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Fra_Angelico_St._DominicAs a Dominican Sister, a member of the worldwide Order of Preachers, I have a special love for the Gospel of Matthew.
 
St. Dominic, our founder, carried around with him a copy of the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistles of St. Paul. According to tradition, Dominic poured over them so much that he knew them by heart. The Gospel of Matthew was central to his prayer and inspired his preaching. The Dominican artist Fra Angelico depicted St. Dominic seated at the foot of the Cross, meditating on the Word of God, and most other paintings of Dominic portray him holding a gospel book, presumably Matthew, close to his heart.
 
Our newest addition to the RENEW Scripture Series is Matthew: Come Follow Me by believer and scholar Martin Lang. I find this series unique and inspiring. The first section of each session, “Enter into the Biblical Story,” invites us to take on the mantle of a disciple in the time of Jesus, to follow him, listen attentively to his Word, and allow the Word to transform our hearts and minds.
 
The second interpretive lens Dr. Lang uses is entitled “Old Testament Witness.” This section examines the Hebrew Scriptures that were central to the belief of the early disciples and the Gospel writer. We reflect on the parts of the Old Testament that recapture the theological perspective of the corresponding section of the Gospel we are studying and praying.
 
The third interpretative lens Dr. Lang invites us into is called “Responding to Human Experience.” It is an effort to use modern culture to reflect on the Gospel—to connect the Word of God with our contemporary lives.
 
The final interpretive lens Dr. Lang presents to us is “Respond To God’s Word,” which invites us to act on the Word of God as it speaks to our lives in this moment.
 
Matthew: Come Follow Me is enriching my prayer and inspiring my preaching as I give presentations and retreats on various spiritual topics. As I grieve the recent loss of my brother Paul, I also find solace in Dr. Lang’s reflection on Matthew’s account of the resurrection.
 

“The resurrection of Jesus, for people of faith, is the bedrock symbol of God’s care for us. Death is not the ultimate humiliation. It is a passage to a new condition of life. As the theology of the Gospel of John tells us, the living Jesus dwells among us during our lives. He accompanies our journey. He leads us through the transition of death to continue our lives with him and all who love him, in a new form for all eternity” (page 362).

 
As a sister of St. Dominic and a follower of Jesus the Christ, I hope to immerse myself more deeply in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew reveals to us the continuity of Jesus’ teaching with that of the Torah and the Prophets. As Lang reminds us, Matthew beautifully weaves into his account the full thrust of Jesus’ universal message for all people—a new dawn for humankind is breaking. Jesus has come to establish the kingdom of God’s peace, love, and justice. I, like Matthew and Dominic, long to be a witness to that kingdom.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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scripture_groupRENEW has been creating small-group materials for nearly forty years and, during that time, one of the constants has been placing scripture readings at the core of every session. Open any RENEW resource, on any topic, and there in the session you will find the instructions to read a specific passage from scripture.
 
Why do we do this? We do it because sacred Scripture is the inspired word of God and contains everything we know about Jesus. His very words are there for us to read. It is the source and foundation of our faith.
 
Your small group can gain a great deal from making scripture central to what you do. There are simple things which will help you get the most from those readings. At the end of your session, ask for a volunteer, or assign a reader for the next week. Ask them to read the passage ahead of time and practice it. That will allow them to read with both ease and conviction.
 
Encourage your small group to read the daily readings. You can find them easily with an app for the missal on your phone or tablet, or by going to the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website where you can also sign up to have the readings sent to you via email every day.
 
Taking the time to make Scripture a part of your daily life is yet another way to bring your small group together through shared experience. Delving deeper into the Gospels beyond the Sunday readings will give you a more complete understanding of Jesus, bringing you closer to him.
 

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Journey_to_Emmaus“And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, ‘What are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?’ And he replied to them, ‘What sort of things?’ They said to him, ‘The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.’ And he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:15-19, 25-32).
 
The story of Emmaus is one with which we can all identify. The disciples were walking along, fearful and anxious. They had thought Jesus was going to be the Messiah, but their picture of a messiah didn’t correspond to the reality of Jesus’ life. He was crucified and now was missing from the tomb. Some of their women even said he was alive. What kind of messiah was this? And so they hurried along, surprised by a stranger who apparently had not heard the news.
 
In this story, the disciples’ expectations about how God was supposed to work blinded them from seeing that God was walking with them. Even when Jesus broke open the Scripture, explaining how his death and resurrection had been foretold by the prophets, they still did not understand. It was only when Jesus took the bread and broke it that they recognized him, and could reflect back and say “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way?”
 
Like the disciples, we sometimes seem to be wearing blinders that keep us from seeing that God is walking with us. We have preconceptions about how God should work in our lives, or about the people through whom God does or does not work. We too receive the gifts of the Word, of the breaking of the bread, of the gathered community through which we can see and recognize God. The story of Emmaus is a call to attentiveness, a call to open our eyes to God, who ceaselessly accompanies us; to look beyond the prejudice, apathy, and indifference that blind us. It is a call to be always aware of God, who causes our hearts to burn within us, right here and right now.
 
– What are some of the barriers that keep you from recognizing God, who is always with you?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (John 20:19-23).
 
This appearance of Jesus to the disciples is marked by his offer of peace. As the disciples hide in fear in a locked room, it is peace that Jesus offers them, not once, but twice. He then offers them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and asks them to be forgivers—people who do not hold grudges or build barriers, but people who are about reconciliation.
 
This greeting of peace is important for the gathered disciples. For the Jews, one of the signs of the coming Messiah was a reign of peace, a time when the lion would lay down with the lamb, and all would live in harmony. Jesus fulfills this expectation by exhibiting in a very tangible way that God’s reign is at hand. This greeting also comes at a time of fear and uncertainty for the disciples. Their leader, who many betrayed before his death, has been executed, and they rightly fear for their own lives. Instead of chastising them, Jesus offers them his peace. He invites them to trust beyond their concerns for security, to experience him in a new and different way, and to offer the same to others through the gift of forgiveness.
 
This offer of peace extends to us today. We are invited to believe in the God who works in new and creative ways, to trust beyond what we might see or feel. We are called to be peacemakers in our relationships by loving as God has loved us and offering forgiveness to those who have offended us. It’s often difficult to do, but throughout time people have discovered that in holding others’ sins bound they actually hold themselves bound. God’s Spirit longs to heal our wounds, yet we can prevent ourselves from experiencing God’s peace when we cling to the offenses that have hurt us. Each day, each hour, the Spirit that was given to the disciples is present in our own lives, offering us the opportunity to give and receive the gift of peace and healing.
 
– How have you experienced the gift of peace through the giving or receiving of forgiveness?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Share this table prayer with those you will eat with on Easter Sunday.
 
Pray together:
 
Christ has risen! Alleluia!
Loving God, you who create all things
and generously give us all we need,
we praise you and thank you for being present with us now
as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Son.
 
Thank you for accompanying us on our Lenten journey;
please be us during this Easter season, and always,
as we strive to live as disciples of your Son.
 
May the breaking of bread, today and every day,
remind us of the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ,
who died to atone for our sins
and rose again so that we, too, may rise
and live in your presence forever.
 
O God, bless this food and we who share it,
and be with those who cannot share it with us.
 
We ask this in the name of the same Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
 
Alleluia! Christ has risen!
 
LiveLent
 
 
Excerpted from
Live Lent! Year A by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, available from RENEW International.

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