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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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