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Late-Christmas-season greetings from RENEW’s newest staff member! I am a Dominican sister from Caldwell, NJ, who professed first vows in August 2019. As we celebrate Sunday’s great feast, I share an adapted reflection on the Baptism of the Lord that I wrote in 2018 while at the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate in St. Louis, MO.
It was the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and I was at a vigil Mass in my home parish. The homilist spoke of Isaiah 42’s “bruised reed” and “smoldering wick”: God’s love for each of us is so extravagant that God refuses to break the reed or quench the wick that still might have some life, some potential to live and love as we are called. I thought of the great commissioning that we share with Jesus through our own baptism. The Spirit who opens the heavens to rush upon Jesus yearns also to rush upon us, to anoint us to do God’s work. Dare we believe this? If we do, we must change—a daunting prospect!
The homily that night offered challenge, yet it also gave hope, calling us deeper into life as God’s beloved sons and daughters. It called us to know that God’s words about Jesus, “This is my beloved” (Mt 3:17), are words that God speaks of us, too.
Even with these joyful tidings, something greater happened for me that night. Indeed, it was something beyond the joy of the music, beyond the beauty of the church adorned with evergreens and lights.
It was the meditation after Communion that spoke to my soul. What words did that meditation speak? None! It was a prolonged silence, punctuated by a child who babbled and someone who coughed. The silence continued several minutes. How fitting, I thought. We, the baptized, have been commissioned, but the next step is to be still. How else to answer the wondrous call to share the very work of God’s own Son? The call to know our belovedness and to preach it in word and deed is, surely, a call to action. But first, we must ponder the gift of this call. We must be still.
So sit for a minute, or more! As January’s routine resumes, the Baptism of the Lord is easy to overlook. Make some time for silence. Bless yourself with some holy water, if you can. Remember your own baptism. Remember that you are God’s beloved. Bask in that certainty. And then, give God’s love to someone else. Happy feast.
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.
Image courtesy of
Sr. Gina Scaringella, OP, is a Communications Associate at RENEW International. She is a newly professed Sister of Saint Dominic of Caldwell, NJ, who worked in medical communications for many years.

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This morning was one of those mornings. I had not slept well, I was dragging, and every little inconvenience was amplified as I dropped my keys while my hands were full, caught my sweater on the door, and the drive-thru line seemed to take forever. I was fighting hard to not let things get to me.
I was running a little behind and, as I got close to the office, I realized I had forgotten part of my lunch in my refrigerator at home. Okay. I was about to pass a grocery store, so I would run in quickly. When I got to the checkout line, I was the third person waiting. The old woman at the head of the line was talking to the cashier, and it was taking a while. The woman in front of me realized the problem before I did. The old woman didn’t have enough money for her groceries.
Without hesitation, the young woman in front of me pulled a dollar out of her wallet and handed it to the cashier. When the cashier said there was still change needed, I opened my own wallet and grabbed the extra quarter required. The old woman was so grateful. I commented to the woman in front of me that it was wonderful to be reminded that there are good people in this world. As the cashier wished the old woman a nice day, she replied, “It will be now. I am so blessed.”
What a profound truth to be reminded of for $1.25 contributed by two people. We are all blessed, and we are all called to share those blessings with those we encounter in our everyday lives—friends and strangers alike. Simple kindnesses have the power to change someone else’s day, and your own along with it. This morning, God reminded me of that in the best way possible.
Jennifer Bober is RENEW’s Manager of Marketing and Communications. In addition to her marketing career, she is a professional liturgical musician.

