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“The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven,’ and they said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, “I have come down from heaven?”’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me’” (John 6: 41 – 45).

The people John writes about in this Gospel passage would not hear what Jesus proclaimed, because they knew his family, where he grew up, and how he grew up. Certainly God’s Messiah could not come from among them, from a poor family. He could not be a mere tradesman.

Think of last week’s Gospel. The people asked Jesus what they must do to accomplish the work of God. Jesus simply said that they must “believe in the one he sent” (John 6:29). Here, the people judged Jesus because he did not fit the appearance of the messenger they were expecting. By refusing to believe and listen to Jesus, they closed themselves off to the possibility of something greater happening in their lives.

God is greater than our expectations and imaginations and will use whomever he chooses to bring about his reign here on earth.

Can you think of a situation in which you chose to believe or disbelieve someone’s words based solely on the speaker’s appearance or what you thought you knew about that person?

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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Planet_EarthAlthough classes are not in session, Pope Francis’ call for a more sustainable future, sounded in On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’), resonates on college campuses this summer. Colleges and universities by nature tend to take the long view—both in their mission to educate citizens and in their desire to sustain thriving institutions. The vision of environmental sustainability fits well with these priorities.
 
Today’s college students certainly understand the pope’s message. From my position as director of sustainability at the University of Pennsylvania, I see every year’s incoming class more keen to adopt sustainable practices—and eager to collaborate with administrators and faculty seeking to reduce our campus’s environmental impact. It’s not surprising—it’s their future that we university staff and professors are helping to create. Students feel an appropriate sense of ownership of their campuses, and they believe that colleges and universities should be leading the way in changing how we live, how we treat each other, and how we treat the planet. After all, if colleges and universities don’t take the lead, then who will?
 
Universities have often been early adopters of societal transformations. Colleges are full of young people, open to new ideas and hopeful that the society they build will be more open, more inclusive, and more just.
 
But there’s a second reason why campus communities are at the forefront of social change, and certainly at the forefront of environmental awareness. University and college campuses are physical spaces each with a particular character and history. Much smaller than cities, they are places where students live, work, study, play, and socialize in close proximity to each other—spending every minute of the day on campus for weeks at a time. Places like these develop particular meaning for their inhabitants: students care about them and for them.
 
Campuses share these characteristics with other intentional communities. Students apply for admission (and pay to stay at school); staff members compete for jobs; and faculty face perhaps the most severe selection process of all: tenure review. Everyone at a university wants to be there; most everyone respects and cares for the institution; and all that care to are granted the opportunity to participate in making it better.
 
Academic institutions are intentional communities in another way that is rare in our culture. Although diversity of opinion is welcome (eagerly pursued, in fact), campuses engender a sense of shared mission among its inhabitants: a love of learning; respect for accumulated knowledge and the traditions of scholarship; and a common spirit of inquiry. Places with such shared values are, as has been often pointed out, the places where sustainable practices and habits are most likely to arise.
 
Campuses with shared values are also the places where you find yearning for social justice, and students intuitively relate to Pope Francis when he quotes the wisdom of the Dominican bishops in Laudato Si’: “Peace, justice, and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated…” Social equity and a sustainable future are tied together. The urgent pleas for social justice, so evidenced on American college campuses in this year rife with examples of institutional injustice, are tied to the yearning for a better future for all. The desires to reduce carbon emissions or promote biodiversity are, after all, not ends in themselves, but means to achieve a more livable planet for everyone.
 
The University of Pennsylvania is committed to reducing our environmental footprint and improving social equity in our city, our region, and throughout the world. And, I’m happy to say, we’re far from alone in our efforts to do so. Through the Ivy Plus Sustainability Consortium (to name just one of many coalitions of universities), Penn has committed to working cooperatively with thirteen other research institutions to improve social equity while reducing our collective environmental impact. We meet annually to share best practices and engage in joint research projects focused in institutional sustainability. We’re fortunate to have support from our university presidents, trustees, faculty, and students in these endeavors, and are working hard to make progress. This year, we also have a powerful ally in Pope Francis, who is helping to galvanize communities of faith on campuses across the world. His call to seek social justice through environmental improvement will not go unheeded, and we are looking forward to seeing the impact of his message on college campuses over the coming years.
 
RENEW International is working with the Catholic Climate Covenant and Greenfaith to produce a small-group resource on Pope Francis’ encyclical for parishes, college campuses, and religious communities. For more information, visit www.renewintl.org/renewearth
 
Dan Garofalo is director of environmental sustainability at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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“And when they found him across the sea they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ Jesus answered them and said, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.’ So they said to him, ‘What can we do to accomplish the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent’ (John 6:25-29).

