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God of mercy and compassion,
forgive me for the times I fall into temptation,
release and free me from the trap of sin.
Give me the grace to be a more aware
and self-reflective person,
a person who takes responsibility
for my actions and emotions
and does not project those painful emotions on others.
Help me to let go of the false gods that I cling to and
give me a deep trust in your desire
to fill the needs of my heart.
I ask this in the name of God who is a loving Father,
in Jesus, the compassion of God,
and through the Holy Spirit,
the One who makes all things new.
Amen.

 
Adapted from RENEW International’s LIVE LENT! Year C by Sr. Terry Rickard, OP and Deacon Charles Paolino.

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Jesus_desertA reading from the Book of Deuteronomy
(Chapter 26:4-10)
 
Moses gives the people a short summary of their history—the call of Abraham, their suffering in Egypt, and finally their deliverance by God, as Moses puts it, “with his strong hand and outstretched arm with terrifying power, with signs and wonders; and bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, I have now brought you the first fruits of the products of the soil which you O Lord have given to us.”
 
This is a powerful creed that the Jewish people have recited throughout their history, and it is part of who we are as Christians as well. In our Eucharist, we join with Jesus, who is the first fruits of God’s new covenant with his people.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15)
 
“Be with me O Lord when I am in trouble.” Later in the Psalm, God says, “I will be with him in distress.” But then God promises much more: “I will deliver him and glorify him.” That is quite a promise, and it is right there for us now, in our lives NOW.
 
Are you truly in awe of God, enthralled with his goodness, in wonder of his great creation? Or are you still caught up in the words you may have heard in your childhood: “You better be good, or God will punish you.” How you answer that question may either bring you a powerful sense of God’s peace and protection or encourage that little voice that sometimes in your head that says, “You’re not good enough.”
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 10:8-13)
 
Paul tells the Romans, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
 
Some of our Christian brethren have believed for centuries that this is all they need, faith, to be saved. We Catholics believe that it is faith and good works that save us. Jesus gives us the gift of faith, but as with all gifts, we need to put it into practice for it to be fully accepted. We are in partnership with Jesus throughout our lives to truly live this gift.
 
When many of us were children, we were told that we needed to do certain things or avoid other things to “get to heaven.” That got things backwards. Salvation starts with a gift from God. We can’t earn it. It all starts with God, with a gift from God that we then need to accept through our words and actions.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 4:1-13)
 
Here we have the famous three temptations of Jesus. It is no coincidence that they take place in a desert. Deserts have often been seen in history as dark places where danger lurks. Our spiritual ancestors, the Jewish people, were tempted several times in the desert, but God was on their side, and they ultimately made the right decisions. So, just as the people were tempted by real hunger—not the kind you and I experience but life-threatening hunger—so, too, is Jesus tempted by this most primal threat: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” But Jesus is on a whole other level: “It is written, one does not live on bread alone.”
 
The next temptation has to do with power: “Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, ‘I shall give to you all this power and glory. … All this will be yours if you worship me.’ Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written, You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.’”
 
You might think that the devil had just pulled out his best trick, his most powerful promise. But no, there was one more—the temptation about life itself and trust in God in the most sacred of all places, the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and with their hands they will support you lest you dash your foot against a stone. . . . Jesus said to him in reply, It also says, you shall not put the Lord, your God to the test.”
 
That was it. The devil had played his strongest card and lost. We might think Satan was defeated, but the last line says “he departed from him for a time.” As we know, the temptations of Jesus followed him to the cross.
 
Sometimes, when we have overcome a difficult temptation, we feel good about it, as well we should. However, we need to be aware that there will be more and that Jesus is there to help us navigate our own dangerous deserts.
 
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. 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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Lord Jesus,
your life on earth was a model of humility.
Help me to imitate you in that virtue,
showing my devotion not through
extravagant displays,
but rather through quiet
and heart-felt prayer.
Amen.

 
Adapted from RENEW International’s LIVE LENT! Year C by Sr. Terry Rickard, OP and Deacon Charles Paolino.

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Jesus,
it’s hard to comprehend just how privileged we are.
You have chosen us as your students, your disciples,
and you want us to fully mature
as teachers of your Word and Way.
No matter what our job, our career,
and the daily tasks we embrace,
you want us to follow your Way
and represent you in every encounter we have.
Please help me to spend
some of my best time each day
getting to know you better.
Help me learn how to love as you loved
and be an instrument of your love to others.
This I ask in your name,
you who live and reign with the Father,
and the Holy Spirit,
world without end forever and ever.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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Jesus,
your witness of unconditional love and forgiveness
is really difficult to follow.
Please help me as I struggle.
Don’t let me become discouraged.
Help me to get back up each time I fail,
and to resolve more firmly
to be merciful and forgiving, as you were.
Help me to realize each day
that you have sent your Spirit of Love
to inhabit my heart
and to call on that Holy Spirit
each time I feel the fire of resentment and retaliation
building up inside.
Transform my hostile heart.
Transform our hostile society.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
for they will be satisfied.
Generous God, bless those who are zealous
in their quest for justice and keep them
on a path that is always directed toward you.
Fill them and us with a desire to
see your “little ones” cared for
and treated with dignity and respect.
 