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When you’re little, the adults in your life tell you that sharing is “really fun” and “a nice thing to do.” Until you’re older though, you don’t realize how truly rewarding it is. One of my fellow summer interns here at RENEW is a junior at St. Edward’s University in Texas and originally from Ohio. Before working here, she had never been to New York or New Jersey. Being raised in northern New Jersey and so close to Manhattan, I like to think I know how to get around in the city. So, on a Wednesday afternoon adventure tour, my joy came from embracing the little things about my favorite city and sharing them with my friend.
Our day started across the street from Bryant Park, where we attended a meeting in the Salesforce tower. We met representatives from two other nonprofits as well as a few employees at Salesforces where we learned about the software and how it could benefit everyone here at RENEW. Along with meeting these wonderful new faces, we were taken up to the top of the Salesforce tower, where we got the opportunity to overlook a beautiful 360-degree view of the entire city. I was overwhelmed with joy seeing this view of the city and sharing it with my friend who had not seen anything like it.
After the meeting, our colleagues and Jessie and I went our separate ways, and we were given the chance to do some exploring and adventuring on our own. My day of showing my friend around my favorite city would continue wherever the wind took us. We landed in Times Square at the TKTS booth and bought last-minute tickets to the matinee performance of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. We were pleasantly surprised to see that our seats were much closer to the stage than either of us anticipated. By the end of the show, we were both so full of joy. The story was heartwarming, the music was fun, and we got to share it.
We continued to dinner at Stout on 33rd street, one of my favorite spots in the city. We shared a plethora of food that had us full for what felt like days, and plenty of stories that had us laughing and smiling for two-plus hours. When it came time to catch our trains home, neither of us wanted our day to end, despite the fact that we were going to see each other in less than twenty-four hours.
It was day filled with one joyous event after another. My joy was rooted in the idea of sharing my favorite place with my new friend. Being able to see New York City through another person’s eyes, where everything is new and getting to be the tour guide for it all was a job I loved. I will surely never forget our day in New York City with my forever friend, filled with nothing but smiles and joy from start to finish.
Anne Howath is a senior communications major at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Annie plans to pursue a career in digital media and marketing. She is the editor-in-chief of the SJU Her Campus chapter and a former intern for Katz Media Group and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. “I am very grateful for my summer at RENEW,” she says, “and I have been learning a lot about working in a nonprofit environment!”

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Here at RENEW, we’ve been having much-needed repairs done on our roof, particularly the flat part towards the rear of the building. One afternoon, the workers came across a tiny baby bird that had been uprooted, possibly by a severe wind storm two days prior. The bird had fallen to the ground, and was following the crew around, anxiously looking for some lunch. The workers waited a bit, hoping the parent would return, but the day was getting warmer and warmer. Afraid someone might step on the bird or that a cat might find it, the crew brought this situation to the attention of our shared-services department, those wonderful people who answer our phones and help direct our emails, who fill orders and help make sure things in general run smoothly.
Animal lovers Marty and Dawn rose to the occasion and took our guest under their wings, so to speak. They researched best practices on the Internet and were soon fashioning a new nest in one of our shipping boxes. Lunch for our visitor consisted of smashed blueberries and some dog food, brought in by Dawn’s family. The dog food is reported to be high in protein and similar in taste and consistency to the baby’s usual diet of digested worms and bugs. Having no prior experience with any of this, we took “the hive’s” word for it. Apparently, the advice was correct, and the bird was soon enjoying a real feast.
After lunch, it became clear that the bird needed more care. It was then transported to a local bird sanctuary, The Raptor Trust, where it could get what it needed to grow up healthy and strong.
In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis says, “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” (129). We at RENEW had the opportunity to take part in a particularly special type of “interaction” and to reach out to help a fellow member of God’s kingdom here on earth.
Every day, there are opportunities for us to be part of creation, maybe by planting a garden or caring for our yards, or by caring for a baby bird. Love and discipleship, following the Lord in his way of love, cannot be confined only to an hour of church each week. It is truly something that must extend into our everyday lives, be contained in each breath we take. As we do for this one, this family member, this loved one, this friend, this stranger, this refugee, this criminal, this baby bird, so we indeed do for him. Just as we were able to find sanctuary for our bird buddy, let us be ready to seek out sanctuary for all those around us in need, be it a homeless shelter, a drug recovery program, or simply our sincere attention.
Today, keep your eyes open for ways you can be part of the work of God, ways you can sustain creation. Think with broad thoughts, not narrowed by what you may have done in the past or anything you read or were told. Join our Lord as a partner in his ministry and see what could happen. You never know where that next surprise may lead.Lords
Mary Foy is RENEW’s Assistant Director of Pastoral Services and project manager for Baptism Matters. She is also a Pastoral Associate at St. Joseph Parish in North Plainfield, NJ.

