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hand“Jesus answered, ‘…the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property,in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.” Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, “Pay back what you owe.” Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.” But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt.Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart'” (Matthew 18:23-35).
 
Jesus teaches that we must always forgive because we have been greatly forgiven. No matter how big the hurt we must forgive. That is what we say each time we pray the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
 
How difficult this forgiveness is for us human beings! Many people hold grudges and refuse to let go. Unwillingness to forgive fuels the fires of resentment and bitterness, doing harm to both the person incapable of forgiving and the one needing forgiveness. Such people will never find real peace in their lives as long as they are incapable of forgiving. As George Herbert said, “He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.”
 
Jesus’ parable also reinforces a theme that runs throughout all the New Testament: we must forgive in order to be forgiven. If we do not forgive others, then we cannot hope for God’s forgiveness. This again challenges us to look at our expectations. How often we expect others not to take our mistakes or shortcomings seriously! How easily we hope that others will forgive us our follies! Yet are we able to offer others the same understanding and forgiveness? Or do we refuse to offer the same forgiveness that we often take for granted from others? What does the concept of God’s forgiveness mean to me? Do I believe in such forgiveness and if so, how does it change the way I live?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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We’ve all been in situations in which someone has hurt or injured us. Sometimes we find it difficult or even impossible to forgive the offender. Or perhaps we have been the one who has done the hurting. Whichever the case, we have all had to deal with people who “sin against us.”

The early Christian community had similar difficulties. In the midst of the turmoil that accompanied the transition between Judaism and early Christianity, and under the pressure of persecution, they had to deal with the question of what to do with those who had sinned against them. Matthew drew on his Jewish heritage to offer ways to welcome back a member of the community: first, try to speak with the one who has harmed you one on one; then invite friends or witnesses to mediate if necessary; and finally, go to the Church community for support to aid you in the disputed matter. Throughout the process, be mindful that God has given you the power to “bind and loose” your grievances.

When we bind the sins against us, we are holding on to grievances and are unable to release ourselves and others. Our own anger can eat away at our body and spirit. By loosing sins, we are able to let go and forgive. We can free ourselves from carrying this burden and free others from carrying it as well.

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18: 18),

This is great advice! But great advice isn’t always as easy as it sounds. When we are hurt, we want little or nothing to do with the one who has hurt us. We may bottle the pain up inside or speak about it to anyone but the one who has harmed us. The Gospel teaches us to air out the issue. If the person does not hear us, the Gospel says to go to the community for help. This shows that forgiveness is a process. Forgiving and forgetting are not the same things. Forgiving is recognizing that those who have caused us pain are also loved and created by God. This God is calling both them and us into new and greater life.

In what situation have you found it difficult to forgive? Where is that situation now?

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

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“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.’ He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” (Matthew 16: 21-23)

Last Sunday, Peter was the “rock” that Jesus would build his Church upon. He was called to be the foundation for the Church and his witness would nourish the Church forever. Rocks, however, can also be obstacles.

Jesus’s reaction to Peter shows Peter’s transformation from a “rock” to a “stumbling block.” Peter was observing and judging Jesus through human eyes. Looking at it from the human perspective, it does not make sense to suffer. “God forbid, Lord!” However, instead of looking at it with human eyes, Jesus wanted Peter to judge things with the eyes of God.

Jesus is prompting us to do so as well. When seen through the eyes of God, dying or letting go of something is the bridge to new and greater life.

How often do we see the world through human eyes? As humans, we want to alleviate pain. By seeing the world through God’s eyes, we see that suffering is not the end. Times of suffering or letting go of something have the potential to become moments for transformation. Those moments in which we are broken open are moments when we are open to new possibilities and new life.

If we see things with human eyes, we can lose our foundation. Not only will we ourselves begin to crumble, but we can cause others to trip and fall. Yet, when we see things through the eyes of God, and act accordingly, then we will share in the strength of God, and become a rock for ourselves and for others.

Look at how you respond to life’s challenges. Do you do so as a “rock” or as a “stumbling block?”

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

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Who_do_you_say“When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” (Matthew 16: 13-17)

Jesus’ way of teaching was usually by telling stories and asking questions. He didn’t lecture but created a dialogue with his disciples in order for them to gain deeper understanding. Today’s reading begins with Jesus asking his disciples who the people say the Son of Man is. They answered him with various prophets. Like these prophets, Jesus brought messages from God. But Jesus was not only a prophet.

