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“Prayer over the People: from The Roman Missal
 
May abundant blessing, O Lord, we pray,
descend upon your people,
who have honored the Death of your Son
in the hope of their resurrection:
may pardon come,
comfort be given,
holy faith increase,
and everlasting redemption be made secure.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
 

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clouds-806637_1920I gave up being pregnant for Lent. It wasn’t my plan. I actually started Lent giving up alcohol, soft cheeses, and sushi. But about halfway through the Lent, I had to give up something else.
 
Things weren’t going well one weekend and I had made an emergency appointment for an ultrasound on Monday morning. As I read my Lenten daily devotional on Sunday night, the prayer was, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:5). I thought that it was a sign that everything would be fine. But it wasn’t. The baby wasn’t meant to be and I lost it.
 
A long, hard, terrible week followed. I have read about people’s “dark nights of the soul,” but I never fully understood what that meant. My faith was rocked. My world was rocked. I know God doesn’t punish us, but I felt punished. It was Lent and all I was reading about was God’s mercy, but God didn’t feel merciful to me. I had definitely hit a low point in my faith, the lowest point I had ever hit. I continued to read my Lenten daily devotional, even though my heart wasn’t really in it.
 
The next week, the scripture reading was, “Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12).
 
This resonated with me. The world can be a very dark place. Watching the news is terrifying. Even more so with my own personal crisis, the world felt very dark and frightening. But without faith and without God, the world stays dark. It’s our faith that gives us the light to navigate in the darkness. It gives us the hope to navigate in a sometimes hopeless world. Without God’s love, mercy, and light, we would be lost.
 
As Lent ends and Easter begins we rejoice in God’s unending love and mercy. Be the light that your friends, neighbors, and the world desperately need.
 

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CrossWhat are we to make of Christ’s words of sheer, seeming hopelessness: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
 
St. Augustine, the fifth century bishop and doctor of the Church, suggests that this soulful prayer of the dying Savior points to our kinship with Christ.
 
“He died for our sins, he who is the only Son, so as not to remain alone,” Augustine said. “He who died alone did not want to be alone. The only Son of God made many children of God. By his blood, he bought for himself brothers; he who had been rejected, adopted them; he who had been sold, bought them back; he who had been gravely offended, filled them with honor; he who had been put to death, gave them life.”
 
Augustine preached that we should take joy in this act of divine mercy—even as we enter this week when we remember Christ’s brutal passion and death.
 
Fr. William Nelson, a priest in Japan, once wrote to a friend:
 

“How we welcome the good news of love poured out! Yes, there is a balm, a fountain, love poured out and bread broken and wine served.”

 
What more could we ask for?
 
Our prayer today:
 

Almighty God,
we praise you that in your infinite mercy
you do not deal with us according to our failings,
but treat us with the tenderness of a father.

 
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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“It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’; and when he had said this he breathed his last” Luke 23:44-46).
 
During Holy Week, we will hear many words describing the suffering and death of Jesus. In times of suffering, we return to an awareness of our own human frailty. It is a place of humility, recognizing God as Creator and ourselves as finite creatures. We are not in ultimate control. That is God’s domain. So, too, is the reason for suffering and the miracle of the Resurrection.
 
The Passion of our Lord is what connects him with us in our humanity. In suffering, we grow in solidarity with Christ and with those he loves. His suffering is an icon of our own suffering, a window of opportunity that points us to God. God, who is infinite, reaches out in humility to touch us in that pain.
 
As we recall this most precious event within Christian tradition, we are called to enter more deeply into the reality of pain and persecution in our world. We also know the profound promise of a light that will not be overcome by deep shadows.
 
When do you suffer or feel helpless in your own life? Can you see God meeting you in this suffering?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She replied, ‘No one, sir.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more’” (John 8:7-11).
 
Some of the scribes and Pharisees were resentful of Jesus’ popularity and wanted to catch him in violation or contradiction to the law. They tried to set him up by bringing him a “woman caught in adultery.” The traditional laws were unequivocal—death by stoning was required. The crowd expected nothing less than a public display of capital punishment. Jesus’ response was to “draw in the sand” and then challenge them to show mercy and forgiveness.
 
Jesus let the woman go. She was offered a second chance, a fresh start. Imagine how she must have felt. Imagine, too, how the members of the crowd may have felt when they realized that they, too, had made mistakes for which others might condemn them.
 
Our sins are all around us. Others see what we do not see. The challenge is to remain mindful of our own vulnerabilities and be aware of our own inclination to sin. We all share humanness with the ones we judge. If we cultivate compassion and forgiveness toward ourselves, are we not less likely to pick up a stone and throw it?
 
Have you ever forgiven someone who hurt you? How did you feel after doing it?

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

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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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agapeToday we are asked to take notice of two events that seem contradictory—the beginning of the penitential period of Lent, and St. Valentine’s Day, the festive celebration of romantic love usually marked by flowers, chocolates, and dinner at expensive restaurants.
 
But are they contradictions or simply different manifestations of love?
 
The ancient Greeks had four words for love: storge, the affection we have for family members; philia, the bond between friends; eros, the desire for physical union; and agape, our unselfish willingness to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another.
 
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that all these aspects of love come down to this: love is one thing, with the different meanings coming to the fore at different times.
 
But, he added, agape is the one we should be most mindful of as we enter Lent. It’s a time when we demonstrate our unselfish willingness to sacrifice ourselves—in this case for the sake of God.
 