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Have you ever been with someone who spends much of the time checking his or her cell phone or writing and receiving texts? It is as though you were not there.
Have you ever had a conversation with a co-worker, neighbor, relative, friend, or family member in which a controversial topic came up—especially regarding politics or religion? Neither side really listens, and one or both may get hostile. How would that affect your relationship and your connection to truth?
Scenarios like these are part of the great disconnect that haunts our society.
There are many things that can break us apart, and not all are controversies or annoyances or misunderstandings.
For example, we live in a very mobile society. Young people grow up with beloved families and friends and then go away to school or military service and never come back except to visit. A person gets married and has children, and whether he or she stays local or moves away, lives in a different world. Other people change jobs, either because they see better opportunities or get laid off. Perhaps they had good relationships in the old job, but they lose touch with most or all of their former co-workers. Some relationships may survive such changes, but many do not, at least not on the same level of connection.
We live in a very fast-moving, disconnected society; yet, there is always hope for connections and reconnections rather than isolation. That’s because most of us are naturally communal beings.
Remember when you were a child and were taught that you and all people were created in the “image and likeness of God”? Did you associate that idea with God the Father or with Jesus, the Son of God? What about the Holy Spirit, the forgotten member of the Trinity?
If, as we believe, God is a community of equal persons, and we are created in the image of this communal God, then we, too, are called to be communal, living in relationships with others. This is the great mystery of God’s everlasting love, a community of love.
Yet, we are torn in so many directions, so distracted by cell phones, the Internet, social media, cable TV, and video games that we can lose one another and drift into isolation and perhaps depression.
When was the last time you had a deep and meaningful conversation with someone you love?
Are you involved in a community—whether spiritual, healing, or intellectual—or in a cause beyond yourself? Perhaps your involvement is local, connected with your school, place of worship, or a community-based service program. Maybe you are attracted to a national organization or movement for justice or protection of the environment or another issue that is in your heart but has not yet involved your presence.
We each have different interests, beliefs, personalities, and availability, but we all need connections, some form of community and belonging. Yes, we are all living in the mystery of God’s community of love, created in the image of a loving God who is a community of persons. Let us rejoice in who we really are and who we are called to be.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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My friends all know that I am a Catholic, because I have always been very open with them about my faith. So, when the news broke about Cardinal McCarrick, who long served in my home archdiocese of Newark, and the grand jury report was released in Pennsylvania where my father now lives, many people asked me, “How can you stay when the Church is so corrupt?”
I think my answer surprised them. I told them, “I stay, because the clergy are not the Church—I am. The Church is the millions of people of faith who sit in the pews every Sunday and then go out into the world to do good.”
I stay also because my Catholicism is so deeply rooted in my identity. My ethnic heritage, my family life, and now even my professional life are intertwined with my faith life. To walk away from the Church is to walk away from who I am.
Most importantly though, I stay because this is where I find God. I stay because through the sacraments and prayer I nurture my relationship with God. Where else would I go? As a Catholic, I believe that in the Eucharist I become one with my Savior. That cannot happen anywhere else.
We all have different reasons for staying. I believe, however, that we all need to think about my initial response to my friends. Now, more than ever, those of us who are not clergy need to stand up and claim our Church. We are the Church. We cannot be “consumer Catholics” who just show up at Mass on Sunday and then walk away. We need to engage. We need to be willing to take on leadership roles in which our voices are heard.
Many Catholics are hurt and angry and feel betrayed by this latest wave of abuse scandals. They have every right to those feelings, and we must address those feelings in our faith communities to begin working through them. At the same time, we need to understand our role in making sure that it does not happen again. We need to listen with open hearts to the stories of victims. We need to be vocal, engaged members of our parishes who will not be quiet until we know exactly what is being done to prevent future abuse. We need to be willing to serve on lay review boards or as secondary ministers/volunteers, so NO adult is ever left alone with children.
We are not powerless. We have a voice. We must use both. It is up to every single one of us to answer God’s call to St. Francis of Assisi: “Rebuild my Church.”

