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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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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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“The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:30-34).

When the apostles returned from their first missionary journey, they had much to report to Jesus. He responded with such care, inviting them to “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). However, when they arrived at the deserted place to rest, they were faced with a crowd. They decided to forgo their rest, and Jesus responded to the people as a shepherd would respond to his lost sheep.

Jesus set two examples in this Gospel: his invitation to come away and rest, and his selfless response to the crowds who had sought them out.

Today’s Gospel finds us in the middle of summer – a good time to pause and catch our breath. Finding the balance between knowing when to attend to our own needs and when to care for others is not easy.

Ministering to God’s people can be both rewarding and exhausting. Whether we are lay or ordained, volunteer or paid, actively participating in the life of the Church requires commitment and energy. To live the Paschal Mystery is to enter into the rhythm of dying and rising in our everyday lives. To live this rhythm in the reality of our lives, it is important that we listen to the voice of the Shepherd to discern when it is time to do the good works and when it is time to rest.

How do you maintain a balance between ministering to others’ needs and taking the necessary time for rest and prayer?

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

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“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.’ So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mark 6:7-13).

The disciples had heard Jesus preach; they had seen him perform miracles. They had also seen him rejected. Now it was their turn to go out and do what they had seen him do.

The mission Jesus gave to his disciples is the same mission given to us every Sunday when we are dismissed (sent forth) from Mass. Jesus received that mission from the Father and set out to fulfill it after his baptism by John. At our sacramental baptism, each of us was anointed “priest, prophet, and king.” By our baptism, we are summoned and given the challenge to be bearers of the Good News and to preach repentance.

We may not be traveling to nearby towns or distant shores in missionary work. Perhaps our own mission area is our family, our workplace, our school, or our neighborhood. We have the opportunity to respond to the summons, to our baptismal call, on a daily basis.

Have you ever had the sense of being “called” by God to do something? How did you respond?

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

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“When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.’ So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:2-6).

Being rejected, questioned, and doubted were not new experiences to Jesus. Since the beginning of his public ministry, he was an open target of the religious leaders of the day. In this gospel reading, those whom Jesus lived and grew up with were the ones who rejected him. Their questions – “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him?” – sounded more like suspicion and cynicism than awe.

Jesus’ human response to the crowd’s rejection is one of amazement. He brought them the good news of salvation, but the people would not hear it. His ability to work the same kind of miracles as he did for Jairus’ daughter was dramatically diminished. However, that did not stop him from doing the work he was called to do.

It is helpful to remember that we are not alone when we face rejection and misunderstanding from the people to whom we are closest. Jesus offers us the very grace he possessed so that we may carry on and be faithful to the work at hand.

Have you ever allowed yourself to be caught up in a “group reaction” to someone? If this were to happen in the future, how can you be prepared to respond in truth and love?