Jesus, the good teacher, proposed another question to his disciples in response to their answer. Simon Peter spoke for all the disciples and answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This answer shows just how close to Jesus they were, and how well they had come to know him. Like the crowds, they had seen Jesus perform miracles and had heard his parables. However, they had also been given private explanations of his teachings. Through God’s grace, they had been given a very special gift: recognizing Jesus the Messiah.

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Matthew 16:17).

This is what greatness looks like in the kingdom of heaven. It is not in moving mountains but is born when God comes to dwell within us and when God reveals himself to the world through us. We become what we are meant to be when we become mirrors who reflect the glory of God.

Grace can be seen in Simon Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question. Grace in the disciples comes not just from hearing Jesus preach, but also from living with him – inviting him into the ordinary times of life, recognizing him as a constant companion, and having conversations with him not only when things are rough, but also when things are good.

Today we must remember that and commit ourselves to setting our own wills aside so that God can make himself known to the world through our words and actions.

If others were to guess who you think Jesus is, based on how you talk about him, would they guess correctly?

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

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Mary_MedjugorjeDuring the forty-plus years that I worked as a newspaper editor, there were several instances in central New Jersey in which people reported seeing apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
 
The most recent example involved a family that said that when they stood in their yard and looked up at a window on the second floor, they could see Mary’s image in the refracted light on the glass.
 
There were other instances—including one that for a while drew hundreds of people to a home in Monmouth County, creating a significant traffic problem—in which the accounts included communications from the mother of Jesus.
 
And, of course, we all occasionally read or hear stories in the news in which people have encountered Mary and Jesus himself, often in the most unexpected places.
 
I was reminded of all these episodes recently when I read a story in “Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly” about the continuing controversy over the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin that have been reported for the past 36 years in Medjugorje, a village in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
 
Many folks accept the statements by a group of villagers that Mary has made regular appearances there and engaged in dialogue with some people.
 
There have also been many reports of healings, vocations, and conversions connected with Mary’s appearances.
 
There have also been bitter conflicts among well-meaning people who either do or do not believe that Mary appears in Medjugorje.
 
The Church has authorized investigations of these reports but has reached no conclusion, although Pope Francis, on the one hand, has not formally dismissed the visions but, on the other hand, has expressed the personal opinion that Mary does not appear in the village.
 
Apparitions, particularly of the Virgin Mary, are a part of the tradition of the Church; this year is the centennial of one of the most famous of them, the appearances of the Blessed Mother to the three children at Fatima in Portugal.
 
My view of this subject in general is that apparitions are possible, though I leave it to others to determine if this or that vision was legitimate.
 
The topic always reminds me, though, of the comment Jesus made to Thomas the Apostle, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” and his remark to the royal official in Cana, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
 
Jesus reminded us repeatedly that he was calling us to faith that was based on his authoritative teaching, his example, and his passion, death, and resurrection.
 
Many scholars tell us that even the miracles Jesus himself performed during his lifetime were acts of compassion, not means of dazzling people into belief.
 
It isn’t as though those of us—and that means most of us—who have never seen Jesus or Mary in a windowpane or a grotto are somehow deprived of their presence.
 
On the contrary, Mary is accessible to us in prayer, and Jesus is accessible to us in prayer, in the Eucharist, and in his mystical body—the Church.
 
We can call on Mary or any saint for comfort and intercession, and we can achieve a loving, personal relationship with Jesus without the spectacle of public apparitions.
 
In fact, we can better open ourselves to the reality of the holy and the divine in the calm and quiet of meditation and worship.
 
The Hebrew Scripture tells us that it wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire that God called Elijah; it was in a still, small voice—a voice that calls each of us all the time and waits only to hear the answer, “Here I am.”
 
This post was first published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen. The writer is a permanent deacon in the diocese and managing editor at RENEW International.

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“At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, ‘Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He said in reply, ‘It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.’ Then Jesus said to her in reply, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour” (Matthew 15:21-28).
 
The Canaanite woman’s appeal is not an unusual one. Many times throughout the Gospels we find people petitioning Jesus to heal their loved ones. In this instance, however, Jesus’ response is surprising. He is unconcerned and becomes quite hostile as her pleas continue. Jesus tells her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” But she will not be deterred and continues her pleas. The Canaanite woman finally perseveres, and her daughter is healed.

So, why was Jesus so unreceptive to the woman in the beginning? The context of this Gospel gives us the answer. The majority of Matthew’s audiences are converts to Christianity from Judaism. This passage reflects an understandable presumption from this group that Jesus’ message was meant only for the Jews. This community also included Gentiles, converts from paganism. These two groups, who were so different in their religious backgrounds and culture, were united in their profession of the Christian faith and became the new People of God.

