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“And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way (Matthew 2:9-12).

The Epiphany commemorates the coming of the Savior to all people, not only the Jewish people. God’s love leaves no one untouched.

God revealed himself to the magi in signs in the stars. As Christians, we must be guided in our search not by the stars but by Scripture.

Signs come in all forms: they may include the love we receive from someone, a good example someone sets by trying to live by the Gospel, an insight that comes in our prayer and reflection, or even a sickness or tragedy in our lives. It is up to us to pay attention and read the signs around us. If we look with openness and with the eyes of faith, these signs will lead us to God.

This feast is also a feast of unity. Jesus came to all, and we are all one under God’s love. As we reach out to those who are looked down upon or those who are considered outsiders, we do our part to bring about the unity for which God sent his Son to us.

In what ways can you reach out to those who might feel excluded?

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

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Considering the nature of the events in St. Luke’s narrative of the birth of Jesus, we would expect from the witnesses exactly the reaction that Luke described: they were “amazed.” But within the same few lines of Luke’s story there is a tantalizing counterpoint to that amazement: “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

We have learned 20 centuries later about the birth of Jesus and all the circumstances surrounding it, and we hear the story repeated in a variety of ways scores of times during our lives. We have benefited from explanations of the Nativity in homilies, in our religious instruction, in our reading. Do we, in the 21st century, have the same reactions to the birth of Jesus as those who were present at the time? Are we amazed, and do we reflect on these things in our hearts?

Although we are used to the story and all the images surrounding it—angels, shepherds, the manger, the parents, the infant—the meaning of these events should still amaze us. This is not just a folk tale adorned with details calculated to charm us. This is the account of a transformative event in human history, an event in which divine life and human life intersected in a uniquely intimate way.

This was not God speaking to man and woman from the shadows of Eden. This was not God pronouncing commands to Moses from the flames on Sinai. This was God, so full of love for the creatures made in his own likeness that he himself took on human form. This was God taking on himself the whole of the human experience, excepting sin, so that men and women would be restored to their proper relationship to God through the ministry, sacrifice, and glorification of the man whose birth Luke described.

If we believe this, how can we not be amazed?

As astounding as the birth of Jesus was in its implications for the human race, it was in its immediate circumstances a very personal event—this particular child born to these particular parents under difficult economic, social, and political conditions.

Although it occurred in the first century in Palestine, a time and a place that are remote from us, we can easily relate to the story of Jesus’ birth because we understand on the one hand fear and confusion, and we understand on the other hand the joy of parenthood and the irresistible attraction of a newborn child. For Joseph and Mary, the effects of these competing emotions must have been unsettling and exhausting.

But Mary, as she so often did, set an example for us in her reaction to the Nativity itself and the framework in which it occurred: she reflected on these things in her heart.

The Christmas season at times seems to be designed to prevent us from doing any such thing. The season imposes on us, and we impose on ourselves, so many material obligations—the season immerses us in so much activity and noise—that we may not pause to reflect on anything.

But for most of us, the pressures of the holiday season are as nothing compared to what Mary confronted. And still, she reflected on these things in her heart. The birth of Jesus began the unfolding of the mystery through which each of us has been offered salvation from the consequences of sin and death.

If we believe this, how can we not reflect on it at Christmas and on every day of our lives?

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

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“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them (Luke 2:46-50).

Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, answering and even posing questions to the temple instructors. When asked why he had stayed behind and worried his parents, he replied to his mother with words that she and Joseph did not grasp.

Forgiveness and patience are perhaps the most needed virtues within a family. Living side by side, day after day, we find much to forgive in each other. We all need patience to bear differences in personality, preferences, or habits.

In this story of the Holy Family, we see the same needs. Mary and Joseph displayed patience and forgiveness with the young Jesus as they found him in the temple and tried to understand why he had stayed behind.

When we practice these ordinary family virtues of patience and forgiveness, we are doing much more than overlooking the faults of others and giving them a second chance. We are being introduced to a wonder hidden within them and within all of us. We are being introduced to God’s presence in our midst. By practicing these virtues, we grow in wisdom and grace before God and our families.

Which relationships in your family are the most difficult? Which are the most comfortable? Why?

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

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TrumpetersJubilee years have a deep history in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to the Book of Leviticus (25:8-13), during a jubilee observed every 50 years, slaves and prisoners were freed, debts forgiven, land and possessions returned to their rightful owners. Perhaps most important, during such a year, the mercy of God would be manifested.
 
The word “jubilee” is based on the Hebrew yobel. The word described a “trumpet-blast of liberty” according to the Septuagint, the early translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.
 
Just as the ancient Hebrews forgave debts, so the Church today, in the words of Pope Francis, “has an endless desire to show mercy.”
The Holy Father states it clearly: “This is an opportune moment to change our lives.”
 
The custom of calling jubilee years in the Church dates back to the sixteenth century. Since then, there have been only 26 ordinary Holy Year celebrations. So the current celebration is something extraordinary.
 
