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Discussion Guide: Turning Toward God

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Gn 9:8-15/1 Pt 3:18-22/Mk 1:12-15 

Reflection Questions

• The season of Lent begins with the receiving of ashes on Ash Wednesday. If you were not able to attend Ash Wednesday ask your priest if he could mark the ashes on your forehead with a prayer on Sunday. Or you may consider placing your thumb in soil and marking yourself with the sign of the cross. It takes a physical experience to remind us of something beginning. Consider Ash Wednesday like arriving at the starting line of a race. We need to be present and committed – when the starting gun goes
off we need ‘begin’ the journey to the finish line of Easter. Are you psychologically ‘ready’? What will the
spiritual practices of ‘Prayer’ ‘Fasting’ and ‘Alms-Giving’ involve for your daily / weekly routine?
• In the season of Lent, the First and Gospel readings are not specifically linked, but independently teach us a truth about God and ourselves. The word describing the ‘Ark’ built by Noah, is also used for the ark carrying baby moses tosafety, the ark holding the special tablets of the commandments and symbolic of the Ark of the Church. God has made a covenant / promise to protect and be with those who belong to him. Have you ever had an experience or sign showing God’s protection for you? Can you see the Church as an ‘Ark’ today? How?

•The Second readings of Lent teach us the meaning of Baptism. The cleansing of Baptism waters is not
washing away physical dirt, but literally a ‘putting away of filth’ as one now living in Christ. Lent becomes a time of renewed effort in living our christian identity. What do you recognise needs to be ‘put away’ from your life? What is the first step on this journey?
• Jesus responded to the Spirits inspiration into the Desert. To help create a prayer-full lent, what place
and time each day can you identify that will work for you? How could you symbolise beginning this journey?
• Being in the desert for 40 days links to Israel being in the desert for 40 years. A time of testing, proving loyalty, closer union with God. As Adults, Lent is not a season for child-like practices of giving up lollies. It is a journey facing struggle and sin, being ʻtestedʼ, proving my loyalty to God. Is my Lenten commitment serious enough? Do I consider it will bring me closer to God?
• “The angels ministered to him.” God does not leave us alone. Angels are provided. Literally, Angels mean ʻgood message bearersʼ. In my Lenten journey and wilderness experience who are some ʻangelsʼ that God may have already placed in my life to support me but I have not responded to. Is there someone you could ask to accompany you on your journey of Lent? It could be just the help you need!
• Repent and believe the gospel. This is Jesusʼ first public words ever spoken. The Greek word is metanoia – change, physically turn your life around. What do I know needs to change to find wholeness in my life?
• How will you ‘livetheword’ this week?

Discussion Guide: Enter and Live Lent Deeply

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Jl 2:12-18/2 Cor 5:20—6:2/Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Reflection Questions
• What word, sentence or idea struck you from the readings?
• What do you think God may be personally trying to say to you?
• “thoroughly wash me from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.” (Ps50) God does not want us to stay
in sadness and guilt but to grow from our experiences in wisdom, in compassion…. what wisdom might
my ʻsinʼ be teaching me? What do I need to do to move on?
• Now is a very acceptable time – Lent is a special time, but only works if we make it important. Is there any decision I have been putting off? Having I been waiting
for the right ʻtimeʼ? What decisions could I make for Lent to grow in freedom, in forgiveness, in
holiness…..?

Traditional Lenten Practices
• Prayer – seeking to listen to God: try finding a time and place each day to be with God?
• Fasting – seeking to be free of what is unnecessary: try giving up music in the car, internet, video games, some television, and fill it with a practice that helps you reflect on life?
• Almsgiving – seeking to care for those in need: try focusing on a particular need you know about and giving either your time or money to a person or cause. Check with God how much! We only need to imagine the renewed and healed world if all were to make a commitment to these spiritual practices. What decision will you make to enter and live Lent deeply?

