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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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ListeningHave you ever been talking and wondered if the other person was listening? It’s often not hard to tell: there is no direct eye contact or the arms are folded over. There’s also the absence of interjections—“uh-huh,” “yes,”—and when the opportunity for laughter in response to something silly and disconnected is met with dead silence, you know the other is not listening.
 
Listening is a skill and one that can be developed. Much of what is needed is “getting out of the way” and letting the other person have your undivided attention. For some of us, this is a challenge, especially when the voice, topic, or person speaking is not our cup of tea.
 
However, if we want to be respectful there are things we can do to listen better. In taking these steps, we may be surprised at how engaged we can be and what we can both give and gain from listening.
 
Time is at the top of the list. Make sure the time is right; if it’s not, make the time or plan for another time to connect.
 
Consider these questions:

  • Have you ever been on the phone when the person you’re speaking to starts talking to someone else?
  • Have you ever tried to share a meaningful experience with someone who is multi-tasking while “listening” to you?
  • Have you ever been interrupted while telling a story by someone who finishes it for you?

These are all examples of when “the time is not right.”
 
Concentrate on the experience of the person who is speaking. Though you may have had a similar experience, remember that “similar” is not “same.” Listen for what was different; listen for the feelings the speaker is expressing; pay attention to the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Your focus should be on the other. With practice, you will find that you can find a way to be engaged.
 
Speak to express your interest, affirm, or paraphrase what’s been said. Ask questions for clarification, and absolutely offer eye contact.
 
Effective listening is a precious gift. Many of us are not looking for advice but instead for someone willing to share in our stories, our lives, our joys, or our struggles. We want to be known, even in small ways. It’s human to want to connect.
 
May your connections—those you give and those given to you, be they one-on-one or in a small group—be rooted in the conviction that every child of God is worthy of our attention. May you regard the gift of listening as a precious and valued treasure.
 
From Sowing Seeds: Essentials for Small Community Leaders, based on On Listening to Another by Douglas V. Steere

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A member of my parish approached me after Mass and asked, “Why do you talk to yourself after you read the Gospel?”
 
Because she used the expression “talk to yourself” — which has a negative connotation — her question confused me.
 
Then she explained: “After you read the Gospel, I always see your lips moving. What are you saying?”

Oh.
 
She was referring to the prayer the priest or deacon recites: “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.”
 
The reason our parishioner interpreted this prayer as “talking to myself” is that the rubrics in the Roman Missal instruct the priest or deacon to say those words “quietly.”
 
I don’t know the reason for that instruction, but the prayer makes an important point about why we read or listen to the Gospel at all.
 
The words do not imply that the proclamation of the Gospel is a sacrament that imparts grace in the same way as, for example, the sacrament of penance.
 
They do imply, however, that the proclamation of the Gospel can lead to grace if those who hear it take it to heart and practice it in their lives.
 
In fact, the prayer calls to mind, perhaps deliberately, words attributed to Peter in the Acts of the Apostles.
 
Peter had healed a disabled beggar at one of the gates of the Temple in Jerusalem, and bystanders were astounded.
 
Peter asked why they were surprised at the healing, as though he had accomplished it with some power of his own; the power, he said, came from Jesus, the Christ, whom many of these same bystanders had rejected when he was among them.
 
Peter charitably chalked up their behavior to ignorance, but added, “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away. . . ’’ (Acts 3:1-19).
 
The crowd in the temple had heard Peter’s discourse; grace would come if they were “converted” — that is, if they internalized what he had told them and acted upon it.
 
Since the parishioner asked me why I talked to myself, I have mused over the possibility that we deacons and priests are instructed to say those words quietly to remind ourselves not to feel self-important because we are assigned to proclaim the Gospel.
 
We have the vestments, the place at the ambo, and the Book of the Gospels, but it is Jesus Christ — not the raiment, not the minister, not the ambo, and not the words printed on the page — who speaks to all of us in the words of the Gospel, who calls us to conversion, and who saves us from the consequences of sin.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Vineyard“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way” (Matthew 21:33-36).

The owner of this vineyard entrusted it to the tenants without any supervision. He did not dictate how they should cultivate the land or protect it. He trusted them to do what was best, just as God has created us, given us life, and trusted us to live our lives in the best way possible. He has entrusted us to care for one another. He has given us gifts of freedom, creativity, and compassion. It is up to us to use our gifts to bring about a better world.

Jesus told this story during his final days on earth. This part of the narrative is the introduction to the fifth and last of Jesus’ sermons recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. The religious leaders whom Jesus was speaking to knew that the vineyard stood for Israel and that the owner represented God. In his parable, Jesus depicted the tenants (the religious leaders of Israel) as killing the messengers (the prophets) whom God had sent again and again. When Jesus added to the parable that the tenants killed the owner’s son, he asked the religious leaders what the owner would do to the tenants.

