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Recently, in honor of the annual celebration of the furry rodent, some cable TV stations have begun showing the movie “Groundhog Day.” It tells the story of a television reporter stuck in Punxsutawney, PA, when a blizzard moves through the area. As the movie progresses, the big event—and every other event of that February 2— occurs and again and again. Will this day ever end?
 
Can life be like that for you? Is there ever a day when things are no different than the day that came before? Are you hoping that something new will happen, but it never does?
 
Why is that? Maybe you’re looking in the wrong places or asking the wrong questions. Lives that are spent in pursuit of glamor, power, prestige, and success usually run out of steam at some point. People who constantly need to compare themselves to others, who worry about what others may think of them, who are more aware of others’ opinions than their own, are people who see life as a burden to be endured rather than an experience to be lived. This is not new thinking. This has been said before. But we get desperate at times; we find ourselves getting weary of all the stuff in our lives. We know it, but what do we do about it? We get up every morning, just like the character in “Groundhog Day,” and do it all over again.
 
The solution is not a quick fix, nor is it easy. It requires a change, a big change, at every level of our being; and it requires taking risks. It means making the unpopular choice or looking out for someone else’s good more than your own. Look at the “Groundhog Day” reporter. In the beginning of the movie, he is bad-tempered and treats everyone poorly. When given the opportunity to relive the day – Groundhog Day – over and over and over, he eventually undergoes a transformation. He moves from despondency to joy, from taking advantage of and abusing others to looking for ways to help others and make a difference in the community.
 
Groundhog Day always comes on the same date, but will we always live our lives the same way? Each day can be a new day. God has given us the ability to make choices—choices that will lead us to life, not to depression or darkness. Through prayer and reflection we can more easily recognize the choices and more readily choose the good that can make a difference.
 
Sister Pat is a member of the RENEW staff, a Dominican Sister, and loves working with Young Adults as the program manager of Theology on Tap.

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Over the last couple of weeks, I have heard and read a lot about the need for joy and laughter in our world today. In fact, I just made a phone call, and the “Muzak” playing while I was on hold reminded me to “always look on the bright side of life.” However, one might ask, “What is there to be joyful about?” or “How can there be a bright side?” We keep hearing about scandals in educational institutions, religious institutions, and many other organizations. Whom can we trust? There is also the horrible economic situation all around the world where the rich seem to be getting richer and the poor still poorer. There are natural disasters destroying people’s homes and lives almost every day. There is government corruption, trafficking in women and children, illegal immigration, and environmental hazards…. WOW! I am depressing myself even though I had intended to write about joy as the New Year begins. Is it very easy to be disheartened and dejected.
 
Some people speak of surviving the holidays. We get overly stressed about trying to make Christmas perfect for our families. We worry about buying just the right gifts, and then worry about how to pay for it all. Christmas, the season of joy and peace, has become the time of last-minute shopping, stores staying open 24 hours a day to get the last drop of money they can out of us. Where is the joy? How can this be peace?
 
As is often true, we can find an answer in Scripture:
 
“So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 8:15
 
Ecclesiastes reminds us that God wants us to be happy. Take a deep breath and look to this New Year as an opportunity to recreate yourself. Ask yourself where your happiness really comes from and what gives you a sense of peace. The joy of giving means we have something to share. We have love and concern, sympathy and comfort, experience and wisdom. Sharing these will give us the sense of joy that Ecclesiastes talks about – a sense that will guide us through those toilsome times and those worrisome days. God has planted the seeds of joy in us. It is our job to help them grow.
 
Sister Pat is a member of the RENEW staff, a Dominican Sister, and loves working with Young Adults as the program manager of Theology on Tap.

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Do the names Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman mean anything to you? Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the president of Liberia, Leymah Gbowee is a peace activist, and Tawakkul Karman is a human rights activist. This year, each of them was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

What makes their achievements even more special? They are women. These women now join the likes of Mother Teresa, Jane Addams, Betty Williams, and Mairead Corrigan as Nobel laureates. Of the 101 individuals awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, only 15 are women. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman are from countries with oppressive laws and cultures that they were able to rise above to find their voices and not just speak out, but scream out about the longstanding suppression of the rights of women and of the total disregard for women as human beings.

 

I am not raising these women up for reflection simply because they are women. I am raising them up because they would not accept the view in their societies that they did not deserve respect. They had not just seen the impact of violence on women in their society; they had experienced it and made a conscious choice to do something about it.

