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“Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ And the angel said to her in reply, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’” (Luke 1:30-35).

 

“How can this be?” This is a perfectly normal reaction from a person faced with something that does not seem to make sense. Mary, an ordinary, humble, Jewish girl, is visited by an angel who tells her she will conceive a son, though she has no husband, and this child will be the Messiah that her people have longed for. Her reaction— “How can this be?”—is perfectly understandable.

 

It is what follows Mary’s initial reaction that makes her a model disciple. She doesn’t try to bargain with the angel (“Let me just get married first; then I can be the mother of God”) or take charge of the situation (“If this is going to happen, we have some planning to do!”). Rather, her response is one of complete acceptance of God’s will. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

 

Mary’s “yes” with no questions or conditions reveals her discipleship. Her “yes” is also paralleled years later in her son’s acceptance of God’s will on the night before his crucifixion: “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

 

Despite any assurances of what the future will hold, Mary places her complete trust in God and does what God asks. This is the model that we are called to emulate. Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection do not mean that we will never face suffering or difficulty. God simply promises that he will never abandon us, no matter what we face in life.

 

How is God calling you to be a disciple in your life? What holds you back from accepting what God is asking?

 

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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“And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, ‘I am not the Christ.’ So they asked him, ‘What are you then? Are you Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of the one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord,” as Isaiah the prophet said’” (John 1:19-23).
 
In this Gospel passage, the priests, Levites, and Pharisees all ask John the Baptist what many Jews were wondering: “Who are you? … Are you Elijah? … Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:19-21). John denies any special role for himself. He says that he is just pointing toward “the one who is coming after me” (John 1:27).
 
John models the kind of attitude and behavior that all of us as Christians are called to imitate. All that we are meant to do is to direct others towards Christ. We are not to call attention to ourselves or to heighten our own importance. We are meant to reach beyond ourselves to help others live life to the fullest.
 
This selfless love is found amidst the often overwhelming evils in the world. It is found in those whose charity and works for justice help “to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61: 1, which is this Sunday’s first reading).
 
These acts of selfless love illuminate our world as the holiday lights illuminate a December night. May our actions, too, light up the world.
 
Who are the people who have allowed their self-importance to recede so that you were able to grow and develop into the person God is calling you to be? How can you thank or acknowledge them?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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The India poet Tagore in his poem “Silent Steps” gives us a focus for our Advent prayer and reflection:
 

Have you not heard his silent steps?
He comes, comes, ever comes.
Have you not heard his silent steps?
He comes, comes, ever comes.
Every moment and every age,
every day and every night he comes, comes, ever comes.

 
rainbowAdvent is a word derived from the Latin word adventus. It means “the coming” or “showing forth.” During the season of Advent we celebrate the various comings of God into our human community—into the past, the present, and the future. This Advent season I would like to focus on God’s comings in the present—every moment and every age, every day and every night.
 
Last year I became aware that my voice was hoarse. I thought it must be from all the talking I do; my friends and family readily agreed! However, as the months went on my voice grew hoarser. I finally decided to have my throat checked. I had a friendly conversation with the doctor, and he told me it was probably caused from straining my voice. After the doctor examined me (sticking a camera down my throat), to his surprise and my shock the doctor found a lesion on my right vocal cord, and he suspected cancer. You know how this goes—feeling overwhelmed by the “c” word, a cacophony of advice from all interested parties, more tests, two biopsies, a second opinion, an obsessive internet search, and finally all the preparations for surgery.
 
There were many experiences of God’s presence during that time, but one stands out. After surgery I had to be completely silent for a week—that in itself required divine intervention. I decided it was best to spend the period of silence and recovery with my sister Mary at her lake house in upstate New York. As we were driving to the lake there was an eerie silence. Usually we both talk incessantly and sometimes at the same time. As we came around a huge curve in the road, there was a rainbow. It was one of those full rainbows. Mary spoke my immediate thoughts: “Look at the rainbow. It is a sign from God; all will be well.” Mary pulled over, and I took a photo with my phone. I experienced a coming of God on a country road in upstate New York. Over those next weeks I often reflected on that photo and once again experienced God’s presence and assurance.
 
God comes, every moment and every age, every day and every night, if we but notice and place our trust in him. Advent is a season to be even more aware of God coming to us and an opportunity for us to come home to God.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1:6-8).