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“Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’ His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his Body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (John 2:13-22).
The Lateran Basilica was dedicated in the fourth century, housed the bishop of Rome (the pope) for centuries, and is still considered the mother church of all churches. Yet it is sometimes difficult for many Catholics to understand the importance of commemorating the dedication of a church. In much the same way, it was difficult for the people in today’s gospel reading to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words. The Scripture explains that when Jesus spoke of the destruction of the Temple he was speaking of his own body. If Jesus meant himself when he said “Temple,” what do we mean when we say “Church”?
This is a question that has been discussed and debated throughout the history of Christianity. There is a whole discipline, called ecclesiology, dedicated to the question of what “Church” means. This week’s liturgy can help us explore that question. The second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians says that we are God’s building, and it challenges us to recognize ourselves as the temple of our God. In an opening prayer and in the preface for this feast, the Church is described as a temple of “living stones.”
In today’s gospel reading, the moneychangers have violated the sanctity of the Temple as the house of worship, and Jesus angrily drives them out. To us, the Gospel says we should rid ourselves of the things that prevent us from being what we are intended to be: a dwelling place for the Spirit, a temple of the Lord.
Before the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, Christians met in houses to listen to the Scriptures, to pray together, and to “break bread,” an expression commonly used by early Christian communities. These communities were small, and their members were often persecuted for believing that God dwelt within them.
With this dedication began the possibility of gathering these small Christian communities together to worship their God as one Church of living stones, a Church of which the foundation stone is Christ.
Part of today’s feast is celebrating the freedom to be Christians in public. These readings also call us to the responsibility that comes with that freedom. Do others look at us as living stones? Do we look at ourselves as living stones—as even more a part of the Church than any building could ever be?
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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little-girl-singing-in-churchPope Francis titled his landmark document on evangelization The Joy of the Gospel. It is a beautiful title for a beautiful work in which the Holy Father reminds us how we should truly live as Catholics. It pushes us to consider the question, do we actually live that joy?
On a recent weekend, I went to Mass with my brother and niece. There was a little girl, about three years old, in the pew in front of us. Whenever we would sing, or at the end of communal prayers, she would let out a shout of “YAY!” that reverberated through the church. Her parents tried to shush her, but every so often, she would shout again and giggle to herself, making everyone around her smile.
As we walked out to the car after Mass, my brother commented that there were far worse sounds a small child could make during Mass, to which I responded, “If only we could all be that happy to go to church!”
It made me stop and think. Are we that happy to go to church? Do we come to the altar with hearts full of joy, or do we see our Sunday obligation as just that, an obligation? Have we forgotten the power of the ritual of the Mass, only seeing the routine and the rote?
Every week, we witness a miracle. We see simple bread and wine transformed into our Savior. We receive the very body and blood of Jesus in the miracle of the Eucharist, and this should be a cause for great rejoicing.
We hear the very word of God proclaimed to the community of believers. How do we allow ourselves to forget the wonder and joy this should evoke?
We cannot come to the Mass with the cynical eyes of the modern world. We must come to the Mass with the joy-filled eyes of a people who know they are loved unconditionally by their God—a people who know that “God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son.”
This is our challenge. The next time you walk through the doors of a church, try to hear in your mind, and more importantly feel in your heart, the words of the psalmist: “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
Jennifer Bober is a RENEW Marketing Associate with both non-profit and publishing experience. In addition to her marketing career, she is a professional liturgical musician.

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Mary_RyanI am delighted to be a guest blogger here on the RENEW website and to be sharing some thoughts with you that I have titled “The Spirituality of Imperfection.”
I have borrowed this title from Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, who has used it many times in his books and lectures. I love this phrase, because it applies to me and to all of us: we try very hard to follow Jesus in discipleship, but we all are also broken or disabled, all of us in the human condition. It is in this brokenness, this imperfection, this vulnerability, that Jesus comes and joins with us, uniting with us and healing us.
When I say “broken,” I mean that none of us in the human condition can do anything perfectly. However, we should not be discouraged by our weaknesses, because Jesus knows that we are trying, and that we are doing it just right. Let’s keep in mind that Andrew, Bartholomew, Thomas, John and all the friends of Jesus at the time that he walked and lived and breathed among them, were also imperfect. I think we tend to lose sight of that: none of them were perfect!
So, broken discipleship should give us courage. It should remind us that we can’t be perfect every minute of every day, but as long as we live in the present moment with our Lord, we’re doing it just right.
I hope that any or all of this is ringing true for you. Let me give you a bit of background about myself. My husband and I have been involved in parish community as Pre-Cana leaders, members of the Parish Council, Eucharistic ministers and lectors, as well as active participants in RENEW programs.
I am 63 years old and have been a wife for 41 years, a mother to our four sons for 38 years, a foster parent to 27 children from Catholic Charities and Healing the Children, and “GranMary” to our eleven grandchildren.
I have also been totally blind for the past 36 years. My lack of sight has, at times, been a challenge for me and for my family, but I also found it to be a special opportunity to accept God’s grace in my life.
Jesus certainly knew first-hand the human condition and disability. We see this in his agony in the garden, where he asked God, our Father, “Please, take this from me. Please,” as he was filled with fear and confusion. But the most important thing about his prayer in that garden was this: “Father, let it be your will, and not mine.” We witness the love of Jesus for his Father, even in his desperation.
Jesus defines himself, and all of us, humbly and honorably, a “Servant.” He is fully aware of our imperfection, and yet he calls us to be of service to one another in his name. All in the human experience are disabled. By that I mean to say that all of us, in some area or another, are struggling, living with difficulties and challenges. So, whether child, adolescent or adult; African-American, Asian or Caucasian; male or female; and, indeed, sighted or blind: we are all challenged—emotionally, physically, psychologically or spiritually. In some way we must all face these challenges.
One definition of disability is any condition that may limit one’s independence, Blindness certainly fits the bill: it may limit my independence, but it must not, should not, and will not limit my identity. If I allow it to do so, if I enable it to dictate who I am and what I can accomplish, then blindness becomes for me not only a lack of sight, but a lack of vision. This is not what Jesus wants for me or from me, and it is definitely not what I intend to give him, as I journey this path of faith with him.
Mary Ryan lives in Westfield, New Jersey

