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I recently had the privilege of taking care of my niece’s children while their older sister made her confirmation. During the course of the morning, Dominic, a kindergartner, came up to me with a dollar in his hand and said, “I want to give this to Megan because she is doing a hard thing.” He went on to say, “But if I give this to Megan then I will only have three [dollars] left.” We talked about this for a few minutes. Finally, I asked him if he wanted me to get an envelope, and he said, “Yes.”
I was so touched by this child’s thoughtfulness and generosity, his level of understanding and observation!
I later found out that he had already given Megan a gift, but this moment, Megan’s confirmation, required more. He realized he would have less, but he gave anyway. No one ever told him that confirmation was ”a hard thing.” He did, however, observe all the preparations including study time, meetings and a retreat, and in his five-year-old wisdom he knew this was indeed hard.
His parents were surprised when I told them what Dominic had done, and Megan was shocked that he gave her a second gift. I saw the presence of God in this ”hard” thing that not only Megan did but Dominic did, too!
– What “child of God” (age doesn’t matter) has offered a glimpse of the loving presence of God in your life?
Anne Scanlan is a member of the RENEW staff, serves on the Why Catholic? team, and is an exceptional liturgist.

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Saints come in all colors, and this week the two we celebrate are green and red. These colors pale in comparison to the qualities and characteristics of the lived faith of these saints. As I thought about these brothers – our brothers in faith – I couldn’t help but also see them as inspirational as we strive to live our call to the new evangelization and catechesis.
During his 40 years of missionary work in Ireland, St. Patrick built many churches, churches that were first fashioned by him and his disciples with human cords of love. Those who converted to Christianity in Ireland said YES because of the loving welcome each experienced. What a marvelous example of evangelization we have in him – in them! So if you are inclined to be “wearin’ the green” on March 17, may you also be a beacon of hope and love in the spirit of the Christ he so loved and shared.
And then there’s St. Joseph, celebrated on March 19 as the husband of Mary. He inspires us to be people of integrity. His faithfulness to the law is trumped by his commitment to treat others with dignity wrapped in love. This is his story of God and Mary. Joseph knew that dissolving his betrothal to Mary would be consistent with his faith tradition, and he was choosing to do so quietly out of respect for her. However, he learned in a dream that God wanted him to take Mary into his home in faith and trust. Joseph reminds us that what is observable doesn’t always reveal the truth that God inspires in our hearts. If you are wearing red, as is the custom of Italians on this day, may you reveal your loving heart by treating all people with dignity and respect.
Saints are ordinary folks like you and me who live extraordinarily in the time and place of their earthly journey. May we follow their examples by being colorfully Christ-like, living the good news and inviting others to experience it too.
Anne Scanlan is a member of the RENEW staff, serves on the Why Catholic? team, and is an exceptional liturgist.

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The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, celebrated on February 2, commemorates the first appearance of the Holy Family in the Temple in Jerusalem. Mary, although perpetually a virgin, underwent the ritual purification required of the mother of a firstborn son. In fact, for centuries, this feast was known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. Mary and Joseph also brought Jesus to the Temple to dedicate him to the Lord, a stipulation of the Law of Moses. Eventually, that became the focus, and the feast became known as the Presentation of the Lord.
The presentation has been called the “second epiphany.’’ The appearance of the infant Jesus in the Temple evokes the prophecy of Malachi: “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple’’ (Malachi 3:1). John the Baptist had been born only several months before, and already the Savior John was to announce appeared in God’s house.
The arrival of Jesus did not go unnoticed, as Luke recalls in his Gospel. The prophetess Anna and the elderly Simeon heralded the child who would redeem not only Israel, whose expectation these prayerful people embodied, but the whole world.
But there also was an ominous note. Simeon told Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’’ There was nothing like this in the message of the archangel who told Mary that she would bear a son conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Mary and Joseph accepted the angel’s word because they believed it to be God’s will. And then, hearing from a holy man in the Temple that their son’s work would inspire resistance and that Mary herself would feel the effects of the opposition to him, the couple still accepted God’s will and continued with love to carry out their responsibilities as parents of this holy child.
We know that Mary, at least, lived to see Simeon’s prophecy fulfilled in the opposition to the ministry of Jesus and then in his suffering and death.
Pope John XXIII alluded to the far-reaching implications of Simeon’s warning in a speech at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, whose teachings the Church is reaffirming during this Year of Faith.
“The aged Simeon’s prophecy to Mary … proves true in every age,” the pope said.
“Certain it is that the critical issues, the thorny problems that wait upon men’s solution, have remained the same for almost twenty centuries. And why? Because the whole of history and of life hinges on the person of Jesus Christ. Either men anchor themselves on him and his Church, and thus enjoy the blessings of light and joy, right order and peace; or they live their lives apart from him; many positively oppose Him, and deliberately exclude themselves from the Church. The result can only be confusion in their lives, bitterness in their relations with one another, and the savage threat of war.’’
The Church, through the New Evangelization, invites all people to do the opposite — to live our lives in the constant company of Jesus and so be to the world both signs and agents of his Gospel.

