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Blind_Man“They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath. So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
He said to them, ‘He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.’ So some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a sinful man do such signs?’ And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, ‘What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’
They answered and said to him, ‘You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?’ Then they threw him out.
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered and said, ‘Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshiped him” (John 13-17, 34-38).
 
Jesus was a busy person. Crowds thronged around him, and people constantly demanded his attention. And yet standing in the midst of a big crowd around the Pool of Siloam, Jesus gave his undivided attention to one blind man. This man was important enough for Jesus to give his time and complete attention to helping him. Jesus not only cured him but also gave him new hope and a new purpose in life. Jesus teaches us that each person has dignity and must be respected no matter what his or her condition. Measuring or judging others by achievements, good looks, success stories, wealth, talents—whatever—is not fitting for children of God. In doing that, we too are blind, without real sight. We need insight to see the worth and dignity of every human being. Without insight, we stay enclosed in our comfort zones with those whose presence puts us at ease. Jesus challenges us to move out of our safe harbor, to be “uncomfortable,” and include the excluded.
 
The blind man in the story went through a process to come to an understanding of who Jesus was. First, he saw Jesus as a man who did something wonderful for him. Then, he called Jesus a “prophet”—someone called by God to carry a divine message and who works for God’s vision on earth. Finally, the man came to confess that Jesus was the Son of God. He realized that Jesus was not someone who could be explained in human terms. In his closeness to God, his unfaltering love and care for others, Jesus lived more faithfully our human nature than any other human being ever has. He remains not only our greatest model but our greatest support as we strive to live as “more than human.”
 
– How can I overcome my own “blindness” to see the worth of others?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Jesus is the source of new life for the Samaritan woman and for each of us.
 
Lord Jesus, you stopped because you were thirsty
and yet we were the ones who were refreshed.
You are the living water who brings us new life.
Pour your grace into us,
and let it overflow from our cup to others
who need to be restored in your love. Amen.
 
LiveLent
 
 
Excerpted from
Live Lent! Year A by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, available from RENEW International.

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Samaritan_Woman“A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?’—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?’ Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Go call your husband and come back.’ The woman answered and said to him, ‘I do not have a husband.’ Jesus answered her, ‘You are right in saying, “I do not have a husband.” For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one speaking with you.’
The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, ‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?’ They went out of the town and came to him.
Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me everything I have done.’ When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world’” (John 4:7, 9–18, 25-26, 28-30, 39-42).
 
The enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews was centuries old. Communication or contact with Samaritans was totally unacceptable to the Jews. And a strict Jewish man did not speak to a woman in public, lest it be misinterpreted and ruin his reputation.
 
This woman Jesus met at the well was not merely a Samaritan and a woman, but a woman of “ill repute.” So it is no wonder she was surprised that Jesus, a Jew, would speak to her, never mind request water from her.
 
Jesus tossed aside the conventions of the day to engage her, to draw her out until she admitted her own sinfulness. But rather than judge or condemn, Jesus treated her with the understanding and compassion central to God’s universal love.
 
Through this encounter, this transformative experience, this woman became the first person in the Gospel to recognize Jesus for who he truly was. She became not only a disciple but an evangelizer inspiring others to become his followers.
 
The Samaritan woman had a thirst to understand the meaning of her own life, to be treated with dignity, to feel love, to find inner peace. All these and more were quenched by that chance encounter at the well where she came to understand that Jesus is the only one who can truly satisfy all our inner thirsts.
 
– Where do you go to draw water to quench your inner thirsts?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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God calls us to listen to and believe in his Son.
 
Lord, you are with us on the mountaintops of life.
In those moments,
we glimpse the grandeur of your presence
and the splendor of your promise.
Let us hold these experiences in our hearts
even as we return to our everyday lives.
Let our sight be pure
and our hearts filled with hope this Lenten season
as we await the promised glory of your resurrection. Amen.
 
LiveLent
 
 
Excerpted from
Live Lent! Year A by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, available from RENEW International.

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Transfiguration“Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, ‘Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead’
(Matthew 17:1–9).”
 
Theologians have tried to explain the context of the Transfiguration—the meaning of Elijah and Moses appearing on either side of Jesus, the meaning of the clouds, the shining light, and so forth. Although we still do not fully understand what happened, we do know what effect it had on Jesus and his disciples.
 
