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“He said, ‘To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.’ With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it” (Mark 4:30-33).

What a sense of hope this image of the growing seed must have given to those who followed Jesus and those who first read Mark’s Gospel. The first believers suffered tremendously for their faith. To understand that the kingdom of God starts as something no bigger than a mustard seed but grows into something large and sturdy must have been encouraging. This parable gave those early disciples strength, patience, persistence, and hope.

Today, the world is troubled by war and the threat of war, by greed, injustice, and poverty. It is just as urgent for us to hear this Gospel as it was for Mark’s contemporaries. The growth of a seed is slow and imperceptible. All we can do is work to provide the right environment for that seed and trust that if we do our part the seed will grow.

Just as the early Church could not know the effect its faith would have on the world, we cannot know how our faith will contribute to building up the reign of God on earth. Our job is to help God’s reign spread by cultivating the soil of our lives and living the word of God.

What are the ways in which you keep the soil of your life cultivated so that it fosters the word of God? Are there things that you could do differently?

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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A reading from the Book of Genesis
(Chapter 3:9-15)
 
gardenAncient cultures told stories to explain the most important realities of their world. This is such a story, one that ancient Jewish people developed to explain the existence of evil, the separation of the sexes, the dominance of the male, the inferior and sinister role of the woman, and the just punishments from God. This helped the ancients to justify their patriarchal social system which placed women in subservient roles. Tragically, many people throughout the ages, including many in our Church, have treated this passage and the verse that follows it as support for grievous injustices against one half of the human race. But the positive point here is that the God of Israel is presented as a personal God who interacts with human beings. The passage is not to be taken literally but should be understood as setting the relationship between God and human beings from the beginning.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 130:1-8)
 
“With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” The God of Israel is seen as a merciful God in the midst of so many violent merciless gods of the time. Our Father is the prototype of an extremely merciful and all-loving God.
 
A reading from the second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 4:13-5:1)
 
Saint Paul was the Great Evangelizer, the person, more than any other, who was responsible for spreading the Good News well beyond Israel to most of the then-known Mediterranean world. Yet, he knew how fragile a messenger he was. At this point in his life, he was suffering from several physical afflictions and the emotional burden of constant conflict, arrests, imprisonments, and misunderstandings from the very people he was trying to serve and to save. And yet, he can write, “Therefore, we are not discouraged, rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (4:16).
 
Have you ever felt burdens of that kind in your life, burdens that are physical, emotional and/or relational? In the midst of Paul’s struggles his faith renewed him “day by day.” How do you renew yourself? Do you think about your need for renewal or whether you deserve it? You do. We all need and deserve renewals of all kinds on all levels. But do you think that you do not have the time or that it would be a sign of weakness to admit your burdens? Paul knew he needed help. That is why this great apostle writes this way. We need help as well—every one of us, in so many ways, at so many times in our lives. Where can you find renewal of body, mind and spirit?
 
The Holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 3:20-35)
 
Here we read that it is not only Paul who is misunderstood and threatened; it is also Jesus. “Jesus came home with his disciples. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said ‘He is out of his mind’ ” (verses 20-21). And, his opponents, the scribes, said “He is possessed by Beelzebul” and “By the prince of demons, he drives out demons” (verse 22).
 
So, even when Jesus is healing and teaching a message of love and forgiveness, he is called crazy, even by some of his relatives. That is hard to believe, but here it is in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus then takes the conversation to another level to talk about his larger family. “For whoever does the will of my Father is my brother and sister and mother” (verse 35). That is who we are. We are the family of Jesus. We accept his mercy and healing, and we believe in his promises of life everlasting.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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“Summoning them, [Jesus] began to speak to them in parables,’How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself,that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand;that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder the house.’
His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.’ But he said to them in reply, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother'” (Mark 3:23-27, 31-35).
 
There is no evidence that Jesus had anything but the deepest love and respect for his mother. His question “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” (Mark 3:33) is not a rejection of his earthly family, but rather a declaration that all who do the will of God are part of his family. By using the image of a family, Jesus provides an insight into the kind of relationship he expects among his followers. They are not to be like a kingdom or a house divided against itself, rather they are to carry out their mission as brothers and sisters. Jesus calls his followers to a collaborative ministry in which the unique, God-given gifts and talents of each person are respected and unselfishly put to the service of the whole.
 