Blessed are the merciful
for they will be shown mercy.
Merciful God, bless those
who recognize your steadfast love
in all aspects of their lives and
who extend themselves to others
in gentle acts of mercy and compassion.
Bring them and us comfort
when we feel most desperate and alone.
 
Blessed are the clean of heart
for they will see God.
All-powerful God, bless those
who are fervent in their faith.
Reveal yourself to them and to us
through every aspect of our lives.
 
We offer these prayers with confidence
through the Holy Spirit and
in the name of our Lord, Jesus.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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I know a couple who have been operating the same restaurant for about sixty years.
 
Whenever I’m in that neighborhood, I try to stop there, because I have nostalgia for the place, and because I am partial to one of the specialties.
 
This restaurant and this couple are frequently the topics of conversation in a Facebook page I frequent; there is a perennial debate over whether the food now is as good as it was twenty or thirty or forty years ago.
 
There is also a debate about the couple themselves in which some writers speak well of them, and others criticize every aspect of their personalities.
 
Restaurant owners by now are accustomed to “consumer reviews” appearing on line, whether in Yelp or in some other forum.
 
Many of us probably have had the experience of reading a scathing review of a restaurant at which we recently had a wonderful meal—or vice-versa.
 
It’s part of the give-and-take that is inherent in an open society.
 
If you go into a business in which you directly serve the public, you’ll get your kudos and you’ll take your lumps.
 
But in the particular dialogue I’m referring to here, some of the writers have gone to extremes in lambasting not only the restaurant, not only the manner in which it is managed, but the couple themselves.
 
This is true to the extent that I am sure, having spent more than fifty years in publishing, that many of these remarks are actionable.
 
Facebook and other forums of that kind are relatively new phenomena on the legal landscape, but courts in many jurisdictions have already found that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for someone expressing opinions in those media.
 
This probably is unlikely to happen, but if the couple I’m referring to were to read what some folks have written about them—remarks that could cause people to avoid them and their restaurant—then that couple might have cause for legal action.
 
But this kind of chatter is of concern for reasons more profound than the possibility of litigation.
 
This tendency to use vile images and language to attack other human beings—because of some misguided sense of impunity—contributes to a corrosion of civility that we now see and hear every day.
 
Even normally sober news agencies have had to—or, at least, have chosen to—lower the standard that governs what they will print or broadcast, because this same libertine attitude has become a part of everyday life.
 
And while it’s a degrading phenomenon in itself, it increasingly prevents calm discussion of issues that involve the common good.
 
Maybe a person gains some catharsis or maybe he feels more potent if he lets fly with the most scurrilous things he can call up from his spleen.
 
But if, at the same time, he professes to be a Christian, he must confront the fact that Jesus, who never referred to many behaviors that we can nonetheless assume he would condemn, did think verbal abuse of each other was important enough to single out.
 

“Whoever shall say to his brother, raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22).

 
This post was initially published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen. Charles Paolino is a permanent deacon of that diocese.

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Jesus, brother and Lord,
your call to Peter
is echoed in my own call to discipleship.
At times I feel unsure
of how you could possibly desire me for this service.
Yet, I know you can do great things with my life
if only I consent.
Take my hesitancy and my reticence
and transform them into courage and confidence in you.
Teach me how to respond wholeheartedly to your invitation
and move more deeply
into intimate relationship with you.
I say yes to serving you and your people
in truth, justice, and mercy.
I pray this in your name.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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Holy One of Israel,
You, who were rebuffed by your loved ones
who would not receive the prophet’s call through you.
I ache with your rejection.
I want to hear the challenges of the prophets today
and respond wholeheartedly,
despite my fears of what this call may require.
I place myself at your disposal.
Direct me to the needs
you would have me address
so that your kingdom may come into being,
now and forevermore.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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God of our hopes and our dreams,
you have planted the hunger for glad tidings within us.
Make your joy more complete
as we participate in proclaiming this Good News;
the blind will see
the prisoner will be released.
Give us the courage
to reach out to the incarcerated
and bring into reality
this promise of freedom.
Help us to diffuse our fears
and know how to realize our call
so that a year of favor
may be celebrated in your name.
I pray this,
holding my reservations and anxiety up to you,
and I ask for your blessing and grace,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord
and through your Holy Spirit.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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Lord God, we gather together in your name.
We acknowledge your loving presence among us.
We ask you to help us to recognize
the many gifts we have received from you.
We thank you, in particular,
for inviting us to serve you.
Guide us
as we seek to use our own gifts more fully
and to empower others to use theirs.
Be with us
as we deepen our understanding
of all that you call us to be.
We ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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God of love, in the Jordan River you revealed Jesus
as your beloved Son.
We praise you for the gift of Christ,
our salvation and our peace.
You anointed Jesus for the service of the world.
Strengthen the Church’s witness
to this mission in our world today.
You brought us to new life and made us
members of Christ’s Body in baptism.
May the gift of your Holy Spirit keep us
ready to meet the demands of our baptism.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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When I baptized a baby recently, one of the folks in attendance felt that she had missed something.
 