Discussion Guide: Healing and Restoration

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Lv 13:1-2, 44-46/1 Cor 10:31—11:1/Mk 1:40-45

Reflection Questions

• The Book of Leviticus is a set of legal instructions (code) for Priests to ensure proper worship. Priests had the job of judging if someone was suffering, among many other things, from a skin condition ‘blotch’ – leprosy – which would make them ‘contagious’ and therefore ‘unclean’. In close living conditions this would have ensured disease did not spread. Unfortunately, when labelled ‘unclean’ a
person had to leave family, friends, was excluded from society and worship in the Temple. It was psychologically and physically ‘death by exclusion’. Imagine having to shout to everyone that you were
‘unclean’! Who do you label as ‘unclean’? Who is ‘living outside the Church camp’ feeling unable to be with the community as they feel and perceive to be judged ‘unclean’? What could you do?
• Paul seeks to address another problem in the town of Corinth. Some christians were upset that fellow christians were buying food from the local butcher that had been sacrificed in pagan temples. Some were firm in their belief that there was no other gods so it was irrelevant. Others were afraid. Paul encourages an approach of ‘avoid giving offence’ and ‘try to please everyone’. Is there anything in your life which is offending another? How could you more closely imitate Christ?

• Healing is costly for the Leper and the Healer (Jesus). The Leper has put himself in danger being in the crowd. They could have been violent, outraged that his closeness to them made them ‘ritually unclean’ and possibly contaminating them with his skin disease. Is there something in your life causing you great sadness. Can you find the willingness to suffer the cost of seeking healing? What obstacles do you need to break through?
• Jesus is full of emotion toward the Leper. ‘Moved with pity’ does not accurately translate the original Greek. It is literally ‘having ones intestines in an uproar!’ Some translations write ‘moved with anger’. Jesus is angry at the sad state of the Leper, the exclusion, the pain. God’s heart is wrenched with compassion and pain. If Jesus heals he knows this will further increase his popularity and possibly misinterpret him as only a ‘wonder worker’. He heals him but commands him to be quiet. He insists
he go to get a certificate of cleanliness from the Temple. He wants him to be included back into society and made ‘whole’ again. Are your intestines in an uproar about injustice, people caught in the bondage of sin, unjust exclusion? If not, why not?
• Jesus’ popularity increases to such an extent that he is now forced into ‘deserted places’, unable to  enter a town openly. His life has now taken on the lived experience of those who were labelled ‘unclean’. Have you experienced the ‘cost’ of helping someone and living with the consequences of upsetting community and religious boundaries? Has it made you more or less willing to ‘heal’ again? What happened…
• What is one action that you will do to ‘livetheword’ this week?

Discussion Guide: Freedom for Purpose

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Jb 7:1-4, 6-7/1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23/Mk 1:29-39

Reflection Questions

• The Book of Job is very rarely seen in the Sunday Lectionary. Job is ‘successful’ with a large family, significant wealth, health, a good name and reputation. Then suffering strikes. Significantly, in the midst of his suffering Job refuses to believe that suffering is God’s punishment for sin. He is innocent. Today’s passage is Job’s cry from the depths of his personal suffering. Only through courage, perseverance and openness to God does Job recognise God is always looking after him. God is not manipulated by good or evil. Suffering is a profound mystery of being human. What sentence of Job can you identify with personally? What experience of ‘suffering’ has taught you most?
• Paul had decided not to accept money from people in the town of Corinth for hispreaching. Some later  preachers came after Paul and claimed this showed Paul did not believe in his own authority as a
messenger of God. Paul responds that he wished to highlight the difference between the message of Jesus and other ‘wandering preachers and healers’ (who demanded money for their services). It is
not ‘Paul’s message’ but ‘Christ’s message’ and he is under obligation to do this for free! Paul was careful how the message of Jesus would be received. Are you able to ‘adapt’ your witness and example to ensure Jesus is ‘received’? Can you think of an example today?