 

What they have in common is a vision that all women have a role to play in the effort to bring peace to all people. Their common goal is to put all eyes on the women of their countries and to let us see how inhumanely they are being treated in areas where rape, assault, and degradation are commonplace. Through the efforts of these three women, we are all being forced to see what they have seen. Will we look? And what will we do with what we have seen?

 

As Christians, we are guided by the Gospel mandates to reach out to those in need, no matter their status. We are also guided by the social teaching of our church, which directs our choices towards decisions that will produce the best results for everyone. The words “See, Judge, Act” are the guides that we follow when making choices that put the good of all ahead of the desires of special interest groups. We all can’t win the Nobel Prize, but we all can lead lives of charity and justice, of mercy and peace.

 

Let us be in solidarity with the women like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman, who cannot allow injustices to exist. Let us pray for each other every day that we can continue to be more like Christ in our actions and decisions about each other.

 

Sister Pat is a member of the RENEW staff, a Dominican Sister, and a huge Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish fan.

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Do you ever feel that God may not hear your prayers? Do you think that there are so many other things God has to take care of that He may not be listening? We have all heard the story in Luke’s Gospel of the man who was so persistent that even at midnight, after banging on the door of a friend’s house for hours he was able to get his request for help granted. Perhaps that is how we believe God will respond to us. We just have to be persistent, storm the heavens, and be faithful in our prayers.

On the other hand, maybe that is the problem. We are doing all the talking. God always listens, but do we? In our world today, silence is often missing. Have you seen the movie “Into Great Silence”? It is 162 minutes of the day-to-day lives of a group of Carthusian monks living in France. There are no car chases, violent fights, or phones ringing. Only silence. It’s not surprising that it didn’t last long in the theaters. Why would anyone sit and watch a movie about silence? But we should. It is a reminder to us that we do not have enough of it, and we are often uncomfortable when we have to endure it.

God wants to be with us. God wants to enjoy our presence and endures our harangues and fits of conversation because it means we will spend time with God. To get to know others, we have to spend time with them. And when we truly grow to love them, we want to spend more and more time with them. Do we always have to talk when we are with them, or is it enough just to BE with them?

So, can we not simply rest in God’ presence? Is that too much for us to handle? God’s love and patience are deep and long lasting. God will always be there whether we take five seconds, five minutes or five hours to acknowledge it. Our challenge is to take that time out of our oh-so-busy days and let God claim our presence and just rest in the presence of the One who loves us beyond all others.

Sister Pat is a member of the RENEW staff, a Dominican Sister, and a huge Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish fan.

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What does it cost to say “I forgive you”? For some it is a matter of pride. For some it is a matter of principle. For some it is matter of justice. For some it is a matter of love.

As Christians, we know the ways that Jesus taught us to forgive: turn the other cheek “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). He forgave everyone — those like Peter and Judas who betrayed him, those who made his life miserable with their constant doubts and tests, those who crucified him. His was an unconditional forgiveness. We seriously question our ability to ever follow his example. We find it difficult to forgive the small things in life that happen to us — the woman with the full grocery cart in the “12 items or less” checkout line, the parents who bring their children to church and “let them run wild and eat Cheerios,” the cousin who never visits at the holidays but does come to town to see friends.

Look around at the people in your world. Where do we see the kind of forgiveness today that Jesus taught to his early followers? One of the most perfect examples came out of the horrific story of the man who gunned down innocent children in an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. A tragic event was transformed into one of the most incredible experiences of forgiveness shown by one human being to another. The Amish families extended a hand full of forgiveness rather than a fist closed in anger to the man who had taken the lives of their children. In the “normal” settings of life, the cries of “Give him the chair!” or “Lethal injection is none too good for the likes of that guy” would have been shouted from the rooftops. But these people were rooted in the Christian world, and they believed that forgiveness is God’s gift to be shared with all.

Forgiveness offered out of love, not pride or principle, is the kind of forgiveness Jesus longed to share with his people. It is this kind of forgiveness that builds the kingdom for all.

Sister Pat is a member of the RENEW staff, a Dominican Sister, and a huge Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish fan.

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During the week leading up to the tenth anniversary, RENEW International reflects on 9/11 with stories, prayer, and scripture.