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

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This Gospel reading for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God picks up where the Gospel for the Christmas Mass at Midnight left off, as the shepherds come in search of the sign the angel had announced to them: “You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

Like the magi in the upcoming Gospel for the Epiphany, the shepherds are searching for the newborn King, the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. Like the magi, the shepherds are “patron saints” for anyone who has ever asked, “Where is God?”

The Second Vatican Council, whose teachings are a focus of this Year of Faith, acknowledged in its Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) that the search for God is a universal impulse of humanity.

“From ancient times down to the present,’’ the Council wrote, “there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.”

Sometimes that question—“Where is God?’’—comes from what St. John of the Cross described as “the dark night of the soul”—individual situations and entire chapters in one’s life when doubt, adversity, or alienation leave one searching for meaning, for hope, for God. Sometimes it is just the natural desire of the Christian, in the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola, to “find God in all things.”

There are many examples in our faith communities of people searching for God. Week after week, catechumens are dismissed at the end of the Liturgy of the Word to reflect further on the readings and to discern God’s presence and action in their lives.

Teenagers challenge us to make known in our individual and community lives the God whom we praise in our worship. The sick look for God in their suffering, and the grieving look for God in the death of a loved one. Spouses look for God in their marriage relationships, and children look for God in their families. Single people seek God in the serenity that comes from being alone but not lonely.

We are all, in some way, seekers, and the journey of seeking God has its ups and its downs, its highs and its lows. Baptism does not deliver us from this journey, nor does it guarantee that we will never harbor doubts or questions about God’s presence. It does, however, incorporate us into a community that supports our search with its prayers and its faith. It also assures us that the God whom we seek promises to be with us in our searching.

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

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St. Andrew has a special place in my heart and in my devotional life. When we think of St. Andrew, most of us remember that it is held that he was the first Apostle, a fisherman, and brother of Simon Peter. There are two principal reasons he is important in my life. First, he is the patron saint of Scotland and I met my husband in Scotland. Second, he is also the patron saint of Greece.

My grandparents were Greek Orthodox and lived with my family all through my childhood. While he and my grandmother spoke Greek around us, I never learned the language except to count to ten, and to say hello and thank you. For the most part, Greek food was my main connection to my Greek ancestry.

There is a Greek tradition of celebrating the feast day of the saint for whom you were named. In fact, for Greeks, this day is much more important and gives greater cause for celebration than your birthday. While my grandparents practiced this tradition, the rest of my family did not.

As I continued to be formed in the faith, the Communion of Saints and devotional practices of intercessory prayer involving the saints became extremely important to me. I think it was with my first pregnancy and healthy birth of my first son that my first true devotion to a saint took place. And can you guess to whom? Our Blessed Mother! Mary continues to be what I lovingly and respectfully refer to as my “go to” saint. She is my everyday saint but also my “big gun” so to speak. I have spent many a night praying to Mary, especially when waiting for a fever to break (one of my sons), blood work results (one of my sons), or simply waiting for the garage door to open on a Saturday night (you guessed it, one of my sons was due home). My devotion to her is not limited to prayers for my sons, however. I “go to” her during times of discernment, times of great joy, times of anxiety, times of sorrow, and times of thankfulness. I also pray to Jesus through her.

Where am I going with this? As unbelievable as it sounds, when my husband and I decided to name our second son Andrew, we did not realize that the feast of St. Andrew was on November 30, which happens to be my birthday! The Holy Spirit was truly at work.

I share many special bonds with both my sons, but this is certainly the best one I share with my son Andrew. The first thing I do the morning of every November 30 (my birthday) is call him to wish him a happy feast day.

The saints are such an integral part of our lives. What connections can you make to the saints? Have you ever thought of beginning a tradition of wishing people a Happy Feast Day on their “name day” as it is called in the Greek tradition? A simple thinking of you card or email or text message to someone you care about on their feast day can mean a lot.