• Mark continues to show the Kingdom (Reign) of God is truly coming into the world through Jesus’ words and actions overcoming evil. This is symbolised through healing those who were sick and casting out evil spirits. People who were sick or tormented were regarded as ‘unclean’ and ‘sinful’. They were not permitted into the Temple to worship. Jesus ‘touches’ them and cures them. Now they are free to be with family and in the Temple. They can now participate fully in the life of the community. Does your life heal or harm? Include or exclude? What happens when someone in need is brought to you?
• Jesus’ disciples find Jesus in prayer. They seek to make him return home to carry on the healing. His reputation (and their own reputation) is growing because of his success. Many people and their needs cause Jesus to find silence and pray to God for direction. From prayer Jesus clarifies his ‘purpose’. Consider how busy Jesus became. How busy are you? What burdens and expectations do people pressure you to meet? Have you lost your ‘purpose’? Spend time in prayer in a deserted place and ask direction from God.
• Disciples of Jesus continue the ministry of Jesus. Jesus heals many lives. Healing is making ‘whole’,
comforting, welcoming back into community, lifting burdens. Does your life, words and actions ‘drive out demons’; Establish peace, forgiveness, hospitality, justice? Do you see and fight evil?
• What is one action that you will do to ‘livetheword’ this week?

Discussion Guide, The Authority of Jesus

"Faith Has Saved You" Giclee print by Randy Friemel Giclee Print ~ 14 x 11

Dt 18:15-20/1 Cor 7:32-35/Mk 1:21-28

Reflection Questions

• The Book of Deuteronomy is a book of long sermons and reflections. It is regarded as the second (deutero) law, an insightful reflection on the teachings of Moses. Although the great prophet, Moses did not lead God’s people into the promised land. Yet the community realised how necessary it was to have
someone completely ‘in tune’ with God who could correct and guide them. Are you frightened to ‘hear the voice of God’? Do you resist being ‘still’? Listening to the deepest voice of God within your spirit? Is
there a ‘prophet’ that God has placed in your life and you know it is important to ‘listen to the words of their mouth’?
• A true prophet speaks what God has spoken. It is not made up wisdom. Have you ‘presumed to speak in my name’? Consider praying to God for particular wisdom and insight for people whom you guide with your words and witness. Do any images or words or ideas come to mind? Write them down and continue to ask God for guidance.
• St Paul’s writings teach of equality of men and women in marriage. Putting the letter to the Corinthians in context, Paul’s early writings presume Jesus’ return is to happen soon, so it is best to let nothing distract us from being ready. What makes you anxious? Distracted from God?                        •The Gospel of Mark immediately shows Jesus overcoming the forces of evil. Check out a typical day of Jesus in Mark chapters 1-3! The battle between Good and Evil is striking. Unclean spirits are taunted and afraid and surprisingly acknowledge the identity of Jesus before anyone else. Jesus is experienced differently from the scribes who taught legal rules. Jesus in his words and action brought healing and liberation. Are you a person of ‘word’ and ‘action’? Is your word filled with commitment to bring about what you have said?
• Exorcisms done by Jesus symbolise and reveal the ultimate struggle between good and evil that Jesus is involved with. To bring the ‘Kingdom of God’ into reality involves ‘fighting against evil’. Is there any-thing that you are doing in your life that Jesus would not do? If Jesus were to be in your home, flat, workplace, what would he resist? Fight? Seek to change?
• Jesus is shown to be the true prophet, fulfilling the prophecy of Moses (first reading) whose word is the Word of God. Yet be breaks the ‘sabbath’ law by ‘working a healing’. He does this in the synagogue, in front of scribes (Church leaders who teach the ‘law’). He creates a disturbance with the man convulsing and shaking in front of a crowd as he is released from domination by an evil spirit. Jesus as a prophet makes people uncomfortable. ‘Prophets make lovely additions to the Bible, but you certainly don’t want one in your neighborhood. No Sir! Prophets wreak havoc on the status quo…’ Can you identify anyone who is prophetic? Whose presence brings God and causes havoc in the re-
establishment of God’s order? What prophetic word or act could you do this week?
• What is one action that you will do to ‘livetheword’ this week?

