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DeadEndKidsThere’s a recurring element in the story line of the TV series The Middle that struck a familiar chord with me.
 
This plot element focuses on a low-brow family whose kids are the scourge of the neighborhood.
 
The situation immediately reminded me of a family in the town where I grew up, a gang of boys who have always been, in my mind, synonymous with “no good.’’
 
The oldest of them was several years older than me, so their reputation was well established before I started crossing paths with them.
 
Well, “crossing paths” isn’t the right term, because the object seemed to be to avoid crossing paths with anyone in that clan.
 
In fact, now that I’ve had the occasion to reflect on it, I realize that those boys never did anything to me or, for that matter, caused any trouble that affected me in any way.
 
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
 
Like millions of people, I suppose, I am a member of a social-media group for people who grew up in the same town.
 
I chat in an ever-growing network of people who share memories of the schools and neighborhoods and shopkeepers in that town and who, in many cases, have had some direct connection to my family or me.
 
In the several years that I have engaged in this conversation, I have had several encounters that I would not have expected.
 
But nothing surprised me more than to see, suddenly turning up in conversation strings, the name of one of the older members of the Terrible Tribe of my past.
 
My first reaction was surprise that he had survived this long, what with what I imagined had been his lifestyle.
 
My second reaction was astonishment at the tone of his conversation, which was laced with nostalgia for the people and places we had been familiar with fifty years ago and more.
 
And it was an affront to my smug attitude toward him and his kin that I picked up from his profile the fact that he has been successful in an elite kind of business with which I would never have associated him.
 
Inevitably, he and I became involved in the same conversation and wound up talking directly to each other.
 
He said that he didn’t remember me, but he had warm and complimentary things to say about my brother and my family in general.
 
In fact, he said, “If you needed a friend, you always knew the Paolinos were there.’’
 
Clearly, he wasn’t referring to me.
 
This exchange prompted me to think more carefully about my relationship with those boys and to realize that I had had no relationship with them at all.
 
I had nursed revulsion for them for more than six decades without any insight into their personalities or their possibilities.
 
So I am grateful that through the unlikely vehicle of a social medium, I was prodded to reexamine an impression I had formed when I was relatively young and inexperienced.
 
This episode has reinforced for me ideas that I myself have preached and taught for more than thirty years: the fundamental goodness of human nature, the possibility of redemption in every human life, the need to approach each person—as Pope Francis has both taught and practiced—with the equanimity practiced by Jesus.
 
In the movie People Will Talk, Cary Grant, playing a physician, hears a bed-ridden old woman say that her doctors have given her up for lost.
 
“The nerve of some doctors,” Grant replies, “giving people up for lost as if they had found them in the first place.”
 
This post also appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you, arise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, ‘A great prophet has arisen in our midst,’ and ‘God has visited his people’” (Luke 7:12-16).
 
When we read a miracle account in the Bible, we can become distracted by the flashy nature of the miracle and forget the human story it conveys. The miracle described in this Scripture passage shows that Jesus’ authority extends even over death and the dead. This isn’t an action movie; it’s a drama. Let’s look beyond the “special effects” and pay attention to the characters and their story.
 
For the widow, the young man’s death is not only emotionally devastating but also could be a material tragedy. A widow’s life was not easy in the ancient world. With no husband to support her and now no child left who to take care of her, she will live the rest of her life as a beggar.
 
This mix of grief at the present and horror for the future is what moves Jesus to compassion. When he tells the widow not to weep, it isn’t just an attempt to comfort her in her distress. In raising the young man from the dead, he provides for all the widow’s most basic needs. He offers physical and emotional healing to the mother as well as to the son.
 
Jesus’ miracle inspires the crowds to make two statements, and we should be attentive to them both. First, they call him a “great prophet,” an acknowledgement of his amazing power. But the second sums up the point of the reading: “God has visited his people!” The Gospel is not mainly about God’s power but about God’s favor, or grace. By bringing the widow hope, Jesus opens her eyes to the lengths God will go to in his love for her.
 
When we serve food to the homeless, show struggling kids how to succeed in school, or simply provide companionship to the elderly or lonely, we aren’t simply preparing them to receive some abstract Gospel. We show them that God is aware of their needs and is working to take care of them. We “preach” the Gospel by our actions.
 
– What is it like to be a small instrument of God’s hope and how have you made this part of your life?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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EucharistOne message of this Jubilee Year of Mercy is that we can be assured God loves us. Perhaps the greatest proof of this is the gift of his body and blood in the Eucharist. Pope Francis said, “The Eucharist is Jesus, who gives himself entirely to us.”
 
