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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 49:1-6)
 
This Book of the Prophet Isaiah is not one book written by one person. It is rather a collection of writings composed over many centuries by many people and placed together under the name of Isaiah—one of the greatest prophets of Israel. One of the most important themes throughout is that of the Suffering Servant that we encounter here. “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.” “You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory. Though I thought I had toiled in vain and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.”
 
We can see the parallel here with John the Baptist who also was called from birth, was misunderstood in his short life, and was murdered seemingly before he could finish his mission. Yet, he did not toil in vain; he was a successful messenger for Jesus, and he was rewarded by God for his work.
 
Even when we may seem to fail in some part of our lives, it may be that there is another dimension, another truth, another level of success that we can know only in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Each of us has a mission, a calling from God to live in his love, to share his unconditional love, as insufficient and unsuccessful our mission may seem at any given time.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 139:1b-3; 13-14ab, 14c-15)
 
“I praise you for I am wonderfully made.” Do you think you are “wonderfully made”? When we are growing up, we may feel awkward and insecure. As we get much older, we may feel like a shadow of our younger selves. So, how can we feel wonderfully made through it all? Only if we see ourselves loved and gifted by our Father, even in and especially in our weaknesses and insufficiencies.
 
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 13:22-26)
 
Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a continuation of his Gospel, directed mainly at Gentiles. He wanted to help these converts as well as Jews to see the Jesus connection between David, the king of Israel hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, and John the Baptist—both as called by God. “From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus. John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’” John knew his role, his calling, his place in history. He did not try to be more than he was. He was given a calling, a gift from God, and he was faithful to it.
 
Each of us has been given a calling and gifts to fulfill that call. What is your calling in life, and what are the gifts that you have been given along the way and right now to answer your call? Do you see yourself as gifted? You are, we all are, only very often we do not believe it or focus on it. God asks us to humbly accept the gifts we have been given and use them to serve our Father and those with whom we share life.
 
The Holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 1:57-66, 80)
 
Throughout the Old Testament, we read of the miraculous birth and life of numerous prophets and great leaders starting with the birth of Abraham’s son Isaac when Abraham’s wife was supposedly too old to give birth. For hundreds of years before the birth of John the Baptist, there were no significant prophets in Israel. Then came this strange man, John the Baptist, so his birth is told as a wonder-filled story, because he is in the words of Jesus “the greatest of the prophets.” John preached a message of repentance and baptized many others before he baptized Jesus. He prepared the way for Jesus, was his cousin, and yet we do not know if they were friends while growing up or even if Jesus knew him before John baptized him. But none of that is important. What is of utmost importance is that John “prepared the way for the Lord.” He had a calling, a mission from God, and he fulfilled it in a wonder-filled way.
 
Do you feel that it is unlikely that you have been called, that you have a mission, that you are to prepare the way for Jesus to enter—or in some cases reenter—the lives of people you know and love and even perhaps someone you hardly know? As unlikely as it might seem, that is part of the mission of each of us —to prepare the way of the Lord.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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“When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, ‘No. He will be called John.’ But they answered her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has this name.’ So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, ‘John is his name,’ and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, ‘What, then, will this child be?’ For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:57-66, 80).
 
The adults around John the Baptist had reasons to wonder what this baby would do with his life. One reason was that the birth of John was foretold to his father, Zachariah, by the archangel Gabriel (Luke 1:13). Another reason was that John’s mother, Elizabeth, was childless and well beyond the age for childbirth. Still another reason was that, as today’s Gospel reading recalls, Gabriel had taken away Zachariah’s ability to speak after Zachariah refused to believe the angel (Luke 1:20) and restored it only after Zachariah gave the unborn child the name the angel had prescribed. No wonder people asked, “What, then, will this child become?”
 
The only person who could answer that question, in the fullness of time, was John himself. Certainly, when he “grew and became strong in spirit,” John discerned God’s will. John understood that God wanted him to call on people to re-form their lives, to live with each other in a relationship of social and economic justice, and to prepare for the immanent coming of the messiah, the judge and savior of the world.
 
This was not a simple vocation. By deciding to undertake it, John was deciding to forgo any occupation that might have provided him with common food, clothing, and housing. He was deciding to forgo any chance at status and privilege. Moreover, he was deciding to confront people who were comfortable in their positions of wealth and power, people who were not accustomed to looking honestly at their lives and their relationships. He was deciding to make himself the target of what turned out to be a lethal antagonism. This was the future John accepted when he accepted the will of God.
 