First, for Jesus, it was a moment of great consolation. He had already begun his mission of bringing God’s message to the people, and his preaching and miracles drew great crowds. Many praised him, and a handful joined him as followers. But he also had enemies who tried to discredit him. As the opposition mounted, anyone could foresee that it was going to end in a violent confrontation. For Jesus, it was not easy to accept rejection by the very people he came to save, and he needed reassurance. The Transfiguration experience gave him exactly that — a boost to his soul. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.” Words of affirmation and encouragement from his heavenly Father.
 
The Transfiguration helps us to realize that we need the comforting presence of God just as Jesus did. We need to be assured that our actions are right, that we are on the right track. The good news is that if we listen to God, we can hear those words, too. God speaks in many ways, and we need to be attentive. And we need to trust enough to bring our plans, our dreams, and our desires to God and then listen patiently. We will hear those encouraging and consoling words.
 
Second, the Transfiguration did something precious for Jesus’ disciples. They were shattered by Jesus’ statement that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. That was not what they hoped for in a messiah. They were experiencing doubt, bewilderment, and incomprehension about their leader. This moment of his glory on the mount of the Transfiguration reassured them as well, so much that they wanted to stay there.
 
This is our story too. Most of us want to stay in the place where we feel safe, secure, and happy. We don’t like to leave people we love and with whom we are comfortable. We want to hold on to times of great joy and do not want to experience pain and hardship. The Transfiguration shows us that life is not static but is constantly moving forward. While we will experience moments of beauty and reassurance, life comes with thorns, too. As the disciples had to leave the mountaintop and face what was to come, we must also be ready to confront the challenges that each day brings us.
 
– Where do you look for affirmation and assurance in your life?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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In the “wilderness times” of our lives, our recourse is to God.
 
Lord Jesus, when I experience wilderness times,
let me never forget God’s unqualified mercy.
As I face times of testing,
give me the grace to choose life.
Guide me through this Lenten season
with a renewed desire to entrust my life into your hands. Amen.
 
LiveLent
 
 
Excerpted from
Live Lent! Year A by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, available from RENEW International.

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Jesus temptation“At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.’ He said in reply, ‘It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’ Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ‘All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.’ At this, Jesus said to him, ‘Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’
Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him” (Matthew 4:1–11).
 
We all know temptation. Temptations to be less than we were created to be, to take the easy way, surround us. If we believe that Jesus is not only fully divine but also fully human, we should not be shocked that even he was tempted. He knew what it meant to live on this earth, to eat and drink, to feel excitement and joy, frustration and fatigue. He knew what it was to love and be loved and to lose people for whom he cared. He experienced temptations to be less than who he was being called to be, and he was free to say yes or no, just as we are.
 
Jesus, like all of us, was tempted throughout his life. We see him being tempted, after the multiplication of the loaves, by the peoples’ acclaim and their determination to make him king, but he escaped from the applauding crowd. Later, he refused to play the magician for King Herod when Herod demanded miraculous acts. And in his agony in the garden, we see him confront and resist the temptation to run away from pain and suffering. We have in Jesus someone who was tempted like us in many different ways. And how did he respond?
 
Throughout his life, Jesus showed himself to be rooted in prayer, turning to the God the Father who was constantly with him. We see him throughout his ministry, especially in times of temptation, withdraw to pray on the mountaintop—to be in the presence of God, and to take time to reflect. But afterward, he returned to his community, to the people who accompanied and supported him in ministry. It was the support of prayer and community that gave him strength in the face of temptation.
 
Throughout our lives we are confronted with temptations to do such things as mistreating a sibling, lying about who broke the vase, plagiarizing someone else’s work, demeaning others to make ourselves look better. Maybe we are tempted to abuse alcohol or drugs to escape an unpleasant reality. If we look to the example of Jesus who rooted himself in prayer and drew strength from a supportive community we, like him, can overcome temptation.
 
– How does Jesus’ response to temptation present a model for your response to temptation?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides’” (Matthew 6:25-33).
 
