Branching-Out

The Everyday Gospel: The Holy Name

Posted by Charles Paolino on Nov 8, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A parishioner once asked me why I frequently nod my head during a liturgy. For a second or two, I didn’t know what she meant, but then I realized she was referring to a slight bow any time the name of Jesus was mentioned.

This is a gesture that was engrained in me during religious education in the 1940s and 1950s. It was so engrained, in fact, that I am only sometimes conscious that I am doing it.

Perhaps because it was presented to me in this context, I have always associated that gesture with St. Paul’s admonition to the Christian community in Philippi that God had bestowed on Jesus “the name that is above every name” and that, at the mention of that name, “every knee should bend, of those on earth and under the earth….”

I was thinking about this recently, prompted by the Diane Keaton movie Pom in which, before I fell asleep, I heard—at least twice—characters casually respond to some situation by blurting, “Jesus Christ!” I’m old enough to remember when that would not occur in a movie or television show; now, it is commonplace and, thanks to cable channels and streaming, that includes television.

I also remember the often-told story in our family that my grandmother went to see Gone with the Wind in 1939 and, because she heard the word “damn” twice in that film, never went to a movie again. In fact, there was a kerfuffle in the movie industry over the use of that word. The censors objected to it, but the movie code was amended before Gone with the Wind was released. “Damn” was allowed because it had been used in the original work—Margaret Mitchell’s novel.

From our point of view in 2023, banning the word “damn” might seem like overkill. In fact, banning words at all—whether in movies, television, or song lyrics—is no longer in vogue.

The name of Jesus and “damn,” however, are in different categories. In a perfect world, movie makers would recognize that the Holy Name is just that, “holy,” to billions of Christians who regard Jesus as divine and their Savior. In a perfect world, something—let’s say charity, respect, cultural civility, good manners—would mitigate against the use of that name, in entertainment media, as a curse.

However, not only do we not live in a perfect world, but we live in a world that in some ways is increasingly vulgar and indifferent to, when not antagonistic toward, religious ideas. Figures such as Jesus are not only disrespected in many quarters, but they are often ridiculed. So, it would be idle for us to expect more sensitivity from producers or script writers.

We also live in a world in which the profane use of Jesus’ name in everyday speech has been commonplace for many years, which is why it found its way into movie scripts in the first place. In that environment, our best response is to continue being respectful of the Holy Name ourselves and avoid entertainment properties that routinely profane that name.

With regard to others, if they are close to us and especially if they are young, we can gently call their attention to what might have become a habit rather than deliberate blasphemy. And, being Christians and therefore confident in God’s grace, we can pray for those who abuse the Holy Name and for the day when the world be renewed and, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 

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Topics: RENEW International, The Everyday Gospel: Deacon Charles Paolino, The holy name

The Everyday Gospel: In Search of Mary (Clone)

Posted by Charles Paolino on Oct 16, 2023 6:00:00 AM

Not long after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, I asked an adult group at my parish if they would like to visit a mosque. The unanimous response was positive, and I arranged for us to spend a Saturday afternoon at an Islamic center that had been established about 30 years before.

            The imam and members of the congregation spent several hours with us; explained the architecture of the building and the content of worship; frankly discussed the attacks, and served us a catered lunch.

The imam said that groups like ours regularly visited the mosque and that an elderly Jewish woman once told him as she was leaving, “I was physically afraid to come here. Now, I know better.”

I am not naïve. I know that there are two billion Muslims in the world, and they are as varied in their opinions and behavior as are the two billion Christians. But my experience at that mosque and at other mosques and synagogues I have visited demonstrates what should be obvious, that the fact that people have fundamental and even unreconcilable differences doesn’t mean that they can’t live together in a civil society.

I’m thinking about this because of the conflict between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas. That’s not going to be resolved by a Saturday afternoon visit and a tray of baked ziti. At my advanced age, I don’t expect it to be resolved in my lifetime. Even if Israel were to eradicate Hamas, the tension between Israel and the Palestinian people would remain.

That might sound like despair, but it is not. I am realistic about the history and nature of that conflict, but I am not pessimistic about human nature.

The afternoon of the mosque and the war in Israel and Gaza are thousands of miles apart, but they exist in the same reality and are carried out by people who share the dignity and the potential that come from being made in the image of God.

We can’t intervene between Israel and Hamas nor solve the issue of a Palestinian state, but we can refuse to allow our relationships to be infected by the intractable divisiveness that has so far frustrated attempts to bring peace to the Near East.