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Holy Father calls on sinners to repent, reminding us that “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy” (The Joy of the Gospel, 3).
 
Our prayer today:
 

Dear Jesus,
give me the wisdom and courage
so that I may become an island of mercy
in the midst of a sea of indifference.

 
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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“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled’” (Luke 1:41-45).

God is present to each of us in different ways. In the encounter described in this Gospel passage, Elizabeth was aware of the presence of God in Mary. We are challenged to become aware of the presence of God in our own lives. How is God present to you in the people with whom you live and work? Where is God present to you in nature? What about the person next to you on the train or plane?

Elizabeth shows us that when we see goodness, we should acknowledge it, both to the other person and to God. This gratitude creates more goodness, and naming it gives us appreciative and joyful hearts.

We live in a time and place very different from the first century Palestine of Mary and Elizabeth. But we and those holy women have some important things in common. Like Mary, we too discover God’s will for ourselves in prayer and reflection. Then, like Elizabeth, we too live it out as a prayer of praise and gratitude.

When you look over the past year of your life, for what or for whom are you grateful?

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

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MaryThe Jubilee Year of Mercy opened on December 8, the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of Second Vatican Council. On this date we also mark the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This liturgical feast day recalls God’s actions of mercy from the very beginning of humankind. This is why Pope St. John XXIII opened the council with the words: “Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy ….”
 
After Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience, God did not wish to leave humanity abandoned to the throes of evil. So he turned his merciful gaze on Mary, choosing her to be the mother of our Redeemer.
 
Here, then, is the reason Pope Francis chose to open the Jubilee on December 8: because on this day the Church remembers the moment God the Father poured out his mercy on humanity, through Mary.
 
On this day we say with Mary, “May it be done to me according to your word.”
 
During this Jubilee Year, the Church makes clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion—and ends on November 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Jesus, King of the Universe and the living face of the Father’s mercy.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Mary, Mother of Mercy,
turn your gaze toward us
and watch over our year-long penitential journey
to receive the mercy of your Son.

 
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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“Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, ‘I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:15-18).

Many followers of John the Baptist believed that he was the Messiah. John wanted them to pay attention to their lives and to the coming of the Holy One. John told them that he baptized with water, but the one coming would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John also told them that nothing he did or said pointed to himself.

This is good advice for us, too. Like John the Baptist, we should not perform good works to point to ourselves. None of us is the one from whom these good things come. Our baptism in the Spirit is about trying to live a life of faith and good deeds.

But how do we live that out? John the Baptist said that it does not necessarily require momentous changes in our lifestyle. Keep doing what you do, he told the soldiers, citizens, and tax collectors, but be more generous with your extra coat and food, and be just in all of your actions.

What various roles do you play in your life? How do you serve others in each of these roles? In what way can you improve?

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

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Perhaps you and I cannot be in Rome on Tuesday when the Holy Father opens The Jubilee Year of Mercy by throwing open the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
 
But we can be there with him in spirit by offering the Jubilee Prayer Pope Francis wrote:
 

Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew
from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us,
the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”
 
You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved,
and forgiven by God.
 
Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm,
may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.
 
We ask this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy,
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.
Amen.

 
Why not make a promise to say the pope’s prayer every morning to keep the Year of Mercy alive in our hearts?
 
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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Small_GroupAs the fall faith-sharing season draws to a close, we hope that it has been a time filled with spiritual growth and renewal for you. This is a time to come together to celebrate the season in its fullness—challenges and triumphs both.
 
Take the time to look back and evaluate the season. Sowing Seeds, RENEW International’s resource book for small groups, provides evaluation questions for both community members and group leaders; these questions will help you take a deeper look at what the season has meant to all of you and help you understand how much you have accomplished.
 
Once you have evaluated those accomplishments, it is time to celebrate them! Whether you celebrate as a parish or as individual groups, you want to come together and share your joy at what the season has meant for all of you, and we want to share your joy!
 
Take photos or videos and send them to your pastoral representative along with your good-news stories. Sharing your accomplishments in this way is a powerful means of witness. When we share your stories with others they see the transformative power of working in small groups. Your photo, video, or good-news story could provide the tipping point for someone on the fence about whether or not to join a small group.
 
Think about what your small-group experience has meant for you. Would you like others to have that same experience? By sharing your experience you can help us reach more people yearning to feel the presence of God in their lives.
 
Jennifer Bober is a RENEW Marketing Associate with both non-profit and publishing experience. In addition to her marketing career, she is a professional liturgical musician.

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“John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:3-6).

John the Baptist proclaimed a covenant between God and us in which God lifts up the poor, cares for those who are downtrodden, and exalts those who are oppressed.

