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RightOne of the hit songs around the time that I was finishing high school was “You Talk Too Much,” written by Reginald Hall and sung by Joe Jones on a record that made No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
 
As was typical of the rock ‘n’ roll lyrics of that time, the meaning of this song was obscure. Who was talking too much? The song didn’t say.
 
That song came to mind because these days, talking too much has become a part of our culture.
 
The never-ending commentary on television and radio in which real and faux authorities talk at each other about politics, government, social issues, and even sports, seems to serve little purpose except to fuel bitter exchanges on social media and confirm folks in the opinions they already hold.
 
Often, the discourse, rolling on like a truck without brakes, descends into schoolyard vitriol.
 
I’m sure that there are reasonable people on both sides of every contested subject, but such people are drowned out by the relentless polemics.
 
A character in the “Peanuts” comic strip once concluded an argument by saying, “I’m right, and you’re wrong, and it’s simple as that.”
 
It is rarely as simple as that, but as more and more folks adopt that intractable attitude, as fewer and fewer are willing to give opposing views a fair hearing, we are putting at risk the quality of our life as a nation and our lives as private citizens.
 
One reasonable voice that rises above the maelstrom is that of Pope Francis, who more than once has addressed this very issue.
 
He raised the topic, for example, when he met with university students in Rome.
 
Speaking of media reports of the insults exchanged by public figures, Francis told the students that it was “time to lower the volume. We need to talk less and listen more.”
 
During that meeting, the pope explained that civil discourse is not a matter only of good manners.
 
“Wait. Listen carefully to what the other thinks,” Francis said, “and then respond,” and—instead of summarily dismissing the other’s point of view, ask for a further explanation of what you do not understand.
 
“Where there is no dialogue,” he said, “there is violence. …
 
“Wars start inside our hearts. When I am not able to open myself to others, to respect others, to talk to others, to dialogue with others, that is how wars begin.”
 
When Francis was ordained to the diaconate and then to the priesthood, he promised to practice what he preached, and he does that where this topic is concerned as in many other contexts.
 
Whereas the Church’s dialogue with non-Catholics, non-Christians, and people of no faith has accelerated in the decades since the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis has made a point of personally and publicly engaging in this dialogue himself.
 
He does not compromise the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church, but he respects the right of others to have other beliefs, and assumes the intellectual integrity of those who do.
 
Catholics and Jews, Catholics and Muslims, even Catholics and many Christians of other denominations are going to disagree on many things, but the dialogues between Francis and these communities provide a challenging example while at the same time demonstrating that civil discussion is possible no matter how much the parties may disagree.
 
This post was originally published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. Deacon Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International.

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Housetops“Jesus said to the Twelve:’Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father'” (Matthew 10:26-33).
 
Throughout the history of our Church, faithful believers have followed Christ in their refusal to sacrifice the truth in order to protect their own lives. In the Middle Ages, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, a consequence of her unwavering faith and courage. St. Thomas More was beheaded for his unbending loyalty to the Holy Father’s judgment against King Henry VIII. In our own times, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Voice of the Voiceless in San Salvador, was assassinated at liturgy for his courage against an evil and unjust military government.
 
These martyrs truly lived this gospel. Their human fear of bodily harm did not govern their lives. Truth, justice, their personal integrity, and the care of their souls were their real priorities. Surely these martyrs and many, many others through the centuries acknowledged Christ, confident that Christ would acknowledge them before God.
 
Jesus assures his apostles that they truly have nothing to fear. He uses wonderful imagery to explain the intensity of God’s love and care for each one of us. Our Creator’s total and unending concern for all creation assures us of our place within the heart of God. The Lord’s love for each one of us is greater, more intimate than even the love parents have for their children. In return for this incredible gift of loving care, we are simply asked to fear not, to trust, and to acknowledge before the world that our God is the God of love.
 
-How do you respond to the belief that God knows you with the great intimacy of “counting every hair”?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store.

