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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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earth_on_fireMany people blame religion for bringing strife into the world. They point to the Crusades and the Inquisition as examples.
 
But religion itself is not to blame. The blame falls on those who call themselves Christians, for instance, but fail to live according to Christ’s commandments of love and mercy.
 
This is what G. K. Chesterton meant when he said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
 
Christianity should be thought of as not so much a religion as a spiritual pathway towards union with God. In fact, “The Way” was a name adopted by the earliest Christians.
 
Paul, before his conversion on the road to Damascus, was obsessed with finding “any men or women who belonged to the Way,” so he could haul them away in chains (Acts 9:2).
 
Hear what Catherine of Siena urges: “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” Her words echo Christ’s, as recorded in Luke 12:49: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”
 
Want to help Jesus set the earth ablaze? Simply be who God meant you to be—a Christian who lives by the Gospel every day.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Jesus, Lord of love and mercy,
strengthen us as we follow the path you have set for us.

 
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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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’” (Luke 12:49-53).
 
Luke is preparing his readers for the reality, described metaphorically by Jesus, that as Christians they should expect to encounter indifference, ridicule, and resistance, even from members of their own families. Many of his listeners were journeying toward their initiation at Easter, and Luke wants them to be prepared for the realities of life as a follower of Jesus. There are others, already Christians, who are finding it difficult to live up to the commitment of being followers of Jesus. To both, Luke is saying “You want to be a follower of Jesus? Well, this is the path he took …”
 
Today’s gospel reading faces one of the hard paradoxes of Christian life for the people of Luke’s time. This is a mission of love, yet it is also the kind of love that threatens as well as consoles. Jesus will bring division. Because of him, households will be divided right down the middle. His message and person are so powerful that he will generate love among some but loathing among others.
 
As disciples, we will discover that the more we take this Gospel passage seriously the more we will bring both division and healing. So much of what we believe and are called to live out as Christians causes us to take positions that go against popular political currents, which may make us quite unpopular in some circles.
 
When that happens—and it will happen when we take living our Christian lives seriously—how well we persevere will depend on the strength and maturity of our faith.
 
Even in division, faith offers an immense consolation. Jerusalem is the city not only of the cross but of the resurrection. Today, though, Luke is putting it the other way around: remember—he warns us— that to reach the resurrection, we have to go via the cross.
 
– When have you taken a stand that was unpopular but in line with your beliefs?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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oil_lampJesus spoke often of our need to be vigilant. For example, he told the story of the five foolish virgins who let the oil in their lamps run out before the arrival of the bridegroom and the story of the faithful and prudent steward whom the master left in charge of his servants.
 
“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival,” Jesus promised.
 
But that is only half the story, because God displays his great mercy toward us through his own expectant and loving vigilance in waiting for us to return to him.
 
Pope Francis points out that patient waiting is a quality of God. In his book, The Joy of Discipleship, Pope Francis writes:
 
“God does not forget us; the Father never abandons us. He is a patient Father, always waiting for us! He respects our freedom, but he remains faithful forever. And when we come back to him, he welcomes us like children into his house, for he never ceases, not for one instant, to wait for us with love.”
 
And when we come to God in love and repentance, his heart rejoices. “He is celebrating because he is joy,” Francis says. “God has this joy, when one of us sinners goes to him and asks his forgiveness.”
 
Our prayer today:
 

Jesus,
we pray for perseverance
in faithfully and joyfully awaiting your coming.

 
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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