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

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

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

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

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dorothy_dayDorothy Day is on the path to officially being recognized by the Church as a saint.
 
Dorothy Day, whom Pope Francis named as an exemplary American when he addressed the U.S. Congress, was the founder of The Catholic Worker—both the newspaper and the movement that still provides homes for street people and places of hospitality where the hungry and lonely are welcomed to share a meal. When she heard visitors to The Catholic Worker saying of her, “She is a saint,” she would respond, “You only say that I am a saint to convince yourself that you are different from me, that you are not able to do the things I do. I am not different from you. You could do what I do.”
 
In an episode described in Luke’s Gospel, (Luke 17:5-10), the apostles came to Jesus and said, “Increase our faith,” implying that their faith at the moment was so small that they could not do the acts Jesus required of them. Jesus, in response to their request, neither promised nor gave them any more faith. He told them, in effect, “Start with the little you have, and you will accomplish all you want.”
 
Jesus exposed in them, as he unmasks in us, one way in which we avoid our responsibilities as committed Christians or what Pope Francis calls “missionary disciples.” We can’t pray, because we don’t have enough faith; we can’t be charitable and reach out to the poor, because we are too busy; we can’t be advocates for justice and work for social change, because we feel overwhelmed and powerless; we cannot forgive, because we are too hurt, and so on.
 
Jesus objects, “Don’t speak like that. Work with what you have. Even if your faith is like the tiniest of seeds—a mustard seed that grows into a large bush—you will work wonders.”
 
Dorothy Day was an atheist who became a Catholic at age 30. When she chose to follow Christ as a Catholic, she took her small seed of faith and said yes to missionary discipleship—to living a life totally dedicated to Christ and to being a fierce advocate for the poor. Today there are more than 200 Catholic Worker communities serving the poor and working for justice. Her mustard-seed faith grew into a large bush.
 
Jesus’ message is clear to us today—mustard-seed faith is enough. You do not need any more faith than you have. Use the faith you have, and it will continue to grow as you continue to answer the call to be a missionary disciple.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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Model Preacher, Evangelizer and Friend of Jesus
 
Mary_MagdalaA good friend of mine, a no-nonsense man of deep integrity and dynamic faith, was once falsely accused of a crime and was eventually acquitted. He was famously quoted as asking the judge, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?” Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus who was included in his most trusted and intimate circle, could have asked the same question. Mary of Magdala was one of the many women Jesus included in his Galilean discipleship along with Joanna, Susanna, and the other Marys (Luke 8:1-3). She was, as St. Thomas Aquinas proclaimed, an “Apostle of the Apostles,” because she was the one who announced Jesus’ resurrection to the Twelve and to the world. And yet most people today think of her as “the prostitute” or as the “repentant sinner” and not as an apostle. There is no evidence in the Scriptures to support this indictment, so how did she garner this reputation?
 
In 591, Pope Gregory the Great preached a sermon in Rome that tarnished Mary’s reputation from that day forward. He erroneously combined the stories of three women found in the Gospels: an unnamed sinful woman who anointed and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:37-50), Mary of Bethany (John 11:1-45), and the demonically possessed Mary of Magdala (Mark 6:19). Not only was Mary Magdalene not the repentant fallen woman of legend, but she was not necessarily even a noteworthy sinner. The Scripture tells us she was possessed by “seven demons” that were exorcised by Jesus. Some scholars argue that she was probably more victim than sinner; in that time and place, serious illness was often explained as demonic possession.
 
The office of Pope Gregory the Great marred Mary Magdalene’s reputation, and now the office of Pope Francis has restored it. Pope Francis has declared that Mary Magdalene’s feast day, July 22, is elevated to a major feast marking women as the first evangelizers—placing Mary on par with the celebrations of male apostles. She is the first woman other than Mary, the Mother of God, whose liturgical celebration has been raised to a feast. Cardinal Robert Sarah, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, says St. Mary Magdalene can be considered by the faithful as “a paradigm of the ministry of women in the Church.”
 
