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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it’” (Matthew 13:44-46).
 
 
In this series of sayings, Jesus continues his teaching about the reign of God. What will it be like? What can we expect? His teaching is both clear as a bell and yet filled with mystery we cannot fully grasp. The treasure in the field he describes must have been very great, indeed. The fellow who found it, the text tells us, hid it so he could go and buy the entire field! He sold all he had to possess this great treasure.
 
And the merchant who sold everything to buy that fine pearl must have nearly put himself out of business. Apparently it wasn’t the enterprise of selling pearls that attracted him but the beauty of the one fine pearl that superseded all others. Apparently half measures won’t do when it comes to fine pearls.
 
In today’s world, it can be very difficult to sort out the good pearls from all the others. We are confused by a cacophony of noise coming from everywhere: media, Internet, neighbors, family, and our own inner voices. Which voice is of God? How can we sort it out? The key to all this is found in a simple word, easy to overlook, in the first line of the reading. Look again.
 
Jesus teaches us that the mark of the right choice, the way we can know it, is that we will experience joy. In the old Baltimore Catechism, widely used in the Church until the Second Vatican Council, we were taught that God made us to know, love, and serve him but with the ultimate goal of being happy. When you pause to take the temperature of your conscience, finding deep joy tells you that you have made the right choices, even if the times are tough, even if the work is terribly hard. Still, if there is joy deep in your heart, it is a sign that God’s reign is present within you.
 
– What are the times or decisions in your life that have clearly resulted in a deep inner sense of joy?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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sidewalkThe Mission Co-op preacher in our parish this year was a Maryknoll priest who said that Africa, where he worked for many years, is no longer “mission territory.”
 
I don’t know how the Church categorizes the Muslim countries in the northern Africa, but I have seen the overall Catholic population of the continent placed at around 200 million—nearly three times the Catholic population of the United States and Canada. The World Christian Database estimates that there will be more than 450 million Catholics in Africa by 2050.
 
And from what I’ve heard from that priest and others familiar with the Church in Africa, this phenomenon isn’t just in the census.
 
Masses in Africa are packed, I am told, and they are joyous occasions, marked by song and dance and fellowship, and folks aren’t looking at their watches or making for the door right after Communion. In fact, a missionary sister who spoke to an adult group at my parish last year said churchgoers in Africa feel shortchanged if the homilist doesn’t speak for half an hour.
 
There is a parallel boom in religious vocations in Africa. The Bigard Memorial Seminary in Nigeria, with more than a thousand students, is said to be the largest in the world.
 
That’s all good news, but it doesn’t mean that the concept of “mission territory” is no longer relevant.
 
Pope Francis has been telling us for the past four years not only that there still is mission territory—namely our own immediate surroundings—but also that we are the missionaries.
 
He doesn’t mean that we are called upon to convert non-Christians to the faith as though we were Junípero Serra in the Baja.
 
Rather, Francis means that we are called to be more than parishioners; that we are called to be missionary disciples who spread the faith far beyond the walls of our local churches.
 
The Pope has inspired some debate by saying that this missionary discipleship does not mean proselytizing—that is, directly trying to convert someone from one religion to another.
 
Some Catholics have objected that such an approach can lead to the idea that religious truth is a matter of personal choice.
 
But Francis has explained that the Church is more likely to grow and become more vibrant and effective by making itself attractive than by arguing doctrine.
 
In other words, if I read the Holy Father correctly, the Church’s future lies in helping people, including disaffected and lukewarm Catholics, see beyond superficial appearances and outmoded or simply false impressions.
 
The pope himself gives a perfect example of this. He doesn’t compromise on the dogmatic teachings of the Church, but because of his public image—and especially the joy he finds in his faith, and the magnanimity with which he greets people of all faiths or no faith—far more people than ever in recent history are paying attention to what the leader of the Catholic Church says on issues of mutual respect, social justice, political integrity, and moral responsibility.
 
When he named his famed apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” it wasn’t a casual decision.
 
The whole world witnesses the joy that this man finds in his religious faith, and the world takes notice.
 
When he asks us to be missionary disciples, he is asking us to let others see the joy that fills us because of our encounter with Jesus Christ, to gently tell our faith stories whenever opportunities arise, and so to present the Church as a caring and inviting home.
 
This post was originally published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen. Charles Paolino is a permanent deacon of that diocese and managing editor at RENEW International.

