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twitter_pontifexIn one of his short stories—“The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether”—Edgar Allen Poe wrote, “Believe nothing you hear and only one half that you see.”
 
This statement, which has been altered in various ways and attributed to writers other than Poe, is nonetheless good advice if it means that one should not casually accept things for which there is no evidence.
 
If anything, this caution applies more than ever in this age of “Photoshopped” images, digital animation, and posts that litter social-media sites.
 
I saw an example the other day when a member of my high school class posted on Facebook an image of Pope Francis accompanied by the following statement, attributed to him:
 
“It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a way, the traditional notion of God is outdated. One can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money — for many, nature can be a church. Some of the best people in history do not believe in God, while some of the worst deeds were done in His name.”
 
“Oh,’’ gushed another classmate, who now lives in the Midwest, “I love this man. He’s talking about me.”
 
I don’t know if she meant that she’s an atheist—which I doubt, that she doesn’t go to church, or that she finds God in nature.
 
Regardless of what she meant, she was responding to a statement that Pope Francis did not make and, for the most part, would not make.
 
The graphic, which has been circulating in the digital world for some time, is one example of a problem that has accompanied this papacy almost from the first day—a compulsion on the part of some to hear the pope as fulfilling their wishful thinking.
 
To be sure, Pope Francis has given us a fresh perspective on topics such as atheism.
 
He has spoken of our obligation to respect the intellectual integrity of people, including atheists, who don’t agree with us. He has also reiterated—perhaps in plainer language than we are used to—the Church’s consistent teaching that, as Father Thomas Rosica has repeated it, “those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”
 
The pope has not, however, issued a license for us to adopt the spirituality we find most convenient and comfortable, even if that means no spirituality at all.
 
And anyone who has read what this pope has written or listened to what he has said knows that he would not dismiss so lightly the value of worshipping God in the assembly of the Church.
 
On the contrary, he has stressed the importance of the Church as the Body of Christ as the source from which the “new evangelization” will flow out into the community and to the outskirts of society.
 
In the past, the teachings of the popes have been somewhat inaccessible, both because of the formality of their language and the means of their distribution.
 
But the homilies, speeches, and documents of Pope Francis are not difficult to understand and not difficult to find.
 
In this “information age,” we can easily read them or read about them in responsible publications.
 
If we want to know what Pope Francis teaches, we should not rely on Facebook to tell us.
 

—Facebook launched on February 4, 2004


 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father’” (Matthew 5:13-16).
 
This reading is an exhortation to Jesus’ followers that they are “salt of the earth” and “light to the world.” It is another example of Jesus using the stuff of life—like salt and lanterns—to illustrate his point. Salt was, and still is, used to flavor food. In the time of Jesus, it was also used to preserve and purify it. The interesting thing about salt is that once it is applied it becomes part of the food. To be salt of the earth is to be a part of creation, an integral part of the world, and the world was created good.
 
We come to know and see God through the stuff of the earth. Yet we are also to be the “flavor” of the earth, to enrich society. Food tastes different with salt, and through our witness, the world looks different through the perspective we bring.
 
Jesus also encourages us to be the “light to the world.” In the Scriptures, light is associated with God and with truth, while the absence of light is analogous to the absence of God’s presence.
 
When a light goes on, things that were hidden are revealed, and we can see the world around us. Jesus tells us we are light, just by being who we are. We are called to “let this light shine,” to give meaning to our world, to the people we encounter. When we let our light shine, we are better able to see the light in others, to see them for whom they really are, and not who we may have thought they were. And it can also bring clarity to situations in our lives and in our world.
 
– How have you responded to Jesus’ challenge to “let your light shine” so that the goodness of your actions is recognized and praise is given to God?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Ten steps toward a fuller, healthier, and more God-centered Life

“I have come so you may have life and have it to the full” — John 10:10
 
new_yearThis new year is still an opportunity to start fresh and to recommit to live a fuller, healthier, more joy-filled and—most importantly—God-centered life. I have been reviewing a number of articles about how to live a happier life in 2017. Some of them speak about shedding bad habits such as drinking too much, smoking, and spending countless hours on the couch; the articles also refer to developing good habits such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a positive attitude. I have chosen to highlight 10 practices that you might want to consider.
 
