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FrWallThe human population is evolving into two categories: those who lived before and those who live during the digital age.
 
Those who lived before have at least one disadvantage: they’re more easily forgotten.
 
A case in point arose recently when I did a Google search on Monsignor William Wall.
 
I met Monsignor Wall when I was about twelve years old and was an altar server at my parish church.
 
In those days, we altar servers knelt on the altar step while the celebrant conducted the liturgy with his back to us.
 
The rubrics called for the celebrant to genuflect multiple times during the Mass, and the first time I saw Monsignor Wall genuflect was also the first time I saw khaki pants and sneakers emerge from under the cassock and alb.
 
It was the mid 1950s, and I had never seen a priest arrive for Sunday Mass in anything but black clerical garb.
 
I learned that his mode of dress wasn’t the only thing unconventional about Monsignor Wall.
 
He was a tough customer with a no-nonsense attitude and a blunt vocabulary.
 
He would often pause during Mass to direct a death stare at someone in the church who was disruptive or inattentive.
 
One Sunday he stopped in the middle of his homily and asked the chatty choir members if they thought they could preach better than he could.
 
Another Sunday, he froze during the final blessing with his hand raised in the air and asked the ushers in back of the church, “Will the standing army of Christ please kneel?”
 
More important, he was the founder and overseer of the Mount Carmel Guild in Paterson, where he specialized in helping indigent men who were addicted to alcohol.
 
He dealt directly with these men, gave them tough love, and put them to work.
 
I didn’t understand it at the time, but he was also the first priest I knew whose ministry wasn’t confined to a church or a parish or, for that matter, to Catholics.
 
He was, in fact, the first example I encountered of the kind of ministry Pope Francis has been urging since the first days of his papacy—a ministry that reaches to the outskirts of society to touch the most desolate of our brothers and sisters.
 
Monsignor Wall died many years ago in a tractor accident on a farm he operated as part of the Guild’s program.
 
My Google search on his name produced very few responses and no substantial information about him.
 
He did his work and departed this earth before there was an Internet to capture his biography and preserve it forever.
 
But he lives on in the incalculable impact he had on the lives of men he helped and the example he set for untold others, including me.
 
We observe All Souls Day on November 2, but the Church traditionally dedicates this whole month to commemoration of the faithful departed.
 
There is no more fitting way to carry on that tradition than by remembering in prayer those who have contributed to the spawning and maturing of our Christian faith.
 
Our parents, our teachers, our pastors, our mentors—exemplars like Monsignor Wall—may not have a place in cyberspace, but they have earned one in our memories and our hearts.
 
This post was first published in the Catholic Spirit in the Diocese of Metuchen where the writer is a permanent deacon.

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“Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,’The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation “Rabbi.” As for you, do not be called “Rabbi.” You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called “Master”; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted'” (Matthew 23: 1-12).
 
Certain scribes and Pharisees at the time of Jesus are bad examples of religious leadership: some did not practice what they preached; others did things only to get attention; some sought prominence in public places; still others made a great show of their religious piety; and others expected more of their followers than of themselves. In short, there were those who wanted all of the privileges and trappings came went with their position, but did not live up to the accompanying responsibilities.
 
Writing for his community, Matthew invites them to draw parallels for themselves. That same challenge from Jesus echoes down through the centuries to us today. Jesus’—and Matthew’s— first piece of advice is “Don’t be like those Pharisees!” Don’t use religion and religious leadership for your own selfish motives, to impress people and to be praised for your “piety.” Such empty displays do you no spiritual good. This Gospel proposes the model of servant leadership—the style of leadership that Jesus himself exemplifies. Matthew’s whole Gospel has been crafted to show Jesus as the greatest teacher and his whole Gospel has implied what Matthew now puts explicitly on the lips of Christ: “You have only one Teacher, the Christ.”
 
Jesus teaches that religion is a liberating reality, freeing people from whatever bound them: fear, guilt, self-absorption, materialism, addictions of various kinds. The life Jesus wants us to have is that of the children of God, free from all evils like selfishness, pride, arrogance, abuse of power, and resentment. Those who are called to leadership are to live their leadership in service in a way that liberates people.
 
We would be missing the point if we saw this reading merely as a condemnation of all scribes or all Pharisees. Jesus begins by referring to the good teachings from the scribes and Pharisees; he is critical only of their abuses of power and position. Generalizations about groups are dangerous, because they are never completely true. This does not diminish the seriousness of the offenses committed by the few, nor does it negate the good done by the many.
 