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“Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” His slaves said to him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” He replied, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn’”’” (Matthew 13:24-30).
 
Each of the parables in Matthew’s Gospel offers us a dimension of God’s reign. God’s kingdom, we believe, will exist in its fullness at the end of the world. God alone will bring it about.
 
God’s reign also exists on earth, although not yet completely fulfilled. We are God’s instruments on earth, with Jesus whose Spirit enables us to do God’s work.
 
When Jesus speaks of the tiny mustard seed growing into the huge shrub or the small amount of yeast that enables the whole mass of dough to rise, we see God’s reign in process. The reign of God comes into being and gains strength and prominence. The reign of God exists where people treat each other with justice, as Jesus treated all people.
 
Another perspective of God’s reign is offered through the parable of the weeds. Here wheat and weeds grow together until harvest, and then are separated. Jesus explains the strong symbolism of this parable. The field is the world; the good seed, those who want to be part of God’s kingdom; the weeds, those who choose to follow evil ways. The harvest is the end of the world. Jesus uses very vivid, ancient imagery to explain to his disciples how people will either enter into God’s ultimate reign or, through their sinful choices, will be separated from it and be punished.
 
Certainly Jesus was urging his followers to be people of God’s reign. However one images the end of the world, no believer wants to be separated from God.
 
– Where do you see glimpses of God’s reign in our world?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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Sower_Seed“On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: ‘A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear’” (Matthew 13:1-9).
 
A biblical scholar, C. H. Dodd, offers the classic definition of a parable: “At its simplest, the parable is a metaphor of common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”
 
Jesus very often taught the crowds in parables. Parables offer deep truth in story form. They allow the hearers to judge for themselves where they fit in the story. Jesus is the master teacher. He offers his word to us. Each person who has heard the word will receive it in his or her own way. Jesus, the sower, generously plants the seeds, but the rest is up to us. Only if we accept the Lord’s words deeply within us will they have a lasting effect. Any person who has worked in a garden to grow flowers or vegetables knows the peril of the seed that does not find itself in good, rich soil.
 
It is so easy to have good initial intentions to follow the Word of God, but the world is rarely a nurturing place. Trials and temptations confront us daily. Jesus is completely aware of the many pulls and distractions of our lives. He knows the presence and power of evil. He is so painfully aware that even his Good News depends on our acceptance. He sows the seed with love, knowing the greatness of his message. As difficult as it may be to hold fast to the Word of God, those seeds that take root in our hearts, Jesus assures us, will bring blessings “a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold.”
 
– What seed of God’s Word needs greater nurturing in your life?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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My_Yoke_Is_Easy“At that time Jesus exclaimed: ‘I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.’
‘Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light’” (Matthew 11:25-30).
 
In this Gospel passage, Jesus himself is praising and thanking God for the revelation given to him. Jesus was able to receive everything from the Father, for his heart and mind were totally open to the will of God. Jesus was without personal desires; he had no agenda of his own. He was not interested in his own glory but only that of God. His humility was complete. And humility is truth.
 
In our lives, we reveal ourselves to very few people. We reveal ourselves only to those who completely accept and love us. We hold back the deep, sacred truth in our lives from all those who could use that truth against us or mock our self-revelation. When Jesus speaks of his relationship with the Father, we learn of a relationship of complete love and trust, a relationship of oneness. Through Jesus, we learn of God, for he has revealed God’s truth and God’s way to us, the merest of children. Only our own desires and our own life agendas can prevent us from knowing and accepting the fullness of divine truth.
 
Certainly all people have known the weariness and burdens of life. Jesus is inviting us to be one with him and to learn from his gentleness and his heart’s humility. Knowing what God wishes to reveal to our hearts would lighten our burdens and give rest to our souls. To find this rest, we must be willing to accept Jesus, who is eager not only to share our burdens but also to bring us to the love of the Father.
 
– How do I turn to Jesus when I am suffering the burdens and weariness of life?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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cross“Jesus said to his apostles: ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it'” (Matthew 10:37-39).
 
 
The final words of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples before they begin their mission express the very heart of the Christian message. Matthew’s Gospel, written at least fifty years after the crucifixion, has Jesus speaking of the cross.
 
The crucifixion of Jesus became the central event for the people of Matthew’s community. They came to understand that Jesus gave his life for them, for the
truth, the integrity of God’s message. Jesus accepted the cross with all its horror, rather than compromise his truth, his love for the Father and for them.
 