A spiritually healthy person is healthy in mind, body, and spirit. All things are interconnected, including the mind, the body, the spirit, and the environment in which we live. Physical health isn’t merely the absence of disease or symptoms; it is a state of optimal wellbeing, vitality, and wholeness. In the same way, spiritual health isn’t merely the absence of sin or a strict observance of laws; it is state of union with God, a strong sense of self and communion with our neighbor and with all of creation.
 
I encourage you to choose one or two doable actions to help you love God, self, and others more in 2017. Just do it!
 

1. Pray more regularly and frequently
It is an important practice to set aside a time each day to pray, give thanks, and reflect on God’s presence in your life. But just as important is praying throughout the day—while in the car, cooking a meal, or waiting on line at the grocery store. I have found it helpful to practice what St. Ignatius Loyola called the Daily Examen. It is a practice of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. I try to do it at the end of my day. Here’s a version of the examen for you to use.
 
2. Be more focused during Mass
I sometimes find myself at Mass thinking about a work situation or about what I plan to do after Mass. The best way for me to be more present at Mass is to come 10 minutes early and center myself on God; pray with the day’s scripture readings; and, when distractions come, acknowledge them and then let them go.
 
3. Do weekly acts of mercy
These are conscious acts that can be very ordinary but are done intentionally. An act of mercy can be as simple as holding a door for a stranger or volunteering at a homeless shelter or going to a wake service.
 
4. Complain Less
The first step in complaining less is to recognize how much you complain. It sometimes feels good to complain, but you do not fix anything by complaining. Constant complaining might condition you to always look for what’s bad in situations. When you become aware that you are complaining, redirect your attention to something positive about the situation or, better yet, start working on a solution.
 
5. Avoid dualist thinking
Dualist thinking is categorizing everything and everyone in a clear-cut black-and-white, good-and-bad, either/or way. People who think dualistically are often seeking clarity and security in a changing and sometimes scary world. We sometimes find dualistic thinking in religious persons or groups, and this can result in harsh, exclusive, and judgmental behavior. When you hear yourself talking disparagingly about “those people,” scapegoating, speaking in a judgmental or condemning manner, or categorizing people as liberals or conservatives, sinners or saints, stop and reflect on what is behind your speech. The best way to move beyond dualist thinking is to put yourself in the other’s shoes and imagine why a person acts or thinks in a particular way. Fr. Richard Rohr in one of his meditations writes: the contemplative mind withholds from labeling or categorizing things too quickly (i.e., judging), so it can come to see things in themselves and as themselves, in their uniqueness—apart from the words or concepts that become their substitutes
 
6. Let go of worry
We can actually worry ourselves sick. We waste lots of time and energy convincing ourselves that everything we worry about will happen. When you find yourself worrying and obsessing, stop, take a long deep breath, reflect on the situation you are in a tizzy about, and ask yourself if there’s any logical basis for your worry. Consciously give this worry—either real or exaggerated— into God’s hands.
 
7. Move it
Recently, I have had a change in attitude about exercising. I enjoy physical activity and always feel better when I am fit, but I had an either/or attitude. If I did not have time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, I would not work out that day. I am now more consciously trying to move more throughout the day. If I miss my morning exercise, I will take a walk during my lunch break or do 10 minutes of exercise in my office. I always take the stairs and try to walk instead of drive whenever possible. I love my Fitbit and it has motivated me to take more steps and move every hour. Here’s an 8-minute cardio workout you can do at home.
 
8. Get more sleep
Sleep isn’t essential just to recharge our bodies. It plays an important role in all aspects of our health, from maintaining a healthy weight to improving our disposition, to being more mindful as we pray. The experts tell us the most important way to get enough sleep is keeping a consistent sleep/wake schedule. When your schedule is all over the place, your body clock doesn’t have a chance to normalize. So start tracking your sleep schedule, and work towards consistency, starting with your wake-up time. Here are some tips on how to sleep better.
 
9. Enjoy nature
Get outside and enjoy whatever season it is. A sunny winter day can be a great time for a walk if you wear the proper layers. Be intentional about spending time in God’s beautiful creation.
 