How have you responded when you have felt God calling you to do something that might disrupt the usual order of your life?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 17:22-24)
 
Ancient Israel was a largely agricultural society, so the great Jewish prophets and Jesus himself often used agricultural images and allegories to convey deep truths. Here, Ezekiel uses the image of a majestic cedar tree. “Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, every winged thing in the shade of its boughs. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the Lord, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom.”
 
Ezekiel wants his fellow Jews to know that Israel and all nations will recognize God’s power, as difficult it may be to believe in the face of powerlessness and oppression. “I the Lord, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree.” Sometimes, we may feel like the lowly tree, but God will lift us high. It is a helpful message for us to hear in our troubled world today when we seem threatened in so many ways.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16)
 
“Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.” What are you most thankful to God for today, right now? How do you give thanks to God, in word and deed?
 
A reading from the Second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 5:6-10)
 
“Brothers and sisters: We are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith not by sight. Yet we are courageous.” It does take courage to walk in faith, doesn’t it? And sometimes our courage weakens, because our faith weakens. It all becomes too much for us, too much suffering, too many disappointments, too many of our loved ones who have died or are suffering, too much loneliness or emptiness. Then, clearly, we need to “walk by faith” and stay tuned in to the power of the Spirit within us who is our partner in life and our guide through the tough times as well as the joyful times.
 
The Holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 4:26-34)
 
This is one of the many seed-growing parables of Jesus. “This is how it is with the kingdom of God, it is as though a man would scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. On its own accord the land yields fruit.”
 
Then later he says, “To what shall we call the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
 
Jesus came to preach the coming of the kingdom of God and he used these agricultural images, because people would understand them. The kingdom starts off small, like a little seed, even a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, yet it grows silently, powerfully, and winds up being a tree that can house so many different birds or, in our language, all the peoples of the earth. The kingdom of God has that amazing power to grow from almost nothing to almost everything. You and I are part of God’s kingdom even when we do not sense the power that is right in our midst. It is a power that thrives in weakness, in conflict, in suffering and seeming defeat; yet it does grow in ways we may not have imagined and we are the seeds, we are the branches, we embody the kingdom which comes from the power of the Spirit within each of us.
 
You and I, at our seemingly least powerful moments have that power within us and all around us. The kingdom of God is within us.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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“He said, ‘To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.’ With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it” (Mark 4:30-33).

What a sense of hope this image of the growing seed must have given to those who followed Jesus and those who first read Mark’s Gospel. The first believers suffered tremendously for their faith. To understand that the kingdom of God starts as something no bigger than a mustard seed but grows into something large and sturdy must have been encouraging. This parable gave those early disciples strength, patience, persistence, and hope.

Today, the world is troubled by war and the threat of war, by greed, injustice, and poverty. It is just as urgent for us to hear this Gospel as it was for Mark’s contemporaries. The growth of a seed is slow and imperceptible. All we can do is work to provide the right environment for that seed and trust that if we do our part the seed will grow.

Just as the early Church could not know the effect its faith would have on the world, we cannot know how our faith will contribute to building up the reign of God on earth. Our job is to help God’s reign spread by cultivating the soil of our lives and living the word of God.

What are the ways in which you keep the soil of your life cultivated so that it fosters the word of God? Are there things that you could do differently?

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

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A reading from the Book of Genesis
(Chapter 3:9-15)
 
gardenAncient cultures told stories to explain the most important realities of their world. This is such a story, one that ancient Jewish people developed to explain the existence of evil, the separation of the sexes, the dominance of the male, the inferior and sinister role of the woman, and the just punishments from God. This helped the ancients to justify their patriarchal social system which placed women in subservient roles. Tragically, many people throughout the ages, including many in our Church, have treated this passage and the verse that follows it as support for grievous injustices against one half of the human race. But the positive point here is that the God of Israel is presented as a personal God who interacts with human beings. The passage is not to be taken literally but should be understood as setting the relationship between God and human beings from the beginning.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 130:1-8)
 
“With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” The God of Israel is seen as a merciful God in the midst of so many violent merciless gods of the time. Our Father is the prototype of an extremely merciful and all-loving God.
 
A reading from the second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 4:13-5:1)
 
Saint Paul was the Great Evangelizer, the person, more than any other, who was responsible for spreading the Good News well beyond Israel to most of the then-known Mediterranean world. Yet, he knew how fragile a messenger he was. At this point in his life, he was suffering from several physical afflictions and the emotional burden of constant conflict, arrests, imprisonments, and misunderstandings from the very people he was trying to serve and to save. And yet, he can write, “Therefore, we are not discouraged, rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (4:16).
 