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

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Pope_FrancisWhile I was working as a local reporter, I spent a couple of years covering a city that for decades had hosted big industries—mostly heavy metals and petroleum.
This was in the 1960s, when the nation’s great awakening regarding care of the environment had not yet occurred.
The industries located in this city emitted all sorts of toxic materials into surface and ground water, into the earth, and
into the atmosphere.
Few voices were raised then about examining the nature of these emissions and their effect on ecology, and particularly their effect on human, animal, and vegetable life.
One of those voices belonged to a young lawyer who regularly appeared at public meetings to discuss this issue.
Far from being taken seriously, he was widely regarded as eccentric and naïve.
I was covering a meeting of the city governing body one day when this young man stood up and told the officials that he had recently bought a new car:
“I drove the car home from the showroom and parked it in front of my house and, gentlemen, when I went out the next morning, I could write my name in the filth that had accumulated on the hood.”
The city attorney, who wasn’t supposed to speak unless he was asked a question, muttered loudly enough for everyone to hear: “Gee, it’s nice to be educated,” and the audience laughed.
This vignette represents the state of mind that prevailed in those days when “we”—if I may generalize—did not think about the consequences of what we did in the environment.
The young lawyer eventually was vindicated as government and society began to recognize that practices once were taken for granted were damaging air, water, earth, and the health of human beings and other species of life.
Industries that once had released substances including sulfur, lead, and mercury into the environment were compelled to adopt controls on their smokestacks and effluent outflows and in general use safer means to dispose of waste.
But progress in this field has never caught up with the full dimension of the problem; human activity is still damaging the environment, which is an observable phenomenon, whether or not one wants to blame mankind, wholly or in part, for global warming in particular.
Pope Francis made this point in his encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’), writing that “our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products.’’
This is not still subject to scientific investigation; it’s an observable fact. With respect to the end of the cycle of consumption, it’s an observable fact in American homes and businesses that send as much or more waste to landfills than to recycling centers.
Resistance to this and other messages in the encyclical has tended to be expressed on a macro scale, but damage to the air, earth, and water on which we all depend begins with individual human beings.
In this regard, Pope Francis cited Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the world’s Orthodox Christian community, who has “called attention to the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for ‘inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage,’ we are called to acknowledge ‘our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.’ ”
In the 1950s I worked in my family’s grocery store where we used a very large cardboard barrel, hidden behind a refrigeration unit, to dispose of all sorts of trash including paper, metal, and plastic.
One of my chores, when this barrel was filled to the top, was to drag it around the back of the building and burn everything in it.
Being a kid and naturally attracted to fire, I enjoyed this part of my job, particularly when the occasional aerosol can that had been thrown into the barrel would explode with a sharp bang.
None of us then thought about the smoke and fumes that spread out from that fire; they were out of sight and out of mind.
But I hope that if we were operating that store today we would know better and that we would find a safer, if more complex, means of disposing of that trash.
If we did not, given what we now know about ecology, how could we escape moral culpability for the outcomes of our cynicism and carelessness?
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
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, [Jesus] caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So he went in and said to them, ‘Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.’ And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out. He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise!’ The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat” (Mark 5:38-43).

This is a powerful account of humility and the power of faith over death. Jairus humbly pleaded for Jesus to save his daughter, who was at the point of death, and was propelled from a place of desperation to a place of faith. Jesus ignored the people outside of Jairus’ home, who said, “Your daughter has died, why trouble the teacher any longer? (Mark 5:35). What mattered to Jesus was the faith with which he was approached. He said to Jairus, “Do not be afraid; just have faith” (Mark 5:36).

This Gospel gives a clear picture of how we, individually and as a community, are called to minister. When we minister in Jesus’ name, we minister with compassion and single-minded attentiveness. We are also shown how to approach Jesus – with the needs of our hearts, with humility and sincerity of faith. It is only with humility and faith that we can truly minister with equality, compassion, and clarity.

Jairus’ faith saved his daughter. What impact can your faith have on those around you? How will you extend your compassion to those around you?

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

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Archbishop_Thomas_WenskiWe live in interesting times – this month (June) Pope Francis issues his first social encyclical, Laudato Sii, dealing with ecological questions; and, the US Supreme Court will hand down its decision on same sex marriage. At any rate, both of these happenings will give us Catholics both the opportunity, and, to be sure, the duty to engage the world and witness to our teachings, to our vision of the human person, of our place and our dignity in the world which we recognized as both fallen and redeemed.
This “vision” enshrined in the Church’s moral teachings embraces what we could call both a natural and a human ecology, or what has also been referred to as “integral ecology”.
All that touches on human flourishing involves ethics and morality. “Creation care” or commitment to stewardship of the world’s resources is therefore an ethical choice. It recognizes that the earth, in the words of Pope Benedict, is “not simply our property, which we can exploit according to our interests and desires…It is, instead, a gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order and, in this way, provided the instructions for us to consult.” There is today broad consensus among scientists that climate change presents real threat to human flourishing on this planet. The Church cannot be indifferent. Because we believe in the Creator, the Church “has a responsibility with creation and has to fulfill this responsibility in public”.
Given that today greater numbers of people are more keenly aware of the need to protect the natural environment, these words concerning a natural ecology are generally welcomed. However, it is much more difficult today for people to connect the dots and see that there is a linkage between a natural ecology and a human ecology.
As human beings, we do not “create” ourselves; rather we are created – as the Book of Genesis says, “in the image and likeness of God”. The nature of the human being is to be a man or a woman. This order of creation also must be respected and protected if human beings are to flourish. To accept our creatureliness does not contradict our freedom but it is a precondition for its true exercise.
An integral ecology demands that rain forests be protected – because of what they do potentially and actually for the flourishing of the human species on this earth. Likewise, marriage, understood for millennia as a union of one man and one woman, ought to be respected and protected. Marriage always has been primarily about the raising of children (who seem to be hardwired to be best raised by a father and a mother who are married to each other). It is certainly legitimate then to favor such traditional marriages – in law and custom -as a way of investing in the future of society by providing for the human flourishing of upcoming generations.
Just as we favor laws that limit the danger of pollutants damaging our sensitive ecosystems, should we not be concerned about the “toxic waste” of pornography and its effects on the human ecology of the young?
Today, some hold for a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things but by one’s own individual will. Such thinking has brought about the degradation of our physical environment; and, it now threatens our social environment as well. In the face of increasing relativism and individualism in the wider culture, we have too often forgotten that marriage (and the family built on marriage) reflects the truth of our human nature as social beings. Our human nature – like Mother Nature itself – is a “gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order, and in this way provided the instructions for us to consult…” As Pope Francis said in Manila this past January citing a popular adage, “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives.”
Minimizing our “carbon footprint”, implementing sustainable farming techniques, protecting the O-zone layer, working to reduce waste and pollution are part of “Creation care” – and in attending to these things, we exercise our stewardship over the earth; but at the same time, defending marriage, promoting the family, protecting the young, are also part of the “Creation care” necessary for human flourishing on planet Earth.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski is the Archbishop of Miami.

