought me to him for baptism, he was one of the first to nudge me toward a path of Christian faith.
 
Our lives are filled with such people some still living and some departed. We can still thank the ones who live, and we can pray for those who are gone—a practice to which the Church devotes the whole month of November.
 
Grandparents and parents; siblings, aunts, and uncles; priests, sisters, and brothers; teachers and fellow students; intimate friends and total strangers who in some way have helped us grow in faith—may we all say with the friars, “We remember our people.”
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Thanksgiving Day is my favorite holiday. It is less stressful than Christmas, and its focus on gratitude for faith, family, and country instead of gift-giving is an opportunity to reflect on and delight in the blessings of life and the giver of all good gifts. The familiar smells and food and table fellowship help awaken me to gratitude particularly for people past and present who have loved me.
 
Thomas Merton, a monk and spiritual writer, reflects in his book Thoughts in Solitude on gratitude as the heart of the Christian life. “Every breath we draw is a gift of God’s love, every moment of existence is a grace for it brings with it immense graces from God. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.” Gratitude, then, is a contemplative stance towards life that sees all as gift and grace and leads to joy. Gratitude is more than saying a polite thank you. Instead it is a spontaneous feeling that arises from a heart that is free and supple. When I start thinking “I earned” or “I deserve” or “I wanted,” my grateful heart turns into a bitter one. Gratitude is, yes, delighting in the gift whether it is a new iPad or a sunrise or a turkey dinner, but more importantly it is a feeling of joy directed toward a person for giving me something good. It is a joy that comes not merely from the gift but from the act of giving, and it is directed toward the giver.
 
I look forward to Thanksgiving with my family not only for the turkey and stuffing but more importantly for that overwhelming feeling of gratitude I feel particularly as we take a moment to thank God for the blessings of the past year. I ask God for the grace to be responsive to the family members with whom I will share the Thanksgiving meal this year and to be awakened and renewed to the goodness of God in each person, in nature, and in myself.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.
 
Portrait of Thomas Merton by Frank Peabody.

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All_Souls“Jesus said to the crowds: ‘Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me,that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day’” (John 6:37-40).
 
There are many people who have departed earthly life but are not forgotten by us or by God. Yesterday was All Saints Day, and today we celebrate those who have not been declared saints but who have lived lives of holiness and who have touched our lives and our faith. You might remember a loving grandparent, aunt, or uncle, or friend who has died. Today we recognize that these people may no longer be with us, but they are still present in spirit and with God.
 
Today’s gospel reading is set in the midst of a discourse in which Jesus describes himself as the “bread of life” (John 6:35-51). Jesus explains in this reading that on the last day we will be reunited with everyone who believes—no exceptions.
 
How do we tap into this powerful source of life and nearness to God? When we receive the body and blood of Jesus in the elements of bread and wine, we are incorporated into Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We receive the promise that we, too, will be among those who join him on the last day. Our “Amen” says that we are willing to take on the challenge to live as Christians—to follow Jesus in word and deed. The Eucharist is our hope to share in God’s glory.
 
The life and unity we are promised is not limited to some future life with saints and angels but is already available to us here, today, in our unity with all people. As we care for the sick, the poor, the displaced, or the sorrowful, we help to build that unity. As we celebrate the sacraments—especially the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life—we live in Christ, but we also do so in the ordinary times of our lives as we grow closer to those all around us.
 
Whenever new people come into our lives, we share with them the unity that will be complete only in the end. And whenever people leave us through death, we can confidently place them in the protection of God, who cares for them and promises to bring us back together again one day. In God, there is no goodbye—“God be with you” is forever.
 
How does the celebration of the Eucharist help you feel connected to those who have departed from your life?
 
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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SCC_PrayerBeing creative with the opening and closing prayer can help participants grow by experiencing a variety of prayer forms. Familiar prayers can be reassuring, and they should be a part of the group’s overall experience, but sharing new words and forms can capture the participants’ attention, help them appreciate prayer as a conversation with God, and deepen their understanding of their place as members of the Body of Christ.
 