Movements like Hamas do not draw strength only from their internal motivations but also from encouragement they receive from outside, even from our own neighbors.

We can and should pray for peace, but we also can reject stereotypes and help build a culture of mutual understanding and acceptance, hoping to create a world in which those who inspire and support hatred and violence are drowned out—.or, please God, rediscover their humanity.

We have our model in Jesus, who ignored ages-old taboos in his interactions with gentiles and Samaritans and lepers. He meant for us to imitate him. Peace will not begin with Israel and Hamas. If it doesn’t begin with us, where will it begin?   

           

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Topics: Marian devotion, RENEW International, The Everyday Gospel: Deacon Charles Paolino, Mary's House

The Everyday Gospel: In Search of Mary

Posted by Charles Paolino on Sep 4, 2023 6:00:00 AM

While we were visiting Turkey recently, we followed in the footsteps of Popes Leo XIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI to the place reputed to be the last home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is now a small stone chapel on Mount Koressos near the ancient town of Ephesus. The chapel was erected on the original foundation of a structure said to have been the house that the apostle John constructed for the Blessed Mother.

The history of this place is too complicated for me to repeat here, but one might say that it begins with the episode reported in the Gospel of John in which Jesus, from the cross, tells the apostle, “There is your mother,” and the narrative adds that from that moment John took Mary “into his home.” From that exchange and the fairly reliable tradition that John was banished by Roman authorities to Patmos in Greece, many have surmised that he brought Mary with him and settled her on the mountainside, away from Romans and other troublemakers. Residents of a nearby village have believed that for centuries, and they have venerated the spot as Mary’s last home.

The weight of expert opinion on subjects like this, however, leans toward the idea that Mary spent her last years in Jerusalem and was buried there on a spot now marked by the Church of the Dormition. The Vatican has approved the chapel near Ephesus as a place for Catholic devotion—witness the visits by four popes—but the Church has not taken a position on the authenticity of the site.

 Clearly, the crowd we found at the chapel was not concerned about this controversy. They—and we—were part of a constant stream of pilgrims who find their way to “Mary’s house” where they are ushered through the single room in a matter of moments. It takes so much effort to get there, and it’s over so quickly, that some might wonder if it’s worth it.

Perhaps that question answers itself, at least for those who are motivated by devotion to the mother of the Savior. Perhaps it is enough that they take time out on their journeys to find this remote spot where, in their hearts, they are close to Mary.

As the visitors stand in the long queue, they naturally chat with members of their own parties and with strangers. We did that too, striking up a conversation with a young couple from Piscataway. Imagine! We’re from Whitehouse Station, and they’re from Piscataway, and we meet in this place, five thousand miles away. Yet, considering the attraction, spending a moment, in our hearts, in the intimate surroundings of Mary’s home, perhaps such meetings are inevitable.

As folks finally reach the entrance to the chapel, they stop chatting. There is a hush as they step into the room almost gingerly, as though afraid to break something. Most touch the stones, assuring themselves that they are really there. Most, in their own ways, may have something to say to the Blessed Mother.

Did Mary live here? Whether or not she did, her love for us and our love for her was enough to bring us to this mountain, to leave the world outside even briefly, and to pray, “Hail Mary, full of grace!”

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Topics: Marian devotion, RENEW International, The Everyday Gospel: Deacon Charles Paolino, Mary's House

The Everyday Gospel: Mary Magdalene

Posted by Charles Paolino on Jun 9, 2023 6:00:00 AM

For more than 40 years, I made my living by knowing other people’s business. Since I got out of newspaper journalism, however, I have tried to know only as much as I need to know—or, perhaps more accurately, as much as people want me to know.

I was thinking about that recently while I was reading Mary Magdalene: A Cultural History by Philip C. Almond, professor emeritus of the history of religious thought at the University of Queensland, Australia.

As the title implies, Almond explores the many ways Mary has been imagined and presented over the centuries. Necessarily, this includes the idea endorsed by Pope Gregory the Great that before her encounter with Jesus Mary was a prostitute. The pope, in a sixth century homily, drew this conclusion by identifying Mary Magdalene with the “sinful” woman described in Luke’s Gospel who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. He also took the reference to Jesus ridding Mary of seven demons to mean that she had dabbled in all seven of the deadly sins.

This practice of identifying one literary character with another is called “conflation” and, as Almond describes in detail, Pope Gregory is hardly the only person to engage in it. Speculators over time have found Mary Magdalene to be the same person as Luke’s sinner and also Mary of Bethany—the sister of Lazarus. Modern scholarship has debunked these ideas.