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Jesus_Calms_Storm“A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, ‘Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?’” (Mark 4:37-40)
Many of us have had the experience of either driving or being a passenger in a vehicle when without warning, the skies open up and we’re in the middle of a downpour or blinding snow squall. The visibility decreases dramatically, road conditions are unstable, and we’re not sure if we should pull off the road. It can be very alarming, not unlike what the disciples experienced in the boat with Jesus.
This story is not only about Jesus’ power over the wind and sea; it is about Jesus’ presence during the storm. Trust is a quality that is built over time and through experience. When we are feeling overwhelmed by upsetting circumstances, it is easy to think God has broken trust with us. When a storm is swirling about us, it is easy to lose our sense of direction and become confused as to what the next step ought to be. The practices of prayer, reading, and quiet time can get lost in the confusion, and when we seemingly lose that connection with God, maintaining trust becomes even harder.
A powerful aspect of the Jewish Passover celebration, which we experience most fully during the Easter Vigil, is the retelling of the stories of God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people. By recalling what God has done for us, we remember God’s unwavering presence in our lives and reinforce the sometimes thin thread of trust when rough seas buffet us. We are reminded that even during the most distressing times, we are never alone. And after the storms have passed, we may find we have the grace to answer this most profound question, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” (Mark 4:41).
Have I ever felt that Jesus was “asleep in the boat” and what did I do?

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

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leading-prayer-in-small-groupsYou are a leader of prayer, and that’s something to ponder and celebrate. This is not everyone’s task or gift, but it is yours. What sets the prayer leader apart? You are welcoming, you are fully present, you project a calm confidence, and you create the atmosphere and set the tone for the gathering.
Can you appreciate the grace and gift that is yours in this opportunity? Can you enjoy the role and responsibility, too? Do you know that none of this is accidental? It’s all about you and God—your unique and special relationship and how this relationship is lived out in the way you lead your faith-
sharing group in prayer.
When you can celebrate who you are and how leading prayer is an expression of the love you and God have for each other and the gifts and talents God has generously given you, you can extend the opportunity for leading prayer to others whose gifts you can nurture.
You will see in others what they see in you—reverence, confidence, competence, attentiveness to the group’s needs, ease of manner, and a well-groomed appearance.
From your vantage point as a leader of prayer, consider the following steps:

  • Let your small group know that you are looking for future prayer leaders because the present leaders may not always be available and because the ministry belongs to all baptized Christians. Encourage volunteers to approach you.
  • Observe the group closely to identify those who are particularly prayerful and reliable. Begin a conversation with this person to determine if he or she is interested in a leader’s role.
  • Spend time explaining the process to your candidates and assure them of your continuing help.
  • Schedule time with your candidates to share your techniques and experiences, to help them get comfortable with the process, and to practice.
  • Use one of your group’s meetings as an opportunity for your candidates to lead or read parts of the session. Let the whole group know what you are doing and why.
  • Invite each candidate to assist you in preparing a group meeting.
  • Allow each candidate to conduct a session while you observe only as a member of the group. Plan the dates with each candidate well in advance.
  • Meet privately with each candidate after he or she has led a session, listen to the candidate’s reaction to the experience and give your own feedback—always being as positive and encouraging as possible.
  • Encourage the candidates to lead more than one session so that they can become more comfortable with the role.