Here is an example of an opening prayer that includes quieting down:
Begin the meeting as usual. When you arrive at the moment of opening prayer, invite everyone to close their eyes, take three breaths—inhaling and then slowly exhaling. Then say:

I invite you to remember all those who have blessed you by sharing faith
with you.
Think back through your life . . .
Who inspired and blessed you as an infant and in your early childhood….Who comes to mind during your elementary school years….Consider now those who inspired you as a pre-teen, teenager, young adult, when you were in your 20s and early 30s…in middle age…in your wisdom years.
Take a moment and, as we remember All Saints and All Souls, celebrate those people, living or deceased, who have been part of your faith journey and offer a silent prayer of gratitude.

 
Allow for thirty seconds of silence, and then lead the group in praying the “Glory be.”
 
A companion closing prayer may be offered:
 
Let us pray now for those who have asked for our prayers or those for whom you have promised to pray:
 
Allow thirty seconds of silence and begin:
 
I invite you to pray aloud or in silence…

For family and friends (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For the sick (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For those in the headlines (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For those affected by natural disasters (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For the hungry, abused, and abandoned (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For world peace (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.

 
And we close with the prayer Jesus gave us…Our Father

 
Feel free to vary these according to the group’s need and the season of the church year. There are many sources of prayers, including the Prayers and Devotions on the web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
May you enjoy God’s attentive listening and God’s presence in one another.

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“’Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, our God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:36-40).

There are 613 precepts in the Torah which make up Jewish law. How does one decide which is the most important? In other words, what is the heart of the Torah?

Jesus’ response is simple. The heart of the Torah is love. Laws are signs and guideposts on our journey, helping us to learn to love with our full selves – our entire heart, mind, and soul. This law aids us in becoming better lovers of God, one another, and all of creation.

This passage is an invitation to see the world through God’s eyes and to love as God loves.

We have been loved into being, created for love in such a way that we are drawn to love as God loves. God loves and sustains the entire world, and loves each part of us at every moment. God’s love has no limits. God’s love is of excess and is poured out endlessly on us. His love is not conditional.

By saying that love is the heart of the Torah, Jesus is calling us to reciprocate this love and love as freely as God. We are invited to see the connection between love of God and love of neighbor. When we truly love those around us, we are showing our love for God.

How can you increase your consciousness of love in your life?

What would your world look like if you approached all people by trying to see God present in them?

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

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“The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?’” (Matthew 22: 15 – 17).

Jesus’ parables to chief priests and elders over the last few readings depicted them as the second son who did not fulfill his father’s wishes and as the tenants who killed the king’s messengers. These religious leaders tried, in the conversation recorded in this reading, to put Jesus in a no-win situation.

If Jesus said that it was permissible to pay taxes to Caesar, the crowds would see him as siding with the Roman occupation. If he said it was not permissible, then the Herodians (who collaborated with the Romans) could denounce him to the authorities.

“Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax’” (Matthew 22:18).

The Jewish custom was that the only valid currency in the Temple was official Temple money. Roman coins minted with the head of Caesar portrayed him as a demi-god, and this image of a false god was explicitly forbidden by the First Commandment. These Pharisees and Herodians, by having Roman coins in their possession, dared to breach the First Commandment within the Temple! Doing this showed their acceptance of the financial advantages to them of the Roman occupation of Palestine.

“He said to them, ‘Whose image is on this and whose inscription?’ They replied, ‘Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22: 20-21).

Those willing to use Caesar’s coin should repay him in kind, as they received their money from Caesar. Jesus raised the debate to a new level by bringing up repaying God. The Pharisees and the Herodians should be more concerned with repaying God with the good deeds that are due to Him.

Jesus challenges us to look at where we get our money and how we spend it. This reveals our true priorities. Has our money, as it did with the Pharisees and Herodians, entered the space of the sacred? Do we find fulfillment in making money and buying things, instead of in our faith and in doing good deeds?

How do you spend your money? What does it tell you about your values and priorities?

