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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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PopesWhen Pat and I first set up housekeeping, we did what young married couples did in the 1960s — we rented a garden apartment.
 
One of the wall hangings we bought on our limited budget—I was earning $105 a week—was a print of an engraving by Albrecht Dürer, a profile of St. Apollonia, a third-century martyr.
 
I have to admit that this engraving, black etching on a dull green background, wasn’t the most attractive accessory we could have picked.
 
That may be why it attracted the attention of my friend Lou Caruso when he first visited us at that apartment.
 
He paused at the portrait and studied it for a while and then asked, “Who the heck is this?”
 
“That’s St. Apollonia,” I said with feigned indignation. “Have a little respect.”
 
“Huh,” Lou said. “They don’t care who they make saints these days!”
 
He was joking, of course, but his observation evokes a common misunderstanding concerning saints—namely, the notion that the Church “makes” them.
 
When Pope Francis canonizes Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II on Sunday, he won’t be making them saints—he will be declaring the Church’s conviction that because of the way these two men lived they already are spending eternity in the presence of God.
 
Both men devoted their lives to service in the priesthood.
 
Angelo Roncalli, Pope John, obediently served the Church, accepting even positions he did not want; he took steps to save the lives of many Jewish refugees during World War II; he launched the rapprochement between the Catholic Church and Judaism, and he convoked the Second Vatican Council that promulgated unprecedented reforms in the Church.
 
Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul, studied for the priesthood in an underground seminary during the Nazi occupation of Poland; he protected many Polish Jews from the Nazis; he took part in the Second Vatican Council and made important contributions to two of its major documents—the Decree on Religious Freedom and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World; he advanced relationships between the Church and other Christian denominations and non-Christian faiths; he was influential in the collapse of Soviet communism in Poland and elsewhere in Europe and in the demise of dictatorships in Chile, Haiti, Paraguay, and the Philippines; he was an outspoken critic of official racial discrimination in South Africa; he actively campaigned against mafia violence in Italy; he was the first pope to oppose capital punishment and he upheld the Church’s teaching against abortion and assisted suicide.
 
Of the 265 men on the chronological list of popes, John and John Paul will be the seventy-ninth and eightieth to be canonized. The canonization process has begun for 16 others.
 
But other men who have served as popes and who led exemplary lives may be enjoying the Beatific Vision even if we haven’t been—and may never be—notified.
 
The formal process with its “blesseds” and “venerables” and “servants of God” is not for the benefit of those who have died and gone to heaven.
 
That process is for the benefit of those of us who still have our feet on the ground.
 
It provides us with, shall we say, certified examples of holiness—people such as Katharine Drexel, Elizabeth Seton, and Louis Martin and Celia Guérin—a deeply spiritual married couple who were the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
 
But we may presume that there are millions of saints whose names we do not know, whose names may not have been known beyond their own communities, but who spent their lives trying to act according to the will of God as it stirs the conscience of every human being.
 
It was the same with those millions as it was with the two popes: it was no institution but rather their submission to God’s will and their response God’s grace that made them saints.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (John 20:19-23).
 
This appearance of Jesus to the disciples is marked by his offer of peace. As the disciples hide in fear in a locked room, it is peace that Jesus offers them, not once, but twice. He then offers them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and asks them to be forgivers—people who do not hold grudges or build barriers, but people who are about reconciliation.
 
This greeting of peace is important for the gathered disciples. For the Jews, one of the signs of the coming Messiah was a reign of peace, a time when the lion would lay down with the lamb, and all would live in harmony. Jesus fulfills this expectation by exhibiting in a very tangible way that God’s reign is at hand. This greeting also comes at a time of fear and uncertainty for the disciples. Their leader, who many betrayed before his death, has been executed, and they rightly fear for their own lives. Instead of chastising them, Jesus offers them his peace. He invites them to trust beyond their concerns for security, to experience him in a new and different way, and to offer the same to others through the gift of forgiveness.
 
This offer of peace extends to us today. We are invited to believe in the God who works in new and creative ways, to trust beyond what we might see or feel. We are called to be peacemakers in our relationships by loving as God has loved us and offering forgiveness to those who have offended us. It’s often difficult to do, but throughout time people have discovered that in holding others’ sins bound they actually hold themselves bound. God’s Spirit longs to heal our wounds, yet we can prevent ourselves from experiencing God’s peace when we cling to the offenses that have hurt us. Each day, each hour, the Spirit that was given to the disciples is present in our own lives, offering us the opportunity to give and receive the gift of peace and healing.
 
- How have you experienced the gift of peace through the giving or receiving of forgiveness?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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