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

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

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

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

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

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 55:6-9)
“Seek the Lord where he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way. And the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
 
In this time of massive fires and floods and a virus that has killed more than 200,000 of our brothers and sisters in our country, and nearly million throughout the world, God can seem far away. In this time of so much death and suffering, Isaiah reminds us of the tragedy of the Babylonian Exile when many of those held captive in a foreign land may have thought that God had abandoned them. Isaiah tells them to “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.”
 
This could be a time when tragedy can divide us and destroy us, but it need not be. We can “turn to the Lord for mercy” and see the good in one another and show respect for the natural world that nurtures us and yet now threatens us. We can “turn to the Lord for mercy” and show mercy for one another.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18)
 
Does the Lord seem near to you in these times of chaos? The Psalmist says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.” We each need to know our deepest truth and call upon the Lord from that truth. What is your deepest truth?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 20c-24, 27a)
 
Paul was in prison and knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be killed. “Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death. For me life is Christ, and death is gain. …I am caught between the two. I long to depart from this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet, that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.”
 
Paul had a powerful purpose for living. What is your purpose in life? Has it given you the strength to carry on in hard times and joy in the good times?
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 20:1-16a)
 
It can be difficult to see what is fair about the situation described in this parable. A landowner goes out at dawn and hires some workers. After agreeing with them about their wages, he sends them to his vineyard. He goes out again at nine o’clock, then again at three, and finally at five o’clock to hire more workers at the same pay. “When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’” Naturally, when the latest laborers are given the same pay as those who have worked hard all day, the early workers protest. The landowner replies, “my friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Are you envious because I am generous?” And Jesus adds, “Thus, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”
 
On one level, this parable is about the enormous generosity and mercy of God. What may seem like an injustice is really unbounded grace. But why did Jesus tell this story in this way if he wanted to simply say how generous his Father was? Some scholars say that he wanted to make sure that the first disciples would not look down on new disciples. All would be treated with the same unconditional love. That is the way God treats us today and forever: no discrimination, no hierarchy, only total love and mercy for all.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Contagion is certainly nothing new. In 19 places in the biblical book of Leviticus, we can read about such things as how to eliminate contagion from clothing and even from walls. Clearly, from ancient times, people have worried about uncleanliness and diseases and how to combat them.
 
Psalm 91 offers assurance and hope of God’s protection:

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;…
You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction
that wastes at noonday. (Verses 3, 5-6)

 
However, dangers still arise. We have to be so careful these days to take precautions to avoid catching the Corona virus which is very contagious. Masks, distancing, sanitizers, and good ventilation are what we hear about day in and day out. Then there are the dangers of flu season looming around the corner! Contagion, contagion everywhere!
 
But how about things we would like to catch? We have heard about someone having a contagious laugh or a contagious smile. Those might be good to contract! We may find it difficult not to follow suit if we find ourselves in the presence of someone who yawns. Also, if we are in the right company, we might find enthusiasm for a good cause or a noble endeavor contagious.
 
For example, today we celebrate the memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, a doctor of the Church. Ordained to the Jesuit order in 1570, he was a prolific author, a professor and scholar. Gifted with a brilliant intellect, he compiled three volumes of Disputations of the Christian Faith, and two catechisms. Although he was elevated to the rank of cardinal, he lived a very simple life; he was always ready to give aid to the poor and needy. If only his habits of self-discipline, generosity, and austerity were contagious!
 
What can we do to make ourselves more susceptible to catching compulsions toward good, generous, loving behavior, and attitudes. First, we may have to remove our masks of self-centeredness, comfort zones, or complacency. Granted, old habits are not easy to break, but we can try, one day at a time.
 
In the gospel reading for the memorial today, in Matthew 7:21-19, we read that we have to do more than just talk about loving God; we have to do the Father’s will. In a way, we have to catch the good news of the kingdom and run with it. We must act on it and share God’s love.
 
We may have to put less distance between ourselves and our Lord by opening ourselves up to him with more prayer. From the other reading for today, Wisdom 7, we see how wise it is to pray:

Therefore, I prayed, and understanding was given me,
I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to scepters and thrones,
and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. (V. 7-8)

 
We should increase the good ventilation from the Holy Spirit, who will breathe in us as we pray St. Augustine’s prayer:

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love butwhat is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.

