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bateyWhen we think of forming small groups, we tend to stick to the familiar. Maybe there is a parish-wide effort, or maybe there are friends who are already part of your faith circle with whom you feel comfortable that you invite to participate in your faith-sharing group.
 
Those are good starting points, but are they enough?
 
In his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis challenges us to challenge ourselves and turn our churches into centers of missionary outreach. Our small groups should be part of that effort, and we should learn to think outside of our own comfort zone. We know the incredible power of working within our small groups. Why not share that power with others?
 
RENEW International is doing the same. We are stepping out of our own comfort zone to bring the Gospel and our small-group process to places we have never been before. Through the generosity of committed donors, Sister Terry, Father Alejandro López-Cardinale, and Manuel Hernandez this year traveled to the Dominican Republic to start working with marginalized people of Haitian descent living there. They are engaged in LEVÁNTATE. Unánomos en Cristo (ARISE Together in Christ) in the batey, the communities of migrant workers that formed around the sugar plantations.
 
While there have been many challenges, this has been a joy-filled experience for everyone involved. We know that the light of the Gospel will shine in the hearts of the people we touch and we will learn so much from them.
 
Where can your small group reach out to the marginalized? How can your small group become its own microcosm of a larger evangelizing Church? While you may not be able to travel to another country as RENEW has, you may be able to reach into places you have never been before.
 
This is the challenge the Gospel puts before us. When you think it is beyond you, keep in your heart the words of Pope Francis: “An authentic faith—which is never comfortable or completely personal—always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.”
 

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Zacchaeus“At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, ‘Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.’ And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.’ But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost’” (Luke 19:1-10).
 
We are all life-builders. We are constantly building our bodies, our personalities, our intellects, our relationships. And very often we trick ourselves into believing that we are the sum total of what we’ve built. Underneath, however, we question, and we long to know what is truly important at our core. This restlessness moves us past our fears and surprises us by prompting us to act in ways that are contrary to what we have built and contrary to whom people perceive us to be.
 
Here is Zacchaeus, a man who has built his life through tax collecting, apparently taking much wealth at the expense of others. He goes about his days seemingly content with the riches he has accumulated and the reputation he has established.
 
Then, one day, into his life walks a man and Zacchaeus needs to know him. The restlessness wells up in him and he finds himself atop a sycamore tree. What is he doing? He never does this, and yet there he is.
 
This man who walks into his life is not just anyone. Zacchaeus meets Jesus, the man who lives and dies to tell us that we are important and loved by God.
 
Jesus does notice Zacchaeus and, not only that, makes a home in the tax collector’s home by eating with him and making sure that the restlessness that rose up in Zacchaeus and prompted him to climb the tree is not unnoticed by God.
 
What does Zacchaeus find out about himself? He realizes that life at its core is vastly more than the one he’s built by accumulating wealth. He abandons his stockpiling because he sees that his restlessness is known, appreciated, and understood by God. To know this fully, as Jesus proclaims, is to find salvation.
 
– When have you surprised yourself—in a positive way—by your own actions, and what did you learn about yourself?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Mercy_LoveLuke was not only an evangelist, but also an excellent journalist.
 
In his account of how Jesus restored life to Jairus’ daughter, Luke included the reaction of the crowd that laughed at Jesus before he performed this miracle: “they ridiculed him.”
 
Despite the crowd’s derision, Jesus brought the twelve-year-old girl back from the dead. Then, instead of going before the now-silenced crowd to take credit and “build his brand,” he instructed the girl’s parents not to tell anyone how he had restored the girl to life.
 
His was an act of pure mercy.
 
When things go bad for us or the world we live in, we sometimes blame God, questioning whether he cares about human suffering. But Christ’s selfless raising of Jairus’ little girl demonstrates that the Lord does care—a great deal more than we can know.
 
His willing compassion to restore life doesn’t depend on whether a person has just died or has been dead for days. In the same way, Jesus can restore our spiritual life no matter how long we have spent ourselves in sin or how badly we have sinned.
 
Because his mercy knows no bounds—and endures forever.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Merciful Jesus,
let us always be mindful of your compassionate love for us,
no matter what.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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dorothy_dayDorothy Day is on the path to officially being recognized by the Church as a saint.
 
Dorothy Day, whom Pope Francis named as an exemplary American when he addressed the U.S. Congress, was the founder of The Catholic Worker—both the newspaper and the movement that still provides homes for street people and places of hospitality where the hungry and lonely are welcomed to share a meal. When she heard visitors to The Catholic Worker saying of her, “She is a saint,” she would respond, “You only say that I am a saint to convince yourself that you are different from me, that you are not able to do the things I do. I am not different from you. You could do what I do.”
 
In an episode described in Luke’s Gospel, (Luke 17:5-10), the apostles came to Jesus and said, “Increase our faith,” implying that their faith at the moment was so small that they could not do the acts Jesus required of them. Jesus, in response to their request, neither promised nor gave them any more faith. He told them, in effect, “Start with the little you have, and you will accomplish all you want.”
 