Dr. Laura Kolmar is Director of Pastoral Services at RENEW International, and has worked in parish social ministry, workshop and retreat leadership, and pastoral care and counseling.

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Words can uplift, affirm, and bless. Words can also mislead, falsely acclaim, and detract.

As we celebrate the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, she can attest to both. First, let’s not miss the word “saint.” A saint is one who is a holy person, a person who is revered and honored. She was called by Jesus. She was a faithful companion to Jesus. She was the first person Jesus appeared to after the Resurrection. She proclaimed his Resurrection to the apostles, making her the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

In a single sixth-century homily, Mary Magdalene was identified as a prostitute. This label stuck even though there is no evidence in Scripture or history that this was true. This is not an appropriate way to describe our dear sister in faith.

What we do know of Mary Magdalene from Sacred Scripture is that she “was cleansed of seven demons” (Mark and Luke). When I think of demons, I think of those things that control me, things which have taken me over. Demons come in many forms – nightmare memories that impact thoughts, feelings, or behaviors such as abuse, bullying or a tragic accident; addictions to things like food, alcohol, or drugs; physical or mental illness, such as pain, seizures, or depression; and let us not forget “labels,” especially labels that block the way to the truth of who a person really is.

My Aunt Mary’s full name was Mary Magdalene and she always joked about how she lived up to the name she was given. What she meant was she was an awful “sinner” too. My Aunt Mary was a wonderful, fun, and caring woman who was given misinformation and carried a label that had been passed on for centuries. How much more glorious would have been her self-identification had St. Mary Magdalene’s “label” been “friend of Jesus,” “Apostle to the Apostles,” or simply “saint – holy woman of the church.”

What Mary Magdalene offers us is a path to having our demons cast out: encounter Jesus and be open to Jesus. Who of us is totally free in body, mind, and spirit? What are the “controls” in your life? From what would you like to be set free?

Mary Magdalene is our sister. Let us honor her and be grateful for her as we celebrate her feast day on July 22.

Anne Scanlan is a member of the RENEW staff, serves on the Why Catholic? team, and is an exceptional liturgist.

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“May we one day meet merrily in heaven.” St. Thomas More wrote these words to his family, in particular to his wife, Alice, and his daughter Meg, shortly before his execution, which was ordered by England’s King Henry VIII in 1535. This was a critical communication because Alice and Meg did not fully understand why Thomas would not save his earthly life by taking an oath recognizing the king as head of the Church in England. Thomas wanted to remind them that they would be together again.

We may not understand either. They are only words. Why not just say them and then live what you truly believe? Isn’t it better to live? Thomas would say “no.”

Who we are and what we say are inextricably connected. This is why St. Thomas More’s words to his executioner are so eloquent: “I die the King’s good servant and God’s first.”

May we, when our time comes to depart this earth, be graced to say in truth, “I die…good servant and God’s first.”

Anne Scanlan is a member of the RENEW staff, serves on the Why Catholic? team, and is an exceptional liturgist.

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Mary is a remarkable woman! I have grown in my affection for her over the years.

When I was in grade school, in the 1950s and 1960s, the May crowning of Mary was always the highlight of the year in my parish. Being a girl, this was especially a big deal for me because girls were excluded from most church activities such as choir and altar serving. But the May crowning procession was different. There, an eighth-grade girl was chosen to crown Mary and was accompanied by four First Communion girls. This was the tradition until my class. My class was told that none of us was worthy of such an honor. Instead, a second-grader would crown Mary. I was devastated!

Because of this, Mary became unreachable, untouchable, and being like her was unattainable. I felt this way for many years until, as a Dominican preacher, I met Mary in a brand new way through Luke’s account of the Annunciation. In praying that passage, I met a woman who was actively engaged in her relationship with God.

Mary was not, in this encounter, silent, passive, or submissive but open, listening, speaking, and questioning. Mary was alert, attentive, interacting, puzzled—alive! Mary was never told “Be quiet,” “Don’t question,” “Just say yes.” Mary was invited to be the Mother of God and was free, as we all are, to say “Yes” or “No.” Mary chose to say “Yes,” not because she knew what it all meant but because she knew she could trust the One who was asking—just as the One who was asking could trust the one being asked.

When we sense God is calling, asking, and inviting, may we be open, engaging, questioning, alive, and graced to trust the One who is asking, because the One who is asking is trusting us.

Anne Scanlan is a member of the RENEW staff, serves on the Why Catholic? team, and is an exceptional liturgist.

