Branching-Out

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 13, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah

(Chapter 38:4-6; 8-10)

There is an old saying that “no prophet is honored or accepted in his own time.” That was certainly the case with Jeremiah who lived just before the Babylonian Exile of the Jewish people. Israel was surrounded by Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon—all more powerful kingdoms. Jeremiah tried to warn the people of Israel of their impending doom at the hands of one of these kingdoms, but the powers that ruled in Jerusalem vowed to stop him. “In those days the princes said to the king: ‘Jeremiah ought to be put to death; he is demoralizing the soldiers that are left in the city, and all the people, by speaking such things to them; he is not interested in the welfare of the people, but in their ruin.’” Zedekiah, who was a very weak king gave in to them. “And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern…. There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.” They left him to die a horrible death, but Ebed-melech, a court official, asked the king to release Jeremiah, and the king agreed. Prophets of any age often have to proclaim bad news, and people often are not receptive. Jeremiah suffered throughout his life for speaking the truth as God revealed it to him, and the consequences for Israel were catastrophic.

For many years, climate change prophets have been warning us about the dangers of man-made pollution of our air, water, and land. Global warming has already caused rising sea levels and has compromised our food production and our air quality. In this case, the prophets are not just politicians with elections to win but scientists whose numbers have grown exponentially in the past decades, across the world and throughout the scientific community. How can we listen to their wisdom without panic but with real concern?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 40: 2, 3, 4, 18)

“Lord, come to my aid.” How often have you and I said that prayer in any number of ways? How often has it worked? Wait! Isn’t that the wrong question and the wrong approach? Our prayers are not always answered in our time and in exactly the way we desired. Prayer is not only “saying prayers”; often prayer consists of a deep openness to the Spirit within us which may help us to see the larger and long- term gifts that we are offered.

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews

(Chapter 12: 1-4)

This was a challenging and dangerous time for Jewish converts. They were often thrown out of their synagogues and treated as traitors to their faith. And now, their Roman rulers had two things against them—being Jews and belonging to this new band of strange believers who met to worship their dead leader, Jesus Christ, and partake in his body and blood. That was madness to the Romans, who saw it as threatening to their rule.

The author tells the readers. “Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus the leader and perfecter of faith.” It was a race for the people then to keep one step ahead of their persecutors. Thankfully, we do not live under persecutors, but sometimes our own lack of faith and the distractions of material things and personal crises can slow us down in our own race to follow Jesus Christ.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

Little Prayer Opps

Posted by Sharon Krause on Aug 8, 2022 6:00:00 AM

The other day I watched a local news story about the increase of whale sightings here in New England. A little boy was interviewed and said there were three things he really lovesmusic, video games, and whales. I thought it would have been good if one of his professed loves was God, but I realize that he also may not have thought about the individuals he loves, such as his family members. Still, it was a chance for me to offer a tiny prayer for that little boy, a prayer that he understands that God, our Creator, is responsible for all those blessings, including music, video games, and whales.

I was outside with Buddy, our old cat, and a bunch of young boys whizzed by on their bikes. For no apparent reason, one older fellow yelled out, “Oh my God!” I got thinking about how many times I hear that exclamation or read:”OMG” on the computer. Is that expression a prayer, or is it comparable to “Gee whiz” or “ Wow!” or something as secular as that? Is it an attention-getting outburst or as repeatedly mundane as a habitual “Bless you”? Is the person really calling on God for help, as in a prayer? Well, again, that was a little chance for me to offer a prayer for that young man that God would bless him and protect him on his speedy bicycle travels.

I sometimes get annoying phone calls from people or recordings that don’t speak but just hold open the phone line. I could just hang up, but, since the line is still open, lately I have taken a minute to pray the Lord’s Prayer out loud before I or they hang up. Maybe only God hears me, but I pray.

 

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Topics: everyday prayer, prayer, spontaneous prayer, Sharon Krause

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 6, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Wisdom

(Chapter 18:6-9)

This reading is from the Book of Wisdom, so what is the wisdom offered here? Perhaps it is faithfulness to God’s promises in the face of challenges and persecutions over a long period of time. That was certainly true for the ancient Israelites, and it may be true for many of us at times. It is hard to keep faith with God when a series of bad things happen. There is a temptation to lose hope, but in troubled times faithfulness and trust in God’s promises must endure.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 33: 1, 12, 18-19, 20-22)

“Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.” Do you feel chosen? Do you feel blessed? These are great gifts, given to us every day but often overlooked.

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews

(Chapter 11:1-2, 8-19)

This beautiful reflection on the history of the Jewish people focuses on faith under challenging circumstances, starting with Abraham. His faith must have seemed like foolishness, yet it was the foundation of a great nation, a great people of faith.

We Americans are also a people of faith, faith in a dream of freedom and justice for all people. We have maintained that faith, especially when it has been tested sorely through prejudice, wars, and economic depressions and recessions as well as attempts to limit our rights, freedom and wellbeing.

That same cycle can appear several times in our individual lives: childhood abuse of one kind or another, poverty, divorce or other broken relationships, betrayals, illness, and the death of loved ones. These realities may pop up randomