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RightOne of the hit songs around the time that I was finishing high school was “You Talk Too Much,” written by Reginald Hall and sung by Joe Jones on a record that made No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
 
As was typical of the rock ‘n’ roll lyrics of that time, the meaning of this song was obscure. Who was talking too much? The song didn’t say.
 
That song came to mind because these days, talking too much has become a part of our culture.
 
The never-ending commentary on television and radio in which real and faux authorities talk at each other about politics, government, social issues, and even sports, seems to serve little purpose except to fuel bitter exchanges on social media and confirm folks in the opinions they already hold.
 
Often, the discourse, rolling on like a truck without brakes, descends into schoolyard vitriol.
 
I’m sure that there are reasonable people on both sides of every contested subject, but such people are drowned out by the relentless polemics.
 
A character in the “Peanuts” comic strip once concluded an argument by saying, “I’m right, and you’re wrong, and it’s simple as that.”
 
It is rarely as simple as that, but as more and more folks adopt that intractable attitude, as fewer and fewer are willing to give opposing views a fair hearing, we are putting at risk the quality of our life as a nation and our lives as private citizens.
 
One reasonable voice that rises above the maelstrom is that of Pope Francis, who more than once has addressed this very issue.
 
He raised the topic, for example, when he met with university students in Rome.
 
Speaking of media reports of the insults exchanged by public figures, Francis told the students that it was “time to lower the volume. We need to talk less and listen more.”
 
During that meeting, the pope explained that civil discourse is not a matter only of good manners.
 
“Wait. Listen carefully to what the other thinks,” Francis said, “and then respond,” and—instead of summarily dismissing the other’s point of view, ask for a further explanation of what you do not understand.
 
“Where there is no dialogue,” he said, “there is violence. …
 
“Wars start inside our hearts. When I am not able to open myself to others, to respect others, to talk to others, to dialogue with others, that is how wars begin.”
 
When Francis was ordained to the diaconate and then to the priesthood, he promised to practice what he preached, and he does that where this topic is concerned as in many other contexts.
 
Whereas the Church’s dialogue with non-Catholics, non-Christians, and people of no faith has accelerated in the decades since the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis has made a point of personally and publicly engaging in this dialogue himself.
 
He does not compromise the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church, but he respects the right of others to have other beliefs, and assumes the intellectual integrity of those who do.
 
Catholics and Jews, Catholics and Muslims, even Catholics and many Christians of other denominations are going to disagree on many things, but the dialogues between Francis and these communities provide a challenging example while at the same time demonstrating that civil discussion is possible no matter how much the parties may disagree.
 
This post was originally published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. Deacon Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International.

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Housetops“Jesus said to the Twelve:’Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father'” (Matthew 10:26-33).
 
Throughout the history of our Church, faithful believers have followed Christ in their refusal to sacrifice the truth in order to protect their own lives. In the Middle Ages, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, a consequence of her unwavering faith and courage. St. Thomas More was beheaded for his unbending loyalty to the Holy Father’s judgment against King Henry VIII. In our own times, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Voice of the Voiceless in San Salvador, was assassinated at liturgy for his courage against an evil and unjust military government.
 
These martyrs truly lived this gospel. Their human fear of bodily harm did not govern their lives. Truth, justice, their personal integrity, and the care of their souls were their real priorities. Surely these martyrs and many, many others through the centuries acknowledged Christ, confident that Christ would acknowledge them before God.
 
Jesus assures his apostles that they truly have nothing to fear. He uses wonderful imagery to explain the intensity of God’s love and care for each one of us. Our Creator’s total and unending concern for all creation assures us of our place within the heart of God. The Lord’s love for each one of us is greater, more intimate than even the love parents have for their children. In return for this incredible gift of loving care, we are simply asked to fear not, to trust, and to acknowledge before the world that our God is the God of love.
 
-How do you respond to the belief that God knows you with the great intimacy of “counting every hair”?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store.

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Bread_ofLife_Kennedy_A_Paizs“Jesus said to the Jewish crowds:
‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.’” (John 6:51-58)
 
Speaking of the Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI said, “We ourselves, with our whole being, must be adoration and sacrifice, and by transforming our world, give it back to God. The role of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality of the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host, a liturgy. This is also the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: in the end we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host. And let us pray the Lord to help us become priests in this sense, to aid in the transformation of the world, in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves. That our lives may speak of God, that our lives may be a true liturgy, an announcement of God, a door through which the distant God may become the present God, and a true giving of ourselves to God.” (Homily, July 24, 2009).
 
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French paleontologist, geologist, and Jesuit priest who worked extensively in China in the early twentieth century. Initially his scientifically-informed lectures and writings on original sin and the nature of the Eucharist were misunderstood by the Roman Curia, to the point where they were censored. Today we know that to these ideas of Teilhard de Chardin are not heretical; this revised view is not least due to Pope Benedict XVI’s acceptance and appreciation for Teilhard’s thought in these areas, as exemplified above.
 
It is eye-opening to realize that our actions, but especially our acceptance and love of the Eucharist, as explained by Pope Benedict XVI, allow us to play a part in not only the transformation of ourselves but in giving the universe back to God. Just as it must have been difficult for Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to face rejection upon presenting concepts toward which God had led him, it must have been difficult for Jesus to offer such an amazing life-giving gift only to hear the following directly afterward: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” We may have reacted in a similar way; perhaps we still do. Therefore, let us commit to learning more about the Eucharist, but, especially, to spending time in eucharistic adoration so that which we cannot understand mentally is instead illuminated by intimacy—like that which we receive from any special relationship—but which is most readily available in our relationship with Christ.
 
Matt is a past summer intern for RENEW’s Publications and Resources team.

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ramadanI must admit that I felt a little presumptuous breaking the Ramadan fast when I hadn’t been fasting in the first place.
 
But my wife and I had been invited to attend a catered dinner in a firehouse banquet hall where the local Muslim community was gathering to break their fast.
 
The invitation had come from a member of that community who earlier had accepted my invitation to speak to a parents group at my parish.
 
This is as it should be: Muslims and Christians treating each other not only as fellow human beings, but even as friends.
 
The negative attitude that many people have about Muslims in general results from associating all Muslims with the Islamic terrorists who have attacked the World Trade Center and killed innocent people in suicide bombings and other atrocious acts here and abroad.
 
That attitude also extends to the broad assumption that all Muslim people think alike, whereas the empirical evidence, as well as common sense, suggests otherwise.
 
There are more than 1.6 billion Muslim people in the world, about 80 percent of whom do not live in the Middle East or North Africa.
 
Like the 2.4 billion or so Christians in the world, a group that size will represent every possible shade of religious, philosophical, and political thought.
 
It’s a complex subject, and some very recent data on it is available on the web site of the Pew Research Center in a report titled “Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and Around the World.”
 
Whatever we learn about the world Muslim population as a whole, we are more likely than ever to encounter individual Muslim men and women in our communities, schools, and workplaces, and it is imprudent to jump to conclusions about them.
 
It should be obvious that simply shunning folks simply because they are Muslim is not consistent with the Gospel. Beyond that, those we sometime read about who yank hijabs from Muslim women’s heads or publicly urge Muslims—or people they mistake for Muslims—to “go back where you came from” may be expressing an understandable rage or fear, but they are also aggravating rather than mitigating tensions, and doing so based on inadequate information and understanding.
 
The Catholic Church in the United States is active in movements to counteract such ideas and behavior and increase productive interaction between Christians and Muslims.
 
These movements are not ethereal exercises; they are important steps toward building a better society and a better world.
 
At a recent two-day Christian-Muslim dialogue, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego expressed the urgency of this matter, saying, “The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians. It depends on love of the one God and love of neighbor.”
 
Bishop McElroy, who co-chairs a West Coast Catholic-Muslim dialogue sponsored by the national conference of bishops, emphasized that the parties must acknowledge the substantial differences in their religious doctrines and, at the same time, foster “an overriding sense of friendship.”
 
And, the bishop said, those who participate in such dialogues must relate their discussions to the faith communities they represent.
 
“It does little pastoral good,” he said, “for a national dialogue to focus on theological themes if the pastoral life of our members is not affected.”
 
As Christian and Muslim leaders carry on these discussions on our behalf, we can follow the results of their dialogue with open minds and, meanwhile, treat our Muslim neighbors with the equanimity Jesus would expect of us.
 

In 2017, Ramadan ends in the evening of Saturday, June 24.

 
This post was originally published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. Deacon Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International.

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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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