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We have crossed the threshold of yet another advent – an expectant waiting – for the coming of our God. At every Advent we are reminded in a deeper way perhaps, than at any other time, of our hunger for God. It is a spiritual yearning, a divine dreaming, for ultimately, searching for God is a journey of the mind, the heart, and the soul. What we seek on this journey is not an answer to a question but a personal encounter with mystery that does by definition exceed the farthest limits of imagination. It is a lifelong emptiness that can only be filled with the reality of God’s presence and the totality of God’s being. We need to have dreams as big as God’s love can offer which is ultimately an invitation to share in a divinity beyond our comprehension. Only the uncluttered emptiness of a soul searching for God, the vulnerability of outstretched hands, the joyful root and measure of the longing, leaves room for this God who wants to give gifts to vessels empty enough to receive them. “I am,” says God, “where you are. No place, no person, no time of your life is a stranger to me. You need only to be open and receptive for – therein lies the fulfillment of the promise.”
Not to see the world as God sees it, not to love our fellow human beings as God loves, is to miss the face of this God for whom we long. We are created to walk in mystery in a world that is neither heaven nor earth but a world so desperately in need – that our hunger and that need are embraced in the mystery itself. We have the blessed assurance that God is not just the object of our journey but our companion along the way, our guide through lands of the soul where we have never been. We are not alone – this God for whom we long walks with us. Our goal is simply to become a dwelling place whose emptiness, whose hunger and thirst, leaves room for the abiding presence of God.
Always it seems that we shall be able to touch the face of God just one step beyond where we are – but each step whether it is our first or our fiftieth demands that we take yet another; there is always more in the invitation to go deeper. In the end, the successful journey no matter how long or how arduous belongs to the passionate heart, to the heart that burns within, to the heart that yearns for the beyond, the yet to be, to those who have the heart to endure and finish what they, with God, have started. God is always adventing, always coming, always entering to refresh and enhance. Our human hunger for God is mirrored by God’s hunger for union with us; a hunger that extends not just to a few spiritually enriched souls but to all of us, not just to the best of us but also to the least of us. God is always giving hope, sustaining hope, building on hope and no one has greater claim on the gifts than each and every one of us. This creative life of God, the source of hope, the fulfillment of our longing and our yearning, is not there just for the asking. It is freely given and is ours just for accepting. God who fashioned the dream is the gaurantor of our hope.
Guest post written by Sr. Anne Daniel Young OP, a Dominican Sister of Blauvelt and a member of the Blauvelt Leadership Team.

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Advent is a quiet season, a quiet season of waiting patiently in expectation of a wondrous event.


Where can we find some quiet during this busy time of getting ready for Christmas – running from store to store, shopping, wrapping, cleaning, cooking?


Mary was a woman who cultivated a quiet heart so that she could listen for the voice of God in her life. Mary’s prayerfulness and quiet heart colored everything for her.


Tradition tells us that Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim, presented her in the temple and dedicated her to God at a very young age. Anne and Joachim were prayerful people who passed on to their daughter, Mary, that sense of the need to live a life of prayer and reflection.

Prayer and being aware of God’s presence was an important part of the family life. And, as a family, Mary and her parents prayed together and shared the truths about God’s action and goodness in their lives.


We see Mary as one who takes the time and space for quiet prayer. We see Mary as one who has a relationship with her God. We see Mary as one who listens to God’s messages and sees God’s actions in her life and her world. And we see Mary as one who responds in faith and love to her God so that Advent can take place – so that Christ can be born.


Like Mary, we are called to cultivate a quiet heart and allow Christ to grow in us.
Advent reminds us, day by day, that Christ is born in the silence of our heart – in the space within each of us in which love dwells.


Let us this Advent, pray through Mary’s intercession, that we continue to search for silence and quiet needed in our lives, that we continue to allow Jesus to dwell within us, and that we continue to provide the space to receive God’s message and to respond in faith.


Sister Eileen is a member of the RENEW staff, a spiritual director, and an avid Mets fan.

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Today is All Saints Day. It’s a day where we gratefully remember all of the saints, canonized or not. Each of us may have a favorite saint or a patron saint that we pray to or with – St. Anthony, St. Jude, St. Teresa of Avila, etc. And, each of us has our own saints we pray to or with – friends and family members that have gone before us.

All of these people are saints because they are stamped with God.

They showed us God and they have drawn us to God simply because of who they were and how they lived.

In my congregation, when we are celebrating Sisters (both living and deceased) who have been the foundation of the congregation, we have sung the song “Standing on the Shoulders” by Joyce Rouse.