At some point in our lives, we all go through periods of worry-filled hysteria. If it’s not about work or school, it’s about money or family. We are people who are constantly concerned with our future comfort and contentment. Where will I live? What kind of job will I have? Will it be fulfilling? Will I make enough money? Is there someone out there for me? We believe our future happiness depends on getting the “right” answers to these questions.
 
In this gospel passage, the response is the simple and sometimes annoying catchphrase, “Don’t worry. Stop and smell the roses.”
 
Jesus is not simply saying, “Don’t worry.” He explains that worry is meaningless and will get us nowhere. Worry will not provide food or clothing; it will not add a single day to our lives. He asks us to question the value of the things about which we go crazy with worry. Essentially, he asks, “What is really important?” Jesus does not tell us to ignore our responsibilities; rather, he tells us to get our priorities in order.
 
“First, seek the kingdom of God…” This may seem like a very abstract concept that has nothing to do with our practical concerns; but if we are to take Jesus seriously, we must see his teaching about the kingdom of God as real and relevant in everything we do.
 
The Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx described the kingdom—or reign—of God as a time and place where love, equity, and justice prevail in a reconciling and peaceful society and all beings live to the potential that the Creator has instilled in them. When striving for such a world becomes our first priority, schoolwork, jobs, and financial security diminish in prominence. Loving our neighbor, respecting others, and showing kindness to the stranger, these are the most important things we will ever do.
 
– How do your worries keep you from living as God intends?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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extra mile“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants
to borrow.
 
‘You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust'” (Matthew 5:38-45).
 
By following literally Jesus’ words in the first part of the passage, we will live a Christian life by not seeking retribution, by giving to those in need, by helping others, and by loving everyone—our friends and enemies alike. But the point Jesus makes is that we should not just do the minimum but go beyond it.
 
It’s easy to interpret the part of this passage that speaks of “going the extra mile”—the origin of that oft-used phrase—to mean that, with a gracious spirit, we should do more than is required, but it would have have had a particular context for someone of Jesus’ time. A Roman soldier could compel a person in an occupied country to carry a load for a mile. The service was compulsory, but the distance was limited. Jesus tells his followers to go two miles—to give much more than what was required.
 
What Jesus suggests here is a method of pointing out the injustice of the required mile. The willingly-served second mile would draw attention to the unjust nature of the first. In the same way, acts of nonviolent civil disobedience by people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. exposed, and eventually changed, unjust societal structures.
 
Although it is impractical, if not impossible, to give to all who beg from us, if we recognize the needs of the desperately poor and work to correct the underlying systemic problems that lead to poverty, we are doing what Jesus instructs.
 
By asking us to love our enemies, Jesus challenges us to love others as completely as we are able, believing the best about their motives, wanting good things for them, recognizing that they are also loved by God, treating them with respect. We don’t have to like them, only love them.
 
How does this Gospel passage challenge you in regard to loving your enemies?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment.
‘You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
‘Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all. Let your “Yes” mean “Yes,” and your “No” mean “No.” Anything more is from the evil one’” (Matthew 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37).
 
When we start a new job or begin attending a new school, we usually receive a handbook of policies and procedures as well as various instructions for how to successfully navigate the new environment. There is something inherently relational about laws intended to foster community and harmony or protect us from hurting ourselves and others. This connection between relationships and the law is at the heart of this gospel reading.
 
The law of God, as given to Moses, was understood by the people as instructions for living: principles for living a moral life, guidance on how to enter into relationship with God, and how to best live in relationship with one another. Jesus is not asking his followers to dismiss the teachings of Moses but he is looking beyond the strict literal interpretation of the law, going deeper to pursue the underlying meaning.
 
Jesus invites us to consider not just murder, adultery, and false oaths but to examine the attitudes and motives that lie beneath the surface of such acts. Jesus is more concerned with how we act in relationship to one another. Am I completely honest? Are my words consistent with my actions? Do I seek revenge, or do I avoid retaliation? Do I honor the dignity of all people?
 
God has given us the law not to make life difficult, not to be prohibitive, but in order that we might live life to the fullest extent. Through his expression of the law, Jesus shows us how to love others in the same way God loves us–with compassion, dignity, and respect for all.
 
– In what areas of your life do you need to be more attentive to the “spirit of the law” and not merely the “letter of the law”?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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twitter_pontifexIn one of his short stories—“The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether”—Edgar Allen Poe wrote, “Believe nothing you hear and only one half that you see.”
 
