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I am sure we have all noticed the new practice of drive-by birthday celebrations in these days of contagion precautions. The birthday person stands outside and waves as relatives and friends—-and sometimes even the local police or rescue squads drive past the house and shout or sound their horns and sirens. It is like a party on wheels, and it is over in just a few minutes, but the message of love and caring is cleverly conveyed with posters, balloons, and celebratory smiles.
 
Today, we celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist. We cannot do a drive-by or a camel or donkey ride-by, but we can take some time to run by the story and some reasons for thanking God for such a humble and dedicated messenger of the good news of Christ’s coming.
 
The birth of John the Baptist was foretold in the Old Testament by the prophets Isaiah (40:3-5) and Malachi (3:1), but when the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that he and his wife, Elizabeth, were going to parent a son who they were to name John, Zechariah did not believe him. The angel responded by rendering Zechariah mute (Luke 1:5-25.)
 
When Elizabeth gave birth, and Zechariah insisted the baby’s name was to be John, the neighbors were more amazed and fearful than celebratory as they wondered what was in store for this child! (Luke 1:59-66) Questions! Who is this John?
 
As he grew into his mission, John was not a fancy dresser, opting for camel-hair clothing and leather belt. The attention was not supposed to be on him but on his message to his followers—namely, the importance of repentance because of the coming of the Messiah. John was the advance man, the one who baptized with water in advance of the Savior who would baptize with the Spirit and fire. John baptized Jesus at Jesus’ request, but John knew he was not worthy of performing this ritual. And at that moment, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
 
John had a calling to fulfill, and he was diligent and faithful. We know the good news about Jesus, but how diligent and faithful are we about spreading it? We certainly have a good model to follow, although we may need to use personal anecdotal stories or carefully look for opportunities to teach others about the God of mercy, love, and kindness. John was not afraid to admonish people who were sinful. We can more gently encourage others to turn from sinful tendencies and trust in God’s forgiveness.
 
John the Baptist understood that his job was to point the way to the Messiah. He was there to guide others, and ultimately, he died a martyr’s death. In Matthew 11:11a, Jesus said: Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist….
 
Let us pray and ask John the Baptist to help us look attentively for Jesus in our everyday life experiences and to proclaim Jesus’ saving presence in this drive-by world of ours!
 
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.
 
The 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.

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The Church recently celebrated Corpus Christi: the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus. As I listened to my priest give a homily on what it means to be the body of Christ, my mind wandered to America’s current unrest. “When I distribute Communion and say ‘the body of Christ,’” the priest said, “I am both affirming the individual in front of me and the physical host in my hand.” These words reminded me that we are the body of Christ, and our brothers and sisters in Christ are hurting because of injustice. As Catholics, we must both prepare ourselves to receive Communion and allow the reception of it to inspire our actions.
 
Catholic Social Teaching informs Catholics about the values of solidarity, the life and dignity of the human person, call to family, community and participation, rights and responsibilities, the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, the dignity of work and workers, and care for God’s creation. All of these values add up to tell us that we should care about our black brothers and sisters.
 
In the past few weeks, we have seen protestors gather in huge numbers in cities and towns across the country. Many of the young people looking to change the unjust situation in our country are the same young people who sit next to you in your Church pews on Sunday. Perhaps they are fighting for justice because they remember the stories of Jesus radically loving the vulnerable and marginalized of society.
 
By acknowledging how police brutality and systemic racism devalue the life of black Americans the Church has a powerful opportunity to show what it means to be pro-life. While being pro-life means working to eliminate abortion or the death penalty, it also means fighting for equality for all people. Actively living a pro-life lifestyle means working to end discrimination and promote anti-racist language, behavior, and policies. It means standing up for populations who do not have a voice. It means listening, learning, extending empathy, and amplifying voices that are different from yours.
 
We are the Body of Christ. Let us be the hands that help, the ears that listen, the minds that work for reform, and the bodies that work for justice.
 
Jessica Guerriero is the RENEW Theology on Tap Coordinator and is a student majoring in Catholic Studies at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

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If we stop and think, we all can pinpoint certain turning points in our lives. It is surely an understatement to say that there are numerous life-changing events taking place in this virus-ridden, protest-filled world of ours. When something drastic and traumatic explodes in our lives, life’s puzzle pieces might not fall back to configure as once they did.
 