September 11, 2001 arrived on the campus of the University of Notre Dame just as it arrived in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa. – with crystal blue, cloudless skies and warm breezes. The Notre Dame students had gone off to their first classes of the day or to late breakfasts, beginning their day much like the folks in the Financial District and the Pentagon who had hurried to their work and meetings. No one had any expectation of the tragic events about to descend on our country.

That morning, I was just calling a friend in Ohio from my room at the University of Notre Dame to ask for hospitality for another friend driving there in a few days for a wedding. When my friend answered the phone, I began making my request, and she interrupted me to say it would not be possible. Her voice sounded strained, and when I asked what was bothering her, she asked if I had my TV on and if I had heard the news from New York. I had not, so she gave me a brief report. I hung up the phone, immediately turned on the TV, and began a day like none I had lived thus far.

Shortly after, students began returning from classes and the dining halls. Some came in quiet tears, some in quiet conversation, some in complete silence. All of them stayed in groups, and anyone walking alone soon had at least one companion. They all had the same shocked look on their faces. The residence halls quickly filled with the sounds of TV newscasters keeping us updated on the unfolding events. There was an air of agitation in the dorms. More and more students began making plans to jump on planes or hop into cars to go and help. Some had relatives back east, but most just saw a need and had to respond. We had to calm them down and explain that there were no roads open into Manhattan or Washington, and that all airports were shut down across the country. Some did not listen, but we expected that. Some made it all the way, but others eventually turned back.

The desire to serve where there was a need came naturally to our students, but their true response came later in the day. That afternoon, the university grounds crew began to set up an outdoor stage with a portable altar, a sound system, and chairs for the priests, choir and musicians, lectors, and eucharistic ministers. As 5 p.m. drew near, quiet groups of students began filtering out of the residence halls. People from the neighborhoods around campus, faculty and staff, maintenance workers and housekeepers, and police and fire personnel gathered close to the altar. The singing began, and we all gathered to remember and to pray for the dead and injured, for their families and friends, for those who would be there to help in rescue and recovery, and for each other as we grieved, feared what might happen next, and hoped all would be well despite the knowledge that all would be changed.

Through that celebration of the Eucharist, we came together as the body of Christ, a community united in its belief that God would hold and comfort all of us in the midst of something beyond our comprehension. We still did not know why it happened and had no clue about what would happen in the days to come, but for an hour or so we felt peace – peace the world could never give us. What we would do with that feeling was left up to us and would continue to be lived out in the years to come.

Ten years later, our prayers continue. Prayers for peace and tolerance, prayers for mercy and forgiveness, prayers for a world that lets God’s rule overpower all others and guide us to that place where our swords can be turned into plowshares. We continue to pray.

Sister Pat is a member of the RENEW staff, a Dominican Sister, and a huge Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish fan.

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Beginning August 15, thousands of young people gathered in Madrid for five days of energetic, enthusiastic, spirited experiences. On the official website for the event, an official clock counted down the days, hours and minutes until the moment when the Holy Father joined in their celebration. Can you imagine? Thousands of young people waiting to see, hear, or just be in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI! There are a lot of jaded adults who would “pooh-pooh” this notion or look at the event wistfully and sigh how they wished they could relive their youthful days, but our young people are trying to tell us something.

The message of World Youth Days is not that you have to be young to rejoice and feel free, but that you have to be a part of a community. Those who attended will come home with email addresses, Twitter followers, and Facebook friends from all over the world. They will keep in touch and remember these days as they have not remembered anything else. These might not be eternal, never-ending friendships, but they will be connections to people they had never dreamed of meeting. These new friends are people who share the same joy and energy for their Church as they do, people that they may not see back at home in the churches or schools they attend.

Do you know if your parish or diocese had any representatives at this incredible event? Whom would you ask? If you know who went, how could you follow up with them? How will they know that sharing their stories of those five days would be welcomed by the parish? What opportunities would they find in the parish to express their experience? How could the energy and enthusiasm of those days be channeled into our everyday parish life? If no one went from your parish, could you find out why and make sure it does not happen the next time?

We cannot let the experiences of these young people be bottled up and kept in a picture album or on a Facebook page. Our parishes have new leaders coming home from Madrid who can tell us all about God’s love for us, the need to be open to the Holy Spirit in our lives, and how great it is to belong to the body of Christ!

Sister Pat is a member of the RENEW staff, a Dominican Sister, and the project leader for RENEW Theology on Tap.

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