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Bread_ofLife_Kennedy_A_Paizs“Jesus said to the Jewish crowds:
‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.’” (John 6:51-58)
 
Speaking of the Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI said, “We ourselves, with our whole being, must be adoration and sacrifice, and by transforming our world, give it back to God. The role of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality of the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host, a liturgy. This is also the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: in the end we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host. And let us pray the Lord to help us become priests in this sense, to aid in the transformation of the world, in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves. That our lives may speak of God, that our lives may be a true liturgy, an announcement of God, a door through which the distant God may become the present God, and a true giving of ourselves to God.” (Homily, July 24, 2009).
 
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French paleontologist, geologist, and Jesuit priest who worked extensively in China in the early twentieth century. Initially his scientifically-informed lectures and writings on original sin and the nature of the Eucharist were misunderstood by the Roman Curia, to the point where they were censored. Today we know that to these ideas of Teilhard de Chardin are not heretical; this revised view is not least due to Pope Benedict XVI’s acceptance and appreciation for Teilhard’s thought in these areas, as exemplified above.
 
It is eye-opening to realize that our actions, but especially our acceptance and love of the Eucharist, as explained by Pope Benedict XVI, allow us to play a part in not only the transformation of ourselves but in giving the universe back to God. Just as it must have been difficult for Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to face rejection upon presenting concepts toward which God had led him, it must have been difficult for Jesus to offer such an amazing life-giving gift only to hear the following directly afterward: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” We may have reacted in a similar way; perhaps we still do. Therefore, let us commit to learning more about the Eucharist, but, especially, to spending time in eucharistic adoration so that which we cannot understand mentally is instead illuminated by intimacy—like that which we receive from any special relationship—but which is most readily available in our relationship with Christ.
 
Matt is a past summer intern for RENEW’s Publications and Resources team.

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ramadanI must admit that I felt a little presumptuous breaking the Ramadan fast when I hadn’t been fasting in the first place.
 
But my wife and I had been invited to attend a catered dinner in a firehouse banquet hall where the local Muslim community was gathering to break their fast.
 
The invitation had come from a member of that community who earlier had accepted my invitation to speak to a parents group at my parish.
 
This is as it should be: Muslims and Christians treating each other not only as fellow human beings, but even as friends.
 
The negative attitude that many people have about Muslims in general results from associating all Muslims with the Islamic terrorists who have attacked the World Trade Center and killed innocent people in suicide bombings and other atrocious acts here and abroad.
 
That attitude also extends to the broad assumption that all Muslim people think alike, whereas the empirical evidence, as well as common sense, suggests otherwise.
 
There are more than 1.6 billion Muslim people in the world, about 80 percent of whom do not live in the Middle East or North Africa.
 
Like the 2.4 billion or so Christians in the world, a group that size will represent every possible shade of religious, philosophical, and political thought.
 
It’s a complex subject, and some very recent data on it is available on the web site of the Pew Research Center in a report titled “Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and Around the World.”
 
Whatever we learn about the world Muslim population as a whole, we are more likely than ever to encounter individual Muslim men and women in our communities, schools, and workplaces, and it is imprudent to jump to conclusions about them.
 
It should be obvious that simply shunning folks simply because they are Muslim is not consistent with the Gospel. Beyond that, those we sometime read about who yank hijabs from Muslim women’s heads or publicly urge Muslims—or people they mistake for Muslims—to “go back where you came from” may be expressing an understandable rage or fear, but they are also aggravating rather than mitigating tensions, and doing so based on inadequate information and understanding.
 
The Catholic Church in the United States is active in movements to counteract such ideas and behavior and increase productive interaction between Christians and Muslims.
 
These movements are not ethereal exercises; they are important steps toward building a better society and a better world.
 
At a recent two-day Christian-Muslim dialogue, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego expressed the urgency of this matter, saying, “The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians. It depends on love of the one God and love of neighbor.”
 
Bishop McElroy, who co-chairs a West Coast Catholic-Muslim dialogue sponsored by the national conference of bishops, emphasized that the parties must acknowledge the substantial differences in their religious doctrines and, at the same time, foster “an overriding sense of friendship.”
 
And, the bishop said, those who participate in such dialogues must relate their discussions to the faith communities they represent.
 