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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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Mary“The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them”
(Luke 2:16-20).
Mary gives birth in a barn or stable and the shepherds come to see her Child. They leave singing praises. Mary ponders and reflects and treasures all these things that happen to her. She is our model in so many ways. Here, Mary is the first follower of Jesus, the first disciple. And the example she sets, the model she gives through her
actions, is that a follower of Jesus takes time to reflect on life’s events. A true disciple believes that there is meaning and mystery in daily life. A Christian takes time to pray quietly and sit at the feet of his or her Master to be still and hear God’s lessons that present themselves.
What can I learn from this? What is this teaching me? What is God’s message? These are questions we can ask each day as we meditate on the happenings of our seemingly ordinary life. There is always another dimension in which we live. The spiritual is real, but hidden.
And the way to uncover it is simply to ponder, as did Mary, and ask God to help us see with eyes of faith the important meaning, message, and challenge that we might otherwise miss. This is the role of a disciple as Mary, the first disciple, shows us. We, too, must ponder, reflect, and treasure the gifts of each day that God gives us.
How do I take time to listen in my heart each day, as Mary does?
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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Considering the nature of the events in St. Luke’s narrative of the birth of Jesus, we would expect from the witnesses exactly the reaction that Luke described: they were “amazed.” But within the same few lines of Luke’s story there is a tantalizing counterpoint to that amazement: “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

We have learned 20 centuries later about the birth of Jesus and all the circumstances surrounding it, and we hear the story repeated in a variety of ways scores of times during our lives. We have benefited from explanations of the Nativity in homilies, in our religious instruction, in our reading. Do we, in the 21st century, have the same reactions to the birth of Jesus as those who were present at the time? Are we amazed, and do we reflect on these things in our hearts?

Although we are used to the story and all the images surrounding it—angels, shepherds, the manger, the parents, the infant—the meaning of these events should still amaze us. This is not just a folk tale adorned with details calculated to charm us. This is the account of a transformative event in human history, an event in which divine life and human life intersected in a uniquely intimate way.

This was not God speaking to man and woman from the shadows of Eden. This was not God pronouncing commands to Moses from the flames on Sinai. This was God, so full of love for the creatures made in his own likeness that he himself took on human form. This was God taking on himself the whole of the human experience, excepting sin, so that men and women would be restored to their proper relationship to God through the ministry, sacrifice, and glorification of the man whose birth Luke described.

If we believe this, how can we not be amazed?

As astounding as the birth of Jesus was in its implications for the human race, it was in its immediate circumstances a very personal event—this particular child born to these particular parents under difficult economic, social, and political conditions.

Although it occurred in the first century in Palestine, a time and a place that are remote from us, we can easily relate to the story of Jesus’ birth because we understand on the one hand fear and confusion, and we understand on the other hand the joy of parenthood and the irresistible attraction of a newborn child. For Joseph and Mary, the effects of these competing emotions must have been unsettling and exhausting.