Reflection Guide for Jesus’ Invitation

Discussion Questions

Jon 3:1-5, 10/1 Cor 7:29-31/Mk 1:14-20

  • The Book of the Prophet Jonah is a  book about his life. It is understood not to be an historical writing, but a reflection on the nationalism of the Hebrew people (represented by Jonah) who could not consider ‘Gentiles’ as worthy of recieving God’s Mercy and attention (represented by the Gentile city of Nineveh). Jonah was called by God to speak to the people of Nineveh but instead chose to run in the opposite direction. Only after trying to escape and spending 3 days in the belly of a whale did he show obedience to God’s call. Strikingly the people of Nineveh responded to God’s call to change and ‘turn from their evil way’. Have you heard a constant voice, noticed a constant desire, felt a passion stir withinthat does not go away? This is frequently the way people experience God’s ‘call’ upon their life. Are you ‘running in the opposite direction’? Arguing with God (like Jonah) with reasons ‘why you will not do it’. What is your best guess as God’s calling on your life today. What is your response?
  • Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is an early letter when Paul still thought Jesus would be returning ‘very soon’. While we are conscious of Jesus’ delayed return his message still holds: all the things of the world will pass away and nothing is to become an obstacle between ourselves and God. List the relationships and objects / possessions that are important to you. Is anyone / anything damaging the time and relationship and obedience that God is asking of you? What could you do to restore a balance? What could you ‘let go of’ to be more available to God?
  • The beginning of Mark’s Gospel quickly teaches about being a disciple of Jesus. In a dark way the cost of being a true disciple is suggested with John the Baptist being ‘handed over’. Jesus too will be handed over. Disciples too will be handed over. A battle scene is subtly painted with words. Satan’s rule is now going to be replaced by that of God: The Kingdom of God is at hand! While sometimes slower at revealing itself, God’s way, to bring justice and overcome evil, will triumph. Are you with God? Are you engaged in overcoming ‘evil’ or are you passively watching? What does ‘Repent’ (change) mean for you?
  • Simon and Andrew, with their Father and hired men are considered to be at least ‘middle class’. Part of a family business, boats, employees. In following Jesus they are letting go of family expectations and financial security. They must be attracted to an even greater concern. What is it? Re-image the scene using your own ‘family’ and ‘work’. What is your response to Jesus?
  • In the Gospel of Mark, immediately Jesus chooses disciples. Immediately he places himself with others in a community. He will teach but also receive companionship. Who are like-minded people who you need to support your discipleship? How could you ‘build community’ together to encourage faithfulness and obedience to Jesus?
  • What is one action that you will do to ‘livetheword’ this week?

Discussion Guide: Come and See 

Reflection Questions

• Samuel is a young boy who eventually becomes one of the great prophets of the Old Testament. It is possible he was given the job of ensuring the ‘sacred flame’ in the Temple did not burn out and for that
reason is ‘sleeping in the temple’. Today God calls him. He is confused, and even his mentor ‘Eli’ takes a while to recognise it is God speaking in prayer to Samuel. Isyour lifestyle allowing for time in prayer
and silence? Have you ever sincerely presented yourself before God and stated ‘Here I am…. Speak…. I am listening’?
• Samuel needed Eli to mentor him in the ways of listening to God and prayerful obedience. Who has been an ‘Eli’ figure for you in your journey with God? Has there been any word or inspiration from
God or an Eli-Mentor that you have heard but not been obedient to? What happened?
• Samuel was blessed. The Lord helped him to not let any word spoken ‘fall to the ground’. He both caught the Lord’s word and Spoke the Lord’s word. How could you be more effective in ‘catching’ every
word of the Lord spoken to you? Consider starting a spiritual journal of your prayer time and finding a spiritual director (Eli). Check out www.livingtheword.org.nz/resources and click on spiritual director
and keeping a journal.

• There was a problem among some of the community at Corinth. Some separated the body and the  spirit believing that it did not matter what one did with their ‘bodies’. Paul teaches them about the dignity of their bodies. Joined with Christ, filled with the Spirit, our bodies are true ‘Temples’ of God. What we do in and with the dwelling place of God should bring God Glory. Do you respect and protect the dignity of your body? How could you give God greater glory? Whose ‘bodies’ are being broken or
abused today in society. Do you care?
• John the Baptist points his disciples toward Jesus and they begin the journey of discipleship. The first
question Jesus asks of a disciple points deeply to their heart: What are you looking for? Imaginatively  enter the scene. What is your response to this very first question of Jesus?
• ‘Come and see’ is an invitation by Jesus to ‘abide’ and ‘stay’ with him. Like Samuel, could you find a frequent way of drawing close to Jesus, spending time beside the tabernacle in Church? It means leaving friends, normal routine, unknown conversation. Where does the adventure of ‘come and see’ ask of you?
• While Peter is well known, it was his brother Andrew who brought Peter to Jesus. The time spent with Jesus impacted Andrew so much he had to find someone to share this good news with. Have you experienced the joy of Jesus and the desire to lead others to share this faith experience? Is your lack of courage stopping a future Church leader? Saint?
• What is one action that you will do to‘ livetheword’ this week?

