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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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