St. Luke demands that Jesus’ followers do no less. Our response to Jesus is to turn toward God and toward a life of service and concern for others. We must do so even in the quiet parts of our lives that contain conscious and unconscious attitudes and behaviors that do not uphold Jesus’ commandment to love God and one another. Especially in this time of Advent, we should turn away from being satisfied and complacent with our present lives and make our every living day a prayer of praise and thanksgiving that bear fruit in our actions and attitudes.

We are called to own up to our failings and seek the forgiveness of God. This forgiveness makes us stronger and more able to live the life God desires for us.

Where in your life is reconciliation needed? What role does prayer play in the reconciliation process?

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

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Today is the first day of Advent. In little more than a week, Pope Francis will open the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
 
Advent has been called Little Lent, because it is a time of repentance in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth.
 
In Greek, “repentance” is metanoia—a “turning.”
 
The pope’s message is that “Peter turned.” In one of his recent homilies, Francis talked about how, late at night on Holy Thursday, Peter denied Jesus three times. Then Peter heard a rooster crow and realized that he had lost everything when he denied the Lord. Precisely at that moment, Jesus was led to another room, across the courtyard, and fixed his gaze on Peter. “The Gospel of Luke,” Pope Francis said, “recounts that ‘Peter cried bitterly.’
 
“However,” Francis continued, “that looked changed Peter’s heart” (homily,
May 22, 2015.)
 
Pope Francis urged his listeners to think about Jesus’ gaze on us. “He always looks at us with love,” the Pope promised.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Lord of Mercy, fix your loving gaze on me
and help me repent for my sinful mistakes.

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

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

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“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).

The message of this Gospel passage is simple: salvation is coming to the world and it is coming through the Son of Man. We are warned to pay attention, because he will come when we least expect him. We need to keep our ears open and pay attention to what is going on around us so that we can recognize him when he is near.

As we begin our preparations for Christmas, these words remind us that Advent is a time for peace and quiet. This is a stark contrast to the fast-paced way in which our culture celebrates the season.

Why is Advent a time meant for peace and quiet? So that we can detect those hints or signals of God’s presence in our lives; so that we can hear when God knocks on the door of our consciousness; so that we can respond “Yes” to God’s call, just as Mary did when the Angel Gabriel came to her. Our need to be still and listen opens in us opportunities to see, hear, and respond.

The Scriptures tell us that Jesus will come again at the end-time. But now, this very day, Jesus wants to come into our hearts. It is our choice whether or not to let him in. How do we see and hear him? Be still and listen.

Realizing that Jesus is present in the people and places we least expect, what can you do for someone less fortunate?

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

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Year_of_MercyWhat does the logo of the Jubilee Year of Mercy try to say to us?
 
The logo and the motto of the Jubilee Year of Mercy summarize what the year is all about. The motto “Merciful Like the Father” invites us to follow the example of the Father, who asks us not to judge or condemn but to forgive and to love without measure.
 
The figure of the shepherd bearing the lamb on his shoulders is one of the earliest images of Christ—found in the Catacombs. It reminds us that the Son—himself the Lamb of God—embraces the lost soul upon his shoulders and carries us to redemption.
 
The Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the flock to save the one—the hundredth lamb. Christ’s message is counter-intuitive to our world today, where it’s more acceptable to sacrifice the one for the good of the many.
 
The lamb is us.
 
Notice how, in the logo, the Good Shepherd’s eyes merge with those of humanity? Christ sees with the eyes of Adam, and Adam with the eyes of Christ. Christ is the new Adam, and in his gaze we recognize the love of the Father.
 
Even the almond shape of the image is important. It calls to mind the two natures of Christ—divine and human. The three concentric ovals, growing lighter as they move outward, symbolize how Christ carries humanity out of the night of sin and death. The darker color shows how unfathomable the love of the Father is. He shows mercy to us all.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Merciful Jesus, you know we are little lost lambs and you lift us in your love.
Keep us in your protection always.

 
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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“Pilate said to Jesus, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.’ So Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice’” (John 18:33b-37).

The feast of Christ the King marks the end of the liturgical year and celebrates Jesus as Lord over all of creation. This feast also proclaims Jesus’ mission to bring God’s reign of justice and peace to the entire world. The kingdom that Jesus will rule is very different from the one that Pilate had in mind in when he asked the questions recorded in this reading. Pilate was unable to see beyond his own ideas and was unable to envision a kingdom not founded on power and suppression of enemies.

As this liturgical year draws to a close, we have an opportunity to reflect on how we have grown and changed as a result of studying the nature of discipleship throughout the Gospel according to Mark.

As Christians, we are always on a journey towards a deeper union with God and in service to our brothers and sisters. With Jesus as our King, who welcomes everyone into the fold regardless of economic or social status, we are to bring about a new vision of God’s kingdom of peace and justice. We are to reach out to the disfranchised, the marginalized, and the unacknowledged.

This feast of Christ the King is a feast of hope for all people. Jesus proclaimed a message of love for everyone. We, as his disciples, are called to do no less.

What are your expectations of a leader? How do those expectations affect your own leadership?

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

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