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There are common phrases such as “Have a heart,” “Is your heart in it?”, “The heart of the matter is…” When I hear these, I know we are talking “essentials.’’ As we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I consider the Heart of Jesus. I think of qualities and characteristics such as love, peace, respect, dignity, mercy, compassion, forgiveness. This feast, for me, is also an invitation to rededicate myself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and reflect on how these essential qualities are lived through my heart and in my everyday life.

I consider myself truly blessed to know Jesus and want to be like him. It’s a gift that I treasure and enjoy sharing—knowing this world would be an even better place if everyone did. Today is a good day to delight in and share the joy and blessing of our faith in him. He has faith in us!

Anne Scanlan is a member of the RENEW staff, serves on the Pastoral Services Team, and is an exceptional liturgist.

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“Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” —Pope Francis, The Face of Mercy
 
Year of MercyPope Francis has done it again—he has found an innovative way to touch people’s hearts by calling a special jubilee named the Holy Year of Mercy. It will begin on December 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and close on November 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King. In The Face of Mercy, the pope explains that on December 8 he will open the special holy door of St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the beginning of the jubilee. He is also asking every diocese to identify a similar Door of Mercy at a cathedral or other special church to be opened during the year. In this way, the year of mercy is not only for those who make a pilgrimage to Rome but for all people. Francis hopes that in the symbolic act of opening the door it “will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.”
 
A door can be a powerful image—when it is wide open it invites and welcomes us to freely enter; if it is slightly ajar we think twice before we carefully peer in and see if it is okay to enter. When the door is closed we knock and sometimes begin to pound on it, hoping someone on the other side will hear us. However, when the door is bolted shut we don’t even bother to knock—we just walk away. Over these last twenty or so years many people have walked away from the Church because they have felt shut out. In some cases they got tired of sneaking in, pushing through, or knocking until their knuckles bled, seeking mercy for themselves or a loved one. The pope writes, “The temptation…to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more.”
 
The pope reminds us that Jesus is the compassion and mercy of God and that those who have experienced God’s infinite mercy are called to show mercy to others. Each one of us who has been marked by the forgiving and saving love of God is to practice mercy—we are to ask God to transform our hearts into open doors of mercy by which people experience in us consolation, pardon, and hope.
 
In his letter on mercy Francis reveals his “burning desire” that during the jubilee year we reflect on Jesus’ call to his followers, especially in the Gospel of Matthew, to act on their faith through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Francis exhorts us: “We cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged: whether we have fed the hungry and given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, or spent time with those in prison.”
 
May we enter the open and merciful heart of our God and experience his unconditional love and forgiveness and, in turn, may we become a door of mercy for others.
 

For the full text of Pope Francis’ Proclamation of the Holy Year, click here.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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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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“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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“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).

In event described in this Gospel reading, the disciples were invited to a special encounter with Christ, and, through them, the whole world was invited as well.

Imagine the fear and doubt the disciples must have experienced as they made their way toward the meeting place in Galilee. They must have hoped that the words the women spoke were true, that Jesus was no longer in the tomb and had risen from the dead, yet they probably tried not to get their hopes up too high. They may also have been afraid of what Jesus would say to them. They had, after all, abandoned him after his arrest.

Jesus did not only appear to them. He told them some of the greatest news in the Gospel, that he would be with them (and us) always! He commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This encounter helped the disciples move from hiding in fear to being courageous evangelizers.

Like the disciples, we may at times be hesitant to believe that God will meet us where we are, and to allow our encounters with God to make a difference in our lives. However, having faith and responding to our encounters with the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – will open up new horizons for us and may help us to find needed direction in our lives.

What encounters have changed the direction of your life? How did you see God in those encounters?

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

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