Some of the lines are:
I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me
I am stronger for their courage, I am wiser for their words
I am lifted by their longing, I am grateful for their vision

Our Church stands on the shoulders of thousands and thousands of saints.

You and I stand on the shoulders of the saints among our friends and families.

We stand on the shoulders of those who are blessed and have blessed us. We stand on the shoulders of those saints in our lives who have mentored us and modeled for us how to live in beatitude ways.

We stand on the shoulders of the Poor in Spirit. Those empty of illusions, giving God the space to fill them.

We stand on the shoulders of the Mourning Ones. Those who cared so deeply and are so full of compassion that they were not afraid to cry with, to hurt with, to feel with us in our pain and give us comfort.

We stand on the shoulders of the Meek. Those gentle ones. Those comfortable within themselves who knew the truth and spoke the truth. Those who by their very presence called forth truth and gifts in others.

We stand on the shoulders of those Hungering for Justice. Those with such a deep longing for truth. Those with a hunger for what matters for others.

We stand on the shoulders of the Merciful. Those that didn’t judge and were only loving. Those who are always ready to forgive.

We stand on the shoulders of the Peacemakers. Those that touched that deep and sacred place of peace within themselves so that they created peace-filled hearts in others.

And finally, we stand on the shoulders of the Persecuted. Those so compassionate to the truth that makes for freedom. Those that cared so much and loved like Jesus.

And we are stamped with God through our saints as we continue to live as peacemakers – merciful, compassionate, hungry for justice, as people of faith and commitment, and as people of love.

Because we are stamped with God, we continue to make every effort to live these Beatitudes and, in years to come, others will stand on our shoulders.

May each of us have the faith, hope, desire, and courage to live this reality.

Sister Eileen is a member of the RENEW staff, a spiritual director, and an avid Mets fan.

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Let me begin with a story.

A wise woman brought a glass bowl and set it on a table in front of the group. Then she produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the bowl. When the bowl was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, she asked, “Is this bowl full?” Everyone in the group responded, “Yes.”

“Really?” she said, as she reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. She dumped some gravel in and shook the bowl, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then she smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the bowl full?”

By this time they were on to her. “Probably not,” a member of the group answered. “Good!” she replied. She once again reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. As she dumped the sand in, it filled all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more she asked the question, “Is the bowl full?”

“No!” the group shouted. Once again she said, “Good!” Then she grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the bowl was filled to the brim.

Then she looked at the group and asked, “What is the point of this demonstration?” One person responded, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it.”

“No,” the wise woman said, “that is not the point. The truth this demonstration teaches us is that if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

The big rocks represent our foundation and our focus in life. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the foundation and center of our lives. Like the big rocks, our foundation needs to come first. We look to model our lives so that we live as Jesus lived, with love and compassion. Unless Jesus is our basis and our priority, we can lose that way.

Like the big rocks in the story, Jesus has to come first in our “bowl” of life. As St. Paul tells us, we need to “clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14) and imitate Jesus by “walking in love as Christ loved us” (Eph 5:1).

Jesus is our rock. Jesus is our model. Jesus is our way. When we can keep sight of our rock, we know that we are held by a gracious, loving God who guides us, challenges us, and cherishes us. And when we know this, we can live in a way of love, patience, understanding, and compassion for others.

Do we always put Jesus Christ into our bowls first? What do we let get in the way?

Sister Eileen is a member of the RENEW staff, a spiritual director, and an avid Mets fan.

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One afternoon I was at the kitchen sink washing some dishes. One of the other sisters in the house came in and started asking me a question. I saw her mouth moving but couldn’t really hear what she was saying. I turned the water off and said, “Sorry, I can’t hear you when the water is running.”

I have reflected on that statement a number of times since. It occurs to me that God often tries to speak to us, and we can’t hear God because, metaphorically, the water’s running. We live in a noisy world. There is the never-ending barrage of noise from cell phones and video games and the constant advertising and “voices” telling us how to think and feel and behave.

I wonder if there is a connection between the amount of noise in our lives and our inability to hear and notice God.

What kind of noise do you have in your life?

The noises in our lives are like the water running and our not being able to hear each other. It’s the same thing with hearing what God is saying – whether in situations, words, or through another person. We need to “turn off the water.” We need to have quiet times in our lives in order to hear God and to be aware of God. We need to cultivate a quiet stillness within. This takes practice and intention on our part.

Where do you go to “turn off the water” and make a quiet space each day?

Sister Eileen is a member of the RENEW staff, a spiritual director, and an avid Mets fan.

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