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Lead us to greater self-understanding and to reverence anew God’s way of leading us to our deepest peace and truest potential through life’s rhythm of joy and struggle.
 
Tender God of the garden and the desert,
you give life graciously as overflowing gift.
You pour out your lavish grace on us
even when we see and feel you not.
Give us the courage
to let ourselves be led by you
to those places and persons
where you wait to meet us.
Open our hearts and our lives
to your quiet and unsettling stirrings.
Come to us in both the ache and the awe
of our human journeys.
In the company of one another,
deepen our faith to see
that in each discovery of our true selves,
we discover you, and each time we recognize you, our Father,
we come to know a little more of our true selves.
We place ourselves in one another’s keeping
and together praise you, through, with,
and in the Spirit of Jesus, now and forever. Amen.
 

 
 
Excerpted from
Lenten Longings – Year A: Let Yourself Be…, available from RENEW International

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“Lent” is an Old English word for springtime. It is an appropriate word because as the season of spring prepares the earth to break forth into new life the season of Lent is a time to prepare to break forth, spiritually, into new life. As a gardener I love this image. Removing rocks from the soil, pulling out weeds, nurturing the soil with supplements, planting something new — these all remind us that we are not perfect and are always in need of conversion, of and renewing again and again our commitment to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. This is the purpose of the season of Lent.
 
Historically, Lent was a 40-day retreat for those adults who were choosing to become committed disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. In the early church, those who wanted to become members—the catechumens—gathered for a year or two with those who were already committed to Jesus Christ. The catechumens learned the stories, participated in the Liturgy of the Word, and learned the way of being Christian. At the Easter Vigil they would be formally and completely initiated into the community. In preparation for this reception at the Easter Vigil, catechumens would enter into a more intense 40-day time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — Lent. On the Thursday before Easter, the community would gather with the bishop in the place of worship. As they gathered and prayed, the catechumens and a deacon would go to a place of living water (a lake or river) where they would enter the water. The deacon would submerge each catechumen’s head in the water and as he assisted the person up, would ask, “Do you believe in God the Father?” He would repeat this submerging twice more asking, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ his only Son? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” The catechumens would then be wrapped in white garments and brought into the waiting assembly (baptism). Here the bishop as the leader of the community would generously pour blessed oil over the head of the newly baptized adult, (origin of the sacrament of confirmation), confirming in public what had been ritualized at the water. The bishop would then continue with the liturgy. At Communion the newly baptized and confirmed persons would receive the Eucharist for the first time, completing the sacraments of initiation.
 
Baptism and the sacraments of initiation for adults are best celebrated at the Easter Vigil where the whole story of salvation is told (seven readings from Hebrew and Christian Scriptures) and the already baptized Christians renew their baptismal promises.
 
Baptism of infants is best celebrated at Sunday Mass where the community gathers.
 
For your reflection:
1. What are the rocks and/or weeds that you need to remove from your life this Lent? How will you do this?
2. Rather than give up something this Lent, secretly do something for someone in need.
3. Find out who is receiving the sacraments of initiation in your parish this Easter and pray for them by name; maybe send them cards telling them this.
 
Sister Honora is the Assistant Director at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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Jesus temptation“At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.’ He said in reply, ‘It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’ Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ‘All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.’ At this, Jesus said to him, ‘Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’
Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him” (Matthew 4:1–11).
 
We all know temptation. Temptations to be less than we were created to be, to take the easy way, surround us. If we believe that Jesus is not only fully divine but also fully human, we should not be shocked that even he was tempted. He knew what it meant to live on this earth, to eat and drink, to feel excitement and joy, frustration and fatigue. He knew what it was to love and be loved and to lose people for whom he cared. He experienced temptations to be less than who he was being called to be, and he was free to say yes or no, just as we are.
 
Jesus, like all of us, was tempted throughout his life. We see him being tempted, after the multiplication of the loaves, by the peoples’ acclaim and their determination to make him king, but he escaped from the applauding crowd. Later, he refused to play the magician for King Herod when Herod demanded miraculous acts. And in his agony in the garden, we see him confront and resist the temptation to run away from pain and suffering. We have in Jesus someone who was tempted like us in many different ways. And how did he respond?
 