The manner in which this encounter unfolds depicts this struggle. Jesus, as a Jewish male, is at risk of becoming “unclean” by speaking with a Canaanite woman. Yet through his conversation with this “untouchable” woman, we witness a change in Jesus’ responses. It is here that we come to recognize the inclusive love intended for the Jews was meant for the Gentiles as well.

“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matthew 15: 28).

It’s the intensity of the Canaanite woman’s conviction and the passion of her faith that enabled Jesus to change his perception in the end.

So what is Matthew challenging us to learn through this episode? Should we question the way we listen to some voices and not others? Are there certain people or messages that are difficult for us to hear? If we take this story to heart,the witness of Jesus urges us to expect the call to conversion in some of the most unlikely places, and to be attentive when we hear it.

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

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It_is_I“After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:22-33).
 
In this Gospel passage, Jesus is responding to a part of the human condition that everyone experiences—storms. Who hasn’t found himself or herself at a time in life when the storm winds seem to blow against their plans, hopes, and dreams? Who hasn’t felt just a bit seasick as life tipped first this way and then that?
 
We often read this story and pause to think of our own storms, the times or moments in our own lives when everything seemed topsy-turvy, but not Jesus. Jesus knew his disciples’ fears, confusion, losses, moments of despair, desires for love and grace. In calling Peter to come to him upon the water, Jesus was teaching us how to respond to one another. We are to become more aware of one another’s fears and needs—and then invite one another to a safe, loving place with us. We are to be Jesus for them.
 
In today’s world, it is easy to imagine people living in stormy times: poor women raising children alone; families who have lost their source of income; older adults feeling the first signs of dementia; people with AIDS/HIV; people losing faith; nations suffering civil war; children shooting other children; drugs; pornography; abuse; loss of love, and the end of relationships.
 
Having faith in Jesus is not mere lip service. It leads us to do what Jesus did: to call others to the safety and love of relationship with us in Christ’s name.
 
– What gifts have you received that would allow you to “be Jesus” for others in stormy times?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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Transfiguration“Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone” (Matthew 17:1-8).
 
The contrast between light and darkness plays an important part in the accounts of the Transfiguration in the Gospels. In this mystical episode, light—a brilliant, white light—is a sign of the divinity of Jesus. The three apostles, who saw Jesus not only bathed in this light but emitting it from his own person, were getting a privileged glimpse of the Reality—the presence of God in the world here and now—that transcends the usual experiences of human life.
 
Moreover, Peter, James, and John could see in this shimmering tableau the images of Moses and Elijah who had been faithful to God, who had served God’s people, and who, through the sacrifice of Jesus, would live in the glow of God’s presence—a promise the apostles might apply to themselves.
 
No wonder Peter did not want that light to be dimmed, did not want that moment to end. But it did end, and it ended in the darkness of a gathering cloud.
 
Pope Benedict XVI suggested in a homily that we all may experience something similar: “a momentary foretaste of what will constitute the happiness of Paradise. … usually brief experiences that are sometimes granted by God, especially prior to difficult trials.”
 
This insight, this intuition, this awareness may occur during prayer, during liturgy, during reading and contemplation, during an exercise of charity or compassion.
 
How reassuring it would be if we could “see” God every day as the apostles saw him in the blazing light on Tabor, but Pope Benedict reminded us that our path in this life is illuminated by “the interior light that is kindled in us by listening to the Word of God.”
 
This, Pope Benedict said, “is the gift and duty for each one of us. … to listen to Christ… To listen to him in his Word, contained in Sacred Scripture. To listen to him in the events of our lives, seeking to decipher in them the messages of Providence. Finally, to listen to him in our brothers and sisters, especially in the lowly and the poor, to whom Jesus himself demands our concrete love. To listen to Christ and obey his voice: this is the principle way, the only way, that leads to the fullness of joy and of love” (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, March 12, 2006).
 
– In what ways do you respond to the Father’s command regarding his Son: “Listen to him”?
 

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it’” (Matthew 13:44-46).
 
 
In this series of sayings, Jesus continues his teaching about the reign of God. What will it be like? What can we expect? His teaching is both clear as a bell and yet filled with mystery we cannot fully grasp. The treasure in the field he describes must have been very great, indeed. The fellow who found it, the text tells us, hid it so he could go and buy the entire field! He sold all he had to possess this great treasure.
 