May God’s grace help you to see and nurture in others the gifts he has bestowed on you and, through your encouragement, provide the Church with new leadership.
Based on Leading Prayer in Small Groups, Chapters 2 and 9

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There are common phrases such as “Have a heart,” “Is your heart in it?”, “The heart of the matter is…” When I hear these, I know we are talking “essentials.’’ As we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I consider the Heart of Jesus. I think of qualities and characteristics such as love, peace, respect, dignity, mercy, compassion, forgiveness. This feast, for me, is also an invitation to rededicate myself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and reflect on how these essential qualities are lived through my heart and in my everyday life.

I consider myself truly blessed to know Jesus and want to be like him. It’s a gift that I treasure and enjoy sharing—knowing this world would be an even better place if everyone did. Today is a good day to delight in and share the joy and blessing of our faith in him. He has faith in us!

Anne Scanlan is a member of the RENEW staff, serves on the Pastoral Services Team, and is an exceptional liturgist.

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“Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” —Pope Francis, The Face of Mercy
Year of MercyPope Francis has done it again—he has found an innovative way to touch people’s hearts by calling a special jubilee named the Holy Year of Mercy. It will begin on December 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and close on November 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King. In The Face of Mercy, the pope explains that on December 8 he will open the special holy door of St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the beginning of the jubilee. He is also asking every diocese to identify a similar Door of Mercy at a cathedral or other special church to be opened during the year. In this way, the year of mercy is not only for those who make a pilgrimage to Rome but for all people. Francis hopes that in the symbolic act of opening the door it “will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.”
A door can be a powerful image—when it is wide open it invites and welcomes us to freely enter; if it is slightly ajar we think twice before we carefully peer in and see if it is okay to enter. When the door is closed we knock and sometimes begin to pound on it, hoping someone on the other side will hear us. However, when the door is bolted shut we don’t even bother to knock—we just walk away. Over these last twenty or so years many people have walked away from the Church because they have felt shut out. In some cases they got tired of sneaking in, pushing through, or knocking until their knuckles bled, seeking mercy for themselves or a loved one. The pope writes, “The temptation…to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more.”
The pope reminds us that Jesus is the compassion and mercy of God and that those who have experienced God’s infinite mercy are called to show mercy to others. Each one of us who has been marked by the forgiving and saving love of God is to practice mercy—we are to ask God to transform our hearts into open doors of mercy by which people experience in us consolation, pardon, and hope.
In his letter on mercy Francis reveals his “burning desire” that during the jubilee year we reflect on Jesus’ call to his followers, especially in the Gospel of Matthew, to act on their faith through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Francis exhorts us: “We cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged: whether we have fed the hungry and given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, or spent time with those in prison.”
May we enter the open and merciful heart of our God and experience his unconditional love and forgiveness and, in turn, may we become a door of mercy for others.

For the full text of Pope Francis’ Proclamation of the Holy Year, click here.
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“He said, ‘To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.’ With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it” (Mark 4:30-33).

What a sense of hope this image of the growing seed must have given to those who followed Jesus and those who first read Mark’s Gospel. The first believers suffered tremendously for their faith. To understand that the kingdom of God starts as something no bigger than a mustard seed but grows into something large and sturdy must have been encouraging. This parable gave those early disciples strength, patience, persistence, and hope.

Today, the world is troubled by war and the threat of war, by greed, injustice, and poverty. It is just as urgent for us to hear this Gospel as it was for Mark’s contemporaries. The growth of a seed is slow and imperceptible. All we can do is work to provide the right environment for that seed and trust that if we do our part the seed will grow.

Just as the early Church could not know the effect its faith would have on the world, we cannot know how our faith will contribute to building up the reign of God on earth. Our job is to help God’s reign spread by cultivating the soil of our lives and living the word of God.

What are the ways in which you keep the soil of your life cultivated so that it fosters the word of God? Are there things that you could do differently?

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

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