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Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi—a great day for all Franciscans around the world. Today is also the feast day of our pope – who has chosen to call himself Francis after this holy and simple man of God.
Recently we have been challenged by Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’,” which he opens with a quote from St. Francis’ famous Canticle of the Creatures. I think it would be fair to say this is truly a “Franciscan” encyclical! Pope Francis begins, “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, St. Francis reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs”(No. 1).
Pope Francis calls all of us, especially those committed to the Franciscan tradition, to take seriously St. Francis’ profound theological beliefs about seeing God embedded in a spectacularly interconnected world—God as the source of each and every creature, no matter how small.
We read: “(St. Francis’) response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection…Such a conviction cannot be written off as naïve romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behavior” (No. 11).
RENEW International, in conjunction with GreenFaith and the Catholic Climate Covenant, is producing Creation at the Crossroads, a small-group, faith-sharing resource that examines the encyclical through the lens of prayer and Scripture. This resource will bring people of faith a conversion of spirit that will lead to greater action to care for our common home and all who inhabit it.
We know that we can make a difference, opening the eyes of Catholics and other people of faith to the significance of this timely issue. While people of faith know the importance of caring for human life, they do not always grasp that caring for all of creation is an integral component of that mission. Our people and our planet are inextricably linked. We cannot truly help one while contributing to the destruction of the other.
Pope Francis encourages us to follow the example of Francis of Assisi whose own experience of conversion and appreciation of our connection to the environment helped him embrace all God’s creation.
“I ask all Christians,” the pope writes, “to recognize and to live fully this dimension of their conversion. May the power and the light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures and to the world around us. In this way, we will help nurture that sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied” (No. 221).
Sr. Maureen P. Colleary, FSP is a member of RENEW’s Pastoral Services Team and is a Franciscan Sister of Peace.

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“The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, ‘Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He said to them in reply, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They replied, ‘Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.’ But Jesus told them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate’” (Mark 10:2-9).

Some of the Pharisees approached Jesus to “test” both his understanding of and his faithfulness to the Law of Moses. Jesus turned the question back to them, challenging them to look beyond the words of the law and instead to the underlying spirit of the law. Jesus referred to the Book of Genesis to affirm that men and women alike were created in God’s image, and therefore they both have value in God’s eyes.

The foundation of the Law is the love that God has for us: a love that begins from the moment of our creation in the image and likeness of God.

If we believe that we are created in God’s image and likeness, we must also believe in the dignity of each human person. We must be willing to reach out to others, who are just as much the image and likeness of God as we are. We must always do what is within our power to help others.

Jesus promotes an inclusive community of faith. Who are the people in the margins of your community? In what ways can you positively affect them?

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

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“At that time, John said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’ Jesus replied, ‘Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward’” (Mark 9:38-41).

We are presented in this gospel reading with a contrast between “with Jesus” and “against Jesus.” The passage refers to followers of Christ, people doing works in his name, who were not a part of the inner circle. Jesus responded to his disciples’ doubts by speaking with encouragement of what those “outsiders” were doing.

How often do we become indignant when things aren’t being done the way we would do them or would like them done? Jesus’ statement that it is impossible to both do good deeds in his name and speak ill of God demonstrates how the good fruit of our works reflects the source of that goodness—God.

This Sunday’s Gospel reminds us of the importance of our fundamental shared belief in Jesus as the Christ. Jesus’ image of giving and receiving a cup of water in this context is a challenge to ask how we can be more receptive toward other Christians, and how we can be proactive in extending our hand in friendship and sincere dialog to other believers.

In what ways can you be more tolerant of those whose religious beliefs may differ from your own?

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

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“He was teaching his disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’ Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me’” (Mark 9:31-37).

In our busy lives, we can easily become too caught up in our own concerns and goals. We may face the pressure to be the “greatest” in whatever we do. When we fall short of what we hope to accomplish, we can become disheartened.

This week’s Gospel reading begins with Jesus making a foreboding statement about his future that left his disciples confused and speechless. They seemed to have learned from Peter’s outburst described in last week’s Gospel reading and offered no challenge to this terrible announcement.

But just how little they understood Jesus’ real meaning soon becomes obvious as they started arguing about which of them was the greatest. They got caught up in the idea of being a disciple without having a sense of what true discipleship really means.

Jesus knew the disciples had the capacity to refocus their energy and concern on what was really important instead of promoting themselves as the “greatest” above everyone.

Our accomplishments and accolades, as great as they might be, do not exemplify discipleship. Rather, it’s our ability to be of service to others—to receive and attend to the most vulnerable in our society—that makes us good disciples.

This is a fairly simple message but so difficult to put into practice!

By our selfless giving and sharing of our gifts without expectation of anything in return, we are freed from the trappings of prestige and the need to be “the greatest.”

We can trust that God has called us to discipleship, and that means serving even the “littlest” members of our communities, knowing that being of service to others is what really matters.

When have you reached out to the most vulnerable in your community? How did that encounter change you?

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

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“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’ He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it’” (Mark 8:31-35).

The disciples were sincere about wanting to follow Jesus, but they failed to understand both who Jesus was and what the demands of being a disciple were, which ultimately meant a willingness to undergo suffering just as Jesus would.

Peter had no problem proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, but he did not seem to understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was called to be. How could his beloved leader have to suffer and die?

This passage serves as a reminder of how our understanding of God can’t be limited by our own imaginations. Even if we do recognize that we can’t know the mind of God, we often miss the point by trying to make our lives and others’ conform to our own unrealistic expectations. When do this with respect to God by making God too much in our own image, we put human constraints on God’s work in our lives.

Jesus’ command to deny ourselves is a challenge. While things such as money, food, success, or power may be good in and of themselves, they have the potential to overtake us if we let them dictate how we live. They can prevent us from living the freedom that a life in Christ offers.

We can take assurance from Jesus’ words that by letting go of the attachments we have to our own ways we will gain a better understanding of ourselves, others, and how God is calling us to live.

How has your image of God changed over time? What past experiences or images of God do you need to put aside in order to free you to have a better understanding of who God is?

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

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