Discussion Guide for Feast of the Epiphany

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Reflection Questions

  • Epiphany is the Greek word meaning to ‘show’ or ‘make manifest’. The Magi from the East (coming from the Greek word for people of special knowledge) pay homage to Jesus. This symbolises all nations
    recognising Jesus as King and Lord. If you had to write a story to teach the truth about Jesus what truths would you seek to include? How could the Church make Christ known more creatively today?
    What is the most creative christian evangelisation message you have seen lately?
  • Isaiah makes a beautiful prophecy which is fulfilled in the Gospel of Matthew story and the Magi today. God’s chosen people have just returned from exile and their country and beautiful city of Jerusalem and its Temple are in ruins. Isaiah begins with the image of Jerusalem as a woman
    lying down in defeat. ‘Rise up Jerusalem! Your light has come.’ As we enter the beginning of the New Year how could you experience ‘rising up’ to your most beautiful self? How could you help the Church ‘rise up’ and make Christ known? What would it take for you to be radiant and your heart throb with joy and pride inthe Church community? What will you do?
  • Paul states very clearly a mind shattering truth: ‘the gentiles are coheirs’. Jewish people thought of and
    treated ‘gentiles’ as ‘unclean’. Paul says they are ‘clean’ and ‘co-partners’ in the inheritance of God’s promises and family. What adjustments in mind, heart, and action, would take place if God revealed to you that everyone was clean and equal and a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ to you and you were all part of the same family? Imagine what life-style change this would involve. Are you willing to try? Can you glimpse
    this is the central gospel message of Jesus?
  • In ancient times a new star was thought to indicate a new leader being born. The Magi are on a journey  of seeking God. They have knowledge. Resources. Time. All that the world declares is necessary for fulfilment. Yet they are hungry for somethingmore. What is currently guiding your life? Would you say you are thirsty, hungry, searching? How and where do you find Jesus today?
  • The three gifts presented reveal the identity of Jesus. Gold for a king. Frankincense for a priest whose role is to pray and send prayers to God in heaven. Myrrh pointing toward Jesus’ sacrifice and death and future burial. As the new year begins what personal ‘gifts’, ‘talents’, are you willing to ‘give’ in service to God? Consider the deeper meaning of homage and surrender. How could you express a deeper commitment to following Jesus? What change of direction would you like to make to imitate the Magi
  • What is one action that you will do to be ‘livingtheword’ this week?

Discussion Guide for Mary Mother of God

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Reflection Questions

• This Feast day is the Oldest Marian Feast in our liturgical calendar. The Solemnity of Mary Holy Mother of God is celebrated a week after Christmas Day. It is a ‘Christological’ Feast in which the focus is on Jesus Christ and his identity. We recognise the special role that Mary had in accepting the call to be ‘Mother of God’. This title of Mary – Theotokos – Mother of God points to Jesus’ Divine identity as
truly God.

• The Blessing referred to in the Book of Numbers is still practiced by the Jewish ancestors of the Priestly line of Aaron today and in our Catholic prayer as we pray ‘Lord Hear Us’. Calling upon the
Name of God brought his presence. And God himself taught Moses how to bring this blessing upon  God’s family. LORD is an English translation of the Greek KYRIOS, which is a translation of the
Hebrew YAHWEH – which is the Divine Name of God given to Moses on the Mountain of Sinai meaning ‘I AM THE ONE WHO IS’ (Ex 3:14). Can you see the Old Testament – Gospel link in the
readings: God’s face and looking upon you and Jesus born among us. Think of close friends and pray this blessing upon them for the New Year ahead.

