RENEW International - Home   RENEW International - Blog   RENEW International - Shop   RENEW International - Donate   RENEW International - Request Info
Search

 
 

Mary_MedjugorjeDuring the forty-plus years that I worked as a newspaper editor, there were several instances in central New Jersey in which people reported seeing apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
 
The most recent example involved a family that said that when they stood in their yard and looked up at a window on the second floor, they could see Mary’s image in the refracted light on the glass.
 
There were other instances—including one that for a while drew hundreds of people to a home in Monmouth County, creating a significant traffic problem—in which the accounts included communications from the mother of Jesus.
 
And, of course, we all occasionally read or hear stories in the news in which people have encountered Mary and Jesus himself, often in the most unexpected places.
 
I was reminded of all these episodes recently when I read a story in “Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly” about the continuing controversy over the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin that have been reported for the past 36 years in Medjugorje, a village in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
 
Many folks accept the statements by a group of villagers that Mary has made regular appearances there and engaged in dialogue with some people.
 
There have also been many reports of healings, vocations, and conversions connected with Mary’s appearances.
 
There have also been bitter conflicts among well-meaning people who either do or do not believe that Mary appears in Medjugorje.
 
The Church has authorized investigations of these reports but has reached no conclusion, although Pope Francis, on the one hand, has not formally dismissed the visions but, on the other hand, has expressed the personal opinion that Mary does not appear in the village.
 
Apparitions, particularly of the Virgin Mary, are a part of the tradition of the Church; this year is the centennial of one of the most famous of them, the appearances of the Blessed Mother to the three children at Fatima in Portugal.
 
My view of this subject in general is that apparitions are possible, though I leave it to others to determine if this or that vision was legitimate.
 
The topic always reminds me, though, of the comment Jesus made to Thomas the Apostle, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” and his remark to the royal official in Cana, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
 
Jesus reminded us repeatedly that he was calling us to faith that was based on his authoritative teaching, his example, and his passion, death, and resurrection.
 
Many scholars tell us that even the miracles Jesus himself performed during his lifetime were acts of compassion, not means of dazzling people into belief.
 
It isn’t as though those of us—and that means most of us—who have never seen Jesus or Mary in a windowpane or a grotto are somehow deprived of their presence.
 
On the contrary, Mary is accessible to us in prayer, and Jesus is accessible to us in prayer, in the Eucharist, and in his mystical body—the Church.
 
We can call on Mary or any saint for comfort and intercession, and we can achieve a loving, personal relationship with Jesus without the spectacle of public apparitions.
 
In fact, we can better open ourselves to the reality of the holy and the divine in the calm and quiet of meditation and worship.
 
The Hebrew Scripture tells us that it wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire that God called Elijah; it was in a still, small voice—a voice that calls each of us all the time and waits only to hear the answer, “Here I am.”
 
This post was first published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen. The writer is a permanent deacon in the diocese and managing editor at RENEW International.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

“At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, ‘Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He said in reply, ‘It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.’ Then Jesus said to her in reply, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour” (Matthew 15:21-28).
 
The Canaanite woman’s appeal is not an unusual one. Many times throughout the Gospels we find people petitioning Jesus to heal their loved ones. In this instance, however, Jesus’ response is surprising. He is unconcerned and becomes quite hostile as her pleas continue. Jesus tells her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” But she will not be deterred and continues her pleas. The Canaanite woman finally perseveres, and her daughter is healed.

So, why was Jesus so unreceptive to the woman in the beginning? The context of this Gospel gives us the answer. The majority of Matthew’s audiences are converts to Christianity from Judaism. This passage reflects an understandable presumption from this group that Jesus’ message was meant only for the Jews. This community also included Gentiles, converts from paganism. These two groups, who were so different in their religious backgrounds and culture, were united in their profession of the Christian faith and became the new People of God.

The manner in which this encounter unfolds depicts this struggle. Jesus, as a Jewish male, is at risk of becoming “unclean” by speaking with a Canaanite woman. Yet through his conversation with this “untouchable” woman, we witness a change in Jesus’ responses. It is here that we come to recognize the inclusive love intended for the Jews was meant for the Gentiles as well.

