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

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

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“Great is the human who has not lost his/her childlike heart.” Mencius
 
BoysOn Easter Sunday, I was talking to my three-year-old grandnephew, Kellan, as he was playing with my sister Mary’s cat. I asked Kellan if he had any pets. He responded, “Yes, I have two pets.” I was a bit surprised, because I had not heard of any pets arriving on the scene. His parents, Sarah and Chris, have enough on their hands with three little boys and a recent move into a new home. I innocently asked him, “What kind of pets?” He responded with great confidence, “We have two dinosaurs.” Stifling my laughter, I said, “Where do you keep them?” Kellan didn’t miss a beat and replied, “In the backyard. My mom does not want them in the house.”
 
I can’t be in Kellan’s presence without smiling. He is just that kind of child—warm, friendly, and a bit mischievous. My brother Peter, Kellan’s grandfather, often says to me that no matter what difficulty he might be experiencing, Kellan’s presence just brings him to a brighter place. The Kellans of the world remind us to never lose our childlike hearts. There is a popular quote from Mencius, an ancient Chinese philosopher: “Great is the human who has not lost his/her childlike heart.” Similarly, Jesus reminded his disciples they must become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of God.
 
We are in the Easter season, spring is finally in the air, and it’s a good time to get in touch with our childlike hearts. Children hope against hope, they forgive and forget easily, they trust unconditionally, they let their imaginations run free, and they love to play. I live too much in my mind and, too often, my thoughts are preoccupied with work. During these fifty days of the Easter season, pray with me for the grace to let the Spirit direct us through our hearts. The Lord will look after us and all we are responsible for. Christ promises that if we have the faith of a little child, we will enter the kingdom of God. It is time to go with the heart and be childlike as Jesus called us to be instead of always living in the confines of our adult minds. I, for one, will keep an eye out for dinosaurs.
 
Sr. Terry is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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Small communities are the heart of the parish community, and relationships are the heart of small communities. Staying in touch—connecting with others, especially when there isn’t a scheduled meeting or gathering on your calendar—reveals the sincerity and commitment that you bring to your relationships. With regard to relationships, consider these important questions:
 
 
With whom do you need to connect?
How can we communicate our experience to the pastor?
What resources are available to support small communities?
 
Connecting can take many forms: a phone call, note, email, visit, or meeting for coffee or lunch. It can be formal or informal. This is a blessing for you and the other! Whether the encounter is with the participants in your small community, the pastor, or other parish leaders, your faith life is at the core of your connection. Remembering, celebrating, and sharing your faith experiences affirms, sustains, and encourages all who are part of the conversation.
 
Create ongoing structures for communication such as monthly meetings for small-community leaders. These meetings can be opportunities to provide the leaders with insights into the scripture readings in upcoming faith-sharing sessions. Ask your parish catechetical leader, or your pastor, to help you prepare for these meetings. This has been very successful in many parishes.
 
Get invited to a meeting of every other ministry in the parish to share how small communities are making a difference in the parish and in the lives of participants. Offer to provide the opening prayer.
 
Always remember, your pastor is on your side. He wants very much for the people of the parish to have deeper spiritual lives. If it seems as if he is not supportive, it may be because he has not completely grasped what small Christian communities are doing, and can do, for the parish.
 
Take a chance when a spontaneous encounter with the pastor occurs and let him know how much the experience of faith sharing in small communities means to you. Share a good news story, express your gratitude to him for inviting the parish to take part in this process, and ask him what he has seen or heard. If no spontaneous meeting occurs, call your pastor or set up an appointment to see him. Imagine how happy the pastor would be to have a meeting that isn’t a problem!
 
Consider arranging “Coffee with the Pastor” meetings for small-community leaders. This will provide a nice affirmation for the leaders and will help the pastor get in touch with the good things that are happening in the communities.
 
Make time to visit your diocesan center. Visit some of the offices (evangelization, adult faith formation, social justice, parish life, etc.) and ask how they can help nurture small Christian communities.
 
Visit your diocesan resource center and ask what books or faith-sharing materials are available for small Christian communities. Share with the resource center the materials you have. Talk to the librarian and suggest that he or she build up the small Christian community collection.
 
Resources that are available outside the fall and Lenten seasons can be avenues for individuals or groups to grow in faith. Knowing there are a Lectionary-based resource (PrayerTime), a resource about the Blessed Virgin Mary (At Prayer with Mary), or a print and audio series on deepening spirituality (Longing for the Holy) can be just what others are looking for.
 
Network with other parishes. Exchange ideas over coffee, plan a retreat together, ask for recommendations for speakers for a parish mission, and share good news from the parishes and then publish it in your own church.
 
Get information on regional and national events. Consider opportunities such as annual conferences for small Christian communities that provide opportunities for people to get re-energized, network with others from all over the world engaged in the same ministry, and meet nationally known speakers in a community of prayer and learning.
 
Explore other humanitarian organizations in your area. Consult with groups that can be of assistance to small Christian communities wanting to move into mission. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, food pantries, and other local groups that assist the homeless or those with disabilities are all possibilities.
 
In the end, whether it’s a one-minute, 15-minute or longer connection, God and you and the other have shared that blessing and refreshment that comes from relationships rooted in faith sharing.

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Journey_to_Emmaus“And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, ‘What are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?’ And he replied to them, ‘What sort of things?’ They said to him, ‘The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.’ And he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:15-19, 25-32).
 
The story of Emmaus is one with which we can all identify. The disciples were walking along, fearful and anxious. They had thought Jesus was going to be the Messiah, but their picture of a messiah didn’t correspond to the reality of Jesus’ life. He was crucified and now was missing from the tomb. Some of their women even said he was alive. What kind of messiah was this? And so they hurried along, surprised by a stranger who apparently had not heard the news.
 
In this story, the disciples’ expectations about how God was supposed to work blinded them from seeing that God was walking with them. Even when Jesus broke open the Scripture, explaining how his death and resurrection had been foretold by the prophets, they still did not understand. It was only when Jesus took the bread and broke it that they recognized him, and could reflect back and say “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way?”
 
Like the disciples, we sometimes seem to be wearing blinders that keep us from seeing that God is walking with us. We have preconceptions about how God should work in our lives, or about the people through whom God does or does not work. We too receive the gifts of the Word, of the breaking of the bread, of the gathered community through which we can see and recognize God. The story of Emmaus is a call to attentiveness, a call to open our eyes to God, who ceaselessly accompanies us; to look beyond the prejudice, apathy, and indifference that blind us. It is a call to be always aware of God, who causes our hearts to burn within us, right here and right now.
 
- What are some of the barriers that keep you from recognizing God, who is always with you?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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