Although first-century culture usually minimized the importance of women, the Gospel of Luke portrays women as disciples and friends of Jesus, strong and courageous, and witnesses to his resurrection. I find it helpful to study the Gospel of Luke and reflect on the faithful women who were the first announcers of the resurrection.
 
According to Martin Lang, author of Luke: My Spirit Rejoices!—a Scripture-based resource from RENEW International—“Those who walk with Jesus are of central importance. They are not only the Twelve, as we would expect, but also the unexpected. They are the women, some of whom have been relieved of their infirmities and some of whom are followers and contributors to the cause. They accompany Jesus as disciples, unlike anything the Pharisees of the day would have tolerated.” Because the Church has raised Mary Magdalene to the stature of the male apostles both women and men can look to her as model of ministry, preaching, evangelization and, most important, a deep and abiding friendship with Jesus, the Christ.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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child_at_mass“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the world.’’ Acts 1:8
 
The act of sharing your faith, being a witness to Christ, can be difficult, a bit scary, and sometimes risky. Recently a young mother shared with me how she took that risk in a very natural and authentic way. Amy admits that her faith used to be more cultural than a personal faith in Christ. But she now has a living faith and tries to give her crazy, busy life over to God each day with intention and joy. Although it is a struggle with two very active preschool boys, she and her husband attend Mass weekly. She recently moved into a new neighborhood and joined the local parish. She mentioned this to a new neighbor, also a young mother. Her neighbor said that she, too, is a Catholic, but that it was difficult to take her small children to Mass. She told Amy that her family would eventually go to Mass once the children needed to go to religion class. Amy shared how much attending Mass strengthened her faith and their family, and how she managed her two young boys during Mass. “I bring Cheerios and a book,” she said, “and the boys are usually pretty good.” Their sharing continued, and then Amy said, “Why don’t you go with us next week? We can all sit together.” The woman replied, “Yes, okay, I would like that. I haven’t felt right about not going to Mass.”
 
Although sharing your faith can be difficult, it can also be natural, loving and fulfilling.
 
Studies reveal that the most effective way to share one’s faith is through meaningful relationships. More than 80 percent of unchurched people who come to faith in Christ said it was through the witness of a friend, neighbor, co-worker or a family member. Evangelization is simply sharing how God is real in our lives, how God loves, accompanies, and strengthens us on our life’s journey. We witness to Christ alive in us through our words and through the goodness of our lives.
 
We cannot change hearts, or give someone faith—faith is a gift that comes through God’s grace. But we can be God’s humble, gentle, and persistent instruments. Our faith sharing must be rooted in the joy and ongoing transformation that grows from a vibrant relationship with God and the love for the person to whom we give witness. Jesus invites us in Acts 1:8 not to do witnessing but to be witnesses by embodying the teaching of Christ to love one another especially the least among us.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.
 
Listen to Sr. Terry’s podcast of this blog.
 

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“I desire mercy not sacrifice.” Matthew 9:13


fitnessI am always up for a challenge. To kick off the New Year, one of my RENEW colleagues, Eartha, invited everyone on our staff to participate in a 30-day challenge. Each of us was free to select any challenges that would help us become healthier people. I took on three challenges: lose 5 pounds, exercise 30 minutes a day, and abstain from sugar. There is a chart on the wall in Eartha’s office, and each day we are to put a check mark on it if we meet our challenges. We are on day 12, and I am happy to report I have 12 check marks after my name.
 
On my birthday, I received a Fitbit as a gift, and since joining the RENEW challenge I religiously check my active minutes daily. I am also trying to achieve the goal of 10,000 steps per day, and on the days I’m short I walk around the convent or jog in place until my Fitbit happily vibrates. The sisters I live with just laugh and shake their heads—even the cat looks at me funny.
 