 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, CT. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.
 
Scripture passages are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1965, 1966 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Additional resource: Catholic Online/Saints & Angels. Other resources: franciscanmedia.org, Catholic Online.

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Have you ever noticed someone’s shirt tag sticking out at the back of their collar? As long as I know the person, I will probably tell them or help them tuck the label back inside.
 
I got to thinking about those tags and labels that tell us sizes, brand names, composition, and, often, washing and drying instructions. There may even be more than one tag on an article of clothing, and tags might be presented in more than one language.
 
Imagine if each of us had a label or tag or two to offer information about us and our best possible spiritual presentation and care. Maybe the tags would and should always stick out to remind ourselves especially about these vital details.
 
What would our tags say? First and foremost, our designer is God, who made us in his image.
 
We are trying to be 100 percent Christian, but that isn’t always so easy. We try to have a large heart and pray it will not shrink. Verses from Psalm 51 can help:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,and cleanse me from my sin…
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.(verses 1-2, 10)

 
Proper care would include daily scripture and spiritual reading, maybe journaling, and definitely endeavoring to love others as we love ourselves. Just as with certain fabrics, we can develop some wrinkles that have to be straightened out. We can pray and ask Jesus to help us. We remember the prophecy of Isaiah 40:4 that is repeated in Luke 3:5:

Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. (Is 40:4)

 
As some labels indicate, certain things are “best if used by ….” We are at our best if we stay close to Jesus through reception of the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. Our labels would remind us that we need spiritual nourishment in order to grow. Forgiveness is a wonderful stain remover! We also have other believers to help us live up to our labels. We read in 1 John 1:7:

….but if we walk in the light as he (God) himself is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son
cleanses us from all sin.

 
I think if I were to wear a tag or label to build up myself and others I meet along my way, it would contain these joyful instructions from Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 
Just remember, our Father’s heart is X-tra Large and, in his mercy, he often uses the Gentle Cycle with us. I challenge you to write your own labels! Tag! You are it!
 
Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.

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Good and gracious God,
your Son’s teaching on forgiveness
is hard to put into practice.
Yet forgiveness brings us peace and harmony
not only within ourselves
but also with others and with you, our Creator.
Enable us to let go of our painful memories and
to experience the healing power of forgiveness
that you continue to offer us.
May we be more willing to offer forgiveness
so that we will also receive forgiveness.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of Sirach
(Chapter 27:30-28:7)
“Forgive your neighbor’s injustices; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? Remember your last days and put enmity aside, remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.”
 
Please read that again and let it sink in.
 
It is so easy to focus on minor injustices done to us, a seeming neglect or inappropriate words. Wonderful relationships can be ruined, families torn apart. Why? Cannot justice and love be restored through patience and forgiveness? These are the same gifts we ask from God for ourselves. Without them, we are at a loss and isolated. With them, we are renewed and enlivened.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12)
 
“The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.” Is that the God you believe in? I hope so. It is the only God that exists.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 14:7-9)
 
“Brothers and sisters: None of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, if we die we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be the Lord of the dead and of the living.”
 
Let’s think about that for a moment. Jesus is with us throughout our lives, every day of our lives and at the time of our deaths—especially then. Have you ever had the opportunity and privilege to be with someone who is dying? It is a sad time, a challenging time, but also a blessed time with Jesus and our loved one. It is a time when gifts are given. We can call forth those gifts for the dying person, and they will come to us as well in faith.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 18:21-35)
 
“Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy seven times.’” Peter would know what Jesus meant. Seven was a powerful number in Jewish culture, and seven times seven would be heard to mean as many as needed.
 
But to make it clear, Jesus tells a parable of a king who forgives a servant who owed the king “a huge amount.” The servant had pleaded with the king: “Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full.” The master was moved with compassion, forgave the loan, and let the man go. However, then the servant found another man “who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt.”
 
Other servants saw what had happened and told their master. “His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
Jesus is using language and an example from his time, not ours, but the point is the same. We must forgive others if we want to ask God for forgiveness. Yes. Sometimes that is very hard, but it is what we are called to do.
 