The face of ministry in our Church continues to evolve. Pastors may not oversee numerous associate pastors as in the past, but especially in large parishes they do lead increasingly large and diverse staffs made up of deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and lay people. In addition to pastoral ministers trained in religious education, liturgy, music, and youth ministry, parish staffs often include business administrators,parish nurses, and a variety of support personnel. Staff members, in turn, work with a variety of volunteer ministers. The growth of these various ministries has often been called a sign of the Spirit’s work in the contemporary Church. When the ministers of a parish work collaboratively, the parish is usually full of life. When they don’t, the parish may be like the kingdom or the house divided against itself, which, Jesus says, “will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25). May our parishes be among those that stand and thrive!
 
Are there people doing the will of God whom I am unwilling to accept as brothers and sisters of Jesus?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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The Book of Exodus
(Chapter 24:3-8)
 
Animal sacrifice was common among ancient religions, including Judaism. As strange as it may seem to us today, this was a major step away from human sacrifice which some of Israel’s neighbors practiced. The sprinkling of the blood of an animal was a sign of Israel’s fidelity to the Covenant God made with the Hebrews through Moses. That is the origin of the expression “blood of the covenant.” Sprinkling blood was also seen as a cleansing ritual and an act of forgiveness from God to his people.
 
chalice
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18)
 
“I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” We certainly call upon the name of the Lord, usually in time of need, but how about calling on him in thanksgiving for all he gives us?
 
The letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 9:11-15)
 
The author makes the point to his Hebrew Christian readers that the blood Jesus shed in his crucifixion is much more powerful and meaningful than the blood of animals. Jesus is “mediator of a new covenant” that brings with it “the promised eternal inheritance.” It was a difficult challenge for Jews, who had lived their whole lives under the original covenant with God, to believe that there was something new and deeper through the sacrifice of Jesus. Most could not believe, but some did. They were courageous, facing the wrath of the Romans and exclusion from their synagogues. This letter was written to explain the new covenant to them and to give them hope in the midst of their conversion from a lifelong religious practice to something new and largely unknown.
 
The Holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 14:12-16, 22-26)
 
What Mark describes here is not just any Passover meal. Jesus sees it as the beginning of the new covenant, a powerful healing, and a promise of new life. The Eucharist that we celebrate together is not a reward for being part of the community or for doing the right thing. It is a healing, forgiving, peace-giving gathering that is meant to nourish us, to give us strength on our daily journey. If you know Catholics who have stopped coming to the Eucharist, please encourage them to return. This could be an important part of your ministry, helping people you know and love to come back to the banquet of unconditional love.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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“The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover. While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God’” (Mark 14:16, 22-25).

Blood is mentioned in all of the readings for today and in each case it is used in connection with the idea of covenant. God marked his special relationships with people by establishing covenants with them. God’s covenant with the Israelite nation, for example, was celebrated with a special sacrifice of atonement. Each year, a high priest would liturgically put all the sins of the people on a single lamb, and that lamb would then be slain.

This gospel reading described Jesus sharing the great feast of Passover with his disciples and celebrating the liberation of the people of God from slavery. He pronounced the words, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

The next day, the disciples discovered the reality of that promise. The blood that sealed this new covenant was that of Jesus himself. God showed the greatness of his love in emptying himself to become human and shared in our humanity to the extent of death on a cross. Jesus, the Son of God, was now the lamb whose blood sealed the new covenant of love between God and all human beings.

By being the lamb, Jesus also inaugurated a new healing covenant. Every time we share his body and blood in the Eucharist, we are involved in that sacrifice that has the power to transcend time and space and meet us where we are.

There may come decisive moments, or even whole chapters of our lives, that require us to empty ourselves as Jesus did. People rarely receive awards or recognition for feeding the poor, tutoring the struggling, or “being the lamb” in countless of other ways. But, in doing these things, we build up the love that exists between ourselves and those we serve and between ourselves and God.

What are some sacrifices you have seen others make for you? How have those sacrifices impacted your life?

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

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