 

This Gospel opens with the declaration of Jesus as the Son of God and then introduces John the Baptist as the messenger who prepares the way of the Lord. To do so, John called the people to repent, acknowledge their sins, and undergo baptism for forgiveness.

 

Unlike Lent, Advent is not primarily a penitential season. However, Advent does invite us to acknowledge what stands in the way of God’s reign. While John was looking forward to Christ’s first coming, we are looking forward to his coming to us anew each day and to his return in glory at the end of time, when God’s reign will be fulfilled. John’s call is still valid to us – repentance and forgiveness are essential for those who prepare the way of the Lord.

 

What do you need to be forgiven for? Whom do you need to forgive? How can you make forgiveness real in your life this Advent, as a means of preparing the way of the Lord?

 

Our journey through Advent also teaches us a value needed while awaiting the fulfillment of God’s reign – patience. We sometimes want to “get through” Advent and get to Christmas. We are like the child who can’t wait to unwrap the presents lying under the Christmas tree. We naturally want to enjoy the glory of God’s reign here and now, but Advent feeds us the wild honey of joyful expectation, reminding us that the reign of God is already being experienced, but not yet complete.

 

What things try your patience? What might God be telling you about your response to situations that try your patience?

 

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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Advent_WreathOur liturgical seasons are marked by symbols and colors and actions and events to be remembered and celebrated. As we gather to share faith in our small communities, let us mark this season of preparation with images to remind us of who we are and what we are about.
 
The Advent wreath reminds us that this is the opening season of the liturgical year. We are waiting for and anticipating the coming of Christ at Christmas. Advent is a time for “waiting in joyful hope” for the coming of our Savior. We are making a journey, and we mark it by lighting a candle each week until all four are lit.
 
The Advent wreath offers liturgical colors and lights, none chosen by accident. Evergreens remind us of everlasting life, and each candle represents one of the weeks of Advent. Three candles are purple, the liturgical color of the season, and one is rose/pink for the third week of Advent as a sign of hope and joy that Christ’s coming is indeed near.
 
We may be preparing the readings of the coming Sunday or using a Lectionary-based small-group resource such as PrayerTime or Advent Awakenings. We may also use our Bible (readings are often listed in the parish bulletin or can be found online at www.usccb.org) or a missalette.
 
The Advent wreath is a visual reminder of the great gift of life given to us in the birth of Christ to be celebrated at Christmas.
 
Consider using this Advent wreath blessing in your small group.
 
May you enjoy the Advent journey with joyful anticipation and celebrate the signs and symbols of this blessed season.
 

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening or at midnight, or at the cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:33-37).

 

Advent is a time for prayerful reflection, a time to be particularly alert to the promptings of God’s grace. The Advent call in the Gospel is to “Be watchful! Be alert!” (Mark 13:33). This is not a call to passively wait for the risen Jesus to come again. This is a call to engage in an active watchfulness by putting your spiritual life in order. It is a challenge to put Christ at the center of your life, over all other pursuits, ambitions, or involvements.

 

Advent is a time for generous good works in which kindness and care for others supersedes self-absorption and concern. Openheartedness creates room for Christ’s vital presence. The distractions of Christmas can often lead to a passive waiting for the coming of Christ. You may find Christmas coming and going with little change in your life. So, “be alert!” and focus on the significance of this holy season.

 

In what ways is God’s grace urging you to a more conscious awareness of the presence of Christ and a deeper relationship with him in this Advent season?

 

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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“’Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me’” (Matthew 25:34-36).

This is the end of Matthew’s apocalypse series ─ a succession of parables in which Jesus talks about the end times. In it, Jesus sets out the standards for final judgment.

“’Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one these least of brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40).

God’s love and care is for all people. Those who treat others with compassion are blessed and experience the reign of God. By showing love to others, we show love to God. God created all of us and dwells in everyone.

We will be judged based on our acts of kindness to the needy. We are not being asked to donate huge amounts of money or give every free hour to volunteering. We are being asked to share a little of our food with the hungry, to visit the sick, or to sit with a hurting friend. We don’t do these things just to enter the kingdom of heaven. We do these things because Jesus tells us that what we do to the least of our brothers, we do to him.

Do you make it a habit to reach out to help those around you? How does your faith impact the things you do every day?