“It does little pastoral good,” he said, “for a national dialogue to focus on theological themes if the pastoral life of our members is not affected.”
 
As Christian and Muslim leaders carry on these discussions on our behalf, we can follow the results of their dialogue with open minds and, meanwhile, treat our Muslim neighbors with the equanimity Jesus would expect of us.
 

In 2017, Ramadan ends in the evening of Saturday, June 24.

 
This post was originally published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. Deacon Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International.

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“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-18).
 
Trinity Sunday celebrates the mystery we reaffirm every time we make the sign of the cross, recite the creed, or attend a baptism. This teaching is drawn from many texts in which Jesus reveals the actions of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today’s gospel reading, extracted from Jesus’ instruction on baptism, focuses on the Father’s supreme act of divine love.
 
To better understand this passage, it is helpful to look at its context. Jesus was speaking to a Pharisee named Nicodemus. In the Jewish community of Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were the accepted religious authority. Some of them opposed Jesus and his values so, for fear of offending this particular group, Nicodemus came to Jesus secretly in the night. Nicodemus opened his mind to a new understanding of religion that clashed with the Pharisees’ priorities, but he found a way to escape the domination of the “in crowd.”
 
Where do we see Nicodemus in our community? When we are honest with ourselves, we admit that we too can be controlled by peer pressure and political correctness. Perhaps we pretend that we have given up religious practice because we’re “too mature,” “too sophisticated,” or “too smart” for such things. Only in secret do we admit that we’ve stopped attending Sunday Mass for fear of friends’ ridicule or because we are simply too lazy. But Nicodemus gives us hope. Strengthened by his new faith, as we see through his later appearances in the Gospels, he became a follower of Jesus.
 
Jesus spoke of a divine love that in dying bestows eternal life. By eternal life, Jesus meant not just life that will go on after death but the fullness of life now, a life in God that cannot be terminated by death. When Jesus made clear to this fearful man—and to each of us—the soft truth that the Father loves even the unlovable, he also implied the hard truth that Christians must love their enemies. Jesus’ final words offer an even greater challenge: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Condemning is easy, but God gives us a greater challenge: to love the world enough to change it.
 
– How do you allow outside influences to prevent you from fully living your faith?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (John 20:19-23).
 
In John’s Gospel, the silent, reassuring way Jesus came into the room was much like the way he comes into our hearts. This quiet scene is rich with both literal and symbolic significance. The locked door reveals that Jesus’ glorified body was different, uninhibited by the limitations of earthly bodies. Even more significant is God’s entrance into a heart locked by fear, prejudice, or unpleasant memories. When Jesus—without fanfare—simply stood in the midst of his frightened disciples, it suggested that from then on, his real presence would be found in the community of believers. Finally, with the symbolic gesture of breathing, Jesus signaled the infusion of an even more intense presence and power, the life-giving breath of the Spirit.
 
Since this scene took place on the Sunday evening of the Resurrection, Jesus’ first concern was to convince his startled audience that they were not seeing things. To prove that he was indeed the same person they saw nailed to the cross, he showed them his wounds. Jesus offers us the same proof of his presence by showing us the wounds all around us, not just on battlefields or in hospitals but in slums and prisons, and even in our own living rooms. Recognizing Jesus in the wounded and serving him there opens the community to receive all that he wants to give when he repeats the powerful word, “Peace.”
 
Jesus commissioned them and fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit to empower them in their work. Then, the first thing Jesus told them to do with their new power was to forgive. Forgiveness opens the door to peace. Forgiveness liberates the one who forgives as well as the one forgiven. Even more, the human act of forgiveness releases the power of the Spirit into the community. Think of the power of John Paul II forgiving his would-be assassin; Nelson Mandela working for reconciliation with the very people who had imprisoned him; or the Amish of Pennsylvania reaching out in forgiveness to the family of the man who had killed a number of their young girls. Forgiveness has the power to transform our lives if we allow the Spirit to work. Imagine how different the history of the world would be, how different our daily headlines would be, if we acted out the Pentecost Gospel: “Receive the Holy Spirit of forgiveness. Open the door to peace.”
 