Is there someone that you need to forgive? Ask the Holy Spirit who lives within you for the strength to forgive on whatever level you are able. Does it mean that you have to be best friends with the person? Sometimes it works out that way, but that is not always possible. What is possible for you? How can you take the first step or help a person you know to take that step toward reconciliation?
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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It is repulsive to imagine what it was like to be an African man or woman crammed into the hold of a dirty, smelly slave ship en route to being sold in the marketplace to work on a plantation in Cartagena in the 1600s. Hungry, sick, abused, and disrespected—those poor souls must have felt totally lost and defeated.
 
Today we observe the memorial of St. Peter Claver, the apostle of Cartagena in what is now Colombia. He was a dedicated Jesuit priest who spent 33 years of his life as the personification of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy in service to these African slaves. He ministered to their bodies and their souls as he brought them food, medicine, Christian instruction, baptism, and encouragement. He found the courage to work right in the slave ship holds. He tirelessly found the words to preach and encourage abolition of the slave trade.
 
Suggested readings for today’s liturgy include verses 6-11 from Isaiah 58 in which the prophet finds better ways to fast: sharing bread with the hungry, housing the homeless, covering the naked, freeing those who are yoked, refraining from judging and speaking evil.

(I)f you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted
then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.(verse 10)

 
We will find light and the Lord’s presence as we do good for others who have experienced loss in one way or another.
 
The gospel reading, Matthew 25:31-40, recounts the familiar story of the last judgment with the Son of Man separating people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats—the sheep representing those who find reward in God’s kingdom because of caring for Jesus in the lost or needy person.
 
Today, as we celebrate St. Peter Claver, we find a good role model. We won’t be going into slave ship holds, but we can find ways to break the hold that prejudice, poverty, pandemic, catastrophe, addiction, or apathy have on people we may encounter. We all know how to pray, and that is always the best way to strengthen us to keep us on the “sheep” side.
 
Even small, regular donations to shelters or drive-through food pantries are so helpful. Providing extra hands to help at food collection centers or extra ears to listen to those people who just need to talk can be our works of mercy. Our attitudes, conversations, and even internet postings can influence others for the good. Offer gentle advice and direction. Suggest some inspirational reading materials or easy-listening Christian music. We can assist others in finding that light in the darkness.
 
Best of all, we can ask St. Peter Claver to pray for us to find some doses of his unending enthusiasm and energy in showing love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We find joy in the promise that

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:11).

 
Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.

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In the early days of the COVID pandemic, I watched a newscast in which an emergency-room nurse who was on a brief break burst into singing the familiar hymn, “Amazing Grace.” It struck me that, in the midst of the flurry and fluster, this nurse found her voice in a song that gives hope and respite to all of us. That particular hymn seems to be a universal favorite; it is sung at public funerals and on many religious occasions. It seems to be such a comfort to so many.
 
I got thinking about what makes something amazing. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines amazing as “causing astonishment, great wonder or surprise.” To me, in most cases, amazement requires time on our part to realize what really has happened. If we are too much in a rush, we miss that fullness of amazement; we miss the surprise, the depth, the scope of what has occurred. I like to think that amazement usually has a good connotation, and sometimes even a spiritual dimension.
 
For example, it is amazing that Jesus came to earth to live as a human being and to suffer and die for our salvation. If we meditate on that fact, if we take the time to explore all the implications, if we slow down enough to take in the magnitude of that sacrifice, we can be amazed every single day.
 
I count fourteen passages in Mark’s Gospel that report that people were astonished, astounded, awestruck, or amazed at something Jesus did. I will point out two.
 
There was a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit that Jesus rebuked:
 

And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—-with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (5:26-27).

 
Some Pharisees and some Herodians were trying to trap Jesus and get him to oppose paying taxes to the emperor. After getting them to look at a coin,
 

Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and
To God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him. (12:17).

 
Whether Jesus is expelling demons, curing the sick, rebuking the wind, teaching in the synagogue, being questioned before Pilate, or leaving his tomb empty, he is truly amazing.
 
Experiencing amazement is like doing a double or even triple take. In the spiritual realm, we can be amazed at the little actual graces that are also amazing graces. Did you ever get the urge, out of the blue, to pray for someone you know and have not seen in a while? Did you ever offer your Mass intention for a person you don’t even know? Did anyone ever tell you that they had been praying for you even though you had not asked them to pray? Amazing! The Holy Spirit puts into hearts and minds the unifying motivation to love others. We just have to be on the lookout. Let’s be ever ready to be awestruck! We might even surprise ourselves at how loving we can be!
 