•Paul’s letter to the Galations is written by Paul upset at the travellers who would journey behind him and tell his communities that his message about Jesus was wrong. In the community of Galatia new converts who were not Jewish were being told they must obey all the Jewish requirements of the Law regarding food, cleanliness, circumcision, ritual practices. Paul uses a dramatic image to dismiss their arguments. Jews are slaves to a ‘law’. Christians are adopted as ‘sons’ and are now ‘heirs’ to the inheritance of freedom and unconditional acceptance by God. Do you understand and experience your
relationship with God as a slave and legal observance, or as a son / daughter and a ‘family member’?
What is the difference?

• The Lukan reading continues on from Christmas Day. God is very suprisingly born in an unclean place (stable) and seen first by unclean people (shepherds, who were often not able to meet ritual cleanliness requirements due to the care of their animals). Which places and people do you consider today to be ‘unclean’ and ‘unfit’ for God? How might Luke’s theme of God’s hospitality and inclusion to all challenge you this year? Who do you exclude?

• Mary is the model for all disciples. Her life was open to God’s call and plan. Her whole-hearted Yes called her to walk forward within a plan she did not fully understand. She reflected on each days events ‘in her heart’. She lived a pregnancy with the Word and let it come to birth. As the New Year begins what challenges may you say Yes to? How could you create a regular pattern of ‘prayer and
reflection’ to ensure plans and resolutions move from pregnancy to physical birth?

• What is one action that you will do to ‘livetheword’ this week?

Discussion Guide for The Feast of the Holy Family.

Sagrada familia 2

Reflection Questions:

  • Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family. Each of the readings provide a reflection on how family life is lived so as to lead us into ‘holiness’.
  • The Book of Ecclesiasticus gives us a reflection on the commandment to Honor one’s Parents. It implies a respectful relationship between Parents and children. The covenant relationship with God is mirrored in relationship to Parents. This relationship is lived through prayer, obedience, forgiveness and justice. Consider the ups and downs your parents have been through in raising your family. How do you currently show and practice ‘thankfulness’?
  • As Parents grow old, sometimes ‘the mind fails’ which can result in big challenges for adult children. How might reflecting on what your parents did for you as a young child help? What do you do that may ‘grieve’ your parents? How do you show ‘kindness’? If your family relationship was difficult what does God promise you when you honour your parents? We sometimes treat God like our parents. What impact might that be having on your image and relationship with God?
  • Paul writes to the Colossians who are struggling to welcome ‘Gentiles’ – (Greeks) into what had been a Jewish Christian community. He writes about the ‘Family Code’ also called the ‘Holiness Code’. We are all called to ‘put on’ the white garment of baptism and live in the new life of Christ. In the Church (or your Family), who gets included or excluded? What are the points of tension? What attitudes could you practice more in your ‘family’ to develop ‘peace’ as the controlling virtue of your life?
  • Christmas celebrates the fruit of Mary and Joseph’s trust in God. They sacrificed greatly to raise Jesus. As Pope Francis says, “Ambiguity, uncertainty, and brokenness touched the Holy Family. Their lives teach us that we cannot understand God’s designs. This wonderful lesson urges parents to put their families in God’s hands and trust that their efforts will bear fruit.” How did your family respond to struggles? How has that impacted your life? Faithful parents are examples for us, single or married. How can you put yourself more fully in God’s hands? Jesus and Mary offered the sacrifice of the poor; two doves. What simple sacrifices do you offer God? Are there older members of your community who contribute wisdom and spiritual support? How did Simeon and Anna live this out? How might you honour these elders?
  • Christians were keen to live by the ‘family code’ to show Roman authorities that they were not dangerous to government. How is order in family life healthy? How can married couples live in equality and unity with deep respect and honour for each other? How might that level of respect and practical love impact family life? How is ‘bitterness’ resolved? What arguments arise over children? What might ‘provoke’ or ‘discourage’ your children? What support do you think a family needs today? Does the Word of God dwell richly in your home? How do you build singing, joy and thanksgiving into the way you pray and show gratitude to God in daily life
  • What is one action that you will do to ‘livetheword’ this week?