– Who in your life are you called to forgive, and from whom do you need to seek forgiveness?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).
 
In Scripture, a landscape is always something more than a place. A story’s geographical location can also be both a spiritual symbol and a mood-setter—like the soundtrack for a good movie. This story opens in a specific place, a mountain top in Galilee where the disciples had met Jesus before. Jesus used that familiar geography to ground his friends emotionally when he came to “blow them away.” The setting of this story recalls other mountains where God had spoken to his people. On Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the commandments. On Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed his divinity. On another hillside, he delivered the Sermon on the Mount, laying out the code of Christian conduct. All he had to say was “Meet me on our mountain,” and it triggered memories and the expectation that something new was about to be proclaimed to t Jesus’ inner circle.
 
This last meeting between Jesus and the eleven took place between Easter and Pentecost.The Church calls it “The Commissioning.” Jesus, who had been given universal power, gave the disciples the universal mission to “make disciples of all nations.” They were told to baptize the nations into a union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus challenged them to preach his moral teaching and to imitate his radical lifestyle with the promise of his real, though unseen, presence to support and strengthen them all along the way.
 
– How do you feel Jesus’ real but unseen presence in your life?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him. Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.
‘I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you gave me is from you, because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them. And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you’” (John 17:1-11a).
 
As we conclude the Easter season, John’s Gospel invites us into the prayer with which Jesus ended his farewell speech. Here the Son spoke directly to the Father and shared his intimacy with a divine Parent who knows and loves us unconditionally.
 
When Jesus’ prayer began, “Father, the hour has come,” the disciples did not know what he meant. But we do. We know that Jesus’ last hours were full of pain and suffering, so when we read that he spoke of an hour of glory, it is startling. In Old Testament language, glory signifies God’s invisible presence manifested as radiance. After Jesus’ death for others, God’s redeeming presence radiated in a new way throughout all times and places and within individual lives. As Jesus’ life asks us to redefine power, so his death asks us to redefine glory.
 
Until John’s Gospel, written about sixty years after the Resurrection, most people understood glory as a reward bestowed in the afterlife. John, however, wrote of glory as an immediate outcome of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, a continual showing forth of divine energy at work in the world. This understanding of glory gave Jesus surprising confidence in his followers: “the words you gave to me I have given to them.” Even though all but a few abandoned him, Jesus said to the Father, “I have been glorified in them.” Jesus loved and trusted even them, giving us assurance that God loves us even when we least deserve it.
 
Jesus made one of the clearest, most direct statements in the whole New Testament: “this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” To know the love of God the way Jesus knows it is the whole reason for our lives, and each of us who develops a personal relationship with Jesus will find it.
 
– How can you share with others the words given to you?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Armenia_1988“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live (John 14:15-19).
 
There may be no greater assurance in times of trouble than the promise, “I will be there for you.” In that vein, I was touched by a story I read in Chicken Soup for the Soul which reminded me of Jesus’ promise to his disciples in today’s Gospel: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
 
This is a true story from the devastating 1989 Armenian earthquake that took only minutes to kill thirty thousand people. Moments after the earthquake rocked the country, a father ran to the elementary school to search for his son. When the father arrived, he saw that the school had been leveled. He remembered his promise to his son: “No matter what happens, I will be there for you.” He went to the area that had been his son’s classroom and began to dig, removing rock by rock from the rubble. Others began to arrive—parents, policemen, and firemen—and soon they told him his efforts were useless, all are lost. As others stood paralyzed and sobbing, the young father kept digging. For eight hours, then 16, then 32, then 36 hours, he dug—he would not be deterred.
 
Finally, after thirty-eight hours, he pulled back a boulder and heard his son’s voice. He called out to his boy, “Armand! Armand!” And a voice answered him, “Dad, it’s me!” The boy continued, “I told the other kids not to worry. I told them if you were alive, you’d save me, and when you saved me, they’d be saved too. Because you promised me, ‘No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.’”
 
