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hand“Jesus answered, ‘…the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property,in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.” Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, “Pay back what you owe.” Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.” But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt.Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart'” (Matthew 18:23-35).
 
Jesus teaches that we must always forgive because we have been greatly forgiven. No matter how big the hurt we must forgive. That is what we say each time we pray the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
 
How difficult this forgiveness is for us human beings! Many people hold grudges and refuse to let go. Unwillingness to forgive fuels the fires of resentment and bitterness, doing harm to both the person incapable of forgiving and the one needing forgiveness. Such people will never find real peace in their lives as long as they are incapable of forgiving. As George Herbert said, “He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.”
 
Jesus’ parable also reinforces a theme that runs throughout all the New Testament: we must forgive in order to be forgiven. If we do not forgive others, then we cannot hope for God’s forgiveness. This again challenges us to look at our expectations. How often we expect others not to take our mistakes or shortcomings seriously! How easily we hope that others will forgive us our follies! Yet are we able to offer others the same understanding and forgiveness? Or do we refuse to offer the same forgiveness that we often take for granted from others? What does the concept of God’s forgiveness mean to me? Do I believe in such forgiveness and if so, how does it change the way I live?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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We’ve all been in situations in which someone has hurt or injured us. Sometimes we find it difficult or even impossible to forgive the offender. Or perhaps we have been the one who has done the hurting. Whichever the case, we have all had to deal with people who “sin against us.”

The early Christian community had similar difficulties. In the midst of the turmoil that accompanied the transition between Judaism and early Christianity, and under the pressure of persecution, they had to deal with the question of what to do with those who had sinned against them. Matthew drew on his Jewish heritage to offer ways to welcome back a member of the community: first, try to speak with the one who has harmed you one on one; then invite friends or witnesses to mediate if necessary; and finally, go to the Church community for support to aid you in the disputed matter. Throughout the process, be mindful that God has given you the power to “bind and loose” your grievances.

When we bind the sins against us, we are holding on to grievances and are unable to release ourselves and others. Our own anger can eat away at our body and spirit. By loosing sins, we are able to let go and forgive. We can free ourselves from carrying this burden and free others from carrying it as well.

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18: 18),

This is great advice! But great advice isn’t always as easy as it sounds. When we are hurt, we want little or nothing to do with the one who has hurt us. We may bottle the pain up inside or speak about it to anyone but the one who has harmed us. The Gospel teaches us to air out the issue. If the person does not hear us, the Gospel says to go to the community for help. This shows that forgiveness is a process. Forgiving and forgetting are not the same things. Forgiving is recognizing that those who have caused us pain are also loved and created by God. This God is calling both them and us into new and greater life.

In what situation have you found it difficult to forgive? Where is that situation now?

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

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“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.’ He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” (Matthew 16: 21-23)

Last Sunday, Peter was the “rock” that Jesus would build his Church upon. He was called to be the foundation for the Church and his witness would nourish the Church forever. Rocks, however, can also be obstacles.

Jesus’s reaction to Peter shows Peter’s transformation from a “rock” to a “stumbling block.” Peter was observing and judging Jesus through human eyes. Looking at it from the human perspective, it does not make sense to suffer. “God forbid, Lord!” However, instead of looking at it with human eyes, Jesus wanted Peter to judge things with the eyes of God.

Jesus is prompting us to do so as well. When seen through the eyes of God, dying or letting go of something is the bridge to new and greater life.

How often do we see the world through human eyes? As humans, we want to alleviate pain. By seeing the world through God’s eyes, we see that suffering is not the end. Times of suffering or letting go of something have the potential to become moments for transformation. Those moments in which we are broken open are moments when we are open to new possibilities and new life.

If we see things with human eyes, we can lose our foundation. Not only will we ourselves begin to crumble, but we can cause others to trip and fall. Yet, when we see things through the eyes of God, and act accordingly, then we will share in the strength of God, and become a rock for ourselves and for others.

Look at how you respond to life’s challenges. Do you do so as a “rock” or as a “stumbling block?”

