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God, our Father,
we praise you for your love in Jesus,
call us to freedom,
confronting our idols,
overturning our stereotypes,
teaching us compassion.
Be with us as we strive to see your face in all people,
your dwelling place among the weak and vulnerable of this world.
Keep our lips from speaking falsehood and our ears from hearing lies.
Speak to us in the poor and defenseless, the addicted and abused.
May our hearts and our communities become places of welcome
and safety for the forgotten and afraid.
Come, give us the wisdom of Jesus;
send us as heralds of hope.
We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 

 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year B: For the Life of the World, available 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’” (John 2:13-16).

This Sunday’s reading invites us to examine the underlying tension that runs through all of the Gospels. Jesus’ mission brought him into conflict with the powerful institutions of religion and state. This tension ultimately led to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution.

For pious Jews in Jesus’ day, and for Jesus himself, the Temple in Jerusalem was a sacred place. It was a center of pilgrimage for Jews from all over the world, a place where ritual sacrifices and prayers were offered. The presence of money changers and merchants was common in the outer courtyard of the Temple. Pilgrims who traveled a long distance to make a ritual sacrifice would find it easier to buy an animal on the spot than to bring one from home. In order to make this purchase, they would need to change their foreign currency for the only coins accepted in the Temple.

Faith is not a matter of convenience. When religion exists solely to keep the wheels of commerce rolling or exploits the poor, it is fraudulent and disgraceful. Jesus was not an avoid-conflict-at-any-cost kind of character. He made a whip and chased the moneychangers out of the Temple.

Jesus’ actions are a reminder that Christians can, and at times should, resort to the kind of righteous anger that cries out against hypocrisy and against the exploitation of the most vulnerable.

In Jesus, Christians have a model of someone who had the courage to challenge and question. Those who claim to follow Jesus can do no less.

About what in your life have you felt justifiably angered? What action did you take?

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

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Gracious Father, whose gift is life and whose love is eternal,
touch us and make us lovers of life, lovers of you.
We long to be transformed into a people particularly your own.
Shape our lives for service and set our feet on the path of justice.
We entrust our lives into your keeping.
Help us to believe that, in giving ourselves to you,
we receive all good things in Christ,
who is your gift to us for time and for eternity.
Amen.
 

 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year B: For the Life of the World, available from RENEW International

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“Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’ Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant”
(Mark 9:7-10).

This week’s Gospel reading offers us a brief look at God’s glory at a moment when Jesus was speaking of his coming passion, which was the focus of conversation immediately before and after the event described in this passage. Jesus had brought to this mountaintop several of the disciples, who had just learned that he would suffer, die, and, three days later, rise from the dead.. Jesus was transfigured before their eyes, and they were left awestruck. The voice of God proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7).

The disciples were given a glimpse of the glory of God, and then were charged with the task of listening to Jesus. They listened even as he was rejected, as he suffered, and as he was put to death. They listened to Jesus and knew that even death would not defeat him, for he would be raised from the dead. The disciples continued to listen to the risen Christ until the day they too would share fully in his glory.

Just as the disciples were charged with the task of listening to Christ, we are also invited to listen. Through the events of our lives, however ordinary or extraordinary they may be, Christ is present and calling out to us. Christ is in our walking and talking, in our daily encounters, and in our travels.

Christ is present, but are we listening?

Christ often speaks to us through those who have no voice in our world. He speaks through the poor, the elderly, the prisoner, and the immigrant. We may listen to Christ speaking through our friends and family, but do we listen to Christ in the rejected, the lonely, and the outcast?

Where or how is Christ speaking to you at this point in your life? Are you listening?

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

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Spirit of God,
source of all truth and judgement,
who alone can undo the powers that grip our world,
in our times of temptation,
give us discernment.

 

When we are drowning in self concern,
save us by your grace.

 

Call us this Lent
to genuine conversion of heart.

 

Make us bearers of the Good News
in our words and deeds.

 

Take us by the hand and lead us,
Holy Spirit of God,
into the ways of peace. Amen.

 

 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings: For the Life of the World–Year B, available from RENEW International

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“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:12-15).

As Lent begins, the Church enters a period of spiritual renewal leading to Easter. Lent is a time of retreat. We journey inward to places of solitude and silence to rediscover God’s love for us.

In the passage prior to this Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent, Mark writes that Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan and heard the voice confirming that his future mission was blessed by his heavenly Father.