In today’s gospel passage, which is from the farewell discourse, Jesus extends the sentiment “I will be there for you” to his closet companions. Jesus knows they will soon witness his suffering and death. They will be wrought with fear and pain as he his torn from them. He promises them that he will send his own Spirit to come as Advocate, protector, and divine friend. He will not leave them orphaned; he will abide with them and accompany them on their life journey through the power of his Spirit.
 
No matter what may come our way, we can face it with confidence and hope, knowing we are never alone. God will keep his promise to us—he will always be there for us. The promise that we will not be left orphaned when Jesus returns to his Father; the promise that the Spirit sent by Jesus will abide with us and all believers; the promise that the love of God that comes to us through the Spirit will overflow into the lives of others.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him’” (John 14:15-21).
 
During these final weeks of the Easter season, the Church invites us to linger with Jesus and his disciples in an intimate farewell the night before he died. He is deeply sensitive to their human fears and hopes, and he hears the disciples’ unspoken need for something to hold onto as he seems about to abandon them.
 
Today, Jesus hears our need for the same reassurance. Writers of both the Old Testament and New Testament repeatedly remind us that the God of love delights in making and keeping promises. Jesus fulfills that tradition by giving his friends—and us—a series of remarkable promises: “Though I disappear from you physically, I will not leave you orphans.” “I will remain with you through my Spirit.” “To those who obey my commands, I will reveal myself.”
 
We will need to recall these promises many times during our lives when it seems as if we are suffering alone. The action of the Spirit who is Love connects the promises of an abiding presence with a new kind of knowledge. Jesus promises a depth of knowledge available only to those who obey his commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” To love like this is immensely challenging, but what a reward it brings: “To those who obey my commands I will reveal myself.”
 
Those who work among the poor sometimes say they know what it means to experience love as a way of knowing—not only knowing each other but also knowing everything better through each other. Mother Teresa made no formal study of economics or psychology but lived among the destitute on the streets of Calcutta, listening to their needs, healing their bodily and spiritual wounds, knowing them in a way most others could not. To those who love as Mother Teresa loved, the poor are a mystery in which God is waiting to be revealed. That’s why those who work among the poor often say “I receive much more than I give.”
 
– How do promises you have exchanged with friends and family strengthen you when you feel weak?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
 
Three months after my brother Paul was diagnosed with metastasized cancer, he was in the hospital and dying. He was the father of 7 and the grandfather of 13 and had lived a full life. However, we were in disbelief and shock at the suddenness of his deterioration. Two days before he passed away, he rallied and asked to speak privately with his wife of more than 50 years and their eldest son. He spoke of his deep love for his wife and each of his children, and then he told his eldest to “take care of your mother” and, most importantly, “do not fight with her.” He then told my nephew, “Love your two boys, and bring them up with good moral values and faith.” Paul asked his son to kiss him goodbye—my nephew doesn’t remember kissing his dad since he was a little boy. The origin of the word “good-bye” is “God be with you.” My brother assured his beloved wife and oldest child that all would be well—God was with them. Paul trusted that God had a place for him and that God would allow Paul to watch over his family.
 
Jesus begins his good-byes to his disciples, a few days before his death, with a comforting idea for those who are anxious about what happens when our lives are over. Jesus assures his friends that they need not worry: he is going to prepare the way before them. Put in everyday language, it may sound like this: “We have plenty of room, and we will welcome you.” “Many dwelling places” means a place for everyone. It is not a matter of better or worse, a mansion or a small apartment. There is no consideration of being able to pay the mortgage or afford the rent. Jesus says, “Where I am, there you may be also” (3)—not only now but forever.
 
Thomas then speaks for all of us when he asks for more information. How can we know the way? “The Way” is a code word for the new path to union with God. Following Christ, who is the way, is a total re-orientation of our lives toward God. This re-orientation awakens us to new life, just as Lazarus experienced a return to life upon hearing the words of Jesus. Jesus, as he assures Thomas, is the way, and the Father and Jesus are one. Philip then asks Jesus the obvious: “Show us the Father.” And Jesus, a bit exasperated, answers Philip’s question with a totally new vision of God: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (10, 11). That is an explanation of the message of incarnation proclaimed in the first words of this Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). Jesus is the Word of God in our midst—not metaphorically, but truly with and among us. Jesus makes it clear that God is not “up there” but here among us, as the word “Emmanuel” signifies: “with us is God.”
 
