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crossThe beginning of Lent is the time when we focus on taking up our daily cross in imitation of Christ. The cross we bear is about more than suffering a serious disease or the death of a loved one or living without enough income to cover expenses. It means sacrificing our own will to that of the Father’s—doing what he wants, not what we want.
 
It’s a paradox, though, that in sacrificing our own will, we find true freedom. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “My yoke is easy, my burden light.” It was yet another manifestation of his divine mercy.
 
If life’s purpose lies in getting what we want, as our culture insists, then freedom becomes a very big deal. Freedom, we think, is what allows us to exercise our “unalienable right” to the pursuit of happiness. With this view of freedom, it’s easy to feel threatened by constraint of any kind. Our instinct is to resist it with all our might, for it impedes our ability to live the lives we think we want.
 
For the more we rely on others or others rely on us, the less free we are to go wherever we wish to go, pursue whatever we wish to pursue, and do whatever we wish to do. Love constrains us. And in a society devoted to personal self-fulfillment, the cost of love often seems too high.
 
For followers of Jesus, the “free” person is the one no longer plagued by the burdensome quest for money, pleasure, possessions, social status, or political power—the very things that our culture says will satisfy our deepest wants and make us happy.
 
Our prayer today:
 

We thank you today, Lord,
that in your merciful cross
we find true freedom.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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“Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ But he did not know what he was saying” (Luke 9:28B-33).
 
There are times in our lives when an experience is so wonderful that we want to stay in it forever. Such times are moments of grace. They are times when we feel especially close to God because of the depth of the joy or love we feel. This was what Peter, John, and James felt on the mountain with Jesus.
 
Peter offered to pitch three tents so they could stay and relish the experience. Peter was looking at things from the wrong perspective. This event was about what was to come. It was not the end. It was not the glory but the promise. This vision was God’s way of giving Peter, John, and James a glimpse at the resurrection.
 
Life required Jesus and the disciples to go back down the mountain and continue the difficult work of spreading Jesus’ message. They couldn’t stay in that amazing vision forever.
 
Neither can we stay on the mountaintops of our lives. We have to leave them. But we go forward enriched and strengthened by these moments.
 
Our mountaintop experiences make us who were are. What we need to do is bring the memory of the mountaintops down with us into everyday life, knowing that they sustain us and offer us a glimpse into the ultimate mountaintop experience – living in the reign of the kingdom of God.
 
What episodes in your life do you consider mountaintop experiences? How did they change you?

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

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agapeToday we are asked to take notice of two events that seem contradictory—the beginning of the penitential period of Lent, and St. Valentine’s Day, the festive celebration of romantic love usually marked by flowers, chocolates, and dinner at expensive restaurants.
 
But are they contradictions or simply different manifestations of love?
 
The ancient Greeks had four words for love: storge, the affection we have for family members; philia, the bond between friends; eros, the desire for physical union; and agape, our unselfish willingness to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another.
 
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that all these aspects of love come down to this: love is one thing, with the different meanings coming to the fore at different times.
 
But, he added, agape is the one we should be most mindful of as we enter Lent. It’s a time when we demonstrate our unselfish willingness to sacrifice ourselves—in this case for the sake of God.
 
So whichever manifestation of love we celebrate today, be assured that each can be sacred if our acts of love acknowledge, celebrate, and reflect God’s mercy.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Heavenly Father,
help me remember that my Lenten sacrifices
are rooted in my love for you.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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“The devil said to him, ‘I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.’ Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’ When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time” (Luke 4:6-13).
 
This is the first week of the Lenten season, so it’s no surprise that our reading describes the aftermath of a fast. Jesus fasted and wandered the wilderness for 40 days. After this ordeal, the devil tried to tempt him, and Jesus resisted.
 
If we treat Lent as a season of deprivation, we miss the point. Jesus’ responses to the devil’s temptations can teach us something about our own Lenten preparations.
 
The temptations in this reading are the same distractions that threaten to keep us from our mission. The temptation to turn stone into bread is the temptation to set aside our relationship with God for the sake of quick and easy fulfillment of desire. The desire for glory and authority over nations is the same as our own desire for domination in interpersonal, business, or political spheres. And the temptation to put God to the test is the same as refusing to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
 
Jesus resisted attachment to pleasure and power and skirting of accountability. These same temptations threaten our own relationships with ourselves, with others, and with God. By rejecting them, Jesus says “Yes” to contentment, unity, and responsibility.
 