In declaring a Year of Mercy, Pope Francis challenged us to do what he calls mercy-ing. He describes mercy as more than being merciful but actually doing an act of mercy, and, once again, Pope Francis is leading by example. He has personally committed to mercy-ing every Friday during this Year of Mercy. On the first Friday, he made a surprise visit to a small nursing home on the outskirts of Rome and then visited families who care for loved ones who are in a long-term state of coma.
 
As I reflect on my participation in the 30-day health challenge and how it has helped me to jumpstart living a healthier life in 2016, I have begun to think about Lent as an opportunity to jumpstart living a more merciful life. I don’t have a “mercybit” to record my mercy-ing but I can use a journal or record my acts of mercy on the notepad app on my smart phone. For me, keeping track of my weight or steps makes me more aware and intentional, and that is also true of my spiritual life. So this year, I am thinking of Lent as a 40-day challenge, and my number one challenge will be weekly mercy-ing. Just like the pope, I am going to plan it, do it, and record it. It might be an act of mercy that I already do, but I will do it more intentionally. I am thinking of people whom I have been meaning to visit but for whom I just haven’t made the time. I plan to be more aware when I am acting without compassion, judging harshly, not giving someone the benefit of the doubt. I intend to reflect on my life and become more aware of any unforgiveness that still lingers in my heart and consciously forgive and let go. Before Lent begins I will plan weekly acts of mercy-ing. If I miss one, I will not give up on it but make sure I do it the next week.
 
I am signing up for a 40-day Lenten challenge: mercy-ing. Will you join me? Remember, the Lord said, “I want mercy not sacrifice.” Our God is a God of mercy and desires for us to receive mercy, be mercy, and go forth each day mercy-ing.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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angel-645594_1920Recently I read an inspiring book by Chris Lowney entitled Heroic Living. He reminds the reader that we were born to change the world. He outlines three important skills to live heroically: discover your mighty purpose, choose wisely and make every day matter. Jesus lived a heroic life with both fire and focus—fired by God’s Holy Spirit and focused on healing the spiritually and physically poor.
 
In Sunday’s Gospel (LK 1:1-4; 4:14-21) Jesus began his official ministry by proclaiming a passage from the prophet Isaiah in his home synagogue. In this passage he articulated his mighty purpose—a purpose worth living for and more importantly, one worth dying for. He read with clarity and conviction: God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free. The words of Isaiah became his own and Jesus ushered in a new era, the arrival of the reign of God embodied by his loving words and life changing actions. God’s unconditional love entered the world with a new intensity as Jesus chose to give his daily attention to everyone he met and to make every day matter. He chose to spend his days eating with sinners, touching the unclear, living on the margins, bringing hope to the downcast and always in communion with his God. He lived with a mighty purpose, died with a mighty purpose and transformed the world.
 
God has anointed and consecrated each one of us. The purpose of our lives coincides with the purpose of Jesus’ life. We are called to be the best versions of ourselves, to change our part of the world. Like Jesus, we can care about what and who God cares about. We can be witnesses of hope and healing for family, for friends, for neighbors, for strangers. We can lift burdens, help people to see their own goodness and the goodness of others. We can live each day with gratitude. Empowered by the Spirit of God, we can live heroic lives—we can step up and live for a mighty purpose, make wise choices, and make every day matter.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“By crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.”
Pope Francis, “The Face of Mercy”

 
forgive-208824_1280The extraordinary jubilee Year of Mercy will begin on December 8, 2015 on the feast of the Immaculate Conception during the second week of Advent, and it will conclude on November 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King. The jubilee year begins with the opening of the door of mercy at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The following Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent, Holy Doors of Mercy will be opened in every diocese around the globe, inviting each of us to cross the threshold and receive God’s extraordinary grace and mercy and, in turn, open the doors of our own hearts. The call to receive God’s unconditional mercy, give mercy, and be witnesses of mercy is a call to Advent action. What better way to prepare to receive Christ anew in our hearts and homes this Christmas than to perform an Advent action of mercy.
 
