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“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-18).
 
Trinity Sunday celebrates the mystery we reaffirm every time we make the sign of the cross, recite the creed, or attend a baptism. This teaching is drawn from many texts in which Jesus reveals the actions of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today’s gospel reading, extracted from Jesus’ instruction on baptism, focuses on the Father’s supreme act of divine love.
 
To better understand this passage, it is helpful to look at its context. Jesus was speaking to a Pharisee named Nicodemus. In the Jewish community of Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were the accepted religious authority. Some of them opposed Jesus and his values so, for fear of offending this particular group, Nicodemus came to Jesus secretly in the night. Nicodemus opened his mind to a new understanding of religion that clashed with the Pharisees’ priorities, but he found a way to escape the domination of the “in crowd.”
 
Where do we see Nicodemus in our community? When we are honest with ourselves, we admit that we too can be controlled by peer pressure and political correctness. Perhaps we pretend that we have given up religious practice because we’re “too mature,” “too sophisticated,” or “too smart” for such things. Only in secret do we admit that we’ve stopped attending Sunday Mass for fear of friends’ ridicule or because we are simply too lazy. But Nicodemus gives us hope. Strengthened by his new faith, as we see through his later appearances in the Gospels, he became a follower of Jesus.
 
Jesus spoke of a divine love that in dying bestows eternal life. By eternal life, Jesus meant not just life that will go on after death but the fullness of life now, a life in God that cannot be terminated by death. When Jesus made clear to this fearful man—and to each of us—the soft truth that the Father loves even the unlovable, he also implied the hard truth that Christians must love their enemies. Jesus’ final words offer an even greater challenge: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Condemning is easy, but God gives us a greater challenge: to love the world enough to change it.
 
- How do you allow outside influences to prevent you from fully living your faith?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Peres_Abbas_Francis“Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity.” These were the words of Pope Francis as he gave his address for the Invocation of Peace on Sunday. The gathering was held in the Vatican Gardens and involved Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Pope Francis had invited during his trip to the Middle East last month. The Orthodox Christian leader Patriarch Bartholomew I, was also in attendance.
 
Reflecting on these words, I think of a friend who personifies them. My friend was a Muslim student at a Catholic College, so saying that she was a minority was an understatement. At one point, she told me, she accounted for twenty percent of the college’s Muslim students; additionally, out of this population she was one of the few practicing Muslims. Despite all of this, she chose to deeply immerse herself in unfamiliar territory by taking time to attend the Mass on campus, making friends with the priests, and taking Catholic theology courses. Her actions have caused me to reflect on my own ability to face what I perceive as unknown or intimidating – a stranger, a new environment, or a non-Catholic place of worship – with courage and a resolve to risk my own sense of comfort in order to perhaps bring about new connections.
 
When I think of this kind of courage I also think of the late Bishop Joseph McFadden of the Diocese of Harrisburg — my hometown diocese — who chose to attend and speak alone at a PA Nonbelievers meeting he had been invited to. His courage was to talk of our faith and yet also to listen, even if that meant going into an uncomfortable situation.
 
It has often been said that religious differences are the causes of many wars. Yet we know that typically the violence between different religious or cultural groups is a complex situation that is the result of multiple sociological, economic, or political factors. When religion is brought into the mix, it is often used as an ultimate stamp of justification for one party’s violent actions against another. The danger is not necessarily in the religion itself but in people in power who manipulate religion into a device for destructive purposes. This creates a situation in which the enemy is dehumanized due to its dissociation with the “right” religion.
 
Jesus’ action in reaching out to gentiles, on the other hand, is something we can imitate just as Pope Francis has done: by reaching out to those of different faiths and those of no faith, whether in dialogue or in prayer. In this way, we can give life to the principle that the religious “other” is really not a stranger but a fellow human being — perhaps even a future friend! In this way, lines drawn according to religious difference will fail before they can ever become established, and our fellow humans will not become “them” or “they” but “we” and “us.” Granted, we should also recognize, given the situation, that peace will not necessarily occur simply or without sacrifice, but that small steps performed today are the ones that increasingly ensure violence never escalates.
 
As Pope Francis has also just demonstrated, even if all these steps fail there is still prayer. Besides praying for peaceful results to conflict we also in this way ensure that our peacemaking starts with our Holy Father. So let us pray in the words of St. Francis:
 

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
where there is injury, pardon,
where there is discord, harmony,
where there is error, truth,
where there is doubt, faith,
where there is despair, hope,
where there is darkness, light,
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

 
A question to consider: How can I be a peacemaker in my office, neighborhood, or religious community?

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Holy_Spirit_Wild_GooseThere are a variety of images in both Scripture and tradition that help us to grasp the meaning of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament we encounter the Holy Spirit as “ruach” the very breath of God. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she was filled with God’s life. When Jesus was baptized, the spirit of God descended upon him as a dove and empowered him for mission. On the day of Pentecost, a rush of wind shook the house and heart of the disciples and flames of fire rested on their heads, transforming their fear and uncertainty into faith and conviction.
 
In the Celtic tradition the Holy Spirit is represented not as a peaceful dove but instead as a “wild goose.” The wild goose reveals a spirit which is passionate, noisy, and courageous. This symbol reminds us that God’s spirit cannot be tamed or contained. I suspect the wild goose was at work in the election of Pope Francis and continues to stir up the world through his homespun yet poignant language and prophetic actions.
 
