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MAXMark Twain wrote: “New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions.”
 
Twain’s appraisal of the New Year makes me smile but rings a bit too true. I believe Twain captures the reality of many people’s experience. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. The New Year can be a time of self reflection and an opportunity to become transformed into a “new person in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
 
The New Year is an opportunity to look back over the past year and recount both our many blessings and our many struggles—a time to claim the changes we want and need to make to live a fuller life. It can be a time to look to the new year with a renewed hope and promise of being a better you—all that God has created you to be.
 
Now, I know what you are thinking—the success rate of New Year resolutions is bleak—80 percent of resolutions fail by February and 92 percent percent fail later in the year. Most of us have attempted resolutions and failed. Real change is hard to sustain solely by will power. But I believe that, through the power of God and the support of others, we can be transformed. I find confidence in God’s promise: “I am making all things new” (Revelation 2:15).
 
I started “THE MAX 10-week Challenge” on the Monday after Thanksgiving. THE MAX Challenge is a fitness program that includes healthy eating, five days each week of intense cardio and strength training, motivational talks, and, most importantly, a community with the same goal and a desire to help each other reach that goal. I have completed five weeks of the challenge. I started on November 26. I thought, “Why wait to gain another five pounds over the holidays? I figured that it is best to start any change as soon as you have the motivation and opportunity. With God, every day is a new day.
 
I had been trying to lose that extra 10 pounds (which recently became 20) for the past five years with limited success. A few of the women in my parish shared with me their experience of THE MAX Challenge. They looked great, had lost weight and inches, were eating healthfully, and had more energy.
 
The results were tangible. Their living witness convinced me to commit to the 10-week Challenge. It has been a transformative experience—transforming my mind, body and spirit. I think it is working for me, because of the daily 7 a.m. exercise with my group, a strong sense of community, support from the trainers, and a solid eating plan. As I have reflected on these past five weeks and my success with the program, I have begun to reflect on why it works and how I can apply it to other changes I would like to make.
 
So I offer you three ways to effect change in your life as we begin this new year:
 

  1. Trust in God’s transformative power. God loves us unconditionally and wants us to live full and abundant lives. This means taking seriously the call from Jesus to be temples of the Holy Spirit, caring for our bodies, minds, and spirits.
  2.  

  3. Break through barriers. Self-reflection is key to being a spiritually healthy person. What small change do you want to make this year? Real and lasting change is slow and gradual and is effected by taking up the challenge every day. One of my favorite things we did at THE MAX Challenge was to write three goals on a wooden board. The instructor then held up the board, and we each broke it with our palm. I felt powerful as my board snapped on the first try!
  4.  

  5. Do it with others. One of the things that surprised me about THE MAX Challenge was the strong sense of community—people helping people and working together for a common purpose. It reinforces for me the importance of the Christian community and how we are part of something greater than ourselves. We can make changes in our lives through the power of God, the sacramental life, and the support of our sisters and brothers in Christ. We are not “lone rangers.” We are made for communion with God, with nature, and with one another.

 
Take up the challenge to make real change in your life this year for the sake of being fully human, fully alive, and in communion with God and others. Commit to real change, and do it with others. Believe you can break through barriers of old and tired ways, and be transformed into a new creation in Christ!
 
Start today, and if you stumble, let another pick you up and start again on the path to being a better you for God and others.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’ As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Mark 1:14-17).

After the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus enters Galilee proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand and all must live according to God’s will. While proclaiming this Good News, Jesus calls his first four disciples, who are all fishermen. While this may sound normal to us, this was not normal behavior in Jesus’ time. A teacher didn’t seek his disciples, he attracted them. In this case, Jesus reached out first and gathered those who would become his closest followers.

Simon and Andrew immediately dropped their nets to follow Jesus. Without hesitation, they gave up everything they had known to follow the one who had chosen them, the one they put their trust in.

After Simon and Andrew, Jesus called out to James and John. They left behind their father, Zebedee, and followed Jesus. This, too, was not typical behavior; this was against the cultural values of Jewish society in first century Palestine. In those times, one never abandoned a father. Yet, these disciples were compelled to follow Jesus above all else, even if it meant forsaking their home and all they had known and loved.

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

We, as disciples, are called to be with Jesus and to do his will. Knowing that Christ is with us is what gives us strength to do the work that we are both privileged and challenged to do. Some may be called to be missionaries and leave home and family; some may be called to follow Jesus by being home with their families. We are all called to be “fishers of men” and spread the Good News to others.

How is Jesus calling you today? How can you be a “fisher of men” in your daily life?

Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ — which translated means Teacher — ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’ So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day” (John 1:35-39).
 
Our role is like the role of John the Baptist — to point out Jesus to others. Once we do, we must let go and allow them to follow Jesus in the way they feel called, not in a way that we choose. Once we have shown them Jesus, it is their task to discern what is it they want to do.
 
Jesus’ question is at the heart of the discernment process of every vocation. He asks those following him, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38). He is asking them, “What are the desires of your heart?” and “What do you feel you are being called to do?”
 
The response of the disciples is, “Where are you staying?” (John 1:38). They seem to ask, “Jesus, what are you all about?”
 
Christian vocation in life starts with a relationship with Jesus and his people in the Christian community. It is Jesus who will be able to direct us to what we are truly seeking. He offers the invitation to the disciples and to us: “Come, and you will see” (John 1:39).
 
We are all called to enter into a relationship with Jesus and to model our lives and values after his. Let us enter deeply into this loving relationship.
 
How do you take on the role of John the Baptist and point out Christ to others? How do you continue to grow and develop in your relationship with Jesus?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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Baptism_of_Christ“This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well
pleased’” (Mark 1:7-11).
 
John says there will be a difference between the baptism he offers and the baptism Jesus will offer. The vision Jesus has upon coming up out of the water describes that difference in dramatic fashion. The Spirit descends from heavens “torn open,” rending the boundary that separates heaven and earth. God walking among us in the flesh emphasizes that the Spirit is with us, suffusing all of creation.
 
The word “baptize” literally means to dunk or dip, which means that when we are baptized we are immersed in the Spirit of God. When the heavens are torn open as the Spirit descends, the whole of creation is bathed in divinity.
 
This means that when we are sent forth from Mass “to love and serve the Lord,” or even when we go to work, the gym, or the store we, as Christians, are commissioned to bring the presence of God with us to all we encounter—to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and build a world of peace and justice for all.
 
When in my life have I been aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit?
 
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.
 
Image by Dave Zelenka

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“After their audience with the king they set out. 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).
 
How many times in your life have you said to God, “Please give me a sign”? Whether you’re making a difficult decision or trying to find God in the chaos of everyday life, it’s not unusual to ask God for some kind of indication that He’s there. From today’s Gospel, we see that people have been looking for signs for a long time. In their search for the newborn King, the magi followed the star that brought them first to the palace of King Herod and then to the house where “they saw the child with Mary his mother” (Matthew 2:11).
 
Throughout the Christmas season, the Scriptures speak of how God has revealed himself to us. Today’s Gospel reading shows that God revealed himself not only to the Jewish people, but also to the Gentiles, which are represented by the magi. God is the God of the whole world, not just the God of a particular set of people.
 
What are the signs today that God is for everyone, loves everyone, and wants everyone to live the reign of God on earth? We are the signs. We are called to be the stars that lead people to God. We bear the Good News to the world. We are all called to be evangelizers and do so by the witness of our lives.
 
In what ways to you serve as a sign that leads others to God? How can you be a better sign to others?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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