Jesus assures us that “with us is God” as he shows us the way of love in the ups and downs of life, in sickness and in health, and especially on our journey from death to life. He reminds us in this good-bye scene not to be anxious; wherever we are and whatever situation we find ourselves in, there God will also be.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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Father_Lasance_prayer_bookI once overheard a man telling his companion that she was overreacting to whatever situation they were discussing.
 
“Ask yourself this,” he said. “A hundred years from now, who will know the difference?”
 
That advice immediately made me think of the same sentiment put in another way and in another language: “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?’’ — “What is this in eternity?’’
 
That is said to have been a favorite expression of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Aloysius Gonzaga; I have known of it since I was about 14 years old.
 
And I know exactly where I first heard it: in “My Prayer-Book” by Father Francis Xavier Lasance.
 
A beat-up copy of that book was left in our parish church when I was an altar boy, and when no one had claimed it after a very long time, the curate, Fr. Bernard McKenna, gave it to me.
 
That was in 1956, and the book is on my desk now.
 
“My Prayer-Book” was first copyright in 1908 and again in 1936. When the one I have was published, it sold for anywhere from $1.75 to $10.00, depending on the binding. A replica of the 1908 edition is on sale now for about $26.00.
 
The book is 5.5 by 3.5 inches and it contains more than 700 pages of “reflections, counsels, prayers, and devotions” as the title page reports. It also contains the order of the Mass in Latin and English.
 
Some of the wisdom in this book comes from Father Lasance himself, and a great deal comes from a large number of other sources.
 
The subtitle of this book is “Happiness in Goodness” which reflects the author’s central theme, that ours is basically an optimistic faith designed not to depress us but to bring us good cheer.
 
It was in that context, in a section called “Faith and Humor,” that the expression “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?’’ appeared.
 
“Think of the countless occurrences that fret and annoy,’’ says the prayer book, “that drive a man into himself and shut up his outlook over the world which the good God has given him, that make him petty and irritable and sour—how they would go down before such a question, as rank weeds before a scythe; how they would be lost sight of, as a swarm of gnats becomes invisible under the full light of an unclouded noon!”
 
I took that argument seriously and have pretty much lived under its influence ever since, trying to weigh the trivial problems of daily life against the promise of life forever in the presence of God.
 
All right, the language and the imagery are kind of dated, and there are some instances in which the tone of “My Prayer-Book” may seem out of place in our time—an uncharitable view of Protestants, for example—but it is a compendium, and a tangible relic, of our unchanging faith, and I keep it close at hand so that I can thumb through its pages.
 
Father Lasance (1860-1946) was a prodigious figure. He was a diocesan priest in Ohio, serving as a curate and a chaplain until, at the age of 30, he was forced by illness to live as a semi-invalid.
 
But quid hoc ad aeternitatem? Father Lasance, instead of feeling sorry for himself, used the time he gained by being precluded from parish work to write 39 books which were translated into numerous languages and which sold in the millions of copies.
 
He accepted no compensation for his work, but asked that the revenue be given to charities and used to provide his books free of charge to those who couldn’t afford to buy them.
 

—For his devotional works, Fr. Lasance
was given a special blessing by Pope Pius XI on May 10, 1927.


 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said to him, ‘Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father’” (John 14:1-12).
 
This passage, a theological discourse, can be challenging to understand. In it, Jesus explains who he is and how he is related to God the Father. He teaches that his imminent and necessary departure should not be met with sadness, but rather that we, his disciples, should trust and find comfort in it. He assures us that through knowing him, we will know God the Father and be united with them someday soon.
 
We have all had experiences in which finding faith and trust has been difficult, and in this passage we see Thomas and Philip experiencing just that. Thomas does not want to believe in the reality that following Jesus means following him through his passion and death. Philip lacks the faith to understand that by knowing Jesus we know God the Father.
 