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

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Who_do_you_say“When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” (Matthew 16: 13-17)

Jesus’ way of teaching was usually by telling stories and asking questions. He didn’t lecture but created a dialogue with his disciples in order for them to gain deeper understanding. Today’s reading begins with Jesus asking his disciples who the people say the Son of Man is. They answered him with various prophets. Like these prophets, Jesus brought messages from God. But Jesus was not only a prophet.

Jesus, the good teacher, proposed another question to his disciples in response to their answer. Simon Peter spoke for all the disciples and answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This answer shows just how close to Jesus they were, and how well they had come to know him. Like the crowds, they had seen Jesus perform miracles and had heard his parables. However, they had also been given private explanations of his teachings. Through God’s grace, they had been given a very special gift: recognizing Jesus the Messiah.

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Matthew 16:17).

This is what greatness looks like in the kingdom of heaven. It is not in moving mountains but is born when God comes to dwell within us and when God reveals himself to the world through us. We become what we are meant to be when we become mirrors who reflect the glory of God.

Grace can be seen in Simon Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question. Grace in the disciples comes not just from hearing Jesus preach, but also from living with him – inviting him into the ordinary times of life, recognizing him as a constant companion, and having conversations with him not only when things are rough, but also when things are good.

Today we must remember that and commit ourselves to setting our own wills aside so that God can make himself known to the world through our words and actions.

If others were to guess who you think Jesus is, based on how you talk about him, would they guess correctly?

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

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Mary_MedjugorjeDuring the forty-plus years that I worked as a newspaper editor, there were several instances in central New Jersey in which people reported seeing apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
 
The most recent example involved a family that said that when they stood in their yard and looked up at a window on the second floor, they could see Mary’s image in the refracted light on the glass.
 
There were other instances—including one that for a while drew hundreds of people to a home in Monmouth County, creating a significant traffic problem—in which the accounts included communications from the mother of Jesus.
 
And, of course, we all occasionally read or hear stories in the news in which people have encountered Mary and Jesus himself, often in the most unexpected places.
 
I was reminded of all these episodes recently when I read a story in “Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly” about the continuing controversy over the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin that have been reported for the past 36 years in Medjugorje, a village in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
 
Many folks accept the statements by a group of villagers that Mary has made regular appearances there and engaged in dialogue with some people.
 
There have also been many reports of healings, vocations, and conversions connected with Mary’s appearances.
 
There have also been bitter conflicts among well-meaning people who either do or do not believe that Mary appears in Medjugorje.
 
The Church has authorized investigations of these reports but has reached no conclusion, although Pope Francis, on the one hand, has not formally dismissed the visions but, on the other hand, has expressed the personal opinion that Mary does not appear in the village.
 
Apparitions, particularly of the Virgin Mary, are a part of the tradition of the Church; this year is the centennial of one of the most famous of them, the appearances of the Blessed Mother to the three children at Fatima in Portugal.
 
My view of this subject in general is that apparitions are possible, though I leave it to others to determine if this or that vision was legitimate.
 
The topic always reminds me, though, of the comment Jesus made to Thomas the Apostle, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” and his remark to the royal official in Cana, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
 
Jesus reminded us repeatedly that he was calling us to faith that was based on his authoritative teaching, his example, and his passion, death, and resurrection.
 
Many scholars tell us that even the miracles Jesus himself performed during his lifetime were acts of compassion, not means of dazzling people into belief.
 
It isn’t as though those of us—and that means most of us—who have never seen Jesus or Mary in a windowpane or a grotto are somehow deprived of their presence.
 
On the contrary, Mary is accessible to us in prayer, and Jesus is accessible to us in prayer, in the Eucharist, and in his mystical body—the Church.
 
We can call on Mary or any saint for comfort and intercession, and we can achieve a loving, personal relationship with Jesus without the spectacle of public apparitions.
 
In fact, we can better open ourselves to the reality of the holy and the divine in the calm and quiet of meditation and worship.
 
The Hebrew Scripture tells us that it wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire that God called Elijah; it was in a still, small voice—a voice that calls each of us all the time and waits only to hear the answer, “Here I am.”
 
This post was first published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen. The writer is a permanent deacon in the diocese and managing editor at RENEW International.

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