So whichever manifestation of love we celebrate today, be assured that each can be sacred if our acts of love acknowledge, celebrate, and reflect God’s mercy.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Heavenly Father,
help me remember that my Lenten sacrifices
are rooted in my love for 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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“The devil said to him, ‘I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.’ Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’ When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time” (Luke 4:6-13).
 
This is the first week of the Lenten season, so it’s no surprise that our reading describes the aftermath of a fast. Jesus fasted and wandered the wilderness for 40 days. After this ordeal, the devil tried to tempt him, and Jesus resisted.
 
If we treat Lent as a season of deprivation, we miss the point. Jesus’ responses to the devil’s temptations can teach us something about our own Lenten preparations.
 
The temptations in this reading are the same distractions that threaten to keep us from our mission. The temptation to turn stone into bread is the temptation to set aside our relationship with God for the sake of quick and easy fulfillment of desire. The desire for glory and authority over nations is the same as our own desire for domination in interpersonal, business, or political spheres. And the temptation to put God to the test is the same as refusing to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
 
Jesus resisted attachment to pleasure and power and skirting of accountability. These same temptations threaten our own relationships with ourselves, with others, and with God. By rejecting them, Jesus says “Yes” to contentment, unity, and responsibility.
 
Jesus drew his strength from the 40 days of being “full of” and “led by” the Holy Spirit. Forty days from now, we will be ready to more fully experience Easter joy, to celebrate the great Easter liturgies, and, in word and action, to spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and forgiveness of sins.
 
How have your desires for pleasure, power, or unaccountability interfered with your relationship to yourself, to others, or to God? In what way have you overcome these temptations?

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

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The_Way_of_the_CrossAs we enter the holy season of Lent the Church calls us to prepare our hearts for the celebration of our redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We come together as Church in special ways as a reminder that this is a time set apart.
 
Lent presents wonderful opportunities to deepen the bonds among the members of our small groups. If your church regularly gathers for Stations of the Cross, participating as a group can be a deeply moving experience as you share Christ’s journey to Calvary. You might participate in a parish-wide reconciliation service or come together as a group before or after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.
 
Rice Bowl is a program sponsored by Catholic Relief Services for Lent. It combines prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, three things we are called to do during this season. You can participate in Rice Bowl as a group. There are daily prayers and recipes for meatless meals you can prepare together and share. There is even an app to make it easier to participate. You can then make a group donation to support the work of CRS.
 
If your parish does not already have any of these services, your group could help organize them, sharing your own spiritual renewal with your fellow parishioners. Whatever you do, do it together, and allow this sharing to bring you closer to each other as a spiritual community.

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“I desire mercy not sacrifice.” Matthew 9:13


fitnessI am always up for a challenge. To kick off the New Year, one of my RENEW colleagues, Eartha, invited everyone on our staff to participate in a 30-day challenge. Each of us was free to select any challenges that would help us become healthier people. I took on three challenges: lose 5 pounds, exercise 30 minutes a day, and abstain from sugar. There is a chart on the wall in Eartha’s office, and each day we are to put a check mark on it if we meet our challenges. We are on day 12, and I am happy to report I have 12 check marks after my name.
 
On my birthday, I received a Fitbit as a gift, and since joining the RENEW challenge I religiously check my active minutes daily. I am also trying to achieve the goal of 10,000 steps per day, and on the days I’m short I walk around the convent or jog in place until my Fitbit happily vibrates. The sisters I live with just laugh and shake their heads—even the cat looks at me funny.
 
In declaring a Year of Mercy, Pope Francis challenged us to do what he calls mercy-ing. He describes mercy as more than being merciful but actually doing an act of mercy, and, once again, Pope Francis is leading by example. He has personally committed to mercy-ing every Friday during this Year of Mercy. On the first Friday, he made a surprise visit to a small nursing home on the outskirts of Rome and then visited families who care for loved ones who are in a long-term state of coma.
 
As I reflect on my participation in the 30-day health challenge and how it has helped me to jumpstart living a healthier life in 2016, I have begun to think about Lent as an opportunity to jumpstart living a more merciful life. I don’t have a “mercybit” to record my mercy-ing but I can use a journal or record my acts of mercy on the notepad app on my smart phone. For me, keeping track of my weight or steps makes me more aware and intentional, and that is also true of my spiritual life. So this year, I am thinking of Lent as a 40-day challenge, and my number one challenge will be weekly mercy-ing. Just like the pope, I am going to plan it, do it, and record it. It might be an act of mercy that I already do, but I will do it more intentionally. I am thinking of people whom I have been meaning to visit but for whom I just haven’t made the time. I plan to be more aware when I am acting without compassion, judging harshly, not giving someone the benefit of the doubt. I intend to reflect on my life and become more aware of any unforgiveness that still lingers in my heart and consciously forgive and let go. Before Lent begins I will plan weekly acts of mercy-ing. If I miss one, I will not give up on it but make sure I do it the next week.
 
I am signing up for a 40-day Lenten challenge: mercy-ing. Will you join me? Remember, the Lord said, “I want mercy not sacrifice.” Our God is a God of mercy and desires for us to receive mercy, be mercy, and go forth each day mercy-ing.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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Your love, O God, embraces all creation, from the tree of the cross.
You have broken open the barriers of sin and selfishness
that separate us from one another and from you.
Remain with us and work through us
that others may come to see that love in us
that they saw and loved in Jesus–
a life freely given for the life of the world.
Until that great day, when your love will reign and all will be one,
may we walk in peace, work for justice, live in gratitude,
and celebrate unceasingly the wonders of your love.
Draw us all to you, O God, through the dying and rising of Christ,
in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
 

 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year B: For the Life of the World, available from RENEW International

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