In this passage, we read that Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to prepare for his public mission. He lived among wild beasts, and he was tempted by Satan, but angels of hope and trust ministered to him as he fasted and prayed during those forty days.

For us, there is no physical desert. Our deserts are metaphorical. They are moments of dryness in our lives that come from tensions in family life, arguments with significant others, anxiety about economic distress, war, and many other sources.

This Gospel passage invites us to recognize those times when we experience our own demons of despair, desolation, and fear as times that reveal the face of God to us in an intimate way. These are the times in which we discover our reliance on God, and that leads us to new and greater life.

What have been “desert” moments in your life that have caused you tension, stress, or despair? How has God been a part of these moments?

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

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Jesus Healing a Leper (Rembrandt)

“A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’ The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, ‘See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them’ (Mark 1:40-44).”

This Sunday’s Gospel of Jesus healing a leper is one of the most popular stories of Jesus’ compassion. It is also a call to Jesus’ followers to use their compassion to identify with the marginalized of society and be willing to associate with the “unclean.”

Leprosy is a chronic illness caused by bacteria in the bloodstream that leads to skin lesions. In first century Jewish culture, ritual impurity was passed on when a sick person touched a healthy person. The healthy person then became “unclean” and had to undergo ritual cleansing before being re-admitted to the temple. Jesus’ decision to touch this man had both medical and social consequences.

Jesus’ miracle is a great reversal: Jesus does not become unclean or ill, but the leper is made clean. Jesus does not respect the social barrier between himself and the leper. Instead, he destroys it with a touch and restores wholeness to the man.

The kingdom of Heaven, the image of society where each person is welcomed and respected, is a central theme in all of Jesus’ preaching. To follow his example and build this kingdom on earth, we must be willing to “touch” all people, literally and emotionally, because this is what builds true community.

Has someone on the margins of society ever asked you for help? How have you reacted?

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

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Listen_to_Sr_Terry
 
Sea of GalileeI vividly remember my trip to the Holy Land more than twenty-five years ago. As we gathered before the trip we all agreed we would not go to the Holy Land as tourists but instead as pilgrims. On the bus we prayed and sang together, read Scripture, and shared faith, and we celebrated Mass each day at the holy sites we visited. The purpose of a pilgrimage is to enter more deeply into the presence of God and in the end to become a better disciple. At the end of that pilgrimage I was able to finally make the decision to become a Dominican sister with a new freedom and trust. It was the best decision I have ever made. It has enabled me to live my journey from God and to God with purpose and enthusiasm.
 
A few months ago I was visiting one of our Dominican communities and stayed in the room of one of the sisters who had recently moved. All her things were gone except for a small piece of paper taped to the mirror imprinted with The Pilgrim’s Credo by Fr. Murray Bodo, OFM. It was a message left for me—a reminder of my call to be a pilgrim. I desire this Lent to adopt The Pilgrim’s Credo:
 

I am not in control.
 
I am not in a hurry.
 
I walk in faith and hope.
 
I greet everyone with peace.
 
I bring back only what God gives me.


This is my hope for this Lent—that I may enter into this season as a pilgrim on a journey to God. I was not put on earth to be a simple bystander, or a tourist, but to live consciously every moment in the presence of God. My hope is that praying this credo every day during Lent will help me to live with a lighter grasp on life, a deeper trust in God, and a more loving spirit. I am grateful for being God’s pilgrim on this amazing journey called life. Happy Lent!
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak, because they knew him. Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ He told them, ‘Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come.’ So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee” (Mark 1:32-39).

In the incidents described in this coming Sunday’s reading, Jesus performed two important types of healing miracles. Not only did he cure “many who were sick with various diseases,” including Simon Peter’s mother-in-law but he also “drove out many demons” (Mark 1:34). In Jesus’ time, mental illness was attributed to demonic possession. All illness was believed to be a punishment from God for sin. Those with any illness were dismissed from the community and sent to live outside of the town on the margins of society.

As a rabbi, Jesus was expected to maintain those boundaries and not approach those who were ill for fear of making himself ritually unclean. Despite this, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. She immediately got up and served him. Jesus had restored not only her health but her place in her family. When Jesus heals someone’s bodily ills, he also restores that person’s overall position in society.

The next day, Jesus told his disciples that he wanted to visit neighboring towns because, “For this purpose have I come (Mark 1:38).” Jesus’ miracles were not separate from his preaching; they were two expressions of the same message of a loving God that Jesus was sent to reveal. Jesus’ teachings on love are affirmed by his healings when he restores peoples’ wholeness.