Jesus exposed in them, as he unmasks in us, one way in which we avoid our responsibilities as committed Christians or what Pope Francis calls “missionary disciples.” We can’t pray, because we don’t have enough faith; we can’t be charitable and reach out to the poor, because we are too busy; we can’t be advocates for justice and work for social change, because we feel overwhelmed and powerless; we cannot forgive, because we are too hurt, and so on.
 
Jesus objects, “Don’t speak like that. Work with what you have. Even if your faith is like the tiniest of seeds—a mustard seed that grows into a large bush—you will work wonders.”
 
Dorothy Day was an atheist who became a Catholic at age 30. When she chose to follow Christ as a Catholic, she took her small seed of faith and said yes to missionary discipleship—to living a life totally dedicated to Christ and to being a fierce advocate for the poor. Today there are more than 200 Catholic Worker communities serving the poor and working for justice. Her mustard-seed faith grew into a large bush.
 
Jesus’ message is clear to us today—mustard-seed faith is enough. You do not need any more faith than you have. Use the faith you have, and it will continue to grow as you continue to answer the call to be a missionary disciple.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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King_of_SiamThe king of Siam has been, in a way, a victim of his own success.
 
The king I have in mind is commonly known in the English-speaking world as Rama IV or Mongkut, who ruled the Asian nation now known as Thailand from 1851 to 1868.
 
The western world probably would be oblivious Rama IV if it weren’t for the accounts in literature, film, and live theater, of the experiences of the English tutor Anna Leonowens.
 
As it is, however, these romanticized versions of the teacher’s interaction with the king have made him a well-known figure.
 
But the image of Rama IV that has been embedded in western consciousness, notably by Yul Brynner’s portrayals on film and on the stage, resembles the real man only vaguely if at all.
 
It is true that Rama wanted to protect Siam from being colonized by a European power and that he wanted to introduce modern ideas to the Siamese people.
 
And it is true that to some extent he achieved these goals, although the reality was not nearly as simple or successful as Oscar Hammerstein would have us believe.
 
In keeping with Siamese expectations for young men, Rama became a Buddhist monk when he was twenty years old, and he led a reform movement in monasticism.
 
He studied Latin, English, and astronomy, and he became a close friend of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix, who was apostolic vicar in Bangkok, a popular and influential figure in Siam.
 
Rama’s philosophical inquiry attracted the attention of Thomas Merton—a student of Buddhism—who recorded in his journal the king’s observation that “There is nothing in this world which can be clung to blamelessly, or which a man clinging thereto could be without blame”—an idea that Pope Francis might endorse.
 
In his effort to establish Siam’s place among the community of nations, King Rama corresponded with world figures including United States presidents Franklin Pierce, James Buchannan, and Abraham Lincoln.
 
Although it has often been written that Rama offered to send Lincoln elephants to use against the Confederacy during the War Between the States, it appears that the king actually wrote to Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, offering to send the animals for use as beasts of burden.
 
By the time the letter reached the United States, Lincoln was president, and he responded, explaining that the climate in North America might not be suitable to elephants and that Americans were relying on steam engines to do the heavy hauling.
 
As a part of this correspondence, Rama, in 1861, wrote an expansive letter to Pope Pius IX, addressing him as the “Holy Father of the Catholic Christian World.”
 
The letter was dictated by the king and taken down in Siamese by a scribe, and then was translated by the king into a rather stilted English and carried to Rome by Pallegoix. This letter is now in the Vatican Museum.
 
The king began by taking note of his friendship with Bishop Pallegoix. He then wrote that although Siamese monarchs for centuries had practiced Buddhism, they also had allowed people of other religions to practice their faith unmolested and had welcomed refugees from places such as China and the southern region of what is now Vietnam where Christians in particular were persecuted.
 
Rama mentioned that Pius IX, in a letter hand delivered by Pallegoix, in 1852 along with a mosaic of the Pantheon, had specifically asked that Catholic missionaries and other Christians in Siam be protected from harassment.
 
What is most compelling about this letter is the king’s frequent references to religious tolerance.
 
After all, he wrote, the path to internal happiness and eternal life “is in fact difficult to be exactly known.”
 
The king refers in this letter to “the Superagency of the Universe”—in other words, the one God whose nature is hard to ascertain. Rama asks this “Superagency” to confer “temporal and spiritual happiness” and eternal life on the pope.
 
And some commentators have pointed out that the notion of one God is not a part of Buddhist thought, and that the king probably used this expression out of deference to the pope’s beliefs.
 
Rama’s interaction with the pope and his comments in this letter suggest that he embraced an idea expressed by Pope Francis in his apostolic letter “Amoris Laetitia”:
 
“Keep an open mind. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both. …
We need to free ourselves from feeling that we all have to be alike.”
 
Rama IV was born on October 18, 1804.
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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