10. Accept yourself
The worst thing you can do to your self-image is compare yourself to others. We are all imperfect, vulnerable, and wonderfully made by God from love and to love. We all have different strengths and talents to be used for God’s purpose. If you have old tapes reeling in your head telling you aren’t good enough, that you’re too short or too fat, redirect your thoughts to the God that created your and repeat the phrase from Psalm 139: You are “fearfully wonderfully made.”

 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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sermon_on_the_mount“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:3-12a).
 
If we take the Beatitudes as a model of “how to live,” it urges us to ask ourselves what it would mean to be poor in spirit, meek, and to hunger and thirst for righteousness. What would it look like to be merciful? To be pure of heart? Volumes have been written on the meaning of each of these Beatitudes, but eventually we have to ask these questions in light of our own lives. For example, what does it means to be poor in spirit? Some have said, “To be poor in spirit is to recognize that all we have is God’s gift: our very existence, our families, our health, our talents, our situations in life. And Christ goes even further—even our successes.”1 It is to realize that “We recognize our need for God. We depend on God. The poor in spirit know that God is more important than anything else in life.”
 
Often it can be difficult to recognize that all is a gift from God. We get so caught up in the stress of life, work, and relationships that days meld into each other. So then, how can we recognize our life as gift? Being poor in spirit urges us to challenge the mantra that we depend solely on ourselves, and to instead place our trust in the God who created us. To trust that there is a plan that is larger than our own, and that God is constantly initiating a relationship with us, calling us to listen, to become more attentive to his voice.
 
What would it mean to live life as if we depended on God?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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eleanor_roosevelt_mccallsWhen I was a boy, my mother subscribed to six women’s magazines.
 
I was a compulsive reader even then, so I leafed through “McCall’s” and “Ladies Home Journal” and so forth as soon as they arrived.
 
One thing that caught my eye was a column written by Eleanor Roosevelt, who by then was the widow of
Franklin Roosevelt.
 
Mrs. Roosevelt wrote more than one column, but the one I read faithfully was a question-and-answer feature called “If You Ask Me.”
 
Besides the fact that I was just a nerdy kid, I was fascinated by the give-and-take of that format.
 
Recently, I discovered that all of those columns, along with other work by Mrs. Roosevelt, has been archived by The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and I have started to re-read them.
 
Actually, I started with the first column, which appeared sixteen months before I was born, so I’m reading some for the first time.
 
In the column that appeared in June 1941, one of the questions submitted by readers was whether Mrs. Roosevelt thought religion should become a more dominant part of daily life.
 
Mrs. Roosevelt wrote that it should, adding “but there is only one way … and that is by bringing it out of the church and into the lives led by religious people.’’
 
Mrs. Roosevelt, who was a church-going Episcopalian, made this same point on other occasions, and she also wrote that for Christians, the model for living out religious faith was the radical lifestyle of Jesus.
 
And she took her own advice in the sense that she was—to use a 21st century expression—“out there,” seeing first-hand what was going on in the country and beyond.
 
Even in the 1940s, Eleanor Roosevelt had the air of a fuddy-duddy about her; in fact, she often mentioned that because she was so old-fashioned in her manners as a child she was nicknamed “Granny.’’
 
But she was a pioneer in campaigning against racism and other forms of prejudice and working on behalf of women and labor and youth—and that made her very unpopular among some Americans, and she was—and still is—a controversial figure for other reasons.
 
That’s a complicated story, but what interests me at the moment is that statement Mrs. Roosevelt made seventy-five years ago.
 
One the one hand, it might seem self-evident that religion practiced in church is of little value if it isn’t practiced outside of church.
 
But in the second decade of the twenty-first century, when Pope Francis says virtually the same thing—making of himself a living example—the idea is treated in many quarters as though it were a new revelation.
 
In fact, though, Jesus made the same point in the first century in his criticism of pious people who wouldn’t help a stranger in need.
 
There is a lot of angst over the declining numbers of people who attend Mass regularly, or at all.
 
But the pope and other Catholic leaders argue that folks will be attracted to the Church, not by seeing other folks going there but by seeing and hearing those who do go to church also witnessing to their faith by what they say and what they do at home, at school, at work, and in the community—including, as Francis likes to remind us—those parts of the community that are farthest from the Church.
 
It’s such a simple concept, but a concept that, in our own time, Pope Francis sees as an ideal yet to be achieved.
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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