It’s easy to see why the crowds followed Jesus. He was attentive to their physical needs and performed miracles. In this Gospel, however, it is clear that the people “don’t get it.” They searched for Jesus and wanted another sign – they wanted to be fed again to fullness and be dazzled. What was Jesus’ response? “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). And what was his answer to their question of how to accomplish the works of God? “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (John 6:29).

What do we ask for when we ask for a “sign” God’s blessings? A bigger house? More money? Greater job status? None of these are intrinsically bad, but it is easy to lose sight of the fact they these aren’t life’s most important things. They will not endure. They will not fill the hunger that goes beyond our physical needs. They easily can become distractions from what is our true work, having faith in the One sent by God.

Faith is hard work. We don’t really think about that until something challenges us in our effort to keep our faith – the illness or death of a loved one, unemployment, a natural disaster. Just as the “good things” in life can be distracting, so are the difficulties and harsh realities of living in this world. During times like these, keeping faith is work.

Jesus’ answer to the crowd when they asked about material and tangible things called them, as it calls us, to see things differently. Jesus is the only “sign” necessary. While the crowd wanted the bread that satisfied their physical hunger, he wanted them to understand that he was the bread that satisfies all hunger.

When have you asked God for a sign? What was it, and what were the circumstances?

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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Pope_FrancisPope John Paul II visited the White House on October 6, 1979, and I was watching at home, because that was a Saturday.
 
After the arrival and initial courtesies among the group gathered in front of the mansion, President Jimmy Carter gave welcoming remarks on the portico as the pontiff waited his turn.
 
At this point, my telephone rang.
 
“Are you watching this?” said the voice of the publisher I worked for at the time.
 
“If you mean the pope, yes I am,” I answered.
 
“Why is he standing up?” my boss demanded. “Why don’t they have a chair for him? Who plans these things?”
 
The publisher was a thoughtful guy, but he wasn’t a Catholic and probably hadn’t paid much attention to the pope before that season.
 
But once John Paul II set foot on American soil, the publisher could think of little else.
 
The same was true of the co-publisher, also non-Catholic, who only grudgingly addressed business topics while the pope was in the United States.
 
She told me so when I went to her office and tried to get her attention away from the television that I had never seen turned on before that week.
 
“I can’t take my eyes off him,” she said.
 
And who could blame her?
 
John Paul II generated a level of excitement that few if any of us had ever witnessed.
 
The phenomenon was distilled in the opening words of a television documentary broadcast after the pope had returned to Rome.
 
The program began with a view of the pope’s vehicle moving through a vast cheering crowd, and the off-camera voice asked, “Who is this? WHAT is this?”
 
But as breathtaking as John Paul’s visit was, we Americans may be about to witness something that exceeds it—the first visit of Pope Francis.
 
The public response in both intensity and magnitude well could be unprecedented.
 
But the question, as it has been from the beginning of this papacy, will be, “What is this?”—what is this excitement really about?
 
Certainly a lot of it will be about the pope’s “star quality.”
 
He is an attractive figure to people of all ages and backgrounds, and this can both help and hinder him in his mission.
 
Francis will have no trouble getting people’s attention in the United States; folks are going to extraordinary lengths to assure themselves an opportunity to get a glimpse of him in the flesh.
 
But some people who profess to “like this pope” may be in love with headlines and sound bites—such things as “Who am I to judge?”—but they may not be absorbing, much less applying to themselves, his exhortations on caring for the poor, extending mercy before judgment, protecting natural resources, curbing reckless consumerism and wasteful lifestyles.
 
What’s more, Pope Francis well understands the contemporary world and no doubt is aware that some if not much of the adulation directed at him is superficial.
 
He knows that alone he cannot make the world more merciful, more prudent, more just.
 
But no doubt he also knows that thoughtful people are listening to him, listening to more than comments reported out of context in the secular media, listening to his challenge to individual men and women to transform the world around them.
 
My guess is that he is banking not on all the millions along his path but on the unknown number who hear and understand his call to bring the Gospel to life, to evangelize the world around them, to evangelize those millions when the cheers have faded away.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people recline.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.’ So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat” (John 6: 8-13).

A crowd followed Jesus because of the miracles they had seen him perform. It was late in the day and there were thousands to feed, seemingly inadequate provisions and not enough money to purchase more. After Jesus had offered thanks for the meager food at hand, there was more than enough for everyone to be filled and even some left over. All those present were astonished.

Over and over again, Jesus shows his apostles and us that it is not enough to teach or preach or work miracles. Taking responsibility for the hungry and those less fortunate is paramount in sharing in the reign of God. When people are free from worry about having enough food and adequate shelter, they can more readily receive the message of salvation. Jesus provided bread for their hunger, and his life was bread for their lives. We are called to do and be the same.

Has there been a situation in which you felt overburdened or one in which something seemingly impossible was being asked of you? How did you respond?

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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