Our invitation this week to is to be open to where we need healing and to where we need to emulate Jesus the healer. What aspects of your life need healing? How can you make amends with someone whom you have ostracized?

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

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“The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’ Jesus rebuked him and said, ‘Quiet! Come out of him!’ The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.’ His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee” (Mark 1:22-28).

The beginning of any story sets the stage. This reading is in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has just called his disciples and they have abandoned their lives and families to follow him. Jesus is so compelling that he prompted these drastic changes in the lives of his followers.

While Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, an unclean spirit recognizes him and says “I know who you are- the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24) Jesus responds by expelling the demon from this man. Jesus is a teacher who is not powerful enough only to call people away from their occupations and families but also powerful enough to quell demonic powers.

In this first public act of Jesus’ ministry, the stage for this Gospel is set. Mark presents Jesus as a powerful teacher, one whose witness inspires life changes, one who defeats demons, and one who teaches through his words and his actions.

Words and actions combine to make a powerful statement. Jesus is giving us an example and a challenge. We, too, must try to match our lives (our actions) with what we say we believe.

How do you show that you believe the words you profess? When do your actions not match your beliefs?

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

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StorytellingEmbracing the reign of God, facing the challenge of conversion, and embarking on our spiritual journeys are frequently made possible through the storytelling that takes place in small communities.
 
When men and women share faith stories, and their parish respects and values these stories, both the individuals and the parish community grow deeper in their faith life. In the large parish, there is often nowhere to tell the stories of our faith journeys; yet, it is clear that telling our stories, and listening to others’ stories, are valuable aids to interpreting the meaning of our lives.
 
As we look at the concept of story in relationship to small Christian communities, we note certain elements:

  • The Gospels are narratives, the stories of Jesus as remembered by members of the early Christian communities. Every time small communities read the Gospel they are reviewing the story of Jesus and reflecting on how it intersects with their lives.
  • When we share our faith stories, we are telling—and perhaps hearing for the first time—how God is acting in our lives. It is often in the telling itself that we experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. This helps others believe in the God who is really at work in us.
  • As we hear others talk about their lives we realize how God is present and acting in their lives.
    Not only do we hear the narrative of Jesus’ life but we also start to apply the Word to our lives today.

  • As we listen to one another we have a sense of the Spirit acting in the community.

 
In all of these aspects we are trusting in Jesus’ words: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).
 
We trust that Jesus is present and that his story is being retold and applied to our lives. We might call this an immanent experience of God. Yet in the sharing of Scripture and of life experiences, there is also a profound search for God—for the answer to the question, “Who is God?” The search that takes place in small Christian communities can lead to an experience of the transcendent God who dwells in mystery.
 
Telling our faith stories, or faith sharing, is recalling a time, a life event, a situation, a word, a moment of grace when God touched our lives, challenged us, or spoke to us. God speaks to us in various ways: through the silence of our hearts; through the Word of God; through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist; through the presence, words or actions of another; or through nature.
 
Why do we share faith? We share faith in order to

  • recognize and take ownership of how God is acting in our lives
  • reveal to others how God is at work in our lives, our world
  • welcome and encourage the faith of others
  • witness to divine mystery
  • build up another
  • lead us to conversion of heart

 
Faith sharing helps us to make connections with others and allows us to see and hear how sacred our lives are and how precious all life is. Our spirits are touched by someone else’s story and this builds up our faith, hope, and love.
 
Adapted from Small Christian Communities: A Vision of Hope for the 21st Century, © 1997, RENEW International.

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“After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’ As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Mark 1:14-17).

After the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus enters Galilee proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand and all must live according to God’s will. While proclaiming this Good News, Jesus calls his first four disciples, who are all fishermen. While this may sound normal to us, this was not normal behavior in Jesus’ time. A teacher didn’t seek his disciples, he attracted them. In this case, Jesus reached out first and gathered those who would become his closest followers.

Simon and Andrew immediately dropped their nets to follow Jesus. Without hesitation, they gave up everything they had known to follow the one who had chosen them, the one they put their trust in.

After Simon and Andrew, Jesus called out to James and John. They left behind their father, Zebedee, and followed Jesus. This, too, was not typical behavior; this was against the cultural values of Jewish society in first century Palestine. In those times, one never abandoned a father. Yet, these disciples were compelled to follow Jesus above all else, even if it meant forsaking their home and all they had known and loved.