The people of Matthew’s community understood that Jesus was willing to sacrifice his life for others. Our faith asks us to follow Jesus and to seek to do
God’s will. We are not to put our own desires first. To be worthy of the Lord requires selflessness, a death to self. And it is in this death that we will live, just as in Jesus’ death he found new life.
 
The promises of our Lord challenge us, but also offer us great reward. So many times in the Scriptures Jesus does not glorify “religious leaders.” The reward
received by a prophet or holy person is not much compared to the promised reward of Jesus.
 
– How do you follow Jesus’ command to take up your cross?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store.

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RightOne of the hit songs around the time that I was finishing high school was “You Talk Too Much,” written by Reginald Hall and sung by Joe Jones on a record that made No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
 
As was typical of the rock ‘n’ roll lyrics of that time, the meaning of this song was obscure. Who was talking too much? The song didn’t say.
 
That song came to mind because these days, talking too much has become a part of our culture.
 
The never-ending commentary on television and radio in which real and faux authorities talk at each other about politics, government, social issues, and even sports, seems to serve little purpose except to fuel bitter exchanges on social media and confirm folks in the opinions they already hold.
 
Often, the discourse, rolling on like a truck without brakes, descends into schoolyard vitriol.
 
I’m sure that there are reasonable people on both sides of every contested subject, but such people are drowned out by the relentless polemics.
 
A character in the “Peanuts” comic strip once concluded an argument by saying, “I’m right, and you’re wrong, and it’s simple as that.”
 
It is rarely as simple as that, but as more and more folks adopt that intractable attitude, as fewer and fewer are willing to give opposing views a fair hearing, we are putting at risk the quality of our life as a nation and our lives as private citizens.
 
One reasonable voice that rises above the maelstrom is that of Pope Francis, who more than once has addressed this very issue.
 
He raised the topic, for example, when he met with university students in Rome.
 
Speaking of media reports of the insults exchanged by public figures, Francis told the students that it was “time to lower the volume. We need to talk less and listen more.”
 
During that meeting, the pope explained that civil discourse is not a matter only of good manners.
 
“Wait. Listen carefully to what the other thinks,” Francis said, “and then respond,” and—instead of summarily dismissing the other’s point of view, ask for a further explanation of what you do not understand.
 
“Where there is no dialogue,” he said, “there is violence. …
 
“Wars start inside our hearts. When I am not able to open myself to others, to respect others, to talk to others, to dialogue with others, that is how wars begin.”
 
When Francis was ordained to the diaconate and then to the priesthood, he promised to practice what he preached, and he does that where this topic is concerned as in many other contexts.
 
Whereas the Church’s dialogue with non-Catholics, non-Christians, and people of no faith has accelerated in the decades since the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis has made a point of personally and publicly engaging in this dialogue himself.
 
He does not compromise the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church, but he respects the right of others to have other beliefs, and assumes the intellectual integrity of those who do.
 
Catholics and Jews, Catholics and Muslims, even Catholics and many Christians of other denominations are going to disagree on many things, but the dialogues between Francis and these communities provide a challenging example while at the same time demonstrating that civil discussion is possible no matter how much the parties may disagree.
 
This post was originally published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. Deacon Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International.

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Housetops“Jesus said to the Twelve:’Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father'” (Matthew 10:26-33).
 
Throughout the history of our Church, faithful believers have followed Christ in their refusal to sacrifice the truth in order to protect their own lives. In the Middle Ages, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, a consequence of her unwavering faith and courage. St. Thomas More was beheaded for his unbending loyalty to the Holy Father’s judgment against King Henry VIII. In our own times, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Voice of the Voiceless in San Salvador, was assassinated at liturgy for his courage against an evil and unjust military government.
 
These martyrs truly lived this gospel. Their human fear of bodily harm did not govern their lives. Truth, justice, their personal integrity, and the care of their souls were their real priorities. Surely these martyrs and many, many others through the centuries acknowledged Christ, confident that Christ would acknowledge them before God.
 
Jesus assures his apostles that they truly have nothing to fear. He uses wonderful imagery to explain the intensity of God’s love and care for each one of us. Our Creator’s total and unending concern for all creation assures us of our place within the heart of God. The Lord’s love for each one of us is greater, more intimate than even the love parents have for their children. In return for this incredible gift of loving care, we are simply asked to fear not, to trust, and to acknowledge before the world that our God is the God of love.
 