Traditions have thrived about where Mary Magdalene went and what she did in the years after the Resurrection, about where she died and was buried, and about where her remains have been transported by relic enthusiasts.

The notion has also been developed that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married and that she bore him a child and that the Church has been at pains to keep this a secret. The marriage myth was famously disseminated in recent times in Dan Brown’s novel “The DaVinci Code” and the film based upon it. Besides being disrespectful, such works run the risk that gullible people will take the stories as true and that cynics will use such fiction to demean the Church and the Christian faith in general.

The fact is that all the information we have about Mary Magdalene is in the gospels. To put it another way, all the information we need about Mary is in the gospels. Luke’s Gospel informs us that Mary and two other women, Joanna and Susanna, accompanied Jesus as he traveled through Palestine and provided financial support for his ministry. All four evangelists report that Mary was the first witness and the first herald of the Resurrection. She remained faithful to Jesus to the end. She went to the tomb, she encountered the risen Christ, she proclaimed the news to the apostles.

These accounts of the preeminent role that Mary played in the gospel story are remarkable both because it was inconsistent with the cultural and religious norms of Jewish society for women to accompany a group of men not related to them, and it was out of character for writers in that time and place to assign to a woman such an important role as Mary played.

We Christians can save our curiosity for movie stars and other celebrities. Mary Magdalene, as she is presented in the gospels, is all she needs to be, an example of faithfulness and courage. In those qualities, she is a model for us to imitate. By virtue of our baptism, we are called to do what Mary did, to proclaim to the world, without embarrassment, fear, or hesitation, that Jesus Christ has risen and that he lives among us, in his word, in our hearts, and in the Eucharist. May we live up to her example.

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Topics: Mary Magdalene, RENEW International, The Everyday Gospel: Deacon Charles Paolino

The Everyday Gospel: And he shall reign

Posted by Charles Paolino on Nov 18, 2022 6:30:00 AM

One of the memorable images among the events surrounding the death of Queen Elizabeth II was of a woman kissing King Charles on the cheek as he greeted members of a crowd gathered outside Buckingham Palace.

The woman, a Cypriot named Jennifer Assiminios, later told the press that she had asked permission to kiss Charles and that he had granted it.

Although Elizabeth had established an emotional bond with many of her subjects, it did not exhibit itself in anything as intimate as a kiss. So perhaps, by accepting that one kiss, Charles nudged the monarchy a little way off of its traditional distance from its subjects.

Not being British, I have no opinion about the British monarchy either as an institution or, for that matter, about the endurance of monarchy in the modern world. I once asked a chemist in Denmark why such a progressive country still had a queen. He said, “Well she is Denmark, isn’t she?” and I suppose that was as good an answer as any.

Many countries have long since dispensed with their kings, queens, and emperors, but there are 44 sovereign states in the world that have monarchs, including 15 that recognize the British monarch as their own. In a few of these places, monarchs have absolute power; in a few, their role is largely symbolic. And in some countries, the king or queen shares the responsibilities of government with an elected body, a parliament or legislature.

Abdullah bin Hussein, the king of Jordan, has gone out of his way to have personal contact with Jordanian citizens. More often, though, kings prefer to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually distant, separate, apart from their subjects, That’s not our King.

As Americans, of course, we have no monarch, but as Christians we have a “King of the Universe” as we will again proclaim Jesus this weekend.

While we have the greatest respect for Jesus and try to live in keeping with what he taught us about love of God and love of each other, we do not have to keep our physical or psychic distance from him. On the contrary, Jesus invites, urges, all of us to approach him in the most intimate way possible.

Jesus is the king who, during his life on earth, made a point of touching people whom others would rather not touch ¾ and that was a clear sign of the relationship he wanted to have with all of us.

This why the Church, Pope Francis in particular, and the American Catholic bishops during the current three-year “Eucharistic revival,” stress the importance of each Christian having a personal encounter with Jesus -- an encounter that occurs in our prayer life, when we speak to Jesus as the loving friend he is, and in our liturgical life when we come in physical contact with him in the Eucharist, in his body and his blood.

In the prophecy of Daniel, we read about the Messiah, “He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him.”

That is a legitimate image of Jesus, the Christ, who is the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity—who is God. But it is indispensable to our Catholic faith to always keep before us, too, the words of the author of the book of Revelation who describes Jesus as “the ruler of the kings of the earth” but in the next breath as “him who loves us.’’

