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On August 26, 1978, Albino Luciani was elected Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, choosing the name John Paul I.
 
John_Paul_II was caught off guard by the election of Pope Francis and, like most people, I had to learn who Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was.
 
When he had been in office for only a few weeks, it occurred to me that Pope Francis had a precursor: Albino Luciani—Pope John Paul I, who held the office for only 34 days.
 
When I referred to him in a homily, 37 years after his death, two parishioners asked me if I hadn’t meant John Paul II.
 
One of the sobriquets applied to John Paul I was “il sorriso di Dio”—the smile of God. He exuded earthy warmth, and in that respect he was very much like Francis.
 
John Paul I also paved the way for Francis by simplifying the trappings surrounding the papacy: He did away with the coronation and the triple tiara, opting for an inaugural Mass and a bishop’s miter.
 
John Paul discontinued the use of the royal “we” in his formal addresses, referring to himself as “I,” and he used homely images as examples—a man whose collar was dirty because he hadn’t washed his neck or a porter sleeping on a pile of baggage in a train station.
 
John Paul had many interests in common with Francis, and some of what John Paul said and wrote before and while he was pope could have been the words of Francis.
 
Here’s an example from before John Paul’s election: “The frantic race for creature comforts, the exaggerated, made use of unnecessary things, has compromised the indispensible things: pure air and pure water, inner peace.’’
 
Here’s another from a papal audience: “We are the objects of undying love on the part of God. We know: he has always his eyes open on us, even when it seems to be dark. He is our father; even more he is our mother. He does not want to hurt us, he wants only to do good to us. …”
 
Because of this pattern, I wasn’t surprised that in “The Name of God is Mercy,” a book which consists of a long interview with Pope Francis, he quoted John Paul I four times—twice on the subject of humility and twice on the subject of mercy, favorite topics of Pope Francis.
 
Francis once said in an interview that he could best be described as “Jorge Bergoglio, a sinner.” And he quotes Luciani saying that he believed he had been appointed bishop of Vittorio Veneto, Italy, because God prefers that some things be written not in bronze or marble but in dust, so that, if the writing remained, it would be clear that the merit belonged to God and not to the dust, by which Luciani meant himself.
 
Francis, who proclaimed this Jubilee of Mercy, repeatedly alludes to the inexhaustible patience of God, who never tires of forgiving those who repent.
He quotes John Paul I commenting on the father of the prodigal son as an image of God:
 
“He waits. Always. And it is never too late. That’s what he’s like, that’s how he is … he’s a father … who comes running to us, embraces us, and kisses us tenderly.’’
 
Francis has spoken of the Church as a “field hospital” whose purpose is not to reprimand but to heal.
 
And he quotes Luciani, repeating a metaphor used by St. Francis de Sales: “If you have a little donkey and along the road it falls onto the cobblestones, what should you do? You certainly don’t go there with a stick to beat it, poor little thing. It’s already unfortunate enough. You must take it by the halter and say, ‘Up, let’s take to the road again. … and we will pay more attention next time.’ ”
 
In his eulogy for John Paul I, Carlo Cardinal Confalonieri described the pope as a comet who briefly lit up the Church.
 
But the evidence all these years later is that John Paul’s light was more enduring than that and still illuminates the Church through the ministry of our present Holy Father.
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’’ Then he said to the host who invited him, ‘When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:1, 7-14).
 
Jesus continues his journey toward Jerusalem and shares yet another parable at the heart of which is the idea that assumptions can be risky.
 
The assumption that Jesus disproves is that the “very important people” are indeed the important people. Rather, Jesus suggests those who are considered the lowliest are the important ones and should be honored and invited. Today, celebrities and sports stars often take precedence and receive more praise and adulation than is appropriate. Yet, we often overlook those who are quietly reaching out to others without concern for return.
 
Jesus is telling us to pay attention. Not everyone worth listening to is at the head of the table. Sometimes the road to salvation can be found among those who aren’t at the feast, who can’t afford to indulge in sumptuous banquets. In fact, we may have to invite them personally, because they have never been invited before.
 
– What kind of people would you find hardest to invite to your banquet?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Boldly_GoIn case you haven’t noticed, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise: Innumerable television episodes over the decades, several movies featuring the original TV cast, three more movies in recent years with a new cast, and the latest movie in
cinemas now.
 
All the tales revolve around the central, now-famous theme: “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
 
Why bring all this up? Because the Jubilee Year of Mercy is our opportunity to boldly go forth to “rediscover the deepness of the mercy of the Father,” as Pope Francis
put it.
 
When Francis pushed open the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica to launch the Jubilee Year on December 8, 2015, he followed a rite of pilgrimage dating back centuries. An estimated 10 million faithful are expected to follow his lead and pass through the door during this Year of Mercy.
 