-How do you respond to the belief that God knows you with the great intimacy of “counting every hair”?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store.

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Bread_ofLife_Kennedy_A_Paizs“Jesus said to the Jewish crowds:
‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.’” (John 6:51-58)
 
Speaking of the Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI said, “We ourselves, with our whole being, must be adoration and sacrifice, and by transforming our world, give it back to God. The role of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality of the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host, a liturgy. This is also the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: in the end we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host. And let us pray the Lord to help us become priests in this sense, to aid in the transformation of the world, in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves. That our lives may speak of God, that our lives may be a true liturgy, an announcement of God, a door through which the distant God may become the present God, and a true giving of ourselves to God.” (Homily, July 24, 2009).
 
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French paleontologist, geologist, and Jesuit priest who worked extensively in China in the early twentieth century. Initially his scientifically-informed lectures and writings on original sin and the nature of the Eucharist were misunderstood by the Roman Curia, to the point where they were censored. Today we know that to these ideas of Teilhard de Chardin are not heretical; this revised view is not least due to Pope Benedict XVI’s acceptance and appreciation for Teilhard’s thought in these areas, as exemplified above.
 
It is eye-opening to realize that our actions, but especially our acceptance and love of the Eucharist, as explained by Pope Benedict XVI, allow us to play a part in not only the transformation of ourselves but in giving the universe back to God. Just as it must have been difficult for Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to face rejection upon presenting concepts toward which God had led him, it must have been difficult for Jesus to offer such an amazing life-giving gift only to hear the following directly afterward: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” We may have reacted in a similar way; perhaps we still do. Therefore, let us commit to learning more about the Eucharist, but, especially, to spending time in eucharistic adoration so that which we cannot understand mentally is instead illuminated by intimacy—like that which we receive from any special relationship—but which is most readily available in our relationship with Christ.
 
Matt is a past summer intern for RENEW’s Publications and Resources team.

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ramadanI must admit that I felt a little presumptuous breaking the Ramadan fast when I hadn’t been fasting in the first place.
 
But my wife and I had been invited to attend a catered dinner in a firehouse banquet hall where the local Muslim community was gathering to break their fast.
 
The invitation had come from a member of that community who earlier had accepted my invitation to speak to a parents group at my parish.
 
This is as it should be: Muslims and Christians treating each other not only as fellow human beings, but even as friends.
 
The negative attitude that many people have about Muslims in general results from associating all Muslims with the Islamic terrorists who have attacked the World Trade Center and killed innocent people in suicide bombings and other atrocious acts here and abroad.
 
That attitude also extends to the broad assumption that all Muslim people think alike, whereas the empirical evidence, as well as common sense, suggests otherwise.
 
There are more than 1.6 billion Muslim people in the world, about 80 percent of whom do not live in the Middle East or North Africa.
 
Like the 2.4 billion or so Christians in the world, a group that size will represent every possible shade of religious, philosophical, and political thought.
 
It’s a complex subject, and some very recent data on it is available on the web site of the Pew Research Center in a report titled “Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and Around the World.”
 
Whatever we learn about the world Muslim population as a whole, we are more likely than ever to encounter individual Muslim men and women in our communities, schools, and workplaces, and it is imprudent to jump to conclusions about them.
 
It should be obvious that simply shunning folks simply because they are Muslim is not consistent with the Gospel. Beyond that, those we sometime read about who yank hijabs from Muslim women’s heads or publicly urge Muslims—or people they mistake for Muslims—to “go back where you came from” may be expressing an understandable rage or fear, but they are also aggravating rather than mitigating tensions, and doing so based on inadequate information and understanding.
 
The Catholic Church in the United States is active in movements to counteract such ideas and behavior and increase productive interaction between Christians and Muslims.
 
These movements are not ethereal exercises; they are important steps toward building a better society and a better world.
 
At a recent two-day Christian-Muslim dialogue, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego expressed the urgency of this matter, saying, “The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians. It depends on love of the one God and love of neighbor.”
 
Bishop McElroy, who co-chairs a West Coast Catholic-Muslim dialogue sponsored by the national conference of bishops, emphasized that the parties must acknowledge the substantial differences in their religious doctrines and, at the same time, foster “an overriding sense of friendship.”
 
And, the bishop said, those who participate in such dialogues must relate their discussions to the faith communities they represent.
 