Advent invites us to a time of new beginning—to make a fresh start and become in right relationship with God and our neighbor. Christmas is a celebration of the mercy of God made incarnate through the birth of Jesus Christ. God so loved the world that he sent Jesus among us to take on our human weakness and suffering and bring us healing and wholeness. Jesus saves us through God’s mercy and calls us to free others through God’s grace working in and through us. As you contemplate the Christmas gifts you will give this year, consider those who are in need of a gift that does not cost money or require wrapping paper. They may need your mercy or forgiveness, the gift of not being judged, or the gift of not holding a grudge. It can be very difficult to offer forgiveness, especially when we have been deeply hurt, but that is what Francis is calling us to do during this extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy.
 
There are many families and individuals that will not have a happy Christmas this year due to lack of forgiveness from an offended spouse, family member, or friend. Is there someone who will be missing from your Christmas table because of a lack of forgiveness? Do you hear the call from Pope Francis to be a witness of mercy this Advent? After the horrific attacks on the innocent on the streets of Paris the pope shared in his daily homily that even in the wake of this evil we can’t seal the door of mercy. In his letter, “The Face of Mercy,” Francis writes, “By crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.”
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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When I was a junior in high school I went on a retreat called Christian Awakening. It was based on the Cursillo retreat weekend. During that retreat I had my first conscious personal encounter with Christ, and, as I look back on my faith journey, I see that that encounter was my launching pad to becoming a missionary disciple—with lots of fits and starts. I had studied the Bible as history in both my Catholic grammar and high schools. In my freshman year I took a religion course on the Old Testament. I found the Bible boring and often was in trouble for talking and joking during that class. However, on that retreat the Word came alive for me—it moved from being a dry history about dead people to a living word about Jesus, my friend and my Lord, which touched my heart and inspired my daily living. During the retreat I received my first Bible—the “Good News” paperback version of the New Testament—and I was hooked. I began to pray with Scripture, underlining and highlighting words in that small grey paperback Bible that inspired me and began to guide my life.
 
A couple of years later, through a similar retreat experience, my mom discovered the power of God’s Word. She began to pray the Word, signed up for every Bible class offered, and became a huge promoter of the Bible for Catholics. My mom was the parish coordinator for RENEW, and she loved RENEW because it helped people to read, reflect on, and, most important, connect the Word to their lives. She often lamented that she had been deprived of the Word for so many years. In her early Catholic formation, personal Bible reading was discouraged and thought of as something that Protestants do. On the headstone my mom shares with my dad there is an open Bible on one side and a rosary on the other.
 
One of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council was a renewed understanding of the Bible for prayer and daily inspiration. Bible studies began to be offered in parishes, and many of the renewal movements that sprung up invited people to an encounter with Christ and a personal reading of Scripture for prayer and inspired living. However, most Catholics still don’t read the Bible regularly. The most common way that Catholics hear and pray the Word is through worship, particularly Sunday Mass. The Mass consists of almost 30 percent Scripture. This is good, but many Catholics are missing the many parts of the Bible that are not read at Mass, as well as the power of reading the Word for personal reflection and daily living.
 
Some people tell me they don’t read the Bible because they do not know where to start—its size and sometimes strange names and places seem a bit intimidating. If you share that feeling, I encourage you to try lectio divina, an ancient but simple method of encountering God through prayerful reading of Scripture.
 
You start by choosing a short passage from a book of the Bible (I suggest starting with one of the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Luke, or Mark). Place yourself in God’s presence, making an act of faith in the power of God’s Word. Begin reading slowly and reverently. Stop when a word, a phrase, or a feeling within touches you. Stay there, in God’s presence, pondering it and allowing God to speak to you. Eventually, you will sense that this time has come to an end. When that happens, begin reading again until you are prompted to pause and reflect.
 