Most heartening, perhaps, is that God welcomes all who pass through the door. He “goes out to meet everyone personally,” Francis said, reminding us of the parable of the father who saw his prodigal son from far off, ran out to meet him, and showered the young man with mercy even before being asked.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Help us move out of our comfort zone during this Holy Year,
Heavenly Father,
and boldly seek your welcoming mercy.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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StJohnGardenSt. Francis is credited with saying, “When you preach, use words only if necessary”—in more general terms, “Actions speak louder than words.’’
 
A year ago Pope Francis gave us his extraordinary letter Laudato Si’—Care of Creation. Three parishes that I know have taken that letter and creatively shared its spirit in extraordinary ways not only in their parishes, but beyond. One specific project they all have in common is that they use God’s gift of gardens to enrich parish life and help others.
 
These parish gardens provide fresh produce to soup kitchens in Rockland County, N.Y.; the South Bronx; and Bergen, and Union counties and East Brunswick, all in New Jersey.
 
The Catholic Community of St. John Neumann, in rural Califon, N.J., has had a parish community garden for 10 years and expanded it this year in response to Laudato Si’. The parish invited those who use the parish food pantry to claim a raised bed in the garden and learn to grow their own food. Not only has this garden filled a practical purpose, but also a more important spiritual one. Parishioners who had left the church have returned, and local Protestant churches have provided volunteer gardeners. A college ministry, youth groups, and passers-by have all gotten involved. “It has become an evangelization opportunity,” says Ann Geronimo, who heads the project.
 

 
In the classic suburban town Upper Saddle River, the Church of the Presentation has nurtured small faith-sharing groups for the past 30 years. Their garden at Presentation was created by the St. Francis Ministry as an educational and social-justice outreach. Garden teams are responsible for various crops and activities; the entire parish is invited to bring compost materials with them to Mass on Sundays and visit the garden. Children attending Bible Vacation Camp planted their own raised bed; in spring, when the plants are sprouting from seed, they are presented at Sunday Mass and blessed. In the fall when the harvest is plentiful, the crops are again presented at Mass.
 
Presentation_GardenThe garden provides for the parish’s own food pantry as well as ones in Newark; Rockland County, N.Y. and the South Bronx. Garden tours, educational classes, and connections and imagery in the Sunday homilies, all reinforce why and how to “Care for Creation.” The parish has also installed five bee hives and has a bee keeper to care for them.
 
In a busy commuter town, Holy Trinity Parish in Westfield, N.J., initiated small faith-sharing groups this past Lent and used Creation at the Crossroads, a RENEW International publication, as the resource. Over one hundred people met in small groups during Lent and reflected on the Scripture and the pope’s letter. As a result, each group came up with a project that was presented on a weekend to the entire parish at hospitality hour in the parish center. The parishioners voted using green stickers.
 
As a result, this October the groups will launch an Environmental Awareness and Action effort. The first priority is to work with Catholic Relief Services and raise awareness and funds for a water project in Ethiopia where water is scarce or non-existent, especially for those who are poor. Each Sunday in October, the groups will focus on involving young parishioners who are in the religious education program and youth ministry. They will install water fountains that allow parishioners to refill reusable water bottles (which the groups will sell as a fund raiser); develop a parish meditation garden; support the food pantry in new ways and have those who volunteer at the food pantry read and reflect on the section of Creation at the Crossroads that deals with food scarcity in the world.
 
When God had created the world, he said to the first human beings, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food” (Gen 1:29-30). God made clear two things—that the food we harvest is for all people and that it provides nourishment. These parishes are cooperating in that work with their own gardens, making sure that even those people without food are fed, because they too are God’s beloved creatures, and that they are nourished by it. Even further, in these parishes both the harvesters and the reapers are enriched spiritually through giving and fellowship.
 
All three of these parishes are connecting faith with action, involving all generations, reaching out to the least among us, educating the next generation, and bringing it all to the Sunday Eucharist where we are given food for our life’s journey.
 
Sister Honora is the Assistant Director and Director of Development at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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“After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last’” (Luke 13:25-30).
 
Luke wrote his Gospel for people of Greek culture who were refined and intelligent. They were attracted to Jesus’ message and wanted to follow him as Christians. They were joining a community whose first members were all Jewish but who recognized in Jesus the fulfillment of the promises made to them in what we now call the Old Testament. The Jewish converts could look back on thousands of years of religious belief and practice: they had long believed in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth; they were familiar with speaking about “the Spirit of God;” their understanding of Jesus as Christ was enriched by all the prophets had said about the Messiah; their celebration of the Passover informed their understanding of the Eucharist.
 
For all the sophistication of their Greek learning, the Gentile converts could very easily have felt like second-class Christians. They were coming from pagan tradition, with its pantheon of gods and goddesses, and were now having to come to terms with monotheism, with one true God as Father and Creator.
 
Luke’s message to the Gentile converts is one of reassurance: do not feel like second-class Christians. Yes, those with a Jewish tradition may have been “the first to hear the word of God,” but “the first” could end up being “the last.”
 
– How does this reading speak to you about ways in which you think of yourself as “first” or others as “last”?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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