“It does little pastoral good,” he said, “for a national dialogue to focus on theological themes if the pastoral life of our members is not affected.”
 
As Christian and Muslim leaders carry on these discussions on our behalf, we can follow the results of their dialogue with open minds and, meanwhile, treat our Muslim neighbors with the equanimity Jesus would expect of us.
 

In 2017, Ramadan ends in the evening of Saturday, June 24.

 
This post was originally published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. Deacon Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International.

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“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. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-18).
 
Trinity Sunday celebrates the mystery we reaffirm every time we make the sign of the cross, recite the creed, or attend a baptism. This teaching is drawn from many texts in which Jesus reveals the actions of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today’s gospel reading, extracted from Jesus’ instruction on baptism, focuses on the Father’s supreme act of divine love.
 
To better understand this passage, it is helpful to look at its context. Jesus was speaking to a Pharisee named Nicodemus. In the Jewish community of Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were the accepted religious authority. Some of them opposed Jesus and his values so, for fear of offending this particular group, Nicodemus came to Jesus secretly in the night. Nicodemus opened his mind to a new understanding of religion that clashed with the Pharisees’ priorities, but he found a way to escape the domination of the “in crowd.”
 
Where do we see Nicodemus in our community? When we are honest with ourselves, we admit that we too can be controlled by peer pressure and political correctness. Perhaps we pretend that we have given up religious practice because we’re “too mature,” “too sophisticated,” or “too smart” for such things. Only in secret do we admit that we’ve stopped attending Sunday Mass for fear of friends’ ridicule or because we are simply too lazy. But Nicodemus gives us hope. Strengthened by his new faith, as we see through his later appearances in the Gospels, he became a follower of Jesus.
 
Jesus spoke of a divine love that in dying bestows eternal life. By eternal life, Jesus meant not just life that will go on after death but the fullness of life now, a life in God that cannot be terminated by death. When Jesus made clear to this fearful man—and to each of us—the soft truth that the Father loves even the unlovable, he also implied the hard truth that Christians must love their enemies. Jesus’ final words offer an even greater challenge: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Condemning is easy, but God gives us a greater challenge: to love the world enough to change it.
 
– How do you allow outside influences to prevent you from fully living your faith?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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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).
 
In John’s Gospel, the silent, reassuring way Jesus came into the room was much like the way he comes into our hearts. This quiet scene is rich with both literal and symbolic significance. The locked door reveals that Jesus’ glorified body was different, uninhibited by the limitations of earthly bodies. Even more significant is God’s entrance into a heart locked by fear, prejudice, or unpleasant memories. When Jesus—without fanfare—simply stood in the midst of his frightened disciples, it suggested that from then on, his real presence would be found in the community of believers. Finally, with the symbolic gesture of breathing, Jesus signaled the infusion of an even more intense presence and power, the life-giving breath of the Spirit.
 
Since this scene took place on the Sunday evening of the Resurrection, Jesus’ first concern was to convince his startled audience that they were not seeing things. To prove that he was indeed the same person they saw nailed to the cross, he showed them his wounds. Jesus offers us the same proof of his presence by showing us the wounds all around us, not just on battlefields or in hospitals but in slums and prisons, and even in our own living rooms. Recognizing Jesus in the wounded and serving him there opens the community to receive all that he wants to give when he repeats the powerful word, “Peace.”
 
Jesus commissioned them and fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit to empower them in their work. Then, the first thing Jesus told them to do with their new power was to forgive. Forgiveness opens the door to peace. Forgiveness liberates the one who forgives as well as the one forgiven. Even more, the human act of forgiveness releases the power of the Spirit into the community. Think of the power of John Paul II forgiving his would-be assassin; Nelson Mandela working for reconciliation with the very people who had imprisoned him; or the Amish of Pennsylvania reaching out in forgiveness to the family of the man who had killed a number of their young girls. Forgiveness has the power to transform our lives if we allow the Spirit to work. Imagine how different the history of the world would be, how different our daily headlines would be, if we acted out the Pentecost Gospel: “Receive the Holy Spirit of forgiveness. Open the door to peace.”
 
– Who in your life are you called to forgive, and from whom do you need to seek forgiveness?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).
 
