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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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Are you a good listener? Do you recognize a good listener when you are speaking? What qualities and characteristics come to mind when you think about good listeners? See if these four are also on your list.
 
Vulnerability invites each of us to reflect on this question: How do I measure my ability to expose my mind and heart to another’s thoughts and experience?
This characteristic of a good listener, vulnerability, speaks of an openness to what is being said, so much so that you as listener may experience discomfort due to unexpected aspects of the sharing. Being a good listener may also expose you to the pain, complexity, and frustration of the human condition. There are no preconceived ideas here.
 
Acceptance moves each of us to ask: Do others have to fit into my way of being and doing?
This quality says, “I take you at face value and don’t have a mold into which you must fit. I give you respect and reverence which make God’s love present.
 
Expectancy prompts each of us to wonder: Do I hope for good things to happen in my interaction with others?
The value in expectancy is the belief that we will arrive at greater truth and awareness of the beauty of each other. The heart of hope searches for the good.
 
Constancy makes us sensitive to this plea: “Please don’t excuse yourself as I express myself.” Do you have a pocketful of “how to get away” expressions?
The beauty of this attribute is that no matter what, I will stay until you have finished sharing. I will not interrupt, and I certainly won’t finish your sentence or story. Such faithfulness can be challenging. In the face of difficult, repetitious, or complicated talk a constant listener is a true reflection of God’s faithfulness.
 
These four qualities invite us to consider how we listen to others and to pray for the grace of God to transform us when we find ourselves struggling or unable to do so.
 
From Sowing Seeds: Essentials for Small Community Leaders, based on On Listening to Another by Douglas V. Steere

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“Jesus said to Nicodemus: ‘No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’
For 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” (John 3:13-17).
 
On this solemnity, the way we Catholics remember the cross in our liturgy is a paradox. We pray that the tree of defeat became the tree of victory. Jesus, whose ministry put in motion our tradition, was nailed to a tree and left to die, and almost 2000 years later we wear on a chain around our necks a miniature representation of that event. We erect a symbol of Jesus’ death at the front of our churches. Our Scripture even explains that “we should glory in the cross” (Galatians 6:14). It seems as if we are glorifying a moment that perhaps we would rather forget.
 
At the time of Jesus, many Jews were waiting for a savior who would restore worldly glory and power to Israel, one who would overthrow the oppressive powers of the Roman Empire. Instead of teaching happiness through power, however, Jesus taught love through vulnerability. The cross is the ultimate symbol of that vulnerability, and it is through living out this vulnerable love that we come to know our salvation.
 
In the Gospel, Jesus refers to a story of Moses and the Jews during their journey from Egypt to the “promised land.” Many were grumbling about their plight in the desert and God sent a plague of serpents to bite them. God instructed Moses to erect an image of a serpent in the center of camp, and said that anyone who looked upon the image would be healed. John is explaining to his readers that Jesus’ death on the cross is to be viewed in the same way. When we exalt the cross, Jesus’ love becomes present through humility, and we can be saved because we believe in God’s power over sin and death.
 
The Gospel prompts us to “see” with the eyes of faith when we look upon the cross. To “see” the cross means to see it in the light of the truth that Jesus brings throughout his ministry. If we can “see” ourselves into the Paschal Mystery, then with Christ we shall be “lifted up.” The cross stands as the ultimate, if paradoxical, sign of triumph—but it also a reminder of the route to that triumph.
 
What is your experience of the cross, and how does the cross guide you in your life?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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We’ve all been in situations in which someone has hurt or injured us. Sometimes we find it difficult or even impossible to forgive the offender. Or perhaps we have been the one who has done the hurting. Whichever the case, we have all had to deal with people who “sin against us.”

The early Christian community had similar difficulties. In the midst of the turmoil that accompanied the transition between Judaism and early Christianity, and under the pressure of persecution, they had to deal with the question of what to do with those who had sinned against them. Matthew drew on his Jewish heritage to offer ways to welcome back a member of the community: first, try to speak with the one who has harmed you one on one; then invite friends or witnesses to mediate if necessary; and finally, go to the Church community for support to aid you in the disputed matter. Throughout the process, be mindful that God has given you the power to “bind and loose” your grievances.

When we bind the sins against us, we are holding on to grievances and are unable to release ourselves and others. Our own anger can eat away at our body and spirit. By loosing sins, we are able to let go and forgive. We can free ourselves from carrying this burden and free others from carrying it as well.

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18: 18),

This is great advice! But great advice isn’t always as easy as it sounds. When we are hurt, we want little or nothing to do with the one who has hurt us. We may bottle the pain up inside or speak about it to anyone but the one who has harmed us. The Gospel teaches us to air out the issue. If the person does not hear us, the Gospel says to go to the community for help. This shows that forgiveness is a process. Forgiving and forgetting are not the same things. Forgiving is recognizing that those who have caused us pain are also loved and created by God. This God is calling both them and us into new and greater life.

In what situation have you found it difficult to forgive? Where is that situation now?