There is an ancient tale about a flock of geese that through their loud cackling forewarned the lookouts in a Roman city-state of an invading army. Throughout Christian history the prophetic cries of saints, movements, and religious communities — like the calls of those geese — have alerted the Church to the need for renewal and reform. The work of renewing and reforming is never done in isolation but as part of the community of the faithful which is very human and often fearful and uncertain.
 
The Holy Spirit works through ordinary human beings like you and me to bring God’s healing and purifying presence to all of creation. Ask the Spirit of the living God, the “wild goose,” to send upon you, our Church, and our world an outpouring of God’s spirit, transforming our fear and uncertainty into faith and conviction.
 
Sr. Terry is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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Looking through a photo album, we submerge ourselves in sweet memories and reawaken long-forgotten thoughts and feelings. When we surface from this experience, we may have a better understanding of how all the connections of the past brought us through the journey of life to our present situation. In a similar manner, the communion of saints is like a photo album; each of their stories is like a snapshot that, when pieced together with the rest, gives us a better sense of connectedness within the grand narrative that is the life of the Church. Because of this compendium of holy humans, we are able to see just how the Church is better today because of their efforts in the past.
 
Today is the feast day of St. Boniface, a bishop and martyr who sought to bring Christ’s light to the German peoples in the eighth century. Pope Benedict XVI gave his impression of St. Boniface: “His ardent zeal for the Gospel never fails to impress me. At the age of 41 he left a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and teacher, in order to proclaim the Gospel to the simple, to barbarians; once again at the age of 80, he went to a region in which he foresaw his martyrdom.” Benedict XVI continued: “By comparing his ardent faith, this zeal for the Gospel with our own often lukewarm and bureaucratized faith, we see what we must do and how to renew our faith, in order to give the precious pearl of the Gospel as a gift to our time” (General Audience, March 11, 2009). Additionally, we know that St. Boniface enacted many reforms within what was left of the Church of Gaul, with the result that the Church there (in western Europe) “was seen to flourish again and to shine with new splendor” (Pope Pius XII, Ecclesiae Fastos).
 
Besides being the patron saint of Germany, St. Boniface is also the patron saint of brewers. It could be surmised, then, that he would have known about the ability to procure beer through multiple generations of the same strain of yeast. If desired, during the brewing process the living yeast may be separated from the “trub” or the excess proteins, fats, and inactive yeast lying at the bottom of the brewing vat in order that the live yeast can continue to be used for additional batches of brew. This too provides an apt metaphor for the mission of St. Boniface: by reforming the corrupted Church in many of the German provinces, St. Boniface brought forth the living Church from that which had appeared to be dead. The renewed Church was then free to expand and plant new seeds that in turn sustained multiple generations.
 
It is perhaps in this way that Thuringia, a central location in Germany which was one of the many provinces St. Boniface evangelized in, continued to preserve and regenerate the faith even up until my German ancestors moved from that province in the nineteenth century and came to America. Even if quite indirectly, therefore, it is possible that the work of St. Boniface played a part in the Catholic beliefs my family held over a thousand years later. The Church brings with it and through its members an interconnectedness that has the ability to feed countless generations after it, just as Jesus’ distribution of the loaves and fish fed the five thousand. Like St. Boniface, reflecting on our place in the Church we can ask ourselves, “In what ways am I renewing my faith?” and “What actions am I taking today to foster a better Church for tomorrow?”
 
Matt is a summer intern for RENEW’s Publications and Resources team and will begin a master’s degree program at Providence College in the fall.

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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).
 
In John’s Gospel, the silent, reassuring way Jesus came into the room was much like the way he comes into our hearts. This quiet scene is rich with both literal and symbolic significance. The locked door reveals that Jesus’ glorified body was different, uninhibited by the limitations of earthly bodies. Even more significant is God’s entrance into a heart locked by fear, prejudice, or unpleasant memories. When Jesus—without fanfare—simply stood in the midst of his frightened disciples, it suggested that from then on, his real presence would be found in the community of believers. Finally, with the symbolic gesture of breathing, Jesus signaled the infusion of an even more intense presence and power, the life-giving breath of the Spirit.
 
Since this scene took place on the Sunday evening of the Resurrection, Jesus’ first concern was to convince his startled audience that they were not seeing things. To prove that he was indeed the same person they saw nailed to the cross, he showed them his wounds. Jesus offers us the same proof of his presence by showing us the wounds all around us, not just on battlefields or in hospitals but in slums and prisons, and even in our own living rooms. Recognizing Jesus in the wounded and serving him there opens the community to receive all that he wants to give when he repeats the powerful word, “Peace.”
 
Jesus commissioned them and fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit to empower them in their work. Then, the first thing Jesus told them to do with their new power was to forgive. Forgiveness opens the door to peace. Forgiveness liberates the one who forgives as well as the one forgiven. Even more, the human act of forgiveness releases the power of the Spirit into the community. Think of the power of John Paul II forgiving his would-be assassin; Nelson Mandela working for reconciliation with the very people who had imprisoned him; or the Amish of Pennsylvania reaching out in forgiveness to the family of the man who had killed a number of their young girls. Forgiveness has the power to transform our lives if we allow the Spirit to work. Imagine how different the history of the world would be, how different our daily headlines would be, if we acted out the Pentecost Gospel: “Receive the Holy Spirit of forgiveness. Open the door to peace.”
 
- Who in your life are you called to forgive, and from whom do you need to seek forgiveness?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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