Approaching me afterwards in the narthex, she asked, “Didn’t we used to put salt in the baby’s mouth?”
 
Yes, the hypothetical “we” did do that before the ritual commonly used now was adopted. I guess it had been five decades or more since our visitor had witnessed a baptism.
 
The salt in question symbolized wisdom, which is one of the gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit—in fact, it’s usually the first gift mentioned.
 
The salt was left out of the ritual that was promulgated after the Second Vatican Council, but the Holy Spirit was not.
 
The salt—like the holy oil, the chrism, the white garment, and the candle—was a symbol of the grace we receive in baptism, but the grace comes from the Spirit through the death and resurrection of Jesus, not from the signs and symbols.
 
Still, the material things we use in our rituals are important, because they emphasize the connection between the physical world and its Creator, between the realities of our daily lives and the reality of God.
 
This is a critical point. I believe that many people become disillusioned with religious faith because they have been conditioned to think of God as existing in a reality other than the one we experience every day. God is always “there,” not “here.”
 
At a certain point in the intellectual growth of many people, I believe, they find this concept—quite reasonably—untenable.
 
But those who studied under the old Baltimore Catechism will remember the answer to the question, “Who is God?” The answer was: “God is the Supreme Being who made all things and keeps them in existence.”
 
Each of us and everything that we can perceive with our senses at this moment exist only because God is willing it—now. God doesn’t exist in another reality; he exists in this reality.
 
In the symbols and gestures of baptism, God is so present in our reality that he touches us repeatedly.
 
Yes, there’s a minister there, and he has oil and chrism and white linen and flame at his disposal, but it is God, using the minister and the material signs to touch us.
 
And he touches us, perhaps most significantly, in an audible sign, in the first words of the ritual, when the minister asks the parents, “What name do you give your child?”
 
Before I ask this question, I always explain that it is a sign that God calls each of us by name—meaning that each of us has a unique relationship with God in which God both cares for us as his children and calls on us to be—through our particular vocations—the ministers of his compassion and generosity and justice.
 
The child, of course, knows none of this, which is why its parents and godparents are asked if they accept the responsibility of raising the child in the practice of the faith.
 
Today’s new parents are unlikely to have tasted salt at their baptism, but they were visited by the Holy Spirit nonetheless, and they were offered the divine gifts, including wisdom.
 
We can do nothing more important in the Church than to accompany parents in a way that ignites that wisdom, reminds them of the grace of their own baptism, and inspires them to raise their children to live as God’s missionaries wherever life takes them.
 
RENEW International is developing Baptism Matters, a program that will reinforce for new parents, godparents, and parish staff the importance of baptism as initiation into a life of Christian discipleship.
 
This post was initially published in
The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen. Charles Paolino is a permanent deacon of that diocese.

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Be with us, Jesus,
as we go about our lives this week.
Watch over our days and nights.
Help us be aware
that the lives we lead each day
are our response
to the great love shown to us
in your coming into this world.
We pray in the name of the Father,
you, the Son,
and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 
From PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, Cycle C, © RENEW International

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“And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way (Matthew 2:9-12).

The Epiphany commemorates the coming of the Savior to all people, not only the Jewish people. God’s love leaves no one untouched.

God revealed himself to the magi in signs in the stars. As Christians, we must be guided in our search not by the stars but by Scripture.

Signs come in all forms: they may include the love we receive from someone, a good example someone sets by trying to live by the Gospel, an insight that comes in our prayer and reflection, or even a sickness or tragedy in our lives. It is up to us to pay attention and read the signs around us. If we look with openness and with the eyes of faith, these signs will lead us to God.

This feast is also a feast of unity. Jesus came to all, and we are all one under God’s love. As we reach out to those who are looked down upon or those who are considered outsiders, we do our part to bring about the unity for which God sent his Son to us.

In what ways can you reach out to those who might feel excluded?

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

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