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

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“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.’ He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” (Matthew 16: 21-23)

Last Sunday, Peter was the “rock” that Jesus would build his Church upon. He was called to be the foundation for the Church and his witness would nourish the Church forever. Rocks, however, can also be obstacles.

Jesus’s reaction to Peter shows Peter’s transformation from a “rock” to a “stumbling block.” Peter was observing and judging Jesus through human eyes. Looking at it from the human perspective, it does not make sense to suffer. “God forbid, Lord!” However, instead of looking at it with human eyes, Jesus wanted Peter to judge things with the eyes of God.

Jesus is prompting us to do so as well. When seen through the eyes of God, dying or letting go of something is the bridge to new and greater life.

How often do we see the world through human eyes? As humans, we want to alleviate pain. By seeing the world through God’s eyes, we see that suffering is not the end. Times of suffering or letting go of something have the potential to become moments for transformation. Those moments in which we are broken open are moments when we are open to new possibilities and new life.

If we see things with human eyes, we can lose our foundation. Not only will we ourselves begin to crumble, but we can cause others to trip and fall. Yet, when we see things through the eyes of God, and act accordingly, then we will share in the strength of God, and become a rock for ourselves and for others.

Look at how you respond to life’s challenges. Do you do so as a “rock” or as a “stumbling block?”

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

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Who_do_you_say“When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” (Matthew 16: 13-17)

Jesus’ way of teaching was usually by telling stories and asking questions. He didn’t lecture but created a dialogue with his disciples in order for them to gain deeper understanding. Today’s reading begins with Jesus asking his disciples who the people say the Son of Man is. They answered him with various prophets. Like these prophets, Jesus brought messages from God. But Jesus was not only a prophet.

Jesus, the good teacher, proposed another question to his disciples in response to their answer. Simon Peter spoke for all the disciples and answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This answer shows just how close to Jesus they were, and how well they had come to know him. Like the crowds, they had seen Jesus perform miracles and had heard his parables. However, they had also been given private explanations of his teachings. Through God’s grace, they had been given a very special gift: recognizing Jesus the Messiah.

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Matthew 16:17).

This is what greatness looks like in the kingdom of heaven. It is not in moving mountains but is born when God comes to dwell within us and when God reveals himself to the world through us. We become what we are meant to be when we become mirrors who reflect the glory of God.

Grace can be seen in Simon Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question. Grace in the disciples comes not just from hearing Jesus preach, but also from living with him – inviting him into the ordinary times of life, recognizing him as a constant companion, and having conversations with him not only when things are rough, but also when things are good.

Today we must remember that and commit ourselves to setting our own wills aside so that God can make himself known to the world through our words and actions.

If others were to guess who you think Jesus is, based on how you talk about him, would they guess correctly?

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

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tomb_of_maryToday we celebrate an event that took place at the end of the Virgin Mary’s life on earth.
 
The church believes that when that time came, Mary was taken body and spirit into the presence of God – an idea that is incomprehensible to us because it is completely outside our experience.
 
The church does not say, because it has no evidence, whether Mary died and was then assumed into heaven or whether she was taken while she was still living, but the church has taught for many centuries that God would not allow the woman who bore the Christ child to undergo the corruption of the grave.
 
This was formally defined as Catholic dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
 
The document the pope issued had an impressive name: Munificentissimus Deus—the most benevolent God.
 
And the church identifies Mary with the woman described by the author of the Book of Revelations: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
 
And yet the woman—or, rather, the girl we read about in the gospel passage proclaimed at Mass today, a girl rushing to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, didn’t have any of those trappings of glory.
 
On the contrary, she was as simple and obscure as she could possibly be, and she had every reason to believe that she would stay that way.
 
But simple doesn’t mean naïve.
 
Simple doesn’t mean simple-minded.
 
Simple doesn’t mean ignorant.
 
In fact, it may be because she was such a simple person whose mind wasn’t cluttered up with ambition and greed and suspicion that Mary had such clear vision.
 
There’s a great deal of meaning in Elizabeth’s remark to Mary: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’’
 
Mary was a unique human being in a few ways.
 
She was conceived in her mother’s womb without the stain of original sin.
 
She conceived a child through the direct action of God’s Holy Spirit.
 
And she gave birth to that child who had within him both the nature of humanity and the nature of God.
 
No other human being can make these claims.
 
But still, Mary was a human being, and she had to cope with these extraordinary circumstances by using her human faculties.
 
Elizabeth says “blessed are you who believed” because Mary had accepted God’s will, as she understood it, through the exercise of her own free will and her Jewish faith.
 
And that didn’t end with the birth of Jesus.
 
In recent years, the church and religious scholars have put increased emphasis on Mary’s role—not only as the mother of Jesus and then as the queen of heaven — but also as the first and most faithful disciple of Jesus.
 
The scriptures necessarily focus on the ministry of Jesus, but it is clear in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles that Mary didn’t just wave good-bye to her son and stay home in the empty nest.
 
On the contrary, Mary closely followed her son’s ministry, visibly identified herself with him even as he was dying on the cross, remained among the apostles and other disciples in those uncertain and dangerous days after the resurrection, and was present when the Holy Spirit infused the infant church on the occasion we know as Pentecost.
 
