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He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’’ Then he said to the host who invited him, ‘When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:1, 7-14).
 
Jesus continues his journey toward Jerusalem and shares yet another parable at the heart of which is the idea that assumptions can be risky.
 
The assumption that Jesus disproves is that the “very important people” are indeed the important people. Rather, Jesus suggests those who are considered the lowliest are the important ones and should be honored and invited. Today, celebrities and sports stars often take precedence and receive more praise and adulation than is appropriate. Yet, we often overlook those who are quietly reaching out to others without concern for return.
 
Jesus is telling us to pay attention. Not everyone worth listening to is at the head of the table. Sometimes the road to salvation can be found among those who aren’t at the feast, who can’t afford to indulge in sumptuous banquets. In fact, we may have to invite them personally, because they have never been invited before.
 
– What kind of people would you find hardest to invite to your banquet?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Boldly_GoIn case you haven’t noticed, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise: Innumerable television episodes over the decades, several movies featuring the original TV cast, three more movies in recent years with a new cast, and the latest movie in
cinemas now.
 
All the tales revolve around the central, now-famous theme: “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
 
Why bring all this up? Because the Jubilee Year of Mercy is our opportunity to boldly go forth to “rediscover the deepness of the mercy of the Father,” as Pope Francis
put it.
 
When Francis pushed open the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica to launch the Jubilee Year on December 8, 2015, he followed a rite of pilgrimage dating back centuries. An estimated 10 million faithful are expected to follow his lead and pass through the door during this Year of Mercy.
 
Most heartening, perhaps, is that God welcomes all who pass through the door. He “goes out to meet everyone personally,” Francis said, reminding us of the parable of the father who saw his prodigal son from far off, ran out to meet him, and showered the young man with mercy even before being asked.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Help us move out of our comfort zone during this Holy Year,
Heavenly Father,
and boldly seek your welcoming mercy.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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StJohnGardenSt. Francis is credited with saying, “When you preach, use words only if necessary”—in more general terms, “Actions speak louder than words.’’
 
A year ago Pope Francis gave us his extraordinary letter Laudato Si’—Care of Creation. Three parishes that I know have taken that letter and creatively shared its spirit in extraordinary ways not only in their parishes, but beyond. One specific project they all have in common is that they use God’s gift of gardens to enrich parish life and help others.
 
These parish gardens provide fresh produce to soup kitchens in Rockland County, N.Y.; the South Bronx; and Bergen, and Union counties and East Brunswick, all in New Jersey.
 
The Catholic Community of St. John Neumann, in rural Califon, N.J., has had a parish community garden for 10 years and expanded it this year in response to Laudato Si’. The parish invited those who use the parish food pantry to claim a raised bed in the garden and learn to grow their own food. Not only has this garden filled a practical purpose, but also a more important spiritual one. Parishioners who had left the church have returned, and local Protestant churches have provided volunteer gardeners. A college ministry, youth groups, and passers-by have all gotten involved. “It has become an evangelization opportunity,” says Ann Geronimo, who heads the project.
 

 
In the classic suburban town Upper Saddle River, the Church of the Presentation has nurtured small faith-sharing groups for the past 30 years. Their garden at Presentation was created by the St. Francis Ministry as an educational and social-justice outreach. Garden teams are responsible for various crops and activities; the entire parish is invited to bring compost materials with them to Mass on Sundays and visit the garden. Children attending Bible Vacation Camp planted their own raised bed; in spring, when the plants are sprouting from seed, they are presented at Sunday Mass and blessed. In the fall when the harvest is plentiful, the crops are again presented at Mass.
 
Presentation_GardenThe garden provides for the parish’s own food pantry as well as ones in Newark; Rockland County, N.Y. and the South Bronx. Garden tours, educational classes, and connections and imagery in the Sunday homilies, all reinforce why and how to “Care for Creation.” The parish has also installed five bee hives and has a bee keeper to care for them.
 
