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It was common in the time of Jesus for a master to leave some servants in charge of his affairs when he went on a journey. This master knew his servants well. He entrusted the savvier ones with greater responsibility. But even a less qualified servant might be left with some responsibility – as in the case Jesus describes in one of his parables.

“After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had receive the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back’” (Matthew 25: 19-26).

The master was risk taker. He didn’t just allow things to happen; he made them happen. Keeping his talent safe wasn’t good enough. Growth was the only option.

“His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten’” (Matthew 25: 26-28).

In their master’s absence, the successful servants acted just as the master would. For their accomplishments, the master rewarded them with more responsibility. The “wicked” servant did not follow his master’s example. He was punished by having his one talent taken away and then being thrown to the darkness outside.

Once we discover the talents we have been entrusted with, we must show gratitude to God for these gifts by nurturing them and putting them to good use. As members of the Body of Christ, we must use our talents to promote the values of God. When we do, we find our greatest success.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells this parable in the midst of other stories about the end times. As we wait for the second coming of the Son of Man, we must act as Jesus did. If we do so, we can be proud to present these accomplishments to God when we meet him face to face.

What gifts and talents have you discovered in yourself? How might you use them in ways that will build up the Body of Christ?

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

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“Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’ His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his Body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (John 2:13-22).
 
The Lateran Basilica was dedicated in the fourth century, housed the bishop of Rome (the pope) for centuries, and is still considered the mother church of all churches. Yet it is sometimes difficult for many Catholics to understand the importance of commemorating the dedication of a church. In much the same way, it was difficult for the people in today’s gospel reading to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words. The Scripture explains that when Jesus spoke of the destruction of the Temple he was speaking of his own body. If Jesus meant himself when he said “Temple,” what do we mean when we say “Church”?
 
This is a question that has been discussed and debated throughout the history of Christianity. There is a whole discipline, called ecclesiology, dedicated to the question of what “Church” means. This week’s liturgy can help us explore that question. The second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians says that we are God’s building, and it challenges us to recognize ourselves as the temple of our God. In an opening prayer and in the preface for this feast, the Church is described as a temple of “living stones.”
 
In today’s gospel reading, the moneychangers have violated the sanctity of the Temple as the house of worship, and Jesus angrily drives them out. To us, the Gospel says we should rid ourselves of the things that prevent us from being what we are intended to be: a dwelling place for the Spirit, a temple of the Lord.
 
Before the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, Christians met in houses to listen to the Scriptures, to pray together, and to “break bread,” an expression commonly used by early Christian communities. These communities were small, and their members were often persecuted for believing that God dwelt within them.
 
With this dedication began the possibility of gathering these small Christian communities together to worship their God as one Church of living stones, a Church of which the foundation stone is Christ.
 
Part of today’s feast is celebrating the freedom to be Christians in public. These readings also call us to the responsibility that comes with that freedom. Do others look at us as living stones? Do we look at ourselves as living stones—as even more a part of the Church than any building could ever be?
 
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Jesus told his disciples this parable:’The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry,”Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise ones replied, “No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.” While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” But he said in reply, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour'” (Matthew 25: 1-13).
 
Often, we expect or presume that others will take care of something that is or should be our responsibility. The “foolish” virgins did not take care of their responsibilities—to be ready when the bridegroom arrived—nor did they realize the consequences of not being prepared. We, too, must be ready when the time comes or face the consequences. While others may be able to help us out at the last minute or save us from ourselves in many situations, in our faith, we are the only ones who are responsible for and able to develop that aspect of our lives.
 
It may have seemed harsh when the “wise virgins” refused to share their oil, but it was actually a practical or “prudent” choice. Sharing the oil would have meant that all of the torches burned out faster, leaving everyone in the dark. Ten torches are better than five, but five are certainly better than nothing. When it comes to the end of the world, or even the end of your time in the world, there are some things other people will just not be able to do for you.
 
In the midst of our very busy schedules with so many deadlines and commitments, it is easy to become overwhelmed and allow things to slide. This parable reminds us that there is no time like the present to check the condition of our lanterns—our relationship with God.
 
– In what part of my life is the oil running low and how can I keep the flame from burning out?

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FrWallThe human population is evolving into two categories: those who lived before and those who live during the digital age.
 
Those who lived before have at least one disadvantage: they’re more easily forgotten.
 
A case in point arose recently when I did a Google search on Monsignor William Wall.
 
