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“So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, ‘Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?’ He responded, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.’

He summoned the crowd again and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile’” (Mark 7:5-8, 14-15).

The “tradition of the elders” refers to a set of practices by which Pharisaic teachers meant to help the observant Jew fulfill the law as perfectly as humanly possible. For some, these practices took on the same importance as the law itself, which, in effect, equated these human traditions with the Law that God gave on Mt. Sinai. Jesus’ strong rebuke of the religious leaders served to return the emphasis to God’s Law and refocused the question on inward dispositions and not external practices.

This Gospel challenges us to take a long, hard look at how our actions are connected to what we believe. We attend Sunday Mass, we receive the sacrament of reconciliation regularly, we say the rosary, etc. Sometimes, these practices can become routine. Where are our hearts when we do these things? What is our attitude as we do them? How do we treat our families or neighbors after we pass through the church doors into the outside world?

Jesus reminds us that remembering why we do what we do and to do it with a heart turned toward God are more important than performing all the correct rituals without conviction and intention.

How does this Gospel challenge you?

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

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world_meeting_of_familisAs the time for Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States approaches, excitement is building for Catholics around the country. However, not all of us can travel to Washington, New York, or Philadelphia to join in the events scheduled there. So how do we participate in this historic visit from our own homes and parishes? Here are five ways that you can become a part of Pope Francis’ visit no matter where you are.
 
1. The Francis Effect
One of the reasons this visit is so exciting is the profound effect Pope Francis has had on the Church and the world in the short time since his election. His voice has resonated around the globe, with Catholics and non-Catholics alike, as he calls us to truly live the Gospel. There is a recent documentary, “The Francis Effect,’’ on that very topic. Arrange a viewing of the film as a family or a parish. Engage in a discussion about how to answer the pope’s call as an individual or a group.
 
2. Read All About It!
Many people are wondering what the Pope might say when he addresses Congress and the United Nations. One of the best ways to learn about Pope Francis is to read his writings. If you haven’t already, take time to read The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the New Evangelization, or his encyclical on ecology, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’). Engage children and teenagers in the excitement by creating a trivia game from what you learn about the papacy and Pope Francis.
 
3. Get Social
Share your excitement about the pope’s visit on social media. The Catholic Extension Society has created “Flat Francis,” a simple cutout figure of the Holy Father, and has started the hashtag #FlatFrancis on Twitter and Instagram. You can download and print the image, then take a photo to share on social media. Whether you use it with your family, your parish, or your school, it is a fun way to show your excitement for the upcoming visit.
 
4. A Family Affair
The Holy Father has arranged his visit to coincide with the World Meeting of Families taking place in Philadelphia. There is a special World Meeting of Families Prayer for the success of the event and for family intentions. There is also a hymn written for the event, “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom.” Ask your parish music director to teach the hymn to the congregation and include it in the liturgies leading up to the visit and the meeting. You can also check out resources for the World Meeting of Families from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
 
5. Throw a Party
Host a Welcome Day in your diocese or parish, inviting the wider community to learn more about our Church, sharing the joy of the Gospel with all who are interested. When the days of the visit arrive there will be extensive media coverage. The USCCB will be livestreaming coverage of the events as well. Set up a viewing party for your parish. Listen to Pope Francis’ message together and pray that it will not only be heard but taken to heart by faithful around the world.
 
Jennifer Bober is a RENEW Marketing Associate with both non-profit and publishing experience. In addition to her marketing career, she is a professional liturgical musician.

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Does the thought of spontaneous prayer terrify you? The leader of a small group may at times want or find it necessary to offer a spontaneous prayer, perhaps to open or close the prayer portion of a session or to open or close the meeting itself. A practice that can make this experience go smoothly involves remembering four words that represent familiar elements in prayer. The words are “you,” “who,” “do,” and “through.”
 
You: We begin many of our prayers by addressing and praising God with titles such as “Almighty God,” “Ever-living God,” “Heavenly Father,” “Creator God.” If the prayer is addressed to the second person of the Holy Trinity, we often say such things as “Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
Who: After calling God by name, we acknowledge what God has done for the world and for us. This could include such statements as “who created the world and all that is in it,” “who give us grace through the sacraments,” “who gave your only begotten Son that we might live,” or “who gather us here to build your kingdom on earth.”
 
Do: We ask God to do something for us, for other individuals, for our parish or community, or for the world at large. We might ask God, for example, to “help us to be witnesses to your Gospel wherever we go,” “help us create a parish that is welcoming to strangers,” or “help us to set an example by caring for the world you created.”
 
Through: When we address our prayer to “God” or to “the Father,” we always pray through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.
 
And so, for example, a person who is invited to offer an opening prayer at a meeting of a parish council, might say, “(You) Almighty God, (Who) whose Son draws people to you through the holy Church, (Do) help us to be good stewards of this parish and to serve well those who worship here. Help us to act always in the spirit of your commandment of love.
(Through) We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”
 
From Leading Prayer in Small Groups, published by RENEW International.

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papal_visitA prophetic and popular pope, the first ever from Latin America, will visit Washington, New York, and Philadelphia September 22-27. Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention through his warm gestures, simplicity, humility, message of mercy, and clear preference for those on the peripheries. He will go to the White House, Congress, and the United Nations, and he will make other important stops that highlight his vision for the Church—“a poor Church for the poor.” He will visit the homeless in Washington, immigrant children in a Catholic school in Harlem, and prisoners in Philadelphia. The Church, Francis proclaims, “has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much to those who are secure and comfortable, but to the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked.”
 
The pope’s visit to the United States matters, and it is up to us to make his vision a reality—creating a Church that is more welcoming, more inclusive, and more merciful. The pope’s mission as the spiritual leader of the global Catholic Church is to set the vision and inspire us to fulfill that vision in our own cultural and religious contexts. He has been articulating a vision that is challenging our Church to reimagine itself in the twenty first century:
 

 
 

“Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, ‘Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.’ As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6: 60-69).

Over the past four Sundays, John’s Gospel portrays Jesus saying some difficult things that were not well received. In this Sunday’s Gospel, the disciples’ murmuring drew Jesus’ attention. They were incredulous, even a bit irritated when Jesus spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:60) Their whole way of thinking and believing had been turned upside down.

In response, Jesus asked two very important questions. The first was “Does this shock you?” (John 6:61) Today, we have two thousand years of faith and tradition to help us understand what Jesus said. Accepting Jesus as the bread from heaven may not be as much of a burning issue for us as it was for the first disciples.

The second question, “Do you also want to leave?” (John 6:67), shows Jesus’ vulnerability with the Twelve. He had just explained to them who he was, where he came from, why he had come, and how to remain in relationship with him and the Father. Some left because it was too hard to bear. Peter met Jesus’ vulnerability with his own. Peter knew there was no place else to turn. God had marked them; to turn away was unthinkable.

We too are confronted with these questions in our daily lives. How we address any issue that shakes our faith is strongly influenced by our connection to the Living Bread.

Recall an experience when you felt your faith shaken. How did you make it through that difficult time?

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

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