St. Paulinus of Nola, whom we remember today, had many pieces to his life story. Biographical summaries tell us that he took an early retirement from his practice of law and public office only to turn from this whole luxurious way of life after his newborn child died. Subsequently, he and his wife were baptized and chose a very austere life filled with charity and love for the poor. He was ordained a priest, founded a monastic community, and eventually became the bishop of Nola, in Campania, Italy. He had many famous and influential friends and was a notable prose writer and poet. Ultimately, many people benefited from St. Paulinus’s alteration of lifestyle.
 
St. Paulinus followed the message in the gospel passage read at his memorial mass:
 
“Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:33-34)
 
We are bombarded with advertising promotions and gimmicks. We are encouraged to want and buy more and more products. The ads don’t encourage us to buy for the poor or downsize our own wardrobes or the contents of our cupboards and donate the proceeds to those in need. It would be quite a turning point in our economy if, instead of trying to get businesses flourishing again by buying more extravagantly, we were to sell our possessions and give our excesses away. Granted, we don’t want to see businesses go under, but what if we were to try, little by little, to refocus our perceptions of and responses to those people less fortunate than we are? Drastic changes can cause trauma and drama, but one small calculated turn can lead to another.
 
Recent pandemic experience has brought to light the fact that many people live from paycheck to paycheck. On the other hand, it highlighted for me how much I spend on eating at restaurants and shopping recreationally for items I really don’t need. Perhaps enlightened turning points are at hand.
 
Just as we do when we turn a car at an intersection, it is wise to slow down and look around. Maybe it is time to reassess our treasures, check our hearts, and invite God into our individual challenges. As we pray for peace, justice, and health in our troubled world, may we find renewed strength in the knowledge that God’s masterful timing and presence are always with us.
 
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.
 
The Gospel Passage is 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.

(Resources: franciscanmedia.org , Catholic Encyclopedia, and catholic.org)

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Lord, your love for us is overwhelming.
The very hairs on our head are counted,
yet we ignore the needs of others.
You have guided us toward goodness and life
despite our unfaithfulness.
The power of the world often is the voice
to which we turn.
We are a fearful people, often lacking in faith
and trust in you.
Lord, give us the courage
to speak and act in your name.
You are our loving Father.
We rejoice in your compassionate concern for us.
Help us to show compassion to the people in our world.
With the help of your Holy Spirit,
we will be your witnesses.
We pray in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

 
Adapted from PrayerTime, Cycle A: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah
(Chapter 20:10-13)
 
Being a prophet at any time is challenging, but Jeremiah had an especially difficult time fulfilling his calling. He said, “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail and take our vengeance on him.’” Jeremiah trusts in the Lord: “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” Then he says a prayer of thanksgiving. “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked.”
 
Jeremiah had amazing trust in God during horrible persecution and near death. Whatever our trials during this pandemic, let us maintain trust in our loving Father.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35)
 
“Lord, in your great love, answer me.” Have your prayers ever been answered? How did it happen? Did it take a long time, or was it a quick response? Did you think that God had forgotten about you? Later, did something else appear that was not what you asked for but turned out to be what you really needed?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 5:12-15)
 
Rome was the largest city in the world in the first century, and it was home to many different religions. Paul wanted the Roman Christians to know that their religion was new, and that Jesus was in a sense the new Adam.
 
“Through one man, sin entered the world.” By that, Paul meant Adam.
 
“For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”
 
Because of Jesus, sin no longer rules the world. Of course, the people all knew that evil did rule their world in the form of the Roman Empire, but there was now a more powerful force that can overcome even death because of Jesus Christ. Paul wanted to give the Romans hope even in the face of an oppressive regime, the hope of everlasting life.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 10:26-33)
 
Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one.” What? Many of the temple leaders hated them and even wanted to kill them. Shouldn’t they be afraid? “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light, what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”
 
This was good and necessary advice for people who had to face danger from the state and those who did not believe in Jesus.
 
Today, we have dangers from all sorts of “soul killers”: greed, selfishness, prejudice, dishonesty, materialism in subtle forms, and narrow mindedness that does not listen to the voices of others.
 
In the midst of all that may send us off course, especially in these challenging times, let us remember the words of Jesus here: “Fear no one.”
 
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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