This statement, which has been altered in various ways and attributed to writers other than Poe, is nonetheless good advice if it means that one should not casually accept things for which there is no evidence.
 
If anything, this caution applies more than ever in this age of “Photoshopped” images, digital animation, and posts that litter social-media sites.
 
I saw an example the other day when a member of my high school class posted on Facebook an image of Pope Francis accompanied by the following statement, attributed to him:
 
“It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a way, the traditional notion of God is outdated. One can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money — for many, nature can be a church. Some of the best people in history do not believe in God, while some of the worst deeds were done in His name.”
 
“Oh,’’ gushed another classmate, who now lives in the Midwest, “I love this man. He’s talking about me.”
 
I don’t know if she meant that she’s an atheist—which I doubt, that she doesn’t go to church, or that she finds God in nature.
 
Regardless of what she meant, she was responding to a statement that Pope Francis did not make and, for the most part, would not make.
 
The graphic, which has been circulating in the digital world for some time, is one example of a problem that has accompanied this papacy almost from the first day—a compulsion on the part of some to hear the pope as fulfilling their wishful thinking.
 
To be sure, Pope Francis has given us a fresh perspective on topics such as atheism.
 
He has spoken of our obligation to respect the intellectual integrity of people, including atheists, who don’t agree with us. He has also reiterated—perhaps in plainer language than we are used to—the Church’s consistent teaching that, as Father Thomas Rosica has repeated it, “those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”
 
The pope has not, however, issued a license for us to adopt the spirituality we find most convenient and comfortable, even if that means no spirituality at all.
 
And anyone who has read what this pope has written or listened to what he has said knows that he would not dismiss so lightly the value of worshipping God in the assembly of the Church.
 
On the contrary, he has stressed the importance of the Church as the Body of Christ as the source from which the “new evangelization” will flow out into the community and to the outskirts of society.
 
In the past, the teachings of the popes have been somewhat inaccessible, both because of the formality of their language and the means of their distribution.
 
But the homilies, speeches, and documents of Pope Francis are not difficult to understand and not difficult to find.
 
In this “information age,” we can easily read them or read about them in responsible publications.
 
If we want to know what Pope Francis teaches, we should not rely on Facebook to tell us.
 

—Facebook launched on February 4, 2004


 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father’” (Matthew 5:13-16).
 
This reading is an exhortation to Jesus’ followers that they are “salt of the earth” and “light to the world.” It is another example of Jesus using the stuff of life—like salt and lanterns—to illustrate his point. Salt was, and still is, used to flavor food. In the time of Jesus, it was also used to preserve and purify it. The interesting thing about salt is that once it is applied it becomes part of the food. To be salt of the earth is to be a part of creation, an integral part of the world, and the world was created good.
 
We come to know and see God through the stuff of the earth. Yet we are also to be the “flavor” of the earth, to enrich society. Food tastes different with salt, and through our witness, the world looks different through the perspective we bring.
 
Jesus also encourages us to be the “light to the world.” In the Scriptures, light is associated with God and with truth, while the absence of light is analogous to the absence of God’s presence.
 
When a light goes on, things that were hidden are revealed, and we can see the world around us. Jesus tells us we are light, just by being who we are. We are called to “let this light shine,” to give meaning to our world, to the people we encounter. When we let our light shine, we are better able to see the light in others, to see them for whom they really are, and not who we may have thought they were. And it can also bring clarity to situations in our lives and in our world.
 
– How have you responded to Jesus’ challenge to “let your light shine” so that the goodness of your actions is recognized and praise is given to God?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Ten steps toward a fuller, healthier, and more God-centered Life

“I have come so you may have life and have it to the full” — John 10:10
 
new_yearThis new year is still an opportunity to start fresh and to recommit to live a fuller, healthier, more joy-filled and—most importantly—God-centered life. I have been reviewing a number of articles about how to live a happier life in 2017. Some of them speak about shedding bad habits such as drinking too much, smoking, and spending countless hours on the couch; the articles also refer to developing good habits such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a positive attitude. I have chosen to highlight 10 practices that you might want to consider.
 