Have you ever felt burdens of that kind in your life, burdens that are physical, emotional and/or relational? In the midst of Paul’s struggles his faith renewed him “day by day.” How do you renew yourself? Do you think about your need for renewal or whether you deserve it? You do. We all need and deserve renewals of all kinds on all levels. But do you think that you do not have the time or that it would be a sign of weakness to admit your burdens? Paul knew he needed help. That is why this great apostle writes this way. We need help as well—every one of us, in so many ways, at so many times in our lives. Where can you find renewal of body, mind and spirit?
 
The Holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 3:20-35)
 
Here we read that it is not only Paul who is misunderstood and threatened; it is also Jesus. “Jesus came home with his disciples. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said ‘He is out of his mind’ ” (verses 20-21). And, his opponents, the scribes, said “He is possessed by Beelzebul” and “By the prince of demons, he drives out demons” (verse 22).
 
So, even when Jesus is healing and teaching a message of love and forgiveness, he is called crazy, even by some of his relatives. That is hard to believe, but here it is in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus then takes the conversation to another level to talk about his larger family. “For whoever does the will of my Father is my brother and sister and mother” (verse 35). That is who we are. We are the family of Jesus. We accept his mercy and healing, and we believe in his promises of life everlasting.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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“Summoning them, [Jesus] began to speak to them in parables,’How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself,that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand;that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder the house.’
His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.’ But he said to them in reply, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother'” (Mark 3:23-27, 31-35).
 
There is no evidence that Jesus had anything but the deepest love and respect for his mother. His question “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” (Mark 3:33) is not a rejection of his earthly family, but rather a declaration that all who do the will of God are part of his family. By using the image of a family, Jesus provides an insight into the kind of relationship he expects among his followers. They are not to be like a kingdom or a house divided against itself, rather they are to carry out their mission as brothers and sisters. Jesus calls his followers to a collaborative ministry in which the unique, God-given gifts and talents of each person are respected and unselfishly put to the service of the whole.
 
The face of ministry in our Church continues to evolve. Pastors may not oversee numerous associate pastors as in the past, but especially in large parishes they do lead increasingly large and diverse staffs made up of deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and lay people. In addition to pastoral ministers trained in religious education, liturgy, music, and youth ministry, parish staffs often include business administrators,parish nurses, and a variety of support personnel. Staff members, in turn, work with a variety of volunteer ministers. The growth of these various ministries has often been called a sign of the Spirit’s work in the contemporary Church. When the ministers of a parish work collaboratively, the parish is usually full of life. When they don’t, the parish may be like the kingdom or the house divided against itself, which, Jesus says, “will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25). May our parishes be among those that stand and thrive!
 
Are there people doing the will of God whom I am unwilling to accept as brothers and sisters of Jesus?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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The Book of Exodus
(Chapter 24:3-8)
 
Animal sacrifice was common among ancient religions, including Judaism. As strange as it may seem to us today, this was a major step away from human sacrifice which some of Israel’s neighbors practiced. The sprinkling of the blood of an animal was a sign of Israel’s fidelity to the Covenant God made with the Hebrews through Moses. That is the origin of the expression “blood of the covenant.” Sprinkling blood was also seen as a cleansing ritual and an act of forgiveness from God to his people.
 
chalice
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18)
 
“I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” We certainly call upon the name of the Lord, usually in time of need, but how about calling on him in thanksgiving for all he gives us?
 
The letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 9:11-15)
 
The author makes the point to his Hebrew Christian readers that the blood Jesus shed in his crucifixion is much more powerful and meaningful than the blood of animals. Jesus is “mediator of a new covenant” that brings with it “the promised eternal inheritance.” It was a difficult challenge for Jews, who had lived their whole lives under the original covenant with God, to believe that there was something new and deeper through the sacrifice of Jesus. Most could not believe, but some did. They were courageous, facing the wrath of the Romans and exclusion from their synagogues. This letter was written to explain the new covenant to them and to give them hope in the midst of their conversion from a lifelong religious practice to something new and largely unknown.
 
The Holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 14:12-16, 22-26)
 
What Mark describes here is not just any Passover meal. Jesus sees it as the beginning of the new covenant, a powerful healing, and a promise of new life. The Eucharist that we celebrate together is not a reward for being part of the community or for doing the right thing. It is a healing, forgiving, peace-giving gathering that is meant to nourish us, to give us strength on our daily journey. If you know Catholics who have stopped coming to the Eucharist, please encourage them to return. This could be an important part of your ministry, helping people you know and love to come back to the banquet of unconditional love.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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“The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover. While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God’” (Mark 14:16, 22-25).

Blood is mentioned in all of the readings for today and in each case it is used in connection with the idea of covenant. God marked his special relationships with people by establishing covenants with them. God’s covenant with the Israelite nation, for example, was celebrated with a special sacrifice of atonement. Each year, a high priest would liturgically put all the sins of the people on a single lamb, and that lamb would then be slain.

This gospel reading described Jesus sharing the great feast of Passover with his disciples and celebrating the liberation of the people of God from slavery. He pronounced the words, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

The next day, the disciples discovered the reality of that promise. The blood that sealed this new covenant was that of Jesus himself. God showed the greatness of his love in emptying himself to become human and shared in our humanity to the extent of death on a cross. Jesus, the Son of God, was now the lamb whose blood sealed the new covenant of love between God and all human beings.

By being the lamb, Jesus also inaugurated a new healing covenant. Every time we share his body and blood in the Eucharist, we are involved in that sacrifice that has the power to transcend time and space and meet us where we are.

There may come decisive moments, or even whole chapters of our lives, that require us to empty ourselves as Jesus did. People rarely receive awards or recognition for feeding the poor, tutoring the struggling, or “being the lamb” in countless of other ways. But, in doing these things, we build up the love that exists between ourselves and those we serve and between ourselves and God.

What are some sacrifices you have seen others make for you? How have those sacrifices impacted your life?

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

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The Book of Deuteronomy
(Chapter 4:32-34,39-40)
Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah, written around the time of the Babylonian Exile (600 BC). It begins with the story of the Hebrew people wandering in the desert for 40 years, and this chapter focuses on the reality and power of God.
Trinity
It is important for us to remember that monotheism was not widely practiced at the time. People believed in numerous gods, so Moses wanted to be certain that the Hebrews knew what distinguished the one and only true God. “Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god ever venture to go and take a nation for himself, from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which the Lord, your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God.” This is not just any god. This is THE GOD, and this God is your God. How great is that?
 
Up until this time, people believed in numerous gods that protected them from all sorts of evils. Now, for the first time, the Hebrews recognized ONE GOD who was their God and personally cared for them. This was one of the great breakthroughs in human history.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 33:4-5,6,9,18-19,20,22)
 
“Bless the people the Lord has chosen to be his own (verse 12b).” This Lord would “deliver them from death,” and now he does that for us as well.
 
St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans
(Chapter 8:14-17)
 
Paul wrote in an age filled with fear, especially for followers of Jesus. So Paul writes to assure them. “Those who were led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ ” Abba is an Aramaic word that is the equivalent of “daddy.” It was the word that Jesus used in talking to his Father, and it denotes a deep intimacy with God, an unheard of way of speaking to God, yet it is the very same term for us now almost 2,000 years later. We too can cry out “Abba” to our Father.
 
The Holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 28:16-20)
 
In this reading, Jesus is approaching his last moments on earth, and he wants to make sure that his disciples will follow his teachings and bring them to “all nations.” Otherwise, his mission would not be fulfilled. “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.’ ” All of the disciples, not just the apostles, were crucial for the continuance of the Gospel and the Church “until the end of the age.”
 
We are the present-day disciples. Have you ever thought of that? We are not simply a bunch of people who come to church on Sundays. We are a community of disciples, and Jesus calls us to spread the Good News of his love for all people, “all nations.” Sometimes, we think of that as the calling of missionaries, and theirs certainly is a distinct and holy calling. However, in our times we do not have to leave our country to encounter “all nations.” They are right here in our communities, and Jesus calls us to show our love to them as part of God’s people, whether or not they know or believe in the same God as we do. That is what the original disciples did. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they went way beyond their fellow Jews, eventually to the whole world that was known in their time. We need not go far to be the disciples of Jesus. We can start in our own families, our own communities, our own schools and workplaces, not with the power of our persuasive words but with the power of the love that lives in us every day. And we know that Jesus is still with us: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” That means FOREVER.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they all 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 event described in this Gospel reading, the disciples were invited to a special encounter with Christ, and, through them, the whole world was invited as well.