In a busy commuter town, Holy Trinity Parish in Westfield, N.J., initiated small faith-sharing groups this past Lent and used Creation at the Crossroads, a RENEW International publication, as the resource. Over one hundred people met in small groups during Lent and reflected on the Scripture and the pope’s letter. As a result, each group came up with a project that was presented on a weekend to the entire parish at hospitality hour in the parish center. The parishioners voted using green stickers.
 
As a result, this October the groups will launch an Environmental Awareness and Action effort. The first priority is to work with Catholic Relief Services and raise awareness and funds for a water project in Ethiopia where water is scarce or non-existent, especially for those who are poor. Each Sunday in October, the groups will focus on involving young parishioners who are in the religious education program and youth ministry. They will install water fountains that allow parishioners to refill reusable water bottles (which the groups will sell as a fund raiser); develop a parish meditation garden; support the food pantry in new ways and have those who volunteer at the food pantry read and reflect on the section of Creation at the Crossroads that deals with food scarcity in the world.
 
When God had created the world, he said to the first human beings, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food” (Gen 1:29-30). God made clear two things—that the food we harvest is for all people and that it provides nourishment. These parishes are cooperating in that work with their own gardens, making sure that even those people without food are fed, because they too are God’s beloved creatures, and that they are nourished by it. Even further, in these parishes both the harvesters and the reapers are enriched spiritually through giving and fellowship.
 
All three of these parishes are connecting faith with action, involving all generations, reaching out to the least among us, educating the next generation, and bringing it all to the Sunday Eucharist where we are given food for our life’s journey.
 
Sister Honora is the Assistant Director and Director of Development at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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“After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last’” (Luke 13:25-30).
 
Luke wrote his Gospel for people of Greek culture who were refined and intelligent. They were attracted to Jesus’ message and wanted to follow him as Christians. They were joining a community whose first members were all Jewish but who recognized in Jesus the fulfillment of the promises made to them in what we now call the Old Testament. The Jewish converts could look back on thousands of years of religious belief and practice: they had long believed in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth; they were familiar with speaking about “the Spirit of God;” their understanding of Jesus as Christ was enriched by all the prophets had said about the Messiah; their celebration of the Passover informed their understanding of the Eucharist.
 
For all the sophistication of their Greek learning, the Gentile converts could very easily have felt like second-class Christians. They were coming from pagan tradition, with its pantheon of gods and goddesses, and were now having to come to terms with monotheism, with one true God as Father and Creator.
 
Luke’s message to the Gentile converts is one of reassurance: do not feel like second-class Christians. Yes, those with a Jewish tradition may have been “the first to hear the word of God,” but “the first” could end up being “the last.”
 
– How does this reading speak to you about ways in which you think of yourself as “first” or others as “last”?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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earth_on_fireMany people blame religion for bringing strife into the world. They point to the Crusades and the Inquisition as examples.
 
But religion itself is not to blame. The blame falls on those who call themselves Christians, for instance, but fail to live according to Christ’s commandments of love and mercy.
 
This is what G. K. Chesterton meant when he said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
 
Christianity should be thought of as not so much a religion as a spiritual pathway towards union with God. In fact, “The Way” was a name adopted by the earliest Christians.
 
Paul, before his conversion on the road to Damascus, was obsessed with finding “any men or women who belonged to the Way,” so he could haul them away in chains (Acts 9:2).
 
Hear what Catherine of Siena urges: “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” Her words echo Christ’s, as recorded in Luke 12:49: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”
 
Want to help Jesus set the earth ablaze? Simply be who God meant you to be—a Christian who lives by the Gospel every day.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Jesus, Lord of love and mercy,
strengthen us as we follow the path you have set for us.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’” (Luke 12:49-53).
 