A spiritually healthy person is healthy in mind, body, and spirit. All things are interconnected, including the mind, the body, the spirit, and the environment in which we live. Physical health isn’t merely the absence of disease or symptoms; it is a state of optimal wellbeing, vitality, and wholeness. In the same way, spiritual health isn’t merely the absence of sin or a strict observance of laws; it is state of union with God, a strong sense of self and communion with our neighbor and with all of creation.
 
I encourage you to choose one or two doable actions to help you love God, self, and others more in 2017. Just do it!
 

1. Pray more regularly and frequently
It is an important practice to set aside a time each day to pray, give thanks, and reflect on God’s presence in your life. But just as important is praying throughout the day—while in the car, cooking a meal, or waiting on line at the grocery store. I have found it helpful to practice what St. Ignatius Loyola called the Daily Examen. It is a practice of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. I try to do it at the end of my day. Here’s a version of the examen for you to use.
 
2. Be more focused during Mass
I sometimes find myself at Mass thinking about a work situation or about what I plan to do after Mass. The best way for me to be more present at Mass is to come 10 minutes early and center myself on God; pray with the day’s scripture readings; and, when distractions come, acknowledge them and then let them go.
 
3. Do weekly acts of mercy
These are conscious acts that can be very ordinary but are done intentionally. An act of mercy can be as simple as holding a door for a stranger or volunteering at a homeless shelter or going to a wake service.
 
4. Complain Less
The first step in complaining less is to recognize how much you complain. It sometimes feels good to complain, but you do not fix anything by complaining. Constant complaining might condition you to always look for what’s bad in situations. When you become aware that you are complaining, redirect your attention to something positive about the situation or, better yet, start working on a solution.
 
5. Avoid dualist thinking
Dualist thinking is categorizing everything and everyone in a clear-cut black-and-white, good-and-bad, either/or way. People who think dualistically are often seeking clarity and security in a changing and sometimes scary world. We sometimes find dualistic thinking in religious persons or groups, and this can result in harsh, exclusive, and judgmental behavior. When you hear yourself talking disparagingly about “those people,” scapegoating, speaking in a judgmental or condemning manner, or categorizing people as liberals or conservatives, sinners or saints, stop and reflect on what is behind your speech. The best way to move beyond dualist thinking is to put yourself in the other’s shoes and imagine why a person acts or thinks in a particular way. Fr. Richard Rohr in one of his meditations writes: the contemplative mind withholds from labeling or categorizing things too quickly (i.e., judging), so it can come to see things in themselves and as themselves, in their uniqueness—apart from the words or concepts that become their substitutes
 
6. Let go of worry
We can actually worry ourselves sick. We waste lots of time and energy convincing ourselves that everything we worry about will happen. When you find yourself worrying and obsessing, stop, take a long deep breath, reflect on the situation you are in a tizzy about, and ask yourself if there’s any logical basis for your worry. Consciously give this worry—either real or exaggerated— into God’s hands.
 
7. Move it
Recently, I have had a change in attitude about exercising. I enjoy physical activity and always feel better when I am fit, but I had an either/or attitude. If I did not have time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, I would not work out that day. I am now more consciously trying to move more throughout the day. If I miss my morning exercise, I will take a walk during my lunch break or do 10 minutes of exercise in my office. I always take the stairs and try to walk instead of drive whenever possible. I love my Fitbit and it has motivated me to take more steps and move every hour. Here’s an 8-minute cardio workout you can do at home.
 
8. Get more sleep
Sleep isn’t essential just to recharge our bodies. It plays an important role in all aspects of our health, from maintaining a healthy weight to improving our disposition, to being more mindful as we pray. The experts tell us the most important way to get enough sleep is keeping a consistent sleep/wake schedule. When your schedule is all over the place, your body clock doesn’t have a chance to normalize. So start tracking your sleep schedule, and work towards consistency, starting with your wake-up time. Here are some tips on how to sleep better.
 
9. Enjoy nature
Get outside and enjoy whatever season it is. A sunny winter day can be a great time for a walk if you wear the proper layers. Be intentional about spending time in God’s beautiful creation.
 