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Topics: RENEW International, The Everyday Gospel: Deacon Charles Paolino, Jesus Christ the King

The Everyday Gospel: On the Road

Posted by Charles Paolino on Oct 6, 2022 6:00:00 AM


During the summer, John Monahan, a permanent deacon of the Diocese of Metuchen, died as a result of a motor-vehicle collision. The initial report was that the driver of a car carrier had run a red light along a busy New Jersey highway. I knew John, and I can say that this loss—to his family, his community, and the Church—is incalculable.

On several occasions since that happened, I have seen drivers run red lights; in one case, the driver in front of me narrowly missed being “t-boned” by a driver who ignored the signal.

Not long after those incidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that more than 9,500 people had died in motor-vehicle collisions in this country in the first quarter of this year. That was seven percent more deaths than in the same period last year and the most motor-vehicle deaths in the first quarter of a year since 2002.

I am not surprised by those statistics. Despite my advanced age, I still drive to work four days a week along Route 22 between Whitehouse Station and Plainfield, New Jersey. And every day, I seen drivers speeding, weaving in and out of lanes, aggressively entering a highway despite “yield” signs and common sense, following too closely, rushing through amber and red signals, and cutting off other vehicles, including semi-tractors that weigh tens of thousands of pounds. In one episode, I was driving at or slightly over the speed limit and could tell when I glanced in my rear-view mirror that the woman driving close behind me was impatient. Finally, she passed me on the shoulder and, a few hundred feet down the highway, pulled into a Dunkin Donuts where, I guess, her coffee was getting cold.

I presume that most of these drivers are at least nominally Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus all of whose religions teach that the common good supersedes individual desires. But even if they believe that in the abstract, they apparently don’t think it applies to their driving. But states impose and enforce traffic laws precisely in order to protect the common good.

This is a disconnect that affects not only driving but every aspect of life. In our case, as Christians, we presumably believe that we should love our neighbors as our selves. But a driver I often see from my kitchen window who routinely drives past a stop sign as though it weren’t there is not concerned about a neighbor who might be backing out of his driveway or walking her dog or riding a bike in that vicinity.

When I was a newspaper editor, there was an incident in which a police officer gave a county prosecutor a summons for speeding. The prosecutor publicly objected that he was on his way to a murder scene. I calculated that if he had been driving at the speed limit, he would have arrived at his destination—where, not incidentally, the victim was already dead—about four minutes later than if that officer had not stopped him from speeding. That is usually the case when drivers speed or run red lights or otherwise behave as though their time, even three or four minutes, is more important than other people’s safety.

We’re not on the road alone. Let us love one another.

 

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Topics: love of neighbor, RENEW International, The Everyday Gospel: Deacon Charles Paolino, driving responsibly, the common good

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Clone)

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 17, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Amos

(Chapter 8:4-7)

We tend to think of ancient Israel as a poor nation, and that is true. Most of the people were poor peasant farmers who barely got by and often were vulnerable to the whims of their landlords, seed providers, and more well-off merchants who cheated the poor families that depended on them for their livelihood.

Amos, teaching in the eighth century before the birth of Jesus, socks it to these predators: “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!” This was a time of relative economic growth, but poor people saw little if any of that money. Sound familiar? One of the biggest issues in our society today is economic inequality. It is not only an economic concern but also a moral issue. People who are working hard, often at two or three minimum-wage jobs per family, are still poor and hungry in our rich country. Imagine what Amos would be saying today, how angry he would be. How should we, as followers of Jesus, act to overcome economic injustice in our society? Can we say that we are truly on the side of those who live in poverty?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8)

“Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.” How does God really lift up the poor unless we believers act as God’s partners here on earth?

A reading from St. Paul's letter to Timothy

(Chapter 2:1-8)

The early Christians were not big fans of kings, the Roman emperor, and other officials, but the author of this letter calls upon Christians to pray “for kings and all authority.” He also asks the people to pray “without anger or argument.”

That was a difficult task then, and it is today, especially if we do not agree with our local, state, or national leaders. We can pray to change their minds, work to challenge their positions or their leadership within our democratic process, and join in an ongoing debate on the issues we hold dear.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 10, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Exodus

(Chapter 32:7-11, 13-14)

This reading is about the infidelity of the people who were saved by God from slavery in Egypt. "The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once to your people. … They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out, “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” I see how stiff-necked this people is. … Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.’"

