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The_Way_of_the_CrossAs we enter the holy season of Lent the Church calls us to prepare our hearts for the celebration of our redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We come together as Church in special ways as a reminder that this is a time set apart.
 
Lent presents wonderful opportunities to deepen the bonds among the members of our small groups. If your church regularly gathers for Stations of the Cross, participating as a group can be a deeply moving experience as you share Christ’s journey to Calvary. You might participate in a parish-wide reconciliation service or come together as a group before or after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.
 
Rice Bowl is a program sponsored by Catholic Relief Services for Lent. It combines prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, three things we are called to do during this season. You can participate in Rice Bowl as a group. There are daily prayers and recipes for meatless meals you can prepare together and share. There is even an app to make it easier to participate. You can then make a group donation to support the work of CRS.
 
If your parish does not already have any of these services, your group could help organize them, sharing your own spiritual renewal with your fellow parishioners. Whatever you do, do it together, and allow this sharing to bring you closer to each other as a spiritual community.

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“I desire mercy not sacrifice.” Matthew 9:13


fitnessI am always up for a challenge. To kick off the New Year, one of my RENEW colleagues, Eartha, invited everyone on our staff to participate in a 30-day challenge. Each of us was free to select any challenges that would help us become healthier people. I took on three challenges: lose 5 pounds, exercise 30 minutes a day, and abstain from sugar. There is a chart on the wall in Eartha’s office, and each day we are to put a check mark on it if we meet our challenges. We are on day 12, and I am happy to report I have 12 check marks after my name.
 
On my birthday, I received a Fitbit as a gift, and since joining the RENEW challenge I religiously check my active minutes daily. I am also trying to achieve the goal of 10,000 steps per day, and on the days I’m short I walk around the convent or jog in place until my Fitbit happily vibrates. The sisters I live with just laugh and shake their heads—even the cat looks at me funny.
 
In declaring a Year of Mercy, Pope Francis challenged us to do what he calls mercy-ing. He describes mercy as more than being merciful but actually doing an act of mercy, and, once again, Pope Francis is leading by example. He has personally committed to mercy-ing every Friday during this Year of Mercy. On the first Friday, he made a surprise visit to a small nursing home on the outskirts of Rome and then visited families who care for loved ones who are in a long-term state of coma.
 
As I reflect on my participation in the 30-day health challenge and how it has helped me to jumpstart living a healthier life in 2016, I have begun to think about Lent as an opportunity to jumpstart living a more merciful life. I don’t have a “mercybit” to record my mercy-ing but I can use a journal or record my acts of mercy on the notepad app on my smart phone. For me, keeping track of my weight or steps makes me more aware and intentional, and that is also true of my spiritual life. So this year, I am thinking of Lent as a 40-day challenge, and my number one challenge will be weekly mercy-ing. Just like the pope, I am going to plan it, do it, and record it. It might be an act of mercy that I already do, but I will do it more intentionally. I am thinking of people whom I have been meaning to visit but for whom I just haven’t made the time. I plan to be more aware when I am acting without compassion, judging harshly, not giving someone the benefit of the doubt. I intend to reflect on my life and become more aware of any unforgiveness that still lingers in my heart and consciously forgive and let go. Before Lent begins I will plan weekly acts of mercy-ing. If I miss one, I will not give up on it but make sure I do it the next week.
 
I am signing up for a 40-day Lenten challenge: mercy-ing. Will you join me? Remember, the Lord said, “I want mercy not sacrifice.” Our God is a God of mercy and desires for us to receive mercy, be mercy, and go forth each day mercy-ing.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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No_FearThe first miracle Peter witnessed at the hands of Jesus drove the fisherman to his knees—a catch of fish so heavy that Peter’s boat was in danger of sinking. Peter realized that if Jesus could do this he also was able to look into Peter’s soul and observe the sins hidden there.
 
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” Peter begged.
 
Peter didn’t realize how merciful God is. But Jesus assured him: “Do not be afraid.”
 
These are same words with which Moses encouraged the Hebrews as they fled Pharaoh’s soldiers. The same words with which the angel Gabriel comforted the young Mary during the visitation.
 
In fact, this is the most frequently repeated phrase in the Bible—both Old and New Testaments: “Have no fear” or “Do not be afraid.”
 
This is one of the reasons why—when Peter, James, and John brought their boats to shore that day—they “left everything and followed him.”
 
Left everything. And followed him.
 
Think about what any of us would do in that situation. Jesus says to each of us today, “Do not be afraid.” It is left to each of us, however, to “leave everything” and follow him.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Jesus, help me walk away without hesitation
from the things of this world that keep me from following you.

 
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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“After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.’ Simon said in reply, ‘Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:4-11).
 
Anyone who knows fishing knows that night fishing produces the largest yield. In the incident described in Luke’s Gospel, Simon and his companions had just finished their night of work and were preparing to pack their things away. They were exhausted. They had been up all night working, and they had caught nothing.
 
As they packed up, Jesus came along and asked to use their boat. After talking to his people from the boat, he told the fishermen to lower their nets “one more time.” Simon objected but did as Jesus suggested. Once Peter did this, he and the other fishermen were amazed by the number of fish they caught.
 
This contrast between what humans think is possible versus what is possible with God is a central theme in Luke’s Gospel.
 
We have all had moments of doubt and disbelief. In times of struggle, we may even doubt that God hears us or is with us. When facing doubts about our future, our relationships, or even our world, we often make assumptions about what is possible and what is not possible. In these moments of doubt and disbelief, we must trust that God is with us and that anything is possible with God.
 
When have you experienced someone challenging your perception of God and the way God works in others. How did you respond?

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

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palm-trees-705843_1280During this Jubilee Year of Mercy the Church offers us a general pardon, an indulgence that is open to all, and the possibility of renewing our relationship with God and neighbor. It’s an opportunity to deepen our faith and to live with a renewed commitment to Christian witness.
 
In calling the Jubilee Year, Pope Francis focuses the attention of the world on the merciful God who invites all men and women to return to him.
Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite nun for more than 50 years, reminds us that “God liked to walk and talk in the garden in the cool of the day with the man and woman he created.”
 
The initial rite of the Jubilee Year on December 8 was the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This door is opened only during a holy year. It is shut tight during all other years.
 
This rite of the opening of the Holy Door illustrates the idea that, during the Jubilee Year, the faithful are offered an “extraordinary pathway” to salvation.
 
When we repent, it’s as if the door to the Garden of Eden is open to us once again. And we can walk in the garden with our God.
 
Our prayer today:
 

My God, I have wandered far from the path you want me to follow.
Thank you for your mercy in allowing me to walk at your side once again.

 
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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