And the merchant who sold everything to buy that fine pearl must have nearly put himself out of business. Apparently it wasn’t the enterprise of selling pearls that attracted him but the beauty of the one fine pearl that superseded all others. Apparently half measures won’t do when it comes to fine pearls.
 
In today’s world, it can be very difficult to sort out the good pearls from all the others. We are confused by a cacophony of noise coming from everywhere: media, Internet, neighbors, family, and our own inner voices. Which voice is of God? How can we sort it out? The key to all this is found in a simple word, easy to overlook, in the first line of the reading. Look again.
 
Jesus teaches us that the mark of the right choice, the way we can know it, is that we will experience joy. In the old Baltimore Catechism, widely used in the Church until the Second Vatican Council, we were taught that God made us to know, love, and serve him but with the ultimate goal of being happy. When you pause to take the temperature of your conscience, finding deep joy tells you that you have made the right choices, even if the times are tough, even if the work is terribly hard. Still, if there is joy deep in your heart, it is a sign that God’s reign is present within you.
 
– What are the times or decisions in your life that have clearly resulted in a deep inner sense of joy?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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sidewalkThe Mission Co-op preacher in our parish this year was a Maryknoll priest who said that Africa, where he worked for many years, is no longer “mission territory.”
 
I don’t know how the Church categorizes the Muslim countries in the northern Africa, but I have seen the overall Catholic population of the continent placed at around 200 million—nearly three times the Catholic population of the United States and Canada. The World Christian Database estimates that there will be more than 450 million Catholics in Africa by 2050.
 
And from what I’ve heard from that priest and others familiar with the Church in Africa, this phenomenon isn’t just in the census.
 
Masses in Africa are packed, I am told, and they are joyous occasions, marked by song and dance and fellowship, and folks aren’t looking at their watches or making for the door right after Communion. In fact, a missionary sister who spoke to an adult group at my parish last year said churchgoers in Africa feel shortchanged if the homilist doesn’t speak for half an hour.
 
There is a parallel boom in religious vocations in Africa. The Bigard Memorial Seminary in Nigeria, with more than a thousand students, is said to be the largest in the world.
 
That’s all good news, but it doesn’t mean that the concept of “mission territory” is no longer relevant.
 
Pope Francis has been telling us for the past four years not only that there still is mission territory—namely our own immediate surroundings—but also that we are the missionaries.
 
He doesn’t mean that we are called upon to convert non-Christians to the faith as though we were Junípero Serra in the Baja.
 
Rather, Francis means that we are called to be more than parishioners; that we are called to be missionary disciples who spread the faith far beyond the walls of our local churches.
 
The Pope has inspired some debate by saying that this missionary discipleship does not mean proselytizing—that is, directly trying to convert someone from one religion to another.
 
Some Catholics have objected that such an approach can lead to the idea that religious truth is a matter of personal choice.
 
But Francis has explained that the Church is more likely to grow and become more vibrant and effective by making itself attractive than by arguing doctrine.
 
In other words, if I read the Holy Father correctly, the Church’s future lies in helping people, including disaffected and lukewarm Catholics, see beyond superficial appearances and outmoded or simply false impressions.
 
The pope himself gives a perfect example of this. He doesn’t compromise on the dogmatic teachings of the Church, but because of his public image—and especially the joy he finds in his faith, and the magnanimity with which he greets people of all faiths or no faith—far more people than ever in recent history are paying attention to what the leader of the Catholic Church says on issues of mutual respect, social justice, political integrity, and moral responsibility.
 
When he named his famed apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” it wasn’t a casual decision.
 
The whole world witnesses the joy that this man finds in his religious faith, and the world takes notice.
 
When he asks us to be missionary disciples, he is asking us to let others see the joy that fills us because of our encounter with Jesus Christ, to gently tell our faith stories whenever opportunities arise, and so to present the Church as a caring and inviting home.
 
This post was originally published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen. Charles Paolino is a permanent deacon of that diocese and managing editor at RENEW International.

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“Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” His slaves said to him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” He replied, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn’”’” (Matthew 13:24-30).
 
Each of the parables in Matthew’s Gospel offers us a dimension of God’s reign. God’s kingdom, we believe, will exist in its fullness at the end of the world. God alone will bring it about.
 
God’s reign also exists on earth, although not yet completely fulfilled. We are God’s instruments on earth, with Jesus whose Spirit enables us to do God’s work.
 