“But Moses implored the Lord, his God, saying ‘Why, O Lord, should your wrath raise up against your own people?’” Then Moses began to bargain with God. This may seem strange to us but “Semitic bargaining” was a feature of life at that time. And God relented and said to Moses, “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual in heritance.”

Notice that at first God refers to the Hebrews as “your people,” even though he has always considered them as his people. Then, after he has forgiven them for their idolatry, they are once again his people.

We do not worship any golden calf today, but we may be tempted to worship power or money or possessions. Of course, we would never say that, but we might be tempted to discard our values for power or possessions. It is good to ask ourselves these questions every once in a while. What are we tempted to worship? Does anything hold power over us?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19)

“I will rise and go to my father.” The first line of the Psalm says, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.” God’s mercy is always there for us.

A reading from St. Paul's letter to Timothy

(Chapter 1: 12-17)

St. Paul was more responsible for the growth of the early Church than any other person. But he had been a really “bad guy.” As he writes, “I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance.” This great man had participated in the murder of Christians before his conversion: “But because I did not know what I was doing in my unbelief, I have been treated mercifully, and the grace of our Lord has been granted me in overflowing measure, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. … Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the worst. But pm on that very account I was dealt with mercifully, so that in me, as an extreme case, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, and that I might become an example to those who would later have faith in him and gain everlasting life.”

In the first reading, from the Book of Exodus, we read about God’s mercy for his people. Here, Paul talks about the great mercy that he received from Jesus, a mercy that literally turned his life around.

Has the forgiveness of God, the mercy of God ever turned your life around? Has it helped you out of depression, self-doubt, even self-hatred? The healing mercy of God is truly amazing, transforming, life- changing. Perhaps you know someone who is in need of God’s mercy but does not know it or does not know how to ask for it. Have you ever thought that one of our great gifts and roles in life is to embody the merciful love of Jesus in your life and work? It is right there within us, and the need is all around us.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 3, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Wisdom

(Chapter 9:13-18b)

The author of the Book of Wisdom asks, “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” The author gives his answer toward the end of this passage: “Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?”

The only knowledge we have of God comes from God. God sends us his Holy Spirit, according to the author, writing during the century before the birth of Jesus. Today, we Christians say our knowledge of God comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17)

“In every age O Lord, you have been our refuge.” Throughout the history of Judaism and Christianity God has always been presented as the recourse of those who are troubled. In your darkest times, do you experience God as your refuge?

A reading from St. Paul's letter to Philemon

(Philemon 9-10, 12-17)

In ancient times, slaves were often treated cruelly as we might imagine, but there were also slaves who rose to positions of wealth and even authority in the Roman Empire. Onesimus was not one of those elite slaves, but he was much loved and respected by Paul who considered him a brother. Paul writes from prison to Philemon, a leader of the Church in Colossae, asking him to also consider Onesimus as a brother. Paul is not challenging the institution of slavery but rather calling this young man, Onesimus, to a whole new identity.

Tragically, it took thousands of years and hundreds of millions of destroyed lives before slavery came to be regarded as unjust and immoral in much of the world. Yet, even today, there are more than a million people still living in bondage. Let us remember to pray for all those who have lived and died in slavery and for those who are still enslaved.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 27, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Sirach

(Chapter 3:17-18, 20, 28-29)

This is one of the few times in the liturgical cycle that we read from a book of Jewish writing that is not a  part of the Hebrew Bible. Yet, it is part of Jewish wisdom teaching. The first line is problematic: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.” Do you think that is true? I suppose it depends on what gifts you are giving and whether you are looking for anything in return. A true giver of gifts such as love, compassion, honesty, and service does not look for anything in return and usually is a humble person rooted in the truth.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11)

“God, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor.” If that is really true, God has a tremendous amount of work to do. We have more than a million homeless people here in our own country and hundreds of millions all over the world, especially refugees. Actually, it is more accurate to say that we humans are God’s partners in making a home for poor people.

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews

(Chapter 12:18-19, 22-24a)

The early Christians made a clear distinction between the Old Covenant that was approached in fear and the New Covenant that we approach in communion with Jesus and “the Spirits of the just made perfect.” So, too, when we approach our loving Father at the time of our death, we are not alone. We journey in the presence of the Holy Spirit and Jesus and all our previously departed loved ones. As Jesus says over and over again in the Gospels, we are never alone. He is always with us, not only in life but also as we pass from this life to the other ever-lasting life. It is so important for all of us to believe this, especially those in danger of death.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

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