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

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It was common in the time of Jesus for a master to leave some servants in charge of his affairs when he went on a journey. This master knew his servants well. He entrusted the savvier ones with greater responsibility. But even a less qualified servant might be left with some responsibility – as in the case Jesus describes in one of his parables.

“After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had receive the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back’” (Matthew 25: 19-26).

The master was risk taker. He didn’t just allow things to happen; he made them happen. Keeping his talent safe wasn’t good enough. Growth was the only option.

“His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten’” (Matthew 25: 26-28).

In their master’s absence, the successful servants acted just as the master would. For their accomplishments, the master rewarded them with more responsibility. The “wicked” servant did not follow his master’s example. He was punished by having his one talent taken away and then being thrown to the darkness outside.

Once we discover the talents we have been entrusted with, we must show gratitude to God for these gifts by nurturing them and putting them to good use. As members of the Body of Christ, we must use our talents to promote the values of God. When we do, we find our greatest success.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells this parable in the midst of other stories about the end times. As we wait for the second coming of the Son of Man, we must act as Jesus did. If we do so, we can be proud to present these accomplishments to God when we meet him face to face.

What gifts and talents have you discovered in yourself? How might you use them in ways that will build up the Body of Christ?

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

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“Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’ His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his Body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (John 2:13-22).
 
The Lateran Basilica was dedicated in the fourth century, housed the bishop of Rome (the pope) for centuries, and is still considered the mother church of all churches. Yet it is sometimes difficult for many Catholics to understand the importance of commemorating the dedication of a church. In much the same way, it was difficult for the people in today’s gospel reading to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words. The Scripture explains that when Jesus spoke of the destruction of the Temple he was speaking of his own body. If Jesus meant himself when he said “Temple,” what do we mean when we say “Church”?
 
This is a question that has been discussed and debated throughout the history of Christianity. There is a whole discipline, called ecclesiology, dedicated to the question of what “Church” means. This week’s liturgy can help us explore that question. The second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians says that we are God’s building, and it challenges us to recognize ourselves as the temple of our God. In an opening prayer and in the preface for this feast, the Church is described as a temple of “living stones.”
 
In today’s gospel reading, the moneychangers have violated the sanctity of the Temple as the house of worship, and Jesus angrily drives them out. To us, the Gospel says we should rid ourselves of the things that prevent us from being what we are intended to be: a dwelling place for the Spirit, a temple of the Lord.
 
Before the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, Christians met in houses to listen to the Scriptures, to pray together, and to “break bread,” an expression commonly used by early Christian communities. These communities were small, and their members were often persecuted for believing that God dwelt within them.
 
With this dedication began the possibility of gathering these small Christian communities together to worship their God as one Church of living stones, a Church of which the foundation stone is Christ.
 
Part of today’s feast is celebrating the freedom to be Christians in public. These readings also call us to the responsibility that comes with that freedom. Do others look at us as living stones? Do we look at ourselves as living stones—as even more a part of the Church than any building could ever be?
 
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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A Franciscan priest, probably in his fifties, visited our parish a couple of years ago.
 
Because of his order, I mentioned to him that I had been baptized by a Franciscan, Fr. Kilian McFall, in 1942.
 
“That must have been at St. James in Totowa,’’ he said.
 
“That was almost seventy years ago,” I said. “How did you
know?”
 
“Oh,” he said with a wry look, “we remember our people.”
 
I was stunned. I never knew Fr. McFall, because he left St. James when I was very young, but I knew about him because my mother frequently mentioned that he had baptized my brother and me.
 
His name came up in a more public way in the 1950s when a street alongside the St. James church property was changed from McKinney Place to Kilian Place. Still, ask most people in Totowa today who “Kilian” was, and they won’t know. Street names are like that.
 
In an idle moment sometime after my conversation with that friar, I did a Google search on Fr. McFall’s name, feeling certain that nothing relevant would turn up. But the search led to a page, devoted to Fr. McFall, on the web site of the Holy Name Province of Franciscan Friars—a province that embraces the East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida and some overseas missions.
 
There was a photograph of Fr. McFall—the only one I had ever seen—and a biographical sketch that recounted his assignments in New York City, Totowa, North Carolina, and Florida.
 