10. Accept yourself
The worst thing you can do to your self-image is compare yourself to others. We are all imperfect, vulnerable, and wonderfully made by God from love and to love. We all have different strengths and talents to be used for God’s purpose. If you have old tapes reeling in your head telling you aren’t good enough, that you’re too short or too fat, redirect your thoughts to the God that created your and repeat the phrase from Psalm 139: You are “fearfully wonderfully made.”

 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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sermon_on_the_mount“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:3-12a).
 
If we take the Beatitudes as a model of “how to live,” it urges us to ask ourselves what it would mean to be poor in spirit, meek, and to hunger and thirst for righteousness. What would it look like to be merciful? To be pure of heart? Volumes have been written on the meaning of each of these Beatitudes, but eventually we have to ask these questions in light of our own lives. For example, what does it means to be poor in spirit? Some have said, “To be poor in spirit is to recognize that all we have is God’s gift: our very existence, our families, our health, our talents, our situations in life. And Christ goes even further—even our successes.”1 It is to realize that “We recognize our need for God. We depend on God. The poor in spirit know that God is more important than anything else in life.”
 
Often it can be difficult to recognize that all is a gift from God. We get so caught up in the stress of life, work, and relationships that days meld into each other. So then, how can we recognize our life as gift? Being poor in spirit urges us to challenge the mantra that we depend solely on ourselves, and to instead place our trust in the God who created us. To trust that there is a plan that is larger than our own, and that God is constantly initiating a relationship with us, calling us to listen, to become more attentive to his voice.
 
What would it mean to live life as if we depended on God?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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eleanor_roosevelt_mccallsWhen I was a boy, my mother subscribed to six women’s magazines.
 
I was a compulsive reader even then, so I leafed through “McCall’s” and “Ladies Home Journal” and so forth as soon as they arrived.
 
One thing that caught my eye was a column written by Eleanor Roosevelt, who by then was the widow of
Franklin Roosevelt.
 
Mrs. Roosevelt wrote more than one column, but the one I read faithfully was a question-and-answer feature called “If You Ask Me.”
 
Besides the fact that I was just a nerdy kid, I was fascinated by the give-and-take of that format.
 
Recently, I discovered that all of those columns, along with other work by Mrs. Roosevelt, has been archived by The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and I have started to re-read them.
 
Actually, I started with the first column, which appeared sixteen months before I was born, so I’m reading some for the first time.
 
In the column that appeared in June 1941, one of the questions submitted by readers was whether Mrs. Roosevelt thought religion should become a more dominant part of daily life.
 
Mrs. Roosevelt wrote that it should, adding “but there is only one way … and that is by bringing it out of the church and into the lives led by religious people.’’
 
Mrs. Roosevelt, who was a church-going Episcopalian, made this same point on other occasions, and she also wrote that for Christians, the model for living out religious faith was the radical lifestyle of Jesus.
 
And she took her own advice in the sense that she was—to use a 21st century expression—“out there,” seeing first-hand what was going on in the country and beyond.
 
Even in the 1940s, Eleanor Roosevelt had the air of a fuddy-duddy about her; in fact, she often mentioned that because she was so old-fashioned in her manners as a child she was nicknamed “Granny.’’
 
But she was a pioneer in campaigning against racism and other forms of prejudice and working on behalf of women and labor and youth—and that made her very unpopular among some Americans, and she was—and still is—a controversial figure for other reasons.
 
That’s a complicated story, but what interests me at the moment is that statement Mrs. Roosevelt made seventy-five years ago.
 
One the one hand, it might seem self-evident that religion practiced in church is of little value if it isn’t practiced outside of church.
 
But in the second decade of the twenty-first century, when Pope Francis says virtually the same thing—making of himself a living example—the idea is treated in many quarters as though it were a new revelation.
 
In fact, though, Jesus made the same point in the first century in his criticism of pious people who wouldn’t help a stranger in need.
 
There is a lot of angst over the declining numbers of people who attend Mass regularly, or at all.
 
But the pope and other Catholic leaders argue that folks will be attracted to the Church, not by seeing other folks going there but by seeing and hearing those who do go to church also witnessing to their faith by what they say and what they do at home, at school, at work, and in the community—including, as Francis likes to remind us—those parts of the community that are farthest from the Church.
 
It’s such a simple concept, but a concept that, in our own time, Pope Francis sees as an ideal yet to be achieved.
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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