In doing this, of course, she set an example for us who are no less human and no more human than she was.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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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

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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

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“When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, ‘This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.’ But they said to him, ‘Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.’ Then he said, ‘Bring them here to me,’ and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children” (Matthew 14:15-21).
 
How much would it take to feed all the hungry people? This is a question with two answers.
 
First, not much at all. The Eucharist—the presence of Jesus among us—is all we need to be fully nourished and satisfied. Receiving the Eucharist is the single most important and powerful act a believer can undertake. The Eucharist. It is really our identity, our assembly, our life.
 
We could take away all the Church’s schools, all the youth centers, all the convents and rectories, all the parish programs—but if we still have the Eucharist, we’re still Catholic. If we filled our schools to the windows and our churches to the rafters, if we had all the buildings and money we thought we’d ever need—but didn’t have the Eucharist—what would we be? Hungry, starving, and spiritually malnourished.
 
How much would it take to feed the hungry people? The second answer, which is connected to the first, is that it would take everything we’ve got! When his disciples asked Jesus this question, his answer was disarming.
 
“Give them some food yourselves,” he told them. Yes, you. Jesus was talking about the real bread of everyday nourishment. The real fish needed for supper tonight.
 
In today’s world, who will feed the hungry? Those nourished with Christ at the Eucharist, that’s who. We tend to think the government will do it or that someone else will surely step in before the hungry starve.
 
But the fact of the matter is that each time we receive Communion we are receiving the Body of Christ which is also who we are, the body of Christ in today’s world. Those who are hungry are waiting for us to get moving.
 
- How does this gospel passage help you understand how we, as Christians, are called upon to feed the hungry?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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Last week, a friend and I were exploring Central Park in New York City. We stopped to rest by a cool fountain in the center of the park. My sister Mary and my colleague Mary Beth, both battling cancer, were very much on my mind. As we sat by the fountain, I shared with my friend the tremendous prayer and support these courageous women were receiving from their faith communities. The night before my sister’s first chemotherapy treatment, her RENEW group and others gathered in Mary and Doug’s living room to pray the rosary. While I was visiting Mary Beth in the hospital, a co-worker of Mary Beth’s sister JoAnn came to share prayers of mercy and healing. These are just two examples of the daily support through prayers, rosaries, and Masses offered, sentiments of solidarity expressed through social media, calls, visits, and meals delivered and other acts of kindness by those near and far.
 
While peacefully watching the boats on the lake and listening to the music of a quartet playing on the terrace, I noticed that the large bronze figure in the center of the fountain looked like an angel. I searched Central Park on my smart phone and learned that we were on the Bethesda Terrace and that the figure was indeed an angel, the Angel of the Waters. It was another God moment! The website stated that the four small cherubim at the angel’s feet represent health, purity, temperance, and peace. The short article described the angel carrying a lily in one hand and extending the other hand in a blessing on the water pouring into the basin of the fountain. At the dedication ceremony in 1873, the sculptor, Emma Stebbins, connected the pure water flowing from the fountain with the healing powers of the biblical pool at Bethesda. She quoted John 5:2-4:
 

Now there is at Jerusalem by the Sheep market a pool, which is called…Bethesda…whoever stepped in first after the troubling of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.

 
This biblical story unfolds at the side of the Bethesda pool as Jesus meets a man paralyzed for more than thirty-eight years. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” The man explains that he has no one to put him in the pool when the angel stirred the water. Jesus immediately heals the man saying, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
 
My friend and I prayed at the Bethesda pool in Central Park for Mary and Mary Beth, asking God to take away any fear that paralyzes, give them strength as they undergo treatment, and heal them in body, mind, and spirit. We remembered the many people who are daily placing Mary and Mary Beth into the healing waters of Christ’s love. We gave God thanks. We then prayed for those like the paralyzed man in the biblical story who have no one to accompany them during times of trial. The homeless people living in the park are a reminder of the lost and separated—they belong to someone’s family. Lord, have mercy on those who have no one to place them in the pool of mercy and healing. The sojourn into Central Park was another time when God revealed himself in the stuff of life.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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postcardsMany small groups meet in the spring and fall for six weeks, and for many reasons there is no opportunity to gather or even talk to or see each other between seasons.
 
With many people on vacation, at home or away from home, a colorful postcard with an “I’m thinking of you” expression, can be a most welcome—and needed—blessing for the recipient.
 
Follow this greeting with a word or two about yourself…

“enjoying the grandchildren;”
or “taking a cruise;”
or “having a stay-cation…just what I needed.”

 
Close with: “I trust you know God’s love and how much I care for you.” “How are you?”
 
Blessings,
Your name
 
In just a few minutes, you can create an unexpected blessing for someone with whom you have shared your faith, and you yourself likely will feel blessed by touching another’s life in this way.
 
It’s a great way to prepare the soil of souls for a new season of faith, friendship, and fun.
 
Anne Scanlan is a member of the RENEW International Pastoral Services Team and is an exceptional liturgist.

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

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

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