Throughout his life, Jesus showed himself to be rooted in prayer, turning to the God the Father who was constantly with him. We see him throughout his ministry, especially in times of temptation, withdraw to pray on the mountaintop—to be in the presence of God, and to take time to reflect. But afterward, he returned to his community, to the people who accompanied and supported him in ministry. It was the support of prayer and community that gave him strength in the face of temptation.
 
Throughout our lives we are confronted with temptations to do such things as mistreating a sibling, lying about who broke the vase, plagiarizing someone else’s work, demeaning others to make ourselves look better. Maybe we are tempted to abuse alcohol or drugs to escape an unpleasant reality. If we look to the example of Jesus who rooted himself in prayer and drew strength from a supportive community we, like him, can overcome temptation.
 
- How does Jesus’ response to temptation present a model for your response to temptation?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Small Christian communities can take part in the evangelization that all baptized Christians are called to. We do that by allowing ourselves to be touched by the Gospel so profoundly that we in turn become Good News and attract others. How can that happen in your parish? Here are some hints:
 
Make invitation a ministry
Create an invitational ministry or re-vitalize a dormant one. Find two people in your parish who know a lot of folks (and have a welcoming personality) to serve on your parish team and take the lead on inviting new participants. Personal invitation works best, but consider including a person with skills in social media and marketing.
 
Reach out to the lost
Look up all infants baptized six years ago and see which ones are not attending religion classes. Contact the families about enrolling the children and mention that small communities are available for the adults.
 
Invite the newly confirmed
Collaborate with the parish RCIA team to invite newly confirmed adults into small Christian communities.
 
Let the young find the young
Form a core group of young adults. Pass on what you have learned about small Christian communities, invitation, and faith sharing. Ask them to identify other young people who may or may not be coming to church. Direct them to the RENEW International Theology on Tap web site for resources for young adult outreach and meetings: www.theologyontap.org.
 
Evangelize over “coffee and”
Have your parish team sponsor coffee and donuts one Sunday and then greet the community wearing T-shirts that say, “Ask me about my small community.” Be prepared to register those interested.
 
Host a parish meal
Invite everybody, to a barbeque or pot-luck meal then have your pastor give an after-dinner talk thanking all the small-community leaders and sharing some positive remarks about SCCs. Have a sign-up table.
 
Make SCCs more visible
Put up a poster in the narthex for each small Christian community with a picture of the leader (or the whole small Christian community) along with the time and place the group meets. Ask people to look over the posters and write their names on the poster of the community they want to join.
 
Engage young parents
Invite parents of children who are in the First Communion class to an informal get-together (coffee, breakfast, barbeque, potluck). Have a short presentation led by young adults in which they are encouraged to support their children’s catechesis by coming together in a small community.
 
Take advantage of resources
Call 1-888-433-3221 to discuss the variety of resources available from RENEW International, or check our website at www.renewintl.org. Many planning teams are effectively using RENEW International’s Prayertime resource which is based on the Lectionary and will carry you through the whole year.

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The_Road_Not_TakenSpiritual writers speak of becoming holy as “willing the one thing.” For me, this means being focused on God’s will and way and not my own. God’s will is always for us to choose the most loving and compassionate way which is often the most difficult one. Acts of self-denial are the pavers that line the path of discipleship. Lent is a season that offers us a choice of paths to follow. We can continue living as usual or we can choose to use the time to live the gospel more fully. This reminds me of one of my favorite poems, The Road
Not Taken
by Robert Frost:

I shall be telling with this sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

When the Scriptures speak of denying ourselves, they usually mean we are to deny that part of ourselves that leads to sin, to be anything other than who we truly are. Other times we deny ourselves not as an avoidance of sin but as a sacrifice out of love. Self-denial is not part of our culture’s image of the “good life.” But neither is Jesus’ call to deny oneself to be understood as self-abasement or giving up things for just for the sake of doing it. Just giving up things does not make us Christian; it will only make us bitter and empty.
 
Pope Francis in his Lent 2014 message reminds us: “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”
 
Before making that next purchase, reacting to someone who has hurt you, looking away from the suffering eyes of a hungry child, or avoiding the grief of a neighbor or friend, ask yourself this fundamental question: Is this who God created me to be? Is this the most loving way? It is not always easy to choose the path of discipleship. We don’t know whether the poet chose the right path but we do know that for us the path of discipleship—the road of self-denial for the sake of love of God and love of neighbor—can make all the difference.
 
Sr. Terry is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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