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

We, as disciples, are called to be with Jesus and to do his will. Knowing that Christ is with us is what gives us strength to do the work that we are both privileged and challenged to do. Some may be called to be missionaries and leave home and family; some may be called to follow Jesus by being home with their families. We are all called to be “fishers of men” and spread the Good News to others.

How is Jesus calling you today? How can you be a “fisher of men” in your daily life?

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

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“John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ — which translated means Teacher — ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’ So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day” (John 1:35-39).
 
Our role is like the role of John the Baptist — to point out Jesus to others. Once we do, we must let go and allow them to follow Jesus in the way they feel called, not in a way that we choose. Once we have shown them Jesus, it is their task to discern what is it they want to do.
 
Jesus’ question is at the heart of the discernment process of every vocation. He asks those following him, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38). He is asking them, “What are the desires of your heart?” and “What do you feel you are being called to do?”
 
The response of the disciples is, “Where are you staying?” (John 1:38). They seem to ask, “Jesus, what are you all about?”
 
Christian vocation in life starts with a relationship with Jesus and his people in the Christian community. It is Jesus who will be able to direct us to what we are truly seeking. He offers the invitation to the disciples and to us: “Come, and you will see” (John 1:39).
 
We are all called to enter into a relationship with Jesus and to model our lives and values after his. Let us enter deeply into this loving relationship.
 
How do you take on the role of John the Baptist and point out Christ to others? How do you continue to grow and develop in your relationship with Jesus?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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Baptism_of_Christ“This is what John the Baptist 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.’ It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well
pleased’” (Mark 1:7-11).
 
John says there will be a difference between the baptism he offers and the baptism Jesus will offer. The vision Jesus has upon coming up out of the water describes that difference in dramatic fashion. The Spirit descends from heavens “torn open,” rending the boundary that separates heaven and earth. God walking among us in the flesh emphasizes that the Spirit is with us, suffusing all of creation.
 
The word “baptize” literally means to dunk or dip, which means that when we are baptized we are immersed in the Spirit of God. When the heavens are torn open as the Spirit descends, the whole of creation is bathed in divinity.
 
This means that when we are sent forth from Mass “to love and serve the Lord,” or even when we go to work, the gym, or the store we, as Christians, are commissioned to bring the presence of God with us to all we encounter—to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and build a world of peace and justice for all.
 
When in my life have I been aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit?
 
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.
 
Image by Dave Zelenka

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As each year begins, many people resolve to exercise and get fit. Beginning a new year is also a good time to reflect on our spiritual lives and enhance our spiritual fitness as well.
 
Here are some helpful activities to enhance your spiritual fitness for the new year:
 
 
Prayer: Reserve time for daily prayer. Intentionally spend half of your prayer time quietly listening to God whispering to your soul.
 
Examen: A fruitful extension of a healthy prayer life for many people has been a daily examen. Many have grown deeply in their relationship with God through this daily process promoted by St. Ignatius. It is a helpful method for revealing God’s presence to us on our journey through life. An audio explanation of the five simple steps of the daily examen is online here: examen.
 
Sacraments: Receive the graces of the sacraments as often as you can. Begin a new year with a fresh start. If it’s been a while since you’ve been to reconciliation, commit to go soon and place a monthly reminder on your calendar to return. Mass is celebrated daily at most parishes. Attend when possible and / or try to read and reflect on God’s Word in the scripture readings for daily Mass. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides them online at: Mass readings.
 
Focus and Habits: Develop spiritually healthy habits to replace former negative patterns of behavior or thought. Do something good when tempted to do wrong or when you realize that you’ve been negligent or indifferent. Recognize when you detect yourself slipping into uncharitable, unloving, selfish, or unholy thoughts. When this occurs, take a breath and pray a silent brief prayer asking for the grace to navigate every situation in a manner pleasing to God. Remember that when Peter began sinking into the lake, he cried out to Jesus, and Jesus immediately helped him.
 
People: A sign of a healthy spiritual life is our care for others and how we treat people. Reach out to others in need in a deliberate way. Be a living sign of God’s love for others by performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The works of mercy are explained in paragraph 2447 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and are online at: works of mercy.
 
In caring for others, make every day an All Souls Day and remember to offer prayers for the forgotten souls in Purgatory. This is a generous act of care and love.
 
These back-to-the-basics ideas, when implemented in our lives daily, can deepen our relationship with God, fill us with greater peace, and help each of us on our journey to holiness.
 
Happy New Year.
 
Christopher Burns is a member of RENEW International’s Resources and Publications team.

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