Jesus drew his strength from the 40 days of being “full of” and “led by” the Holy Spirit. Forty days from now, we will be ready to more fully experience Easter joy, to celebrate the great Easter liturgies, and, in word and action, to spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and forgiveness of sins.
 
How have your desires for pleasure, power, or unaccountability interfered with your relationship to yourself, to others, or to God? In what way have you overcome these temptations?

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

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The_Way_of_the_CrossAs we enter the holy season of Lent the Church calls us to prepare our hearts for the celebration of our redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We come together as Church in special ways as a reminder that this is a time set apart.
 
Lent presents wonderful opportunities to deepen the bonds among the members of our small groups. If your church regularly gathers for Stations of the Cross, participating as a group can be a deeply moving experience as you share Christ’s journey to Calvary. You might participate in a parish-wide reconciliation service or come together as a group before or after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.
 
Rice Bowl is a program sponsored by Catholic Relief Services for Lent. It combines prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, three things we are called to do during this season. You can participate in Rice Bowl as a group. There are daily prayers and recipes for meatless meals you can prepare together and share. There is even an app to make it easier to participate. You can then make a group donation to support the work of CRS.
 
If your parish does not already have any of these services, your group could help organize them, sharing your own spiritual renewal with your fellow parishioners. Whatever you do, do it together, and allow this sharing to bring you closer to each other as a spiritual community.

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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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Your love, O God, embraces all creation, from the tree of the cross.
You have broken open the barriers of sin and selfishness
that separate us from one another and from you.
Remain with us and work through us
that others may come to see that love in us
that they saw and loved in Jesus–
a life freely given for the life of the world.
Until that great day, when your love will reign and all will be one,
may we walk in peace, work for justice, live in gratitude,
and celebrate unceasingly the wonders of your love.
Draw us all to you, O God, through the dying and rising of Christ,
in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
 

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

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Jesus, our teacher and friend,
help us to follow you along the way of the cross.
When the mysteries of human suffering
and sinfulness overwhelm us,
invite us to live in the grace of your redemptive love.
Thus, may our lives be given over
to works of justice on the path of peace
for the life of the world.
May your promise to draw all to yourself
give us the courage to risk and the hope to proclaim
that life will triumph over death,
for the victory has been won for us
in Christ Jesus, our Lord and brother. Amen
 

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

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Loving God and Father,
we stand before you as seed that must die.
We have struggled long to hold on to ourselves;
our lofty goals, our hard-earned accomplishments,
our prized possessions, and our cherished loved ones.
But you teach us, in Jesus your Son,
that we must lose our very lives in order to find them.
We thank you for allowing us to catch glimpses of life
welling up in the midst of life’s many dyings.
Walk with us, and move within us, as we enter once again
into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
We pray that our lives may more and more resemble
the life-giving love of your Son.
We offer you today our YES
to all that you desire to accomplish in us,
as you draw us by bonds of love,
home to your loving Heart,
through Jesus the Christ. Amen.

 


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

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We are your work of art, O God,
in many tongues, we tell one story.
In infinite variety, we reflect your beauty.
Fashion us anew, Father Creator,
for we have dimmed your image
and failed to grown in your likeness.
Deliver us from judging others by our limited perspectives,
often missing your message and mistreating your messenger.
Gift us with new insight and courage
to seek you in our brothers and sisters,
growing with them into your one holy family,
at the service of one another,
for your glory, and for the life of the world
that you so loved, in Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
 

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

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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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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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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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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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God of our dyings and our risings,
we pray as another Lent gives way to Easter glory.
Bathe us in your mercy; flood us with your light;
transform us into your Easter people.
Hold us close to your heart, dear Triune God,
for, safely sheltered there,
our deepest longings are fed and fired.
From your holy haven,
may we come and go to serve your people
until all are brought finally home in you,
our journey and our journey’s end. Amen.
 

 
 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year A: Let Yourself Be…, available from RENEW International

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