When your time for prayer is over, give God thanks for the experience. You may want to have a journal to jot down afterwards what happened during your prayer or any questions about the passage that you need to look up. Many books and articles have been written about lectio divina but this is the basic process. It is important to remember that only what you are reading matters—you don’t have to finish a passage, a chapter, or the book of the Bible. What matters is being in communion with God through his Word and letting God guide you. Don’t miss the invitation to read the Bible regularly and encounter Jesus, the Word of God.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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papal_visitA prophetic and popular pope, the first ever from Latin America, will visit Washington, New York, and Philadelphia September 22-27. Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention through his warm gestures, simplicity, humility, message of mercy, and clear preference for those on the peripheries. He will go to the White House, Congress, and the United Nations, and he will make other important stops that highlight his vision for the Church—“a poor Church for the poor.” He will visit the homeless in Washington, immigrant children in a Catholic school in Harlem, and prisoners in Philadelphia. The Church, Francis proclaims, “has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much to those who are secure and comfortable, but to the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked.”
 
The pope’s visit to the United States matters, and it is up to us to make his vision a reality—creating a Church that is more welcoming, more inclusive, and more merciful. The pope’s mission as the spiritual leader of the global Catholic Church is to set the vision and inspire us to fulfill that vision in our own cultural and religious contexts. He has been articulating a vision that is challenging our Church to reimagine itself in the twenty first century:
 

 
 


 
 
“Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” —Pope Francis, The Face of Mercy
 
Year of MercyPope Francis has done it again—he has found an innovative way to touch people’s hearts by calling a special jubilee named the Holy Year of Mercy. It will begin on December 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and close on November 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King. In The Face of Mercy, the pope explains that on December 8 he will open the special holy door of St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the beginning of the jubilee. He is also asking every diocese to identify a similar Door of Mercy at a cathedral or other special church to be opened during the year. In this way, the year of mercy is not only for those who make a pilgrimage to Rome but for all people. Francis hopes that in the symbolic act of opening the door it “will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.”
 
A door can be a powerful image—when it is wide open it invites and welcomes us to freely enter; if it is slightly ajar we think twice before we carefully peer in and see if it is okay to enter. When the door is closed we knock and sometimes begin to pound on it, hoping someone on the other side will hear us. However, when the door is bolted shut we don’t even bother to knock—we just walk away. Over these last twenty or so years many people have walked away from the Church because they have felt shut out. In some cases they got tired of sneaking in, pushing through, or knocking until their knuckles bled, seeking mercy for themselves or a loved one. The pope writes, “The temptation…to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more.”
 
The pope reminds us that Jesus is the compassion and mercy of God and that those who have experienced God’s infinite mercy are called to show mercy to others. Each one of us who has been marked by the forgiving and saving love of God is to practice mercy—we are to ask God to transform our hearts into open doors of mercy by which people experience in us consolation, pardon, and hope.
 
In his letter on mercy Francis reveals his “burning desire” that during the jubilee year we reflect on Jesus’ call to his followers, especially in the Gospel of Matthew, to act on their faith through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Francis exhorts us: “We cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged: whether we have fed the hungry and given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, or spent time with those in prison.”
 
May we enter the open and merciful heart of our God and experience his unconditional love and forgiveness and, in turn, may we become a door of mercy for others.
 

For the full text of Pope Francis’ Proclamation of the Holy Year, click here.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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The Lord is truly risen, alleluia.
To him be glory and power
for all the ages of eternity, alleluia, alleluia!
-Entrance Antiphon Easter Sunday, Mass During the Day

 
empty_easter_eggAfter college and before I became a Dominican Sister, I served three years on the Archdiocese of New York Parish Mission Team. For me, it was a powerful time of grace as we gave parish missions to packed churches each week through prayer, song, and story. Fr. Jim Conlan, the director of the team, was a powerful preacher and one of the most compassionate human beings that I have ever met. He taught us to preach God’s healing love and mercy through story and personal witness. At every parish we visited, he retold a true story of a second-grade teacher and one of her remarkable students.
 
