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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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