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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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“And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, ‘He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak’” (Mark 7:35-37).

Imagine yourself in this scene. Filled with expectation, and maybe even some fear, you watch Jesus take this man aside and heal him. Think about the emotions you would feel. Most likely, you would want to share this good news with everyone you encountered, despite Jesus’ order not to do so. Such a miracle would make anyone believe in the power of Jesus, right? Then why would Jesus ask everyone to keep it a secret?

Jesus was teaching the crowd a deeper lesson. By telling them to say nothing, Jesus encouraged them (as well as us) to see beyond outside appearances. He didn’t want people to think he was simply a miracle worker. Rather, Jesus wanted the miracles to be signs of who he truly was. Jesus did not want to draw so much attention to his works that the crowd would not be able to understand his true identity as the one who would undergo suffering and death and then rise again.

Just as the crowd asked for healing, we, too, make requests in prayer for certain things: the health of a relative, the mending of a broken relationship, a job opportunity or promotion. Petitions are an important part of our prayer life, but they are not the only part. If this is the only way we communicate with God, we risk reducing God’s status to simply that of a “miracle worker.”

We are invited to look beyond how our petitions may change our situation to how they can change us, whether or not we receive our hoped-for answer.

This story teaches us that moments of experiencing God’s presence, although powerful and joy-filled, should not be ends in themselves. Rather, these moments possess the power to break open our hearts, allowing us to become vessels of healing for others.

When have you experienced healing in your life, or been a witness to someone else’s healing? How did it impact your understanding of the power of God?

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

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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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“The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever’” (John 6:52-58).

This passage is part of an interesting progression in this chapter of the Gospel according to John. The multitude were fed, the crowd followed Jesus and the disciples, the crowd questioned Jesus about giving them a sign, and then Jesus told them that he was the true bread sent down from heaven. The ones who were fed by him just the day before, and had asked to receive this bread (John 6:34), were now grumbling about what Jesus said.

This could be a familiar pattern in our own spiritual lives. Things may be in a state of relative calm, or we may be growing in our faith and having new experiences. And then a situation develops in which we hear things that present a challenge to us. Sometimes when it’s not something we want to hear, we resist. Maybe we’re being called to a deeper level of faith, trust, or commitment, and we don’t feel capable of or willing to respond. At times like those, our comfort level is being stretched.

This section of John’s Gospel is about the nourishment the Father gives us through Jesus, providing a unique and special way to be connected to Jesus through his body and blood. This is the mystery that has been central to our Catholic tradition for over two thousand years. The Eucharist is the nourishment that we need when we are being stretched beyond our “comfort zone.” The life of Jesus in the Word and in the consecrated bread and wine will keep us centered during those times.

What role does the Eucharist play in your life, especially when you’re experiencing growth that feels uncomfortable?

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

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Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’), challenges all of us to turn the global issues surrounding environmental degradation into a personal call to action. The pope writes:
“Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
Over the past several decades, environmental awareness has increased in our local communities. The most visible public examples of this are the widespread practice of recycling and the ban on smoking in most public places. Both of these entail individual actions, which positively impact the greater community. I believe Pope Francis is calling us to something bigger, however. What can we do to have a positive impact on the environment, call communities to action, directly serve those who are poor, and provide a lasting legacy for generations to follow? I have found part of the answer in the simple task of gardening.
I believe personal and community gardening are direct responses to the sentiment in the pope’s encyclical. Gardens literally use our earth to feed people, and environmentally aware gardeners are able to provide earthly sustainability for future generations.
My family immigrated to the United States from Italy when I was 7 years old. In Italy, my dad, like his father before him, maintained a working family farm that produced and sold olive oil and wine. He also grew a wide variety of fruits and nuts and raised small farm animals. This allowed us to be self-sustaining while selling and sharing our surplus.
After arriving in the United States, we lived in Brooklyn before my family moved to the Westchester suburbs when I was in my early teens. One of my parents’ first priorities at our new home was to establish a garden. This involved us all working hard, tilling and removing “rocky soil,” and our efforts were worthwhile. My parents’ garden not only nourished and sustained our family of seven, but the extra yield was shared with friends and neighbors. Vegetable gardening was not a common practice in our new neighborhood, and I didn’t fully appreciate my parents’ “labor of love” until I became a parent myself. It was at that point that I planted my own first small garden, which has grown more elaborate with each passing year.
Since it was my desire to feed and nourish our children with healthy food, I urged my husband to join me in participating in food co-ops and supporting local organic gardening, community sponsored agriculture, and the health and wellness movement. As our daughters have moved into their adult lives, my personal interest in helping others with respect to health, healing, and wellness led me enroll in a program to become a certified health coach. Since I have done so, my view of ecological issues regarding climate change has taken on a whole new meaning. I have to admit that it can be challenging and disheartening at times to hear the varying opinions of individuals and political advocacy groups that have different agendas with respect to the environment. I find it difficult to decipher who and what is right, and for these reasons, I keep seeking, praying, and aligning myself with the messages of Pope Francis for guidance.
In recent years, our parish, The Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, has become a “green sanctuary,” inspired by Pope Francis’ stance in the encyclical on the environment. Last fall, a gardening ministry was formed to plan and build a parish garden, and I was privileged and blessed to be on the planning committee. I can proudly say that the efforts of a small dedicated group of garden experts, interested individuals, and volunteer “worker bees” have given birth to “The Presentation Parish Garden.” The primary goal of this beautiful garden is to grow fresh produce which is used to feed the hungry through the efforts of our soup kitchen ministry. However, growing vegetables as a community has also provided lessons for the children and the families of our parish concerning the cycle of nature, from “composting to harvesting,” and our part in the whole cycle of life. Perhaps the most important less is the value of true Christian stewardship—our personal and communal responsibility in this miraculous process of God’s creation.
Ida Tropiano is a member of Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
RENEW International is working with the Catholic Climate Covenant and Greenfaith to produce a small-group resource on Pope Francis’ encyclical called Creation at the Crossroads, for parishes, college campuses, and religious communities. For more information, visit

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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
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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