Concerning his ministry at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street in Manhattan, where Fr. McFall served twice for a total of more than ten years, the bio had this to say:
 
“Fr. Kilian’s kindness and good judgment in practical matters made him a popular confessor at St. Francis. He had a special compassion for the sick and spent a great deal of time visiting them.’’
 
Indeed, Fr. McFall spent the last two years of his life as a hospital chaplain in West Palm Beach, where he died in 1955 at the age of 52.
 
For seven decades, Fr. McFall was a benign if shadowy figure—someone who had touched my life in an important way and then retreated into the past. With my parents, who brought me to him for baptism, he was one of the first to nudge me toward a path of Christian faith.
 
Our lives are filled with such people some still living and some departed. We can still thank the ones who live, and we can pray for those who are gone—a practice to which the Church devotes the whole month of November.
 
Grandparents and parents; siblings, aunts, and uncles; priests, sisters, and brothers; teachers and fellow students; intimate friends and total strangers who in some way have helped us grow in faith—may we all say with the friars, “We remember our people.”
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Thanksgiving Day is my favorite holiday. It is less stressful than Christmas, and its focus on gratitude for faith, family, and country instead of gift-giving is an opportunity to reflect on and delight in the blessings of life and the giver of all good gifts. The familiar smells and food and table fellowship help awaken me to gratitude particularly for people past and present who have loved me.
 
Thomas Merton, a monk and spiritual writer, reflects in his book Thoughts in Solitude on gratitude as the heart of the Christian life. “Every breath we draw is a gift of God’s love, every moment of existence is a grace for it brings with it immense graces from God. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.” Gratitude, then, is a contemplative stance towards life that sees all as gift and grace and leads to joy. Gratitude is more than saying a polite thank you. Instead it is a spontaneous feeling that arises from a heart that is free and supple. When I start thinking “I earned” or “I deserve” or “I wanted,” my grateful heart turns into a bitter one. Gratitude is, yes, delighting in the gift whether it is a new iPad or a sunrise or a turkey dinner, but more importantly it is a feeling of joy directed toward a person for giving me something good. It is a joy that comes not merely from the gift but from the act of giving, and it is directed toward the giver.
 
I look forward to Thanksgiving with my family not only for the turkey and stuffing but more importantly for that overwhelming feeling of gratitude I feel particularly as we take a moment to thank God for the blessings of the past year. I ask God for the grace to be responsive to the family members with whom I will share the Thanksgiving meal this year and to be awakened and renewed to the goodness of God in each person, in nature, and in myself.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.
 
Portrait of Thomas Merton by Frank Peabody.

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All_Souls“Jesus said to the crowds: ‘Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me,that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day’” (John 6:37-40).
 
There are many people who have departed earthly life but are not forgotten by us or by God. Yesterday was All Saints Day, and today we celebrate those who have not been declared saints but who have lived lives of holiness and who have touched our lives and our faith. You might remember a loving grandparent, aunt, or uncle, or friend who has died. Today we recognize that these people may no longer be with us, but they are still present in spirit and with God.
 
Today’s gospel reading is set in the midst of a discourse in which Jesus describes himself as the “bread of life” (John 6:35-51). Jesus explains in this reading that on the last day we will be reunited with everyone who believes—no exceptions.
 
How do we tap into this powerful source of life and nearness to God? When we receive the body and blood of Jesus in the elements of bread and wine, we are incorporated into Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We receive the promise that we, too, will be among those who join him on the last day. Our “Amen” says that we are willing to take on the challenge to live as Christians—to follow Jesus in word and deed. The Eucharist is our hope to share in God’s glory.
 
The life and unity we are promised is not limited to some future life with saints and angels but is already available to us here, today, in our unity with all people. As we care for the sick, the poor, the displaced, or the sorrowful, we help to build that unity. As we celebrate the sacraments—especially the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life—we live in Christ, but we also do so in the ordinary times of our lives as we grow closer to those all around us.
 
Whenever new people come into our lives, we share with them the unity that will be complete only in the end. And whenever people leave us through death, we can confidently place them in the protection of God, who cares for them and promises to bring us back together again one day. In God, there is no goodbye—“God be with you” is forever.
 
How does the celebration of the Eucharist help you feel connected to those who have departed from your life?
 