Life with God comes only through following Jesus through his death, and we need not doubt or be discouraged. Through belief and trust in Jesus and by living his message, we will return to the assurance of everlasting life with him. He has prepared a place for us.
 
– When have you found it difficult to trust and believe in Jesus’ message?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Jesus said: ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.’ Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
So Jesus said again, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.’” (John 10:1-10).
 
Those listening to this parable would have been familiar with shepherds. It was not the most desirable of professions—shepherds were away from home at night and unable to protect their households. It was also a physically challenging profession—shepherds had to contend with the heat of the day, the cold at night, and the wild animals and thieves that threatened their flocks. They did, however, develop close relationships with their sheep. Shepherds frequently had individual calls for each sheep, and should his flock become mixed with another, a shepherd had only to call his sheep to gather them.
 
Jesus contrasts himself with thieves and robbers and later with the “false shepherds” who lead flocks astray. The parallel between effective leadership and shepherding was used in the Hebrew Scriptures, and people would have recognized it. These Pharisees are so concerned with obeying the rules and observing the Sabbath that they cannot hear Jesus’ voice and do not follow where he leads.
 
In our own lives, we are sometimes faced with “false shepherds”—promises or offers of things that will make our lives better but tempt us to lose our focus on Jesus’ call to each one of us as unique individuals.
 
– How do you experience the presence of Jesus as the Good Shepherd?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Fra_Angelico_St._DominicAs a Dominican Sister, a member of the worldwide Order of Preachers, I have a special love for the Gospel of Matthew.
 
St. Dominic, our founder, carried around with him a copy of the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistles of St. Paul. According to tradition, Dominic poured over them so much that he knew them by heart. The Gospel of Matthew was central to his prayer and inspired his preaching. The Dominican artist Fra Angelico depicted St. Dominic seated at the foot of the Cross, meditating on the Word of God, and most other paintings of Dominic portray him holding a gospel book, presumably Matthew, close to his heart.
 
Our newest addition to the RENEW Scripture Series is Matthew: Come Follow Me by believer and scholar Martin Lang. I find this series unique and inspiring. The first section of each session, “Enter into the Biblical Story,” invites us to take on the mantle of a disciple in the time of Jesus, to follow him, listen attentively to his Word, and allow the Word to transform our hearts and minds.
 
The second interpretive lens Dr. Lang uses is entitled “Old Testament Witness.” This section examines the Hebrew Scriptures that were central to the belief of the early disciples and the Gospel writer. We reflect on the parts of the Old Testament that recapture the theological perspective of the corresponding section of the Gospel we are studying and praying.
 
The third interpretative lens Dr. Lang invites us into is called “Responding to Human Experience.” It is an effort to use modern culture to reflect on the Gospel—to connect the Word of God with our contemporary lives.
 
The final interpretive lens Dr. Lang presents to us is “Respond To God’s Word,” which invites us to act on the Word of God as it speaks to our lives in this moment.
 
Matthew: Come Follow Me is enriching my prayer and inspiring my preaching as I give presentations and retreats on various spiritual topics. As I grieve the recent loss of my brother Paul, I also find solace in Dr. Lang’s reflection on Matthew’s account of the resurrection.
 

“The resurrection of Jesus, for people of faith, is the bedrock symbol of God’s care for us. Death is not the ultimate humiliation. It is a passage to a new condition of life. As the theology of the Gospel of John tells us, the living Jesus dwells among us during our lives. He accompanies our journey. He leads us through the transition of death to continue our lives with him and all who love him, in a new form for all eternity” (page 362).

 
As a sister of St. Dominic and a follower of Jesus the Christ, I hope to immerse myself more deeply in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew reveals to us the continuity of Jesus’ teaching with that of the Torah and the Prophets. As Lang reminds us, Matthew beautifully weaves into his account the full thrust of Jesus’ universal message for all people—a new dawn for humankind is breaking. Jesus has come to establish the kingdom of God’s peace, love, and justice. I, like Matthew and Dominic, long to be a witness to that kingdom.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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