I met Monsignor Wall when I was about twelve years old and was an altar server at my parish church.
 
In those days, we altar servers knelt on the altar step while the celebrant conducted the liturgy with his back to us.
 
The rubrics called for the celebrant to genuflect multiple times during the Mass, and the first time I saw Monsignor Wall genuflect was also the first time I saw khaki pants and sneakers emerge from under the cassock and alb.
 
It was the mid 1950s, and I had never seen a priest arrive for Sunday Mass in anything but black clerical garb.
 
I learned that his mode of dress wasn’t the only thing unconventional about Monsignor Wall.
 
He was a tough customer with a no-nonsense attitude and a blunt vocabulary.
 
He would often pause during Mass to direct a death stare at someone in the church who was disruptive or inattentive.
 
One Sunday he stopped in the middle of his homily and asked the chatty choir members if they thought they could preach better than he could.
 
Another Sunday, he froze during the final blessing with his hand raised in the air and asked the ushers in back of the church, “Will the standing army of Christ please kneel?”
 
More important, he was the founder and overseer of the Mount Carmel Guild in Paterson, where he specialized in helping indigent men who were addicted to alcohol.
 
He dealt directly with these men, gave them tough love, and put them to work.
 
I didn’t understand it at the time, but he was also the first priest I knew whose ministry wasn’t confined to a church or a parish or, for that matter, to Catholics.
 
He was, in fact, the first example I encountered of the kind of ministry Pope Francis has been urging since the first days of his papacy—a ministry that reaches to the outskirts of society to touch the most desolate of our brothers and sisters.
 
Monsignor Wall died many years ago in a tractor accident on a farm he operated as part of the Guild’s program.
 
My Google search on his name produced very few responses and no substantial information about him.
 
He did his work and departed this earth before there was an Internet to capture his biography and preserve it forever.
 
But he lives on in the incalculable impact he had on the lives of men he helped and the example he set for untold others, including me.
 
We observe All Souls Day on November 2, but the Church traditionally dedicates this whole month to commemoration of the faithful departed.
 
There is no more fitting way to carry on that tradition than by remembering in prayer those who have contributed to the spawning and maturing of our Christian faith.
 
Our parents, our teachers, our pastors, our mentors—exemplars like Monsignor Wall—may not have a place in cyberspace, but they have earned one in our memories and our hearts.
 
This post was first published in the Catholic Spirit in the Diocese of Metuchen where the writer is a permanent deacon.

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“Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,’The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation “Rabbi.” As for you, do not be called “Rabbi.” You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called “Master”; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted'” (Matthew 23: 1-12).
 
Certain scribes and Pharisees at the time of Jesus are bad examples of religious leadership: some did not practice what they preached; others did things only to get attention; some sought prominence in public places; still others made a great show of their religious piety; and others expected more of their followers than of themselves. In short, there were those who wanted all of the privileges and trappings came went with their position, but did not live up to the accompanying responsibilities.
 
Writing for his community, Matthew invites them to draw parallels for themselves. That same challenge from Jesus echoes down through the centuries to us today. Jesus’—and Matthew’s— first piece of advice is “Don’t be like those Pharisees!” Don’t use religion and religious leadership for your own selfish motives, to impress people and to be praised for your “piety.” Such empty displays do you no spiritual good. This Gospel proposes the model of servant leadership—the style of leadership that Jesus himself exemplifies. Matthew’s whole Gospel has been crafted to show Jesus as the greatest teacher and his whole Gospel has implied what Matthew now puts explicitly on the lips of Christ: “You have only one Teacher, the Christ.”
 
Jesus teaches that religion is a liberating reality, freeing people from whatever bound them: fear, guilt, self-absorption, materialism, addictions of various kinds. The life Jesus wants us to have is that of the children of God, free from all evils like selfishness, pride, arrogance, abuse of power, and resentment. Those who are called to leadership are to live their leadership in service in a way that liberates people.
 
We would be missing the point if we saw this reading merely as a condemnation of all scribes or all Pharisees. Jesus begins by referring to the good teachings from the scribes and Pharisees; he is critical only of their abuses of power and position. Generalizations about groups are dangerous, because they are never completely true. This does not diminish the seriousness of the offenses committed by the few, nor does it negate the good done by the many.
 
Our challenge is to not just recognize good teaching or good leadership when we encounter it, but to admire it, study it, and allow it to influence our thoughts and actions.
 
– How has Jesus called me to servant leadership and how have I responded?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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