Luke is preparing his readers for the reality, described metaphorically by Jesus, that as Christians they should expect to encounter indifference, ridicule, and resistance, even from members of their own families. Many of his listeners were journeying toward their initiation at Easter, and Luke wants them to be prepared for the realities of life as a follower of Jesus. There are others, already Christians, who are finding it difficult to live up to the commitment of being followers of Jesus. To both, Luke is saying “You want to be a follower of Jesus? Well, this is the path he took …”
 
Today’s gospel reading faces one of the hard paradoxes of Christian life for the people of Luke’s time. This is a mission of love, yet it is also the kind of love that threatens as well as consoles. Jesus will bring division. Because of him, households will be divided right down the middle. His message and person are so powerful that he will generate love among some but loathing among others.
 
As disciples, we will discover that the more we take this Gospel passage seriously the more we will bring both division and healing. So much of what we believe and are called to live out as Christians causes us to take positions that go against popular political currents, which may make us quite unpopular in some circles.
 
When that happens—and it will happen when we take living our Christian lives seriously—how well we persevere will depend on the strength and maturity of our faith.
 
Even in division, faith offers an immense consolation. Jerusalem is the city not only of the cross but of the resurrection. Today, though, Luke is putting it the other way around: remember—he warns us— that to reach the resurrection, we have to go via the cross.
 
– When have you taken a stand that was unpopular but in line with your beliefs?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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oil_lampJesus spoke often of our need to be vigilant. For example, he told the story of the five foolish virgins who let the oil in their lamps run out before the arrival of the bridegroom and the story of the faithful and prudent steward whom the master left in charge of his servants.
 
“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival,” Jesus promised.
 
But that is only half the story, because God displays his great mercy toward us through his own expectant and loving vigilance in waiting for us to return to him.
 
Pope Francis points out that patient waiting is a quality of God. In his book, The Joy of Discipleship, Pope Francis writes:
 
“God does not forget us; the Father never abandons us. He is a patient Father, always waiting for us! He respects our freedom, but he remains faithful forever. And when we come back to him, he welcomes us like children into his house, for he never ceases, not for one instant, to wait for us with love.”
 
And when we come to God in love and repentance, his heart rejoices. “He is celebrating because he is joy,” Francis says. “God has this joy, when one of us sinners goes to him and asks his forgiveness.”
 
Our prayer today:
 

Jesus,
we pray for perseverance
in faithfully and joyfully awaiting your coming.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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In 1995, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. One of the highlights of that trip was our visit to Mount Tabor. According to Christian tradition, Mount Tabor is the site of the Transfiguration of Christ, the feast we celebrate today. This is the site on which Jesus was transfigured before his disciples, Peter; James, son of Zebedee; and John the Apostle, and was seen conversing with Moses and Elijah ( Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36).
 
Mount Tabor’s distinctly rounded shape rises more than 1,800 feet above the eastern end of the Jezreel Plain and about eleven miles west of the Sea of Galilee, making it easily recognizable. Getting to the top of that mountain is a feat in itself. We rode in taxis, albeit Mercedes, and I lost count of the number of twists and turns. It took the better part of a half hour and was well worth the ride. The Church of the Transfiguration is an impressive structure. A magnificent highlight consists of the upper and lower altars which are adorned with golden mosaics. The upper level commemorates the divine nature of Christ and the lower recalls different manifestations of his humanity. We celebrated Mass in the lower chapel, which has a remarkable ability to beautify and amplify sound due to its bell shape. We were blessed with some very talented singers in our group and it was a powerful experience to hear the voices reverberate in glory and praise of God.
 
What is the meaning of the Transfiguration for us today? In 2008, the first Iron Man movie was produced. It is based on a fictional character found in the Marvel Comic books. A billionaire and clever engineer Tony Stark suffers a severe injury during a kidnapping in which his captors want him to create a weapon of mass destruction. Instead he creates a powered suit of armor that in turn saves his life and enables him to escape his captors. This suit, when worn, empowers Stark as Iron Man to fight crime and terrorism. Iron Man needs to put on his suit of armor to become a better version of himself. We celebrate the Transfiguration today, a feast in which Jesus’ humanity is stripped away in order that we may see his true self—his glorified self. In our tradition, the Transfiguration is a pivotal moment, the point where human nature meets God. Three disciples were invited into Jesus’s life in an intimate way—to see him in his glory, his humanity stripped away and his divinity made visible to them. We are invited into this same intimacy with Jesus each time we celebrate the sacraments, enter into prayer, or reach out to a brother or sister in need. The question for me is do I prefer to build the tents as Peter wished to and keep this experience to myself, or do I allow the beauty of this transformation to stretch me to go where I might otherwise fear to go?
 