Imagine the fear and doubt the disciples must have experienced as they made their way toward the meeting place in Galilee. They must have hoped that the words the women spoke were true, that Jesus was no longer in the tomb and had risen from the dead, yet they probably tried not to get their hopes up too high. They may also have been afraid of what Jesus would say to them. They had, after all, abandoned him after his arrest.

Jesus did not only appear to them. He told them some of the greatest news in the Gospel, that he would be with them (and us) always! He commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This encounter helped the disciples move from hiding in fear to being courageous evangelizers.

Like the disciples, we may at times be hesitant to believe that God will meet us where we are, and to allow our encounters with God to make a difference in our lives. However, having faith and responding to our encounters with the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – will open up new horizons for us and may help us to find needed direction in our lives.

What encounters have changed the direction of your life? How did you see God in those encounters?

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

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“‘I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you’” (John 16:12-15).

The story of Pentecost is the story of the early Church. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were fulfilled, and the believers began to spread the Good News.

The Pentecost story in the first reading in the Acts of the Apostles is a reversal of the Tower of Babel story. In the Book of Genesis, we are told of a time when all people spoke the same language. The people banded together to create a tower that would reach up to Heaven. The tower had such grandeur that the people praised the builders instead of God. Since people had used the gift of language to rebel, God took away their common language and scattered them (Genesis 11:1-0). This is the perfect example of what not to do with a divine gift. The people in the story fell in love with their gift and forgot the giver.

In the Pentecost story, the people who spoke all of the languages of the known world gathered in Jerusalem and, suddenly, they were able to communicate as one again. This gift came directly from God.

This is important to remember as we think about the gifts that we’ve been given. Whether we are physically strong or charismatic, these are gifts from God. Our response to these gifts is to use them in gratitude.

Of course, we may also have the opposite problem. Instead of feeling pride in our gifts, we may feel jealous of the gifts of others. Too often we beat ourselves up for not being strong enough or smart enough. Instead of using our own gifts, we waste our energy wishing for the gifts of others.

But we are not in competition with one another. As a community of Christians, we are a single body with a single mission to proclaim the Good News. Each member’s task is to figure out how his or her unique set of skills and talents can help all of us reach that common goal. There is one mission but many ministries.

Your gifts are God-given, and the best way to give thanks to God for those gifts is to use those talents in the service of God and others.

What are some of the prime passions and talents God has given you? How do you use them?

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

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Rembrant: Ascension of Christ“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs” (Mark 16:15-20).

The Ascension is a beautiful development in the story we have been following for the past forty days. Jesus was “taken up” and seated “at the right hand of God” before our very eyes.

In this Gospel, Mark assures us the Resurrection has taken place— the Ascension is the culmination of the resurrection narrative. Jesus ascended from the warm embrace of his community of believers on earth. He was teaching and affirming at the moment of his ascension. He was with those he loved, his friends and followers, and assured them that they were ready to begin the serious work. Before the Ascension, he gave them instructions.

This Great Commission to the disciples was to proclaim the Gospel to all creation.

These are our instructions, too. The faithful fulfillment of our duties is to proclaim that God is with us and God is gracious. This simple and blessed assurance is our job.

As the disciples had grown and developed in the Easter narratives, we faithful continue to grow and mature, to evolve and change. Now we do so as living witnesses, developing the gifts that God has entrusted to us, bearing fruit by sharing the word with others.

The Ascension is far from the end of the story. The faithful are on earth, and Jesus is at the right hand of God, readying us for the next stage. The story is really just beginning.

How do you proclaim the Good News in your own life? How can you be a better witness of Jesus through your actions and in your conversations with others?

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

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The keystone of our yearlong celebration of RENEW International’s 40th anniversary was the Monsignors Thomas Kleissler and Thomas Ivory Symposium on Parish Renewal held on Thursday, April 19 at Seton Hall University.
 
The symposium was named to honor the two dedicated priests who founded RENEW through a deep faith commitment, a willingness to take a risk, and holy innovation. We at RENEW are determined to continue their legacy of parish renewal and revitalization in today’s cultural context.
 
I was so moved when I entered the large conference room and saw it not only brimming with a variety of people—priests, deacons, pastoral staff and lay leaders—but also with energy and enthusiasm. It was so hopeful!
 