Photo credit: Nicola Abrescia
 
Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.

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God of all peace
you reconciled the world to yourself
in the death and resurrection of your Son.
Help us to be reconcilers in the world:
to bring about forgiveness
to correct the wrongs we see,
to quietly and fairly resolve our differences
and to treat all as the loved individuals that they are.
In your name we pray.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 33:7-9)
God calls Ezekiel. “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.” In those days the “watchman” had a most important job. He stood on the top of the wall of the city and looked in all directions to determine if an enemy was approaching and then call out to warn the people. All the prophets were like moral watchmen, warning the people of dangers, not only those from foreign enemies but also from within. Ezekiel had warned the people of the danger from the Babylonians, but they did not listen and now, when this prophesy is being recorded, they are in exile in Babylon. God tells Ezekiel not to give up trying: “But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, he shall die for his guilt but you shall be saved.”
 
Have you ever tried to warn someone about an impending danger only to have your warning fall on deaf ears? You tried to be the “watchman” or the “watchwoman,” but you were not heard. Sometimes, you can try again using different words or a friendlier attitude. If you are still not heard, ask yourself why you missed the mark. Were you wrong in voicing your concern, or did the problem lie with the person who has ears yet cannot hear?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9)
 
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Maybe our problem is not that we have hardened our hearts but that we do not hear God’s voice. Do you hear that voice more during this time of COVID 19, or less? Try to take some time each day, when you pray, to just listen. You may hear nothing, or you may hear the very voice of God. We never know unless we try.
 
A reading from the letter to the Romans
(Chapter 12:1-2)
 
Jesus said that the two great commandments were to love God and to love our neighbors. Paul makes that clear to the Christians in Rome: “Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Then he writes, “Whatever other Commandments there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
 
Imagine if all of us Christians really believed that and practiced it, no matter who our neighbor is, whatever his race, whatever her religion or politics. As Paul concludes this reading, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfilment of the law.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 18:15-20)
 
The last paragraphs of this reading are extraordinary: “Again, amen, I say to you’ if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
 
So, every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is there in our midst. And every time we pray as a family or with friends, or even when we are not praying but celebrating with each other in love, Jesus is there as well.
 
I don’t know about you, but I do not think of that presence often enough; and yet, it does not take much to deepen the experience either during the gathering or even after. Jesus is there.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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I still remember that afternoon. Dressed in her black Ursuline nun’s habit, Mother Mary Edith was on playground duty. It was a very hot day. The white starched collar and scalp covering wrapped around the nun’s face so that only her half-circle face was visible, and on that day, that face was very red from the heat. Some children were gathered around her, chatting, and one of them must have asked her how she felt standing out there in such hot weather. Mother Mary Edith smiled and burst into a little song about joy.
 
That made quite an impression on me at my preteen age; I still remember that smile and that ditty after so many years. She was joyful, even when she had to have been so uncomfortable. Was she happy in such heat? Probably not. She was joyful, and that leads me to some thoughts about joy versus happiness.
 
I compare joy and happiness to climate and weather. Joy is more a state of being, a condition, an atmosphere, while happiness is more fleeting, more on the surface, more subject to change. Joy gives us fullness. The Bible has many verses that mention joy, and they are easy to find. For example, Psalm 126:5-6 tells us:
 

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

 
A person does not even need to be born to leap for joy at the presence of Jesus. When Mary visited Elizabeth, we read, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy! (Luke 1:44). During that same visit, in Mary’s praise prayer, the Magnificat, we read how she was so overwhelmed with joy. (Luke 1:46-55) Nowadays many of us can feel overwhelmed with stress. Let us move to where there is a climate of joy instead! We can pray Mary’s prayer for some solace.
 
When we choose joy, as my teacher, Mother Mary Edith, had, we choose to live with a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Mother will never know how much she has influenced my life. Another day, in religion class, we were reading about the Transfiguration of Jesus. When we came to the end of the story, after the voice from the cloud told the disciples to listen to Jesus, and Jesus came and touched his fearful followers, the scripture says they looked up and saw no one but Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-8) Mother Mary Edith’s reaction said it all: No one but Jesus! Really? What more could anyone want? Jesus is and always will be the most we could ever want to look up and see! In Jesus we find hope and joy.
 