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

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Miriam_DemjanovichAlmost twenty years ago, I had the privilege of attending St. John Paul’s mass at Giants Stadium. There had been a lottery at my church in Verona, New Jersey, and I was chosen to attend along with my wife, Janet, and about 40 other parishioners. Janet could not attend because of work responsibilities.
 
It was a very damp and cloudy morning, and we hoped that the rain would hold off until after Mass. However, it started to rain right after the Gospel was proclaimed, and we were completely drenched. Yet, it was a most memorable and holy day that I will always cherish.
 
So after I read about the beatification mass for Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark, I knew that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This time, Janet came with me, and it was a very rainy morning once again. Camera trucks from all of the television networks, including EWTN were on Central Avenue, and it was fairly empty outside. We thought that we were early. Once we entered, though, we found that the cathedral was filled to capacity. We were lucky to find two chairs in the back along the side wall.
 
At 9:30 the procession began, and it lasted for at least 15 minutes. The Sisters Of Charity were well represented and processed down the middle aisle followed by the deacons, priests, bishops, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and the celebrant, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints. During the rite and formula of beatification, the cathedral was silent, but then it erupted with such joy and celebration. Blessed Miriam Teresa’s portrait was then uncovered as Michael Mencer—whose boyhood recovery from macular degeneration is attributed to Sister Miriam’s intercession—carried her relics, which were placed next to her portrait.
 
I cannot find the words to describe how I felt during the beatification rite. It was amazing and spirit-filling to witness the beatification of a woman from Bayonne, New Jersey and a sister from the local congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth.
 
Two one-of-a-kind spiritual events within twenty years!
 
Richard Michalowski is RENEW International’s Controller and proud father and grandfather.

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In September, Deirdre Malacrea, my RENEW colleague, and I attended the three-day international meeting in Vatican City on Pope Francis’ exhortation on the new evangelization, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). We joined 1,500 pastoral workers from 60 countries. The highlight of the conference was the talk by Pope Francis. After a morning session, we went out to lunch and had to return to the hall through security in anticipation of the pope’s appearance. The security lines were a mass of people. Typical Americans, Deirdre and I began to discuss how we could better organize the crowd, but we quickly abandoned that discussion and joined in the mad push. I lost Deirdre in the crush of the people, and entering the hall I lost hope for a decent seat. That is until I heard Deirdre calling to me. Using her American ingenuity and tough-minded Jersey attitude she landed us seats in the fourth row. When the pope entered the hall the atmosphere was electric, and I found myself lifted from my seat by the enthusiasm of the crowd. Instead of shouting “Derek Jeter” I joined the masses chanting “Papa Francesco.”
 
Pope Francis quieted the crowd with his humble presence, and his immediate and everyday language was compelling. He cautioned us against “clericalism”—looking down on the people we serve—and being too caught up in the institution, status, and rules of the Church. Instead he called us to preach and bear witness to the mercy of God. He reminded us of one of his favorite images of the church, a “field hospital” where all people who are suffering and wounded are welcome to come for healing, and he exhorted us to foster a church that is proximate and open and gives priority to the weak and poor. His concluding remarks were words of hope and encouragement—go about the work of evangelization with “patience and perseverance.”
 
I encourage you to read and reflect on The Joy of the Gospel. In this exhortation, Pope Francis encourages all Christians to embark on a new chapter of evangelization. He outlines a new vision for the Church, and he calls each local community to implement this vision according to its own culture and circumstance. This is exactly what we at RENEW are focused on as we develop our new pastoral process, Be My Witness: Formation for the New Evangelization.
 
In the words of Pope Francis: “Go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ… I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than a fear from going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of being shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying us: “Give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37)” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49).
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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In the time of Jesus, everyone owed much to the king. He was responsible for safety, trade, and everything the community had. Given this fact, everyone was obliged to be loyal to him. Imagine the king’s anger at having his invitation to a celebration refused by those who owed him so much! After his servants were killed, “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” (Matthew 22:7). New subjects were gathered who showed loyalty and celebrated with the king. However, when the king saw a guest who hadn’t put on a wedding garment, he said to his attendants, “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Matthew 22:13). That subject was willing to take what was offered, but not willing to give back what was due.