Chris Lowney, one of our speakers, talked about the grim facts of the decline of church membership, not to keep us stuck in the muck of despair, but to awaken us to reality so that we commit ourselves to change. The metaphor of the “burning platform” is often used in business to illustrate the commitment needed for organizational change. When we recognize that the “platform is burning” it can engender greater commitment to jump into change. Transforming and revitalizing our parishes becomes not a good thing to do but a matter critical to the faith of the next generation. We have no choice. The risk of maintaining the status quo is way too high—the irrelevancy of the Catholic parish in the United States.
 
The day began with prayer and song and then moved to the keynote by Bill Simon, author of Great Catholic Parishes, who set the framework for the day. He spoke of the four foundational practices for a thriving parish: great parishes share leadership, great parishes foster spirituality and plan for discipleship, great parishes excel on Sunday, and great parishes evangelize. Bill’s talk was followed by presentations by four panelists, each addressing one of the foundational practices.
 
Chris Lowney, author of Everyone Leads, called us to be leaders and innovators. I spoke on the power of small groups to deepen faith and discipleship. Fr. Bismark Chau, pastor of a multi-cultural parish in Newark, New Jersey, exhorted us to open the doors of the church and make Sundays a spirit-filled experience through relevant homilies, good music, and warm hospitality. Leisa Anslinger, director of Catholic Life and Faith, addressed how to intentionally evangelize young people, taking her cue from a study called Growing the Church Young, a study by the Fuller Youth Institute. Leisa explored two of the “six essential strategies” identified in the study: empathizing—that is, seeing the world from the viewpoint of young people, and making young people a top priority.
 
Throughout the day, the participants shared faith, hopes, ideas, and action plans to make their parishes great.
 
The day concluded with Evening Prayer. The Easter music lifted our spirits, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s homily inspired us to look to the future with faith and a renewed vision. In his homily, Cardinal Tobin connected his reflections on the Scripture to Fr. Tom Ivory and Fr. Tom Kleissler as leaders who were a step ahead. The cardinal presented each of them with two gifts. The first one was an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis; the second was a framed personal note from him—a note he signed, “your brother Joseph.” Cardinal Tobin is a giant of a man and to see him kneeling before Fr. Tom Kleissler, frail but still with a giant spirit, was an overwhelming moment for me.
 
Fr. Tom Kleissler often reminds me that while RENEW has had a great impact on the Church, what is important now is what great things RENEW can do to transform the Church for the future. So look ahead to the next new innovative parish resource RENEW is developing to reach out to young people, because we are moving Forward at Forty!
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“’I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely. I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth’” (John 17:13-19).

John’s Gospel is one of contrasts—to be of the spirit rather than of the flesh, this world as opposed to heaven, light instead of dark.

This passage from John was part of Jesus’ last discourse before his passion and resurrection. This reading is used in the liturgy between the feasts of the Ascension (when Jesus ascends to heaven) and Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit descends upon the followers of Jesus).

In John’s Gospel, to follow Jesus is to live in the light. “The world” here refers to those who have not understood Jesus’ message—those who ultimately arrest and kill him. Jesus knows that he will depart from the disciples’ presence. He is preparing them for the time when he will no longer be present in the flesh but will be with them in a different way. He tells them that they will be protected by God, as they are entrusted to be the bearers of Jesus’ mission.

So, why is this reading used between the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost? Perhaps it is because as Jesus’ mission in the world had come to an end, he passed this mission along to the disciples. We, too, are the disciples of Jesus and must take up the mission of Jesus in the world. The end of the physical presence of Jesus was directly connected to the beginning of the new Church, which is enlivened and protected by the spiritual presence of Christ.

God is with us, no matter where we are or where we are going. Like the disciples, perhaps we also need to hear that we are protected, even as we are living through challenging times. This reading reminds us that every ending is another beginning—the beginning of something more powerful than we could have imagined.

What “in between” times have you been through? How have you experienced the presence of God in these times?

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

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.’ ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you’” (John 15:9-14).

We are challenged in this passage to follow and remain faithful to the commandments. We are to give of ourselves, even to the point of laying down our lives for others. Above all, we must love each and every other person as much as we are loved by God.

One words sums up this whole reading—Love.

Love is what we remain in and are faithful to. Love is what gives us comfort, challenges us, provides us strength, and love is what we must dare to share.

Our friendship with Jesus demands that we remain in that love. We have to work at sustaining our friendship with him by following the commandments. In baptism, we enter a community that commits itself to remaining in God’s love and to sharing that love with all whom we encounter.

What have been the moments when “remaining” has been difficult and challenging?

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

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