Sr. Maureen P. Colleary, FSP is a member of the Pastoral Services team at RENEW International and a Franciscan Sister of Peace.

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lamp_in_the_dark“Jesus said to his disciples:‘Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have the servants recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come’” (Luke 12:35-40).
 
The discussion between Jesus and his disciples is picking up momentum. The stakes are higher and Jesus warns them about what to expect. They will be persecuted because of him. They will encounter hypocrisy. They must rely on God to sustain them.
 
The parable in this gospel passage deals with Jesus’ return after his ascension into glory. Jesus is the master who returns after the wedding feast. When the Lord returns, he will serve his guests as they recline at the table. Even after Jesus’ glorification, he will return to assume the role of humble servant. Leaders of the community are to follow his example.
 
Luke insists that detachment from worldly goods constitutes preparation for Jesus’ second coming. Disciples are to sell what they have and give to the poor. It is the heart of radical discipleship. Jesus acted as the example. Jesus lived the simple life, and in so doing lived in freedom. Such freedom empowers the servant to live for others.
 
The reference to burning lamps is an allusion to Passover, reminding the disciples that Christians are heirs to the liberation Jesus won by his death and resurrection. Jesus invites us to participate in the Paschal Mystery, and when we offer our suffering to God for the sins of the world, we share in the mystery of the cross.
 
The allusion to reclining at table is also a reminder of the Eucharist. We remember that Jesus gave us his presence in the midst of his absence. We memorialize his death and resurrection, and participate in that event at every celebration of Eucharist. Christians are fed the bread of life so they can, in turn, go out and feed others as they await Jesus’ return. Today’s gospel reading is also a catechism on preparedness. Christians are to be ready for the Master’s return at a moment’s notice.
 
– What does it mean to be prepared for the “return of the master”?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store.

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Padre_PioWhile all the other apostles hid in fear while Jesus was being condemned and crucified, St. John stood silently on Calvary gazing at his suffering Savior. In turn, Christ looked down from the cross at his “beloved disciple” and placed his mother into John’s care.
 
St. John’s action in simply being present to Jesus on the cross is a model for us today.
 
He reminds us that the practice of mercy begins in the heart. We have no rival for God’s love, so we can simply remain still and silent and let the mercy of the Father wash over us. We ourselves can be merciful toward others, not only outwardly but in our hearts—in the way we think of them, without judgment but with love. “And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” (Matthew 6:6).
 
Padre Pio, the sainted Capuchin friar, offered us this advice: “Go to your room and close the door and place yourself in God’s presence. He will see you and will appreciate your presence and your silence. Then he will take you by the hand….”
 
Our prayer today:
 

Merciful Jesus,
help us remember to be always present to you,
especially within the quiet of our hearts.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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“Then he told them a parable. ‘There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, “What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?” And he said, “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’”
But God said to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God’” (Luke 12:16-21).
 
The rich man in Jesus’ parable believed that his overabundant crops would buy his future security. In the end they provided nothing. His security was misplaced.
 
Material possessions do not offer security. Our security rests in God alone. We are to spend our lives promoting the reign of God on earth as we await the reign of God. Life is our greatest gift. The challenge of the Gospel is to put our energy and trust in things that do not perish and to place our security in God, the Lavish Giver of All Gifts.
 
Christians are invited to let go of their attachment to material possessions. The disciples were not only invited to let go of the fear of the future and to divest themselves of their attachments but also to turn their lives over completely to the Master of their destiny. Only then would they know true freedom as God’s children. The amassing of wealth for a future day is not a response of faith, according to Luke.
 