“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matthew 15: 28).

It’s the intensity of the Canaanite woman’s conviction and the passion of her faith that enabled Jesus to change his perception in the end.

So what is Matthew challenging us to learn through this episode? Should we question the way we listen to some voices and not others? Are there certain people or messages that are difficult for us to hear? If we take this story to heart,the witness of Jesus urges us to expect the call to conversion in some of the most unlikely places, and to be attentive when we hear it.

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

It_is_I“After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:22-33).
 
In this Gospel passage, Jesus is responding to a part of the human condition that everyone experiences—storms. Who hasn’t found himself or herself at a time in life when the storm winds seem to blow against their plans, hopes, and dreams? Who hasn’t felt just a bit seasick as life tipped first this way and then that?
 
We often read this story and pause to think of our own storms, the times or moments in our own lives when everything seemed topsy-turvy, but not Jesus. Jesus knew his disciples’ fears, confusion, losses, moments of despair, desires for love and grace. In calling Peter to come to him upon the water, Jesus was teaching us how to respond to one another. We are to become more aware of one another’s fears and needs—and then invite one another to a safe, loving place with us. We are to be Jesus for them.
 
In today’s world, it is easy to imagine people living in stormy times: poor women raising children alone; families who have lost their source of income; older adults feeling the first signs of dementia; people with AIDS/HIV; people losing faith; nations suffering civil war; children shooting other children; drugs; pornography; abuse; loss of love, and the end of relationships.
 
Having faith in Jesus is not mere lip service. It leads us to do what Jesus did: to call others to the safety and love of relationship with us in Christ’s name.
 
– What gifts have you received that would allow you to “be Jesus” for others in stormy times?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

Transfiguration“Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, 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” (Matthew 17:1-8).
 
The contrast between light and darkness plays an important part in the accounts of the Transfiguration in the Gospels. In this mystical episode, light—a brilliant, white light—is a sign of the divinity of Jesus. The three apostles, who saw Jesus not only bathed in this light but emitting it from his own person, were getting a privileged glimpse of the Reality—the presence of God in the world here and now—that transcends the usual experiences of human life.
 
Moreover, Peter, James, and John could see in this shimmering tableau the images of Moses and Elijah who had been faithful to God, who had served God’s people, and who, through the sacrifice of Jesus, would live in the glow of God’s presence—a promise the apostles might apply to themselves.
 
No wonder Peter did not want that light to be dimmed, did not want that moment to end. But it did end, and it ended in the darkness of a gathering cloud.
 
Pope Benedict XVI suggested in a homily that we all may experience something similar: “a momentary foretaste of what will constitute the happiness of Paradise. … usually brief experiences that are sometimes granted by God, especially prior to difficult trials.”
 
This insight, this intuition, this awareness may occur during prayer, during liturgy, during reading and contemplation, during an exercise of charity or compassion.
 
How reassuring it would be if we could “see” God every day as the apostles saw him in the blazing light on Tabor, but Pope Benedict reminded us that our path in this life is illuminated by “the interior light that is kindled in us by listening to the Word of God.”
 
This, Pope Benedict said, “is the gift and duty for each one of us. … to listen to Christ… To listen to him in his Word, contained in Sacred Scripture. To listen to him in the events of our lives, seeking to decipher in them the messages of Providence. Finally, to listen to him in our brothers and sisters, especially in the lowly and the poor, to whom Jesus himself demands our concrete love. To listen to Christ and obey his voice: this is the principle way, the only way, that leads to the fullness of joy and of love” (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, March 12, 2006).
 
– In what ways do you respond to the Father’s command regarding his Son: “Listen to him”?
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 
 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 
 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

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

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

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
Home / Request Information / Site Map / Contact Us / Shop Online
Why Catholic? / ¿Por qué ser católico? / ARISE Together in Christ / Longing for the Holy
Campus RENEW / Theology on Tap / RENEW Worldwide