They answered, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give them the produce at the proper times” (Matthew 21: 41). Jesus agreed with them, quoted a psalm, and said, “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit” (Matthew 21:43).

The Gospel According to Matthew was written after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the audience was made up of converts from Judaism and paganism. They understood the reference to the son as referring to Jesus himself. So, in giving the kingdom of God to the people who produce fruit, he was putting his trust in them.

With trust comes responsibility. We have the responsibility to do the best we can with the gifts God has given us. We are entrusted to care for one another and bring the message of God to those we encounter.

God is patient. The owner of the vineyard sent messenger after messenger and never punished the tenants. In the same way, God continually gives us opportunities to correct and learn from our mistakes. This parable gives us hope.

How do you use your gifts? Do you act in a way that exhibits how you are entrusted with care for yourself and others?

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

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“A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” (Matthew 21:28 – 30)

Jesus used this parable as his answer to his religious adversaries, the chief priests and elders, when they challenged him on the authority of his preaching. By their answer to this question, they condemned themselves.

Their response was that the first son had done his father’s will. It was the only answer they could give. They could never have said that the second one, who said “Yes, sir” to his father but did not go and work in the vineyard, was doing his father’s will. The son can’t just listen to his father; he has to go out and actually do what his father has asked of him. It was the first son, who said he would not work in the vineyard, but then changed his mind and did the work, who did what his father asked.

Jesus answered the chief priests and elders, “Amen I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21: 32).

The chief priests and elders acted like the second son. They said yes to God, but they did not live the commandments. They did not do what was in the best interests of the people, but did only what was best for themselves. They were ignoring what they professed to believe.

One has to act and do his father’s will, not just acknowledge it.

In this parable, Jesus shows us the hypocrisy of his adversaries. But could this also be said of us? Are there times when our actions haven’t been in line with the faith we profess as Catholic?

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

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“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22

 
CarolinaI spent a few wonderful days this summer at the pool and beach with my niece Lindsey and my grandniece Carolina. Carolina, still fresh from God, is 19 months old and has a contagious smile. Her “talking” is limited, but her facial and hand expressions communicate clearly and continuously. Although her favorite place is in her mother’s arms she is friendly and warm to all, including complete strangers. When someone comes into sight, her eyes light up, she bursts into a smile, and she gives her signature half wave.
 
One evening, Lindsey and I were walking on the boardwalk, pushing Carolina in the stroller, and we were immersed in conversation. We could not easily see what Carolina was doing, but we suddenly became aware of the reaction of those we passed by. One person after another broke into a smile and gave Carolina a half wave back. Carolina shares her pure joy freely, and those who receive it experience its glow and respond to it with their own joy. Joy can’t be manufactured or forced, but rather it is free and spontaneous. Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and Carolina has that gift in abundance.
 
Joy, of course, is at the heart of Pope Francis’ letter “The Joy of the Gospel.” He exhorts us to attract others to Christ not through a convincing argument but through our joy. Joy is deeper than happiness. We can enter a time of suffering but still experience moments of joy. Joy is an everyday decision that springs from love, hope, grace, and gratitude.
 
Five ways to practice joy:

1. Entrust your life to God, and express gratitude daily.
2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
3. Spend time with children, and take in their spontaneous joy.
4. Do something fun regularly.
5. Enjoy the company of people who make you laugh.

 
Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit—preceded only by love (Galatians 5:22-23). It is through the Spirit that God shares joy. Pray for the gift of joy and, like Carolina, smile freely, greet others warmly, and be surprised by the joy that returns to you.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage.And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you.* Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20: 10-16).

“It’s not fair!” How many times in a day do we say this? How many times do we hear it from spouses or friends or children? This Gospel confirms how little things have changed over the past 2,000 years.

Put yourself in the position of those hired first in the parable of the laborers and the vineyard. Of course it doesn’t seem fair. These workers “bore the day’s burden and the heat” and got paid just as much as those who worked only a few hours. The landowner refuted this charge of injustice by saying, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20: 13–15). In reality, the landowner was fair to each worker because they each received the agreed upon wage for their work.

Is your attitude that of the generous landowner? Or is it that of the workers who felt that they had been cheated? These workers were concerned only with themselves and focused on being the victims of the perceived unfairness. “It’s not fair” usually means “It’s not fair to me.”

The Gospel according to Matthew was written for those with a Judeo-Christian background. For that audience, the appearance of the Gentiles later in the “day” was an unsettling development. Imagine what it must have felt like to live according to long-held traditions and then discover that newcomers to the community not only didn’t have the same traditions but were not even expected to uphold them.

Perhaps this parable is saying that we should not judge what God does in terms of “fairness.” God’s love is not dependent on what we do. It is unconditional and unchanging, even when we do not deserve it. Once we believe and embrace this fact, we will begin to understand the true meaning of love. And once we begin to understand that, we have a better chance of putting it into practice by offering this unconditional love to all people.

Why is it hard to believe in God’s immeasurable goodness? How can you believe more strongly?

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

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