A response in faith to the living God who provides and cares for his people is to lay down our lives for one another and to be generous to those in need. Spiritual freedom allows Christians to share what they have, especially with those who hold a special place of honor in Jesus’ heart—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized.
 
– How does the story of the rich man speak to your life or experience?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store.
 
Image: The Rich Man and His Barns—Davis Collection.

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grainWe are accustomed to the gentle Jesus, the humble carpenter who taught us to “turn the other cheek.” But there is another side to him—the bold breaker of rules when those rules do not serve justice, love, and mercy.
 
The gospel of Luke (6:1-5), for instance, tells of the Sabbath day when the disciples of Jesus picked and ate grain from a field as they were passing by. The Pharisees, of course, were quick to condemn them for “working” on
the Sabbath.
 
Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
 
The lesson for us is that God’s mercy transcends rules and regulations. Any hour of the day is a good time to do good. Any day of the week is a good time to ask for God’s mercy. Any time at all is a good time to show mercy to a neighbor.
 
This is why Pope Francis urges us not to be afraid of making mistakes in our efforts to do good.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Dear Jesus,
Lord of the Sabbath and Lord of Mercy,
strengthen us as we seek to serve justice, love and mercy.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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Be_My_WitnessGiven the challenges of the day, wouldn’t it be great if there were a turn-key process to help infuse new life into your parish? Or, how about a practical program for making Pope Francis’ call for a pastoral and missionary conversion of the Church come to life?
 
Inspired by The Joy of the Gospel, RENEW International has prepared just such a resource. Its core planning process for pastors and parish leaders includes video learning modules and guides on the following themes:
 

  • Sunday Matters: To the extent that people are still connected to the Church, then Sunday is clearly the best day to connect with them. Wouldn’t it be nice to help parish leaders as they look for ways to reinvigorate outreach opportunities on Sunday?
  • Welcome Matters: Let’s face it, we all know what “unwelcome” looks and feels like–and no one likes it. Since the world already delivering more than enough incivility and indifference, how about if our parishes were known for flipping the script?
  • Belonging Matters: Many commentators have noted that the old model for parish life was “Behave-Believe-Belong”; that is, if we acted like Christians, it would strengthen our faith and would result in us understanding to whom we belonged (both personally and communally). Today, the post-modern approach is “Belong-Believe-Behave”: that is, most people seek first a sense of belonging, and then their commitment to the Christian faith and way of life flow out from this experience. Given that Christians specialize in the communal life, isn’t it time we find new ways to share this experience in a world that is so un-grounded and up-rooted?
  • Witness Matters: Nothing is more powerful than personal testimony about how the Lord has been active and present in the real details of a person’s life; God is no abstraction, and the Resurrection is no mere symbol. Wouldn’t it be nice if we grew more comfortable about sharing our experience of his presence and the “irresistible force” of the resurrection (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel,,256).
  • Mission Matters: For those of us who might be a bit “churchy” and/or fairly comfortable with our faith life, it is time to “go forth” from our comfort zones. After all, the Church exists not to provide contentment to those who happen to show up, but to nudge the core out the door. Wouldn’t it be great if the world was once again drawn to the light of the Gospel by the mighty works of mercy wrought by her members?

 
Even if your parish is already excelling in many ways, isn’t it safe to say that every parish community has room to grow in one or more of these mission-critical domains? The following link provides more information for parishes interested in engaging leadership in such essential questions; in addition, a second phase of the Be My Witness/Sean mis testigos program helps mobilize the parish as a whole through small faith-sharing experiences: http://bemywitness.org/.
 
In the first century, St. Paul wrote, “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Romans 5:20): The post-modern corollary to this might be, where darkness and doubt increased, inspired resources overflowed all the more. The time has arrived for us to embrace resources which will be able to equip us for the journey out of the dark valley into the light of the emerging Kingdom.
 