Our challenge is to not just recognize good teaching or good leadership when we encounter it, but to admire it, study it, and allow it to influence our thoughts and actions.
 
– How has Jesus called me to servant leadership and how have I responded?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“’Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, our God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:36-40).

There are 613 precepts in the Torah which make up Jewish law. How does one decide which is the most important? In other words, what is the heart of the Torah?

Jesus’ response is simple. The heart of the Torah is love. Laws are signs and guideposts on our journey, helping us to learn to love with our full selves – our entire heart, mind, and soul. This law aids us in becoming better lovers of God, one another, and all of creation.

This passage is an invitation to see the world through God’s eyes and to love as God loves.

We have been loved into being, created for love in such a way that we are drawn to love as God loves. God loves and sustains the entire world, and loves each part of us at every moment. God’s love has no limits. God’s love is of excess and is poured out endlessly on us. His love is not conditional.

By saying that love is the heart of the Torah, Jesus is calling us to reciprocate this love and love as freely as God. We are invited to see the connection between love of God and love of neighbor. When we truly love those around us, we are showing our love for God.

How can you increase your consciousness of love in your life?

What would your world look like if you approached all people by trying to see God present in them?

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

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“The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?’” (Matthew 22: 15 – 17).

Jesus’ parables to chief priests and elders over the last few readings depicted them as the second son who did not fulfill his father’s wishes and as the tenants who killed the king’s messengers. These religious leaders tried, in the conversation recorded in this reading, to put Jesus in a no-win situation.

If Jesus said that it was permissible to pay taxes to Caesar, the crowds would see him as siding with the Roman occupation. If he said it was not permissible, then the Herodians (who collaborated with the Romans) could denounce him to the authorities.

“Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax’” (Matthew 22:18).

The Jewish custom was that the only valid currency in the Temple was official Temple money. Roman coins minted with the head of Caesar portrayed him as a demi-god, and this image of a false god was explicitly forbidden by the First Commandment. These Pharisees and Herodians, by having Roman coins in their possession, dared to breach the First Commandment within the Temple! Doing this showed their acceptance of the financial advantages to them of the Roman occupation of Palestine.

“He said to them, ‘Whose image is on this and whose inscription?’ They replied, ‘Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22: 20-21).

Those willing to use Caesar’s coin should repay him in kind, as they received their money from Caesar. Jesus raised the debate to a new level by bringing up repaying God. The Pharisees and the Herodians should be more concerned with repaying God with the good deeds that are due to Him.

Jesus challenges us to look at where we get our money and how we spend it. This reveals our true priorities. Has our money, as it did with the Pharisees and Herodians, entered the space of the sacred? Do we find fulfillment in making money and buying things, instead of in our faith and in doing good deeds?

How do you spend your money? What does it tell you about your values and priorities?

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

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In the time of Jesus, everyone owed much to the king. He was responsible for safety, trade, and everything the community had. Given this fact, everyone was obliged to be loyal to him. Imagine the king’s anger at having his invitation to a celebration refused by those who owed him so much! After his servants were killed, “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” (Matthew 22:7). New subjects were gathered who showed loyalty and celebrated with the king. However, when the king saw a guest who hadn’t put on a wedding garment, he said to his attendants, “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Matthew 22:13). That subject was willing to take what was offered, but not willing to give back what was due.

Instead of focusing on the king’s actions, look at this parable as a lesson in consistency of faith and life.

The king expected the outward profession of his subjects’ sense of personal loyalty. The first group of subjects professed loyalty, but did not act on it because they did not attend the celebration. This reminds us of times when we profess that we believe but do not let our faith guide our daily actions. Other subjects killed emissaries of the king. They rejected the king, just as we may at times choose to do things that are contrary to the challenge to love one another. The last group of subjects was willing to profess their loyalty and act on it by attending the celebration ─all except for the one subject who refused to dress respectfully but wanted to reap the benefits of the party. It is this third group that Jesus challenges us to be – by both professing our faith outwardly and allowing it to guide us internally.

“For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22: 14).

God calls us all to be in a relationship. But our response and the consistency of our response are up to us. We owe everything to God, just as the subjects owed everything to the king. All God asks us to do in return is to be consistent in heart and action in our response.

That consistency can be a tougher task than it appears. How do you respond to God’s call? Are your actions always consistent with your beliefs?

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

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