Isn’t this the core understanding of what love is all about—to sacrifice, to give of ourselves for the sake of the beloved? Perhaps this is a reason why we build cathedrals and churches that are as beautiful as we can make them. They are not so much a places for us to meet as they are home for the living presence of Jesus.
 
J. R. R. Tolkien, the British university professor and author who gave us The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, once wrote to a friend. “I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament.”
 
Our prayer today:
 

Dear Jesus, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus,
we know you in the breaking of the bread
and we worship your living presence in the Blessed Sacrament.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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TabernacleI felt a hand fall on my shoulder and heard a familiar voice say: “Dignity! Dignity at all times!”
 
It was Jack Troy, an usher in the parish where I grew up.
 
I had graduated from altar server to usher when I was about 17.
 
Without the ritual of the Mass to restrain me, I was a little disorderly in my new role at first. I was waving the collection basket around like a baton when Jack came up behind me.
 
“Dignity at all times,” he said, and added, “you’re in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.”
 
That was an expression that I heard often when I was a kid.
 
That wasn’t only because I frequently needed to be reminded of it; it was also because the level of awareness that Christ was present in the tabernacle was very high in those days.
 
It was commonplace to see people bless themselves, or to see men remove their hats, even if they walked past a church on the sidewalk outside — because they were conscious of crossing in front of tabernacle.
 
Inside, people spoke in hushed tones. Men removed their hats; women kept their heads covered; no one walked past the tabernacle without genuflecting.
 
I’m not one to argue for a return to the 1950s when the culture of the Church was very different from what it is now, but I think the basis for all that reverence was important, and I think we have to be careful not to let it slip away from us.
 
This is a matter of balance.
 
For example, whereas the tabernacle was once at the center of every sanctuary, in many churches in more recent times it has been moved to a side altar or a Eucharistic chapel.
 
The reasoning behind this change was that the focal point during the celebration of Mass should not be the tabernacle but the sacrifice being renewed on the altar.
 
Another consideration is the healthy idea that a church should be a welcoming place, not a forbidding place—a place to which people come in joy, not in fear and not out of an ill-defined sense of obligation.
 
Our challenge is to maintain a balance between those positive changes in our practice and outlook and our core belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist that is celebrated on the altar and that reposes and is adored in the tabernacle.
 
Children are growing up in a skeptical, secular, materialistic culture that is not hospitable to such an idea. On the contrary, children are likely to hear an idea like the real presence of Christ dismissed and even ridiculed.
 
If they are to embrace the truth that Jesus is literally present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist they must learn it from adults who embrace the truth.
 
They’re more likely to learn if they see us go to church with both reverence and joy; if they see us participate in Mass not as solitary individuals but as part of a loving community; if they see us genuflect or bow our heads with purpose when we are before the tabernacle; if they see us receive the Eucharist, not by snapping it out of the minister’s hand and walking away, but by taking it into our own hands as something sacred and consuming it while facing the altar; if they see us treat the cup, whether or not we drink from it, as if it were the same vessel from which Jesus shared his blood; if they see us participate in the liturgy from beginning to end—not in a rush to get away but overjoyed at being once again in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
 
This post also appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets”
(Luke 9:16-17).
 
Bread is a simple, filling food, the mainstay of the poor. Until relatively recently in history, bread or other grain products made up the bulk of most people’s diets.
 
In Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt’s account of his impoverished childhood in Ireland, he describes going to confession, ready to atone for stealing bread for his hungry family. He expected the worst from the priest, but the priest offered instead a scathing indictment of the social conditions in which young Frank was forced to steal bread for his very survival. The priest told the boy that he was not a sinner but that rest of the community might have something to atone for.
 
That priest was echoing the compassion of Jesus in the gospel story of the multiplication of loaves and fishes. The Lord knew that the people who had gathered to listen to him were hungry. Yet, he didn’t let them remain hungry nor send them back to town where they may or may not have found provisions. Instead, Jesus broke bread and some simple fish, blessed them, and distributed them to the crowd.
 
Just before we receive the Eucharist at every Mass we attend, we pray that God will “give us this day our daily bread.” Yet many go without food while we enjoy more than enough and throw away what we don’t care to eat. What does it mean to receive the Body of Christ while others go hungry? Eucharist is about helping to satisfy spiritual hunger, and it nourishes us for the work of bringing about justice, of providing for the hungry, and working to eliminate hunger. Eucharist is about living who we are as the body of Christ in our world.
 
The next time you are offered the body of Christ, think about the work it is giving you the strength to do. Pope Benedict the XVI said it well: “A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented.”
 
– How does thinking about physical hunger affect your experience of receiving the Body of Christ?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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