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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SCC_PrayerBeing creative with the opening and closing prayer can help participants grow by experiencing a variety of prayer forms. Familiar prayers can be reassuring, and they should be a part of the group’s overall experience, but sharing new words and forms can capture the participants’ attention, help them appreciate prayer as a conversation with God, and deepen their understanding of their place as members of the Body of Christ.
 
Here is an example of an opening prayer that includes quieting down:
Begin the meeting as usual. When you arrive at the moment of opening prayer, invite everyone to close their eyes, take three breaths—inhaling and then slowly exhaling. Then say:

I invite you to remember all those who have blessed you by sharing faith
with you.
Think back through your life . . .
Who inspired and blessed you as an infant and in your early childhood….Who comes to mind during your elementary school years….Consider now those who inspired you as a pre-teen, teenager, young adult, when you were in your 20s and early 30s…in middle age…in your wisdom years.
Take a moment and, as we remember All Saints and All Souls, celebrate those people, living or deceased, who have been part of your faith journey and offer a silent prayer of gratitude.

 
Allow for thirty seconds of silence, and then lead the group in praying the “Glory be.”
 
A companion closing prayer may be offered:
 
Let us pray now for those who have asked for our prayers or those for whom you have promised to pray:
 
Allow thirty seconds of silence and begin:
 
I invite you to pray aloud or in silence…

For family and friends (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For the sick (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For those in the headlines (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For those affected by natural disasters (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For the hungry, abused, and abandoned (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.
For world peace (pause)
     we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.

 
And we close with the prayer Jesus gave us…Our Father

 
Feel free to vary these according to the group’s need and the season of the church year. There are many sources of prayers, including the Prayers and Devotions on the web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
May you enjoy God’s attentive listening and God’s presence in one another.

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“’Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, our God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:36-40).

There are 613 precepts in the Torah which make up Jewish law. How does one decide which is the most important? In other words, what is the heart of the Torah?

Jesus’ response is simple. The heart of the Torah is love. Laws are signs and guideposts on our journey, helping us to learn to love with our full selves – our entire heart, mind, and soul. This law aids us in becoming better lovers of God, one another, and all of creation.

This passage is an invitation to see the world through God’s eyes and to love as God loves.

We have been loved into being, created for love in such a way that we are drawn to love as God loves. God loves and sustains the entire world, and loves each part of us at every moment. God’s love has no limits. God’s love is of excess and is poured out endlessly on us. His love is not conditional.

By saying that love is the heart of the Torah, Jesus is calling us to reciprocate this love and love as freely as God. We are invited to see the connection between love of God and love of neighbor. When we truly love those around us, we are showing our love for God.

How can you increase your consciousness of love in your life?

What would your world look like if you approached all people by trying to see God present in them?

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

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“The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?’” (Matthew 22: 15 – 17).

Jesus’ parables to chief priests and elders over the last few readings depicted them as the second son who did not fulfill his father’s wishes and as the tenants who killed the king’s messengers. These religious leaders tried, in the conversation recorded in this reading, to put Jesus in a no-win situation.

If Jesus said that it was permissible to pay taxes to Caesar, the crowds would see him as siding with the Roman occupation. If he said it was not permissible, then the Herodians (who collaborated with the Romans) could denounce him to the authorities.

“Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax’” (Matthew 22:18).

The Jewish custom was that the only valid currency in the Temple was official Temple money. Roman coins minted with the head of Caesar portrayed him as a demi-god, and this image of a false god was explicitly forbidden by the First Commandment. These Pharisees and Herodians, by having Roman coins in their possession, dared to breach the First Commandment within the Temple! Doing this showed their acceptance of the financial advantages to them of the Roman occupation of Palestine.

“He said to them, ‘Whose image is on this and whose inscription?’ They replied, ‘Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22: 20-21).

Those willing to use Caesar’s coin should repay him in kind, as they received their money from Caesar. Jesus raised the debate to a new level by bringing up repaying God. The Pharisees and the Herodians should be more concerned with repaying God with the good deeds that are due to Him.

Jesus challenges us to look at where we get our money and how we spend it. This reveals our true priorities. Has our money, as it did with the Pharisees and Herodians, entered the space of the sacred? Do we find fulfillment in making money and buying things, instead of in our faith and in doing good deeds?

How do you spend your money? What does it tell you about your values and priorities?

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

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