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“Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found’” (Luke 15:25-32).
 
Jesus was asked by the Pharisees and scribes why he welcomed “sinners” and ate with them. His response was to tell a parable of two sons. Not only a story of forgiveness and reconciliation, this parable captured the essence of God’s relationship with his children. This divine relationship between God and his children is characterized by unconditional, ever-present, unending love.
 
Neither of the two brothers recognized the depth of their father’s love for him. The younger allowed himself to starve before he conceded, out of desperation, for the chance that his father would accept his return. The elder was bitter and filled with resentment.
 
Perhaps the brothers represent two types of people. There are “sinners” who squander their time and resources by separating themselves from true communion with God and often add to their own suffering by thinking they have gone too far to be loved by God. The “too good” people squander their time and resources by working for the wrong reasons and expecting reward based on merit. They believe God should love and reward them, and only them, because of what they have done.
 
When the true depth of love was revealed by the father’s joy at the younger son’s return, it showed that neither the elder nor the younger brother was right.
 
This parable was Jesus’ response to his critics who said that “sinners” did not deserve God’s love. Jesus was challenging them to see that they were like the elder brother who refused to believe that God’s love was deep enough to reach these sinners.
 
Ultimately, we are all invited to be the father in this parable and to give love freely and unconditionally to every child of God.
 
Which character do you most relate to in this parable? Why?

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

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St_Paul_ConversionIn proclaiming the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invites us to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica or to one of the Holy Doors in cathedrals and designated churches throughout the world.
 
There is another kind of pilgrimage we can make, one that doesn’t involve travel. We can make a pilgrimage of the heart this year.
 
We’ve already started out on the Lenten journey, a kind of pilgrimage whose destination is the glorious resurrection of Christ.
 
During such a pilgrimage, we endeavor to come closer to Christ. It happened to St. Paul during his now-famous journey to Damascus, where he had been planning to continue his persecution of Christians. But Christ caught him up short, and Saul was transformed to Paul—a new man.
 
St. John Chrysostom says this about Paul’s conversion: “The most important thing was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else.”
 
Our entire life, in fact, is a pilgrimage during which we seek to learn the ways of God. This is why the Psalmist says: “When will I come to the end of my pilgrimage and enter the presence of God?”
 
Our prayer today:
 

Merciful Jesus,
we pray to become more and more aware,
like St. Paul,
of how much we are loved by you.

 
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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“Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!’” (Luke 13:1-5)
 
In this passage, Jesus challenged the audience to repent and start doing the right things for the right reasons. Jesus tried to impress upon them that the deaths he referred to were not in proportion to anyone’s guilt. Those who had died were no better or worse than everyone else. Jesus wanted the audience to learn from the deaths of the others and repent, or they too would perish.
 
This week marks the halfway point in our Lenten journeys. Have we grown in our understanding of how our faith and life intersect? Have we learned from our own lives and the lives of others? Have we participated in the sacrament of reconciliation? Now is the time. Again and again, Jesus impresses on us the importance of repentance and conversion.
 
Disasters and bad things happen now just as they happened in the time of Jesus. We can easily forget that those who died had hopes and dreams and families and friends, just as we do. When we fight for justice, we fight for everyone—including ourselves. God is present in disasters and evil things through the response of those on the outside. God is present in our response to injustice and in our care for others.
 
How have you reached out to those who suffer?

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

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crossThe beginning of Lent is the time when we focus on taking up our daily cross in imitation of Christ. The cross we bear is about more than suffering a serious disease or the death of a loved one or living without enough income to cover expenses. It means sacrificing our own will to that of the Father’s—doing what he wants, not what we want.
 
It’s a paradox, though, that in sacrificing our own will, we find true freedom. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “My yoke is easy, my burden light.” It was yet another manifestation of his divine mercy.
 
If life’s purpose lies in getting what we want, as our culture insists, then freedom becomes a very big deal. Freedom, we think, is what allows us to exercise our “unalienable right” to the pursuit of happiness. With this view of freedom, it’s easy to feel threatened by constraint of any kind. Our instinct is to resist it with all our might, for it impedes our ability to live the lives we think we want.
 
For the more we rely on others or others rely on us, the less free we are to go wherever we wish to go, pursue whatever we wish to pursue, and do whatever we wish to do. Love constrains us. And in a society devoted to personal self-fulfillment, the cost of love often seems too high.
 
For followers of Jesus, the “free” person is the one no longer plagued by the burdensome quest for money, pleasure, possessions, social status, or political power—the very things that our culture says will satisfy our deepest wants and make us happy.
 
Our prayer today:
 

We thank you today, Lord,
that in your merciful cross
we find true freedom.

 
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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“Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ But he did not know what he was saying” (Luke 9:28B-33).
 
There are times in our lives when an experience is so wonderful that we want to stay in it forever. Such times are moments of grace. They are times when we feel especially close to God because of the depth of the joy or love we feel. This was what Peter, John, and James felt on the mountain with Jesus.
 
Peter offered to pitch three tents so they could stay and relish the experience. Peter was looking at things from the wrong perspective. This event was about what was to come. It was not the end. It was not the glory but the promise. This vision was God’s way of giving Peter, John, and James a glimpse at the resurrection.
 
Life required Jesus and the disciples to go back down the mountain and continue the difficult work of spreading Jesus’ message. They couldn’t stay in that amazing vision forever.
 
Neither can we stay on the mountaintops of our lives. We have to leave them. But we go forward enriched and strengthened by these moments.
 
Our mountaintop experiences make us who were are. What we need to do is bring the memory of the mountaintops down with us into everyday life, knowing that they sustain us and offer us a glimpse into the ultimate mountaintop experience – living in the reign of the kingdom of God.
 
What episodes in your life do you consider mountaintop experiences? How did they change you?

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

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