But Mary, as she so often did, set an example for us in her reaction to the Nativity itself and the framework in which it occurred: she reflected on these things in her heart.

The Christmas season at times seems to be designed to prevent us from doing any such thing. The season imposes on us, and we impose on ourselves, so many material obligations—the season immerses us in so much activity and noise—that we may not pause to reflect on anything.

But for most of us, the pressures of the holiday season are as nothing compared to what Mary confronted. And still, she reflected on these things in her heart. The birth of Jesus began the unfolding of the mystery through which each of us has been offered salvation from the consequences of sin and death.

If we believe this, how can we not reflect on it at Christmas and on every day of our lives?

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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I stayed up way past my bedtime Saturday night watching Lone Survivor. Then I was up for hours with a teething infant. After hearing about the shootings in Oregon on Friday and then watching this true story of a Navy Seal team, I was so grateful to be able to be up with my baby. There are so many men and women who can’t be with their kids—and some who will never be with their kids again. These heroes defend us overseas, and, in incidents such as this most recent shooting, they defend us at home too.
Monday morning I awoke to the news of a thwarted attack on a California high school that was to be carried out by four of its students. Also on the news was an alert to all Philadelphia-area schools of a potential threat.
I drove my older son to school that morning with my heart in my throat. These attacks are coming with increased frequency, and they are occurring all over the country—how can any of us ever feel safe?
When a former auxiliary bishop for the military services, Most Reverend Joseph W. Estabrook, was fighting cancer, he told his good friend Sr. Maureen Colleary—a member of the RENEW International Staff—“Fear and faith can’t live in the same space.” When she told me this, it stuck with me. I think of that phrase often when I’m worried about anything—and lately these worries are about persecuted Christians in the Middle East, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings at schools, movie theaters, and other places where we should be safe.
I thought about that quote a lot after I dropped my son off. How is that possible? Can you really live a fearless life in today’s world? Did those college students feel fear when they stood up to the gunman and told them they were Christian before he shot them? Did the brave army veteran, on his son’s sixth birthday, feel any fear as he rushed the gunman?
The best we can do is to have faith, to trust in God, and to pray as often as possible. We pray for peace, and we pray in thanksgiving for the heroes that help stop these attacks at home and protect us abroad. We are all charged with being vigilant, with knowing our surroundings and exit routes, with seeing something and saying something. If we don’t have faith while we do it, fear will just consume us.
Amy Reed is a member of RENEW International’s Marketing and Communications team and a Notre Dame alumna.

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Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi—a great day for all Franciscans around the world. Today is also the feast day of our pope – who has chosen to call himself Francis after this holy and simple man of God.
Recently we have been challenged by Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’,” which he opens with a quote from St. Francis’ famous Canticle of the Creatures. I think it would be fair to say this is truly a “Franciscan” encyclical! Pope Francis begins, “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, St. Francis reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs”(No. 1).
Pope Francis calls all of us, especially those committed to the Franciscan tradition, to take seriously St. Francis’ profound theological beliefs about seeing God embedded in a spectacularly interconnected world—God as the source of each and every creature, no matter how small.
We read: “(St. Francis’) response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection…Such a conviction cannot be written off as naïve romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behavior” (No. 11).
RENEW International, in conjunction with GreenFaith and the Catholic Climate Covenant, is producing Creation at the Crossroads, a small-group, faith-sharing resource that examines the encyclical through the lens of prayer and Scripture. This resource will bring people of faith a conversion of spirit that will lead to greater action to care for our common home and all who inhabit it.
We know that we can make a difference, opening the eyes of Catholics and other people of faith to the significance of this timely issue. While people of faith know the importance of caring for human life, they do not always grasp that caring for all of creation is an integral component of that mission. Our people and our planet are inextricably linked. We cannot truly help one while contributing to the destruction of the other.
Pope Francis encourages us to follow the example of Francis of Assisi whose own experience of conversion and appreciation of our connection to the environment helped him embrace all God’s creation.
“I ask all Christians,” the pope writes, “to recognize and to live fully this dimension of their conversion. May the power and the light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures and to the world around us. In this way, we will help nurture that sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied” (No. 221).
Sr. Maureen P. Colleary, FSP is a member of RENEW’s Pastoral Services Team and is a Franciscan Sister of Peace.

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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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