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Good and gracious God,
we thank you for creating us with the desire to do good
and to avoid evil.
We ask for forgiveness
for the ways we may have hurt others.
May we be willing to make amends for the pain caused,
for lost opportunities, and for the broken relationships.
And may we help create a family of peace and fellowship
to which you constantly invite us.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 18:25-28)
“Thus says the Lord: You say, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair.’” Many of the Israelites felt that the Babylonian Exile was not fair. God had not protected them. Ezekiel wanted them to know the truth: “Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is not fair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”
 
Before, during, and after the Babylonian Exile, numerous prophets tried to warn the people to turn away from their sinfulness and lack of faith. This is one of those numerous warnings. Here, Ezekiel wanted to make sure that the people knew they had another choice, to turn away from wickedness. We have the same choice many times throughout our lives. We always have another choice, another chance, no matter how far off the path we may have wandered.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14)
 
“Remember your mercies, O Lord.” Pope Francis has spoken and written repeatedly about God’s unbounded mercy for each of us. In the midst of our several societal challenges, have you sought God’s mercy, for yourself and your family but also for our country and our world? We all need God’s merciful healing power.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 2:1-11)
 
This passage is one of the most beautiful and powerful passages in the Christian Bible.
 
“Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selflessness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out for his own interests, but also for those of others.
 
“Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
 
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 21:28-32)
 
Jesus is talking to the “chief priests and elders.” These were the leaders, the supposedly wise and holiest people. He tells them a parable of two sons whose father asks them to go out and work in their vineyard. The first says, “I will not,” but afterwards changed his mind and went. The other son said, “Yes sir,” but didn’t go. Jesus asks: “Which of the two did his father’s will?” The priests and elders answer, “The first.” “Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.’”
 
The chief priests and elders were among the enemies of Jesus because he threatened their power and prestige. Tax collectors and prostitutes were at the bottom of society and yet, they “got” Jesus. They saw their own sinfulness and turned instead to Jesus. Throughout history, many, if not most of the rich and powerful did not truly “get” Jesus and follow him. Often, the people we might think of as unworthy because of their position in society are those who will enter the kingdom of God first. We should never “look down” on them but rather “look up” with them.
 
Image:”Two Sons” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube
 
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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Even though I have already completed two weeks of remote classes, I still cannot believe I am a junior at Loyola University Maryland. Given my introverted nature, I was nervous about making friends in freshman year. I am grateful to have found a core group of friends early on that have always been there for me.
 
Although we met in different ways, something that connects us is a faith foundation. For instance, I reconnected with a high school classmate and became friends with her and her roommate by attending weekly Mass with themr. Meanwhile, I enjoy supporting my sophomore roommate and other friends who sing in chapel choir.
 
I got to know these friends even more when I joined their Campus Ministry Koinonia group and was welcomed by each member. Koinonia, which means “fellowship” in Greek, is a faith-sharing and reflection program. Since freshman year, we’ve all been involved in Campus Ministry in various forms as student interns, retreat leaders, liturgical ministers, and more.
 
I recently reunited with friends at Loyola after months of being apart. Until I saw them in person once again, I did not realize how much I had missed my friends! After a relaxing weekend with my sophomore roommates in August, I recently spent a week in Sea Isle City with those I planned to live with this semester. While we were at the beach, we had the chance to watch livestream Mass at which our friend was a lector.
 
Between hiking and roasting s’mores and then having September beach days, I feel incredibly blessed for these memories. Although 2020 has not been an ideal year for anyone, my friends remind me to live to the fullest.
 
I have witnessed the power of faith through my parents’ friendships with connections from childhood and Catholic school communities. I have always admired how they all look out for each other in joyful and trying times through prayer, thoughtful gestures, and meaningful conversations. I hope to emulate their compassion and loyalty in my own relationships.
 
What I love most about my friends is their demonstration of Christian values whether it be through engaging with the Baltimore community or reminding me to believe in myself. They allow me to be my authentic self: someone who overdresses for every occasion, lacks cooking skills, and takes endless sunset photos.
 
Even states away, my friends and I take time to reach out and discuss Taylor Swift’s “Folklore,” send good luck texts during finals, or recommend books and televisions shows. I’m so lucky to have found the gift of spirituality in friendship from my Loyola experience.
 
Photo: A view of Alumni Chapel at Loyola University Maryland.
 
Samantha Howath, who has been an intern at RENEW, is an occasional contributor to the RENEW blog.

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All aboard! Chug-a-chugga, chug-a-chugga! Woo woo! Let’s climb aboard the spiritual train of thought! This has been a long year of illness and unrest and disruption of routine. It has been so easy to get off track or to lose track of the best use of our time and attention.
 
On the spiritual train of thought, we can feel confident so long as we have God the Father as our conductor in overall control, and Jesus as our engineer who saves us from going in wrong directions. With the Holy Spirit as the fireman who fills us with the flame of God’s love, we can be full of motivation and zeal. It is important to pay attention to the signals of danger: those temptations to laziness, despair, anxiety, and fear.
 
We all have friends, those coach attendants, that can encourage us on our spiritual journey. We should also be coach attendants to others by sharing spiritual insights with which we have been blessed, directing others to helpful books on spirituality, and praying for them. As the popular slogan goes, “We are all in this together!”
 
We can learn to shed our distractions while we are on this train. We can visualize packing them up and putting them on boxcars or baggage cars to be dealt with at a later time. We can proceed to the dining car for some spiritual food for thought. And where do we find such food? We can start with some of the Psalms—for example, Psalm 121.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore. (verses 7-8)

 
Reading from books of daily prayer, the gospels, lives of saints, the many publications available through RENEW International, and religious periodicals can offer us new spiritual thoughts to digest. Even if we are purposely on our train for only an hour a day, the intentional trip is worth the effort.
 
If we want quiet, we may slip into the sleeper car, but not to sleep. How about giving centering prayer a try? We don’t have to talk or read, but just be with the Lord. Silence is key. Distractions may vie for our attention, but contemplation can become easier over time.
 
Our Blessed Mother is a good traveling companion on our spiritual journey. Praying the rosary helps us to not only reflect on the life experiences of Jesus and Mary but also to add our special intentions for ourselves and loved ones. The repetition of the familiar prayers makes that part of the journey easy and comforting.
 
We may go through some dark tunnels, some dark thoughts, a few challenges, but we know the gentle Light that is waiting at the end of these tunnels.
 
There are many resources available online for spiritual enrichment. By keying in Catholic prayer, for example, we can find daily prayers and Bible studies. No need for a caboose anymore where the conductor used to go to complete excess paperwork. We are free to create our additional cars of hope, optimism, and gratitude to maintain our train of spiritual thought as we chug, chug, chug along to come closer and closer to God.
 
Photo credit: Roland Lösslein
 
Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.

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Lord God,
you are good and
your love surpasses all.
Thank you for your willingness to accept us as we are,
and for surrounding us with your infinite presence.
Help us to be open to your goodness in ourselves and others
so that we may always do what pleases you.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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