David Spasia is the Director of Lay Formation and Be My Witness Coordinator for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois

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Model Preacher, Evangelizer and Friend of Jesus
 
Mary_MagdalaA good friend of mine, a no-nonsense man of deep integrity and dynamic faith, was once falsely accused of a crime and was eventually acquitted. He was famously quoted as asking the judge, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?” Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus who was included in his most trusted and intimate circle, could have asked the same question. Mary of Magdala was one of the many women Jesus included in his Galilean discipleship along with Joanna, Susanna, and the other Marys (Luke 8:1-3). She was, as St. Thomas Aquinas proclaimed, an “Apostle of the Apostles,” because she was the one who announced Jesus’ resurrection to the Twelve and to the world. And yet most people today think of her as “the prostitute” or as the “repentant sinner” and not as an apostle. There is no evidence in the Scriptures to support this indictment, so how did she garner this reputation?
 
In 591, Pope Gregory the Great preached a sermon in Rome that tarnished Mary’s reputation from that day forward. He erroneously combined the stories of three women found in the Gospels: an unnamed sinful woman who anointed and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:37-50), Mary of Bethany (John 11:1-45), and the demonically possessed Mary of Magdala (Mark 6:19). Not only was Mary Magdalene not the repentant fallen woman of legend, but she was not necessarily even a noteworthy sinner. The Scripture tells us she was possessed by “seven demons” that were exorcised by Jesus. Some scholars argue that she was probably more victim than sinner; in that time and place, serious illness was often explained as demonic possession.
 
The office of Pope Gregory the Great marred Mary Magdalene’s reputation, and now the office of Pope Francis has restored it. Pope Francis has declared that Mary Magdalene’s feast day, July 22, is elevated to a major feast marking women as the first evangelizers—placing Mary on par with the celebrations of male apostles. She is the first woman other than Mary, the Mother of God, whose liturgical celebration has been raised to a feast. Cardinal Robert Sarah, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, says St. Mary Magdalene can be considered by the faithful as “a paradigm of the ministry of women in the Church.”
 
Although first-century culture usually minimized the importance of women, the Gospel of Luke portrays women as disciples and friends of Jesus, strong and courageous, and witnesses to his resurrection. I find it helpful to study the Gospel of Luke and reflect on the faithful women who were the first announcers of the resurrection.
 
According to Martin Lang, author of Luke: My Spirit Rejoices!—a Scripture-based resource from RENEW International—“Those who walk with Jesus are of central importance. They are not only the Twelve, as we would expect, but also the unexpected. They are the women, some of whom have been relieved of their infirmities and some of whom are followers and contributors to the cause. They accompany Jesus as disciples, unlike anything the Pharisees of the day would have tolerated.” Because the Church has raised Mary Magdalene to the stature of the male apostles both women and men can look to her as model of ministry, preaching, evangelization and, most important, a deep and abiding friendship with Jesus, the Christ.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test’” (Luke 11:1-4).
 
In first-century Palestine, groups were recognized by the way they prayed, so when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray they were asking him to give them an identity. Christian identity is rooted in the community’s prayer.
 
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus presents us with his catechism on prayer. Jesus’ prayer was presented to the community, not to individuals. The Gospels present us with two forms of the Lord’s Prayer—Matthew’s and Luke’s. Matthew’s version (Matthew 6:9-13) is future-oriented, whereas Luke’s version, which we hear today, is present-centered with an eye to the future. The petition for daily bread is a request that God provide the physical necessities needed to carry out his mission on earth. Jesus’ prayer asks that disciples not be entrapped by the daily seductions of life and that they never stop praying.
 
The Roman Missal reminds us that the Lord’s Prayer proclaimed in the liturgy is a request for daily food and for the forgiveness of sins, so that the Eucharist, which is holy, may be given to us who are also holy. We, who are holy, are strengthened and nourished by the power of the Spirit to go out and proclaim the reign of God. For this we pray; for this we lay down our lives. The prayer Jesus taught us is rooted in love and concern for others. Are we ready to go forth boldly? Are we willing?
 
– How might you offer The Lord’s Prayer with greater devotion and expectancy?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store.

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