It is not magic. To be joyful we have work to do. I think you will agree, though, that it is truly worth the effort:
 

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:10-11).

 
Mother Mary Edith taught classes of fifty students at a time—to my knowledge, never ruler-whacking the knuckles of even the most challenging young boys—walked with a slight limp, and lived a humble, holy life. I saw her a number of years after I had graduated from grammar school, and she still seemed to be her joyful self. I guess her life motto must have been: The joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10b).
 
Photo credit: Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown
 
Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.

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Sustainer God,
you are the rock
who gives us solidity and stability
in a shifting and chaotic world.
Help us to be grounded in your infinite love,
a love that finds life
peeking through the cracks of our desolate situations.
May we be witnesses to this life;
a foundation for those who are in need of love and hope.
We ask this in the name of our brother, Jesus,
who taught us to ground ourselves in you.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah
(Chapter 20:7-9)
 
Being a prophet of God has never been easy for anyone, but for Jeremiah it was excruciating: “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” Wow! Talk about suffering and unhappiness, and this is only one of Jeremiah’s famous lamentations. Jeremiah had much to be unhappy about. God asked him to deliver a powerful message of repentance to the people in a time of crisis. Jeremiah did, and the people hated him for it and tortured him, imprisoned him, and tried to murder him. No wonder he was so angry with God; and yet, he stayed on message, faithful to his call.
 
Have you ever had an especially difficult call from God? Maybe it did not entail such a dangerous undertaking, but it had a painful effect on you. Perhaps it was the loss of someone you loved, a long illness, another kind of tragedy. Or perhaps it was having to stand up for truth and love in the face of rejection and condemnation. Whatever it was, you need not be alone in your suffering. A willing listener may not heal your pain but may lighten your load.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9)
 
“My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” This is the prayer of a man who lived in the desert and knew what it meant to be thirsty every day. We have only to turn on a faucet to quench our thirst, and we have only to ask God for the water of life, and we will receive.
 
A reading from the letter to the Romans
(Chapter 12:1-2)
 
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may discern what is the will of God.” Rome, in Paul’s time, was a very sophisticated, cosmopolitan city. The Romans had brought clean water through a series of aqueducts as well as the best roads and architecture of the time, but they had also brought many false gods, a violent tyranny, and racist repression of Jews and other minorities. However, since the overall material standard of living was better than it was in most places in the ancient world, Christians could easily fall away from the deeper truth.
 
I think Paul would see a parallel in our society today with all its modern wonders but also with the over-the-top graphic violence, extreme injustice, distortions of sexuality, and worship of the false god of greed. He would ask us again to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 16:21-27)
 
In gospel passage read at last Sunday’s Masses, Peter gets it right. He identifies Jesus as the Son of God, and Jesus calls him a rock upon which Jesus will build his Church. Here, Peter gets it wrong. He can’t believe that Jesus will be killed: “Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. God forbid, Lord! No such thing should ever happen to you.” But Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” So now Peter is not being called a rock, but rather an obstacle, a “stumbling stone.” Why? “Because you are thinking not as God does but as human beings do.” That is certainly a great deal to ask of Peter—to think as God does—but it is necessary if Peter is to lead the Church. Be steadfast, like a rock not a stumbling stone.
 
Have you ever tried to think as God does? Suppose someone treats you unjustly and tries to make it feel as if it is your fault. You’re furious, and rightfully so, but what do you do? Do you focus your righteous anger on the offender and go after him or her? Or do you step back, ask someone you trust for advice, and then move forward, not seeking revenge but rather truth and justice? Suppose someone betrays your trust on a very important matter in such a way that your reputation is at risk? Or think of something that has actually happened to you. Did you respond in God’s way or in your way?
 
Jesus never asked Peter to be perfect. He knew all too well that Peter was an impetuous, imperfect man, but he challenged Peter to think “as God does.” It did not always work for Peter, and it won’t for us either, but we can try, one step at a time, one decision at a time, one move, one word that is more loving, more compassionate than before.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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