Doris Miller taught before the days of special education. She once had a boy named Jeremy in her class; he was both mentally and physically challenged. One day in early spring, Ms. Miller gave her students an assignment. She presented each student with a plastic egg and asked them to place in the egg some sign of new life and to bring it back to class the following week. When the day arrived each student excitedly placed an egg in a basket on the teacher’s desk. After math class, she began to open them.
 
The first egg contained a little yellow flower. “Oh, yes,” she exclaimed, “this is a beautiful sign of new life.” Little Mary squealed, “That is mine.” She opened the second egg, and it had a slightly opened bud. She exclaimed, “Yes, this is good; it shows the possibility of life.” And Tommy called out, “That is mine, Ms. Miller.” She opened the third egg, which had a rock in it. As she turned it over she saw it was covered with moss. She said, “Wow, this is interesting. At first I only saw a dead rock until I turned it over.” And Billy exclaimed, “My dad helped me with that one.” She then opened a fourth egg, and it was empty. She thought it must be Jeremy’s and that he probably did not understand the assignment. Not wanting to embarrass him, she pushed the egg aside. However, Jeremy called out, “Wait, that one is mine, teacher.” “But Jeremy,” she whispered, “it is empty.” He replied without hesitation, “I know Ms. Miller. It is the tomb of Jesus. It was empty too, you know.” She was stunned. She hesitated for a moment, regrouped, and then she said to the class, “Jeremy has showed us the ultimate sign of life, the empty tomb of Jesus.” Three months later, Jeremy died. The eighteen children and Ms. Miller place nineteen eggs around his head stone. All of them were empty. Jeremy was right. The empty tomb means new life.
 
Easter reminds us of the central truth of our faith that Jesus won the victory over suffering and even death. The Easter message is one of hope for us—nothing, not the darkest night, nor the most devastating news can rob us of life and hope. The God who lifted Jesus from the tomb is the same God who accompanies us in our darkest moments and will lift us into new life. God comes to us when we least expect him, and his messenger is sometimes the weakest and most vulnerable among us. The tomb is empty, Jesus is alive, and Jesus is with us now. Amen. Alleluia!
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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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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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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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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In September, Deirdre Malacrea, my RENEW colleague, and I attended the three-day international meeting in Vatican City on Pope Francis’ exhortation on the new evangelization, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). We joined 1,500 pastoral workers from 60 countries. The highlight of the conference was the talk by Pope Francis. After a morning session, we went out to lunch and had to return to the hall through security in anticipation of the pope’s appearance. The security lines were a mass of people. Typical Americans, Deirdre and I began to discuss how we could better organize the crowd, but we quickly abandoned that discussion and joined in the mad push. I lost Deirdre in the crush of the people, and entering the hall I lost hope for a decent seat. That is until I heard Deirdre calling to me. Using her American ingenuity and tough-minded Jersey attitude she landed us seats in the fourth row. When the pope entered the hall the atmosphere was electric, and I found myself lifted from my seat by the enthusiasm of the crowd. Instead of shouting “Derek Jeter” I joined the masses chanting “Papa Francesco.”
 
Pope Francis quieted the crowd with his humble presence, and his immediate and everyday language was compelling. He cautioned us against “clericalism”—looking down on the people we serve—and being too caught up in the institution, status, and rules of the Church. Instead he called us to preach and bear witness to the mercy of God. He reminded us of one of his favorite images of the church, a “field hospital” where all people who are suffering and wounded are welcome to come for healing, and he exhorted us to foster a church that is proximate and open and gives priority to the weak and poor. His concluding remarks were words of hope and encouragement—go about the work of evangelization with “patience and perseverance.”
 
I encourage you to read and reflect on The Joy of the Gospel. In this exhortation, Pope Francis encourages all Christians to embark on a new chapter of evangelization. He outlines a new vision for the Church, and he calls each local community to implement this vision according to its own culture and circumstance. This is exactly what we at RENEW are focused on as we develop our new pastoral process, Be My Witness: Formation for the New Evangelization.
 
In the words of Pope Francis: “Go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ… I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than a fear from going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of being shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying us: “Give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37)” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49).
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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