Instead of focusing on the king’s actions, look at this parable as a lesson in consistency of faith and life.

The king expected the outward profession of his subjects’ sense of personal loyalty. The first group of subjects professed loyalty, but did not act on it because they did not attend the celebration. This reminds us of times when we profess that we believe but do not let our faith guide our daily actions. Other subjects killed emissaries of the king. They rejected the king, just as we may at times choose to do things that are contrary to the challenge to love one another. The last group of subjects was willing to profess their loyalty and act on it by attending the celebration ─all except for the one subject who refused to dress respectfully but wanted to reap the benefits of the party. It is this third group that Jesus challenges us to be – by both professing our faith outwardly and allowing it to guide us internally.

“For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22: 14).

God calls us all to be in a relationship. But our response and the consistency of our response are up to us. We owe everything to God, just as the subjects owed everything to the king. All God asks us to do in return is to be consistent in heart and action in our response.

That consistency can be a tougher task than it appears. How do you respond to God’s call? Are your actions always consistent with your beliefs?

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

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PopePaulVIA long-time collaborator with RENEW International keeps the following tagline on her e-mail messages:
“Peace and all good for everyone—no exceptions.”
 
It’s a sentiment that would have sat well with Pope Paul VI, who is to be beatified by Pope Francis on October 19.
 
Beatification is a step toward recognition as a saint.
 
In a way, Pope Paul occupies an unenviable place among the popes in the past five decades.
 
He succeeded the big-hearted, jovial Pope John XXIII, and he was succeeded by the charismatic John Paul I and John Paul II.
 
Pope Paul, by contrast, appeared studious and reserved and did not generate the transcendent kind of popular excitement that has surrounded other pontiffs—including Pope Francis.
 
But this quiet man arguably had a greater impact on the Church than all but a handful of those who have occupied the Chair of Peter; some would argue that Paul had the greatest impact of all.
 
When Pope John XXIII died in 1963, the Second Vatican Council, which he had convoked, automatically adjourned. Pope Paul, as expected, reconvened it and directed the implementation of its decisions, which ultimately renewed areas including the liturgy, the eucharistic fast, and the religious lives of priests.
 
The pope asked the council fathers, as a top priority, to produce a clear statement of how the Catholic Church sees itself, and that resulted in the most influential document issued by the council, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, often referred to by its Latin title, Lumen Gentium.
 
That document reiterated that the Catholic Church is “the sole Church of Christ,” but immediately added that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible confines.’’
 
This statement struck a chord that has continued to this day, the attempt at a rapprochement between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities in which the Catholic Church acknowledges and publicly regrets its own historic role in bringing about the separation.
 
A particularly dramatic step in this process occurred in 1964 when Pope Paul and the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras I met in Jerusalem and set the stage for Catholic and Orthodox churches to mutually rescind the excommunications of the Great Schism of 1054.
 
The council also produced, and Paul VI promulgated, Nostra Aetate, the groundbreaking Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.
 
This document began by reflecting on the unity of the human race and went on to acknowledge the search for truth in other religious faiths.
 
The document specifically expressed the Church’s “esteem” for Muslims who revere Jesus as a prophet, honor his mother, and “value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.”
 
And—in, perhaps, its most sensitive passage—Nostra Aetate declared the spiritual bond that ties the Church to the Jewish people, affirmed that God’s covenant with the Jews is enduring, and repudiated any attempt to demonize Jewish people because of the passion of Jesus or discriminate against them in any way.
 
Pope Paul chose his papal name because of the missionary career of St. Paul, who carried the Gospel far and wide—to the outskirts, as Pope Francis likes to say.
 
Pope Paul, through the council and through his own missionary travels, opened wide the Church’s arms to welcome in a spirit of fraternity communities and individuals, including atheists, from whom it had long been estranged—“no exceptions.”
 
It is especially fitting then that Pope Francis, the new prophet of missionary discipleship, will be the one to declare Pope Paul “blessed.”
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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