In Scripture, a landscape is always something more than a place. A story’s geographical location can also be both a spiritual symbol and a mood-setter—like the soundtrack for a good movie. This story opens in a specific place, a mountain top in Galilee where the disciples had met Jesus before. Jesus used that familiar geography to ground his friends emotionally when he came to “blow them away.” The setting of this story recalls other mountains where God had spoken to his people. On Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the commandments. On Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed his divinity. On another hillside, he delivered the Sermon on the Mount, laying out the code of Christian conduct. All he had to say was “Meet me on our mountain,” and it triggered memories and the expectation that something new was about to be proclaimed to t Jesus’ inner circle.
 
This last meeting between Jesus and the eleven took place between Easter and Pentecost.The Church calls it “The Commissioning.” Jesus, who had been given universal power, gave the disciples the universal mission to “make disciples of all nations.” They were told to baptize the nations into a union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus challenged them to preach his moral teaching and to imitate his radical lifestyle with the promise of his real, though unseen, presence to support and strengthen them all along the way.
 
– How do you feel Jesus’ real but unseen presence in your life?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him. Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.
‘I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you gave me is from you, because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them. And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you’” (John 17:1-11a).
 
As we conclude the Easter season, John’s Gospel invites us into the prayer with which Jesus ended his farewell speech. Here the Son spoke directly to the Father and shared his intimacy with a divine Parent who knows and loves us unconditionally.
 
When Jesus’ prayer began, “Father, the hour has come,” the disciples did not know what he meant. But we do. We know that Jesus’ last hours were full of pain and suffering, so when we read that he spoke of an hour of glory, it is startling. In Old Testament language, glory signifies God’s invisible presence manifested as radiance. After Jesus’ death for others, God’s redeeming presence radiated in a new way throughout all times and places and within individual lives. As Jesus’ life asks us to redefine power, so his death asks us to redefine glory.
 
Until John’s Gospel, written about sixty years after the Resurrection, most people understood glory as a reward bestowed in the afterlife. John, however, wrote of glory as an immediate outcome of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, a continual showing forth of divine energy at work in the world. This understanding of glory gave Jesus surprising confidence in his followers: “the words you gave to me I have given to them.” Even though all but a few abandoned him, Jesus said to the Father, “I have been glorified in them.” Jesus loved and trusted even them, giving us assurance that God loves us even when we least deserve it.
 
Jesus made one of the clearest, most direct statements in the whole New Testament: “this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” To know the love of God the way Jesus knows it is the whole reason for our lives, and each of us who develops a personal relationship with Jesus will find it.
 
– How can you share with others the words given to you?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Armenia_1988“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live (John 14:15-19).
 
There may be no greater assurance in times of trouble than the promise, “I will be there for you.” In that vein, I was touched by a story I read in Chicken Soup for the Soul which reminded me of Jesus’ promise to his disciples in today’s Gospel: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
 
This is a true story from the devastating 1989 Armenian earthquake that took only minutes to kill thirty thousand people. Moments after the earthquake rocked the country, a father ran to the elementary school to search for his son. When the father arrived, he saw that the school had been leveled. He remembered his promise to his son: “No matter what happens, I will be there for you.” He went to the area that had been his son’s classroom and began to dig, removing rock by rock from the rubble. Others began to arrive—parents, policemen, and firemen—and soon they told him his efforts were useless, all are lost. As others stood paralyzed and sobbing, the young father kept digging. For eight hours, then 16, then 32, then 36 hours, he dug—he would not be deterred.
 
Finally, after thirty-eight hours, he pulled back a boulder and heard his son’s voice. He called out to his boy, “Armand! Armand!” And a voice answered him, “Dad, it’s me!” The boy continued, “I told the other kids not to worry. I told them if you were alive, you’d save me, and when you saved me, they’d be saved too. Because you promised me, ‘No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.’”
 
In today’s gospel passage, which is from the farewell discourse, Jesus extends the sentiment “I will be there for you” to his closet companions. Jesus knows they will soon witness his suffering and death. They will be wrought with fear and pain as he his torn from them. He promises them that he will send his own Spirit to come as Advocate, protector, and divine friend. He will not leave them orphaned; he will abide with them and accompany them on their life journey through the power of his Spirit.
 
No matter what may come our way, we can face it with confidence and hope, knowing we are never alone. God will keep his promise to us—he will always be there for us. The promise that we will not be left orphaned when Jesus returns to his Father; the promise that the Spirit sent by Jesus will abide with us and all believers; the promise that the love of God that comes to us through the Spirit will overflow into the lives of others.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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