When Jesus speaks of the tiny mustard seed growing into the huge shrub or the small amount of yeast that enables the whole mass of dough to rise, we see God’s reign in process. The reign of God comes into being and gains strength and prominence. The reign of God exists where people treat each other with justice, as Jesus treated all people.
 
Another perspective of God’s reign is offered through the parable of the weeds. Here wheat and weeds grow together until harvest, and then are separated. Jesus explains the strong symbolism of this parable. The field is the world; the good seed, those who want to be part of God’s kingdom; the weeds, those who choose to follow evil ways. The harvest is the end of the world. Jesus uses very vivid, ancient imagery to explain to his disciples how people will either enter into God’s ultimate reign or, through their sinful choices, will be separated from it and be punished.
 
Certainly Jesus was urging his followers to be people of God’s reign. However one images the end of the world, no believer wants to be separated from God.
 
– Where do you see glimpses of God’s reign in our world?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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Sower_Seed“On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: ‘A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear’” (Matthew 13:1-9).
 
A biblical scholar, C. H. Dodd, offers the classic definition of a parable: “At its simplest, the parable is a metaphor of common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”
 
Jesus very often taught the crowds in parables. Parables offer deep truth in story form. They allow the hearers to judge for themselves where they fit in the story. Jesus is the master teacher. He offers his word to us. Each person who has heard the word will receive it in his or her own way. Jesus, the sower, generously plants the seeds, but the rest is up to us. Only if we accept the Lord’s words deeply within us will they have a lasting effect. Any person who has worked in a garden to grow flowers or vegetables knows the peril of the seed that does not find itself in good, rich soil.
 
It is so easy to have good initial intentions to follow the Word of God, but the world is rarely a nurturing place. Trials and temptations confront us daily. Jesus is completely aware of the many pulls and distractions of our lives. He knows the presence and power of evil. He is so painfully aware that even his Good News depends on our acceptance. He sows the seed with love, knowing the greatness of his message. As difficult as it may be to hold fast to the Word of God, those seeds that take root in our hearts, Jesus assures us, will bring blessings “a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold.”
 
– What seed of God’s Word needs greater nurturing in your life?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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My_Yoke_Is_Easy“At that time Jesus exclaimed: ‘I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.’
‘Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light’” (Matthew 11:25-30).
 
In this Gospel passage, Jesus himself is praising and thanking God for the revelation given to him. Jesus was able to receive everything from the Father, for his heart and mind were totally open to the will of God. Jesus was without personal desires; he had no agenda of his own. He was not interested in his own glory but only that of God. His humility was complete. And humility is truth.
 
In our lives, we reveal ourselves to very few people. We reveal ourselves only to those who completely accept and love us. We hold back the deep, sacred truth in our lives from all those who could use that truth against us or mock our self-revelation. When Jesus speaks of his relationship with the Father, we learn of a relationship of complete love and trust, a relationship of oneness. Through Jesus, we learn of God, for he has revealed God’s truth and God’s way to us, the merest of children. Only our own desires and our own life agendas can prevent us from knowing and accepting the fullness of divine truth.
 
Certainly all people have known the weariness and burdens of life. Jesus is inviting us to be one with him and to learn from his gentleness and his heart’s humility. Knowing what God wishes to reveal to our hearts would lighten our burdens and give rest to our souls. To find this rest, we must be willing to accept Jesus, who is eager not only to share our burdens but also to bring us to the love of the Father.
 
– How do I turn to Jesus when I am suffering the burdens and weariness of life?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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cross“Jesus said to his apostles: ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it'” (Matthew 10:37-39).
 
 
The final words of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples before they begin their mission express the very heart of the Christian message. Matthew’s Gospel, written at least fifty years after the crucifixion, has Jesus speaking of the cross.
 
The crucifixion of Jesus became the central event for the people of Matthew’s community. They came to understand that Jesus gave his life for them, for the
truth, the integrity of God’s message. Jesus accepted the cross with all its horror, rather than compromise his truth, his love for the Father and for them.
 
The people of Matthew’s community understood that Jesus was willing to sacrifice his life for others. Our faith asks us to follow Jesus and to seek to do
God’s will. We are not to put our own desires first. To be worthy of the Lord requires selflessness, a death to self. And it is in this death that we will live, just as in Jesus’ death he found new life.
 
The promises of our Lord challenge us, but also offer us great reward. So many times in the Scriptures Jesus does not glorify “religious leaders.” The reward
received by a prophet or holy person is not much compared to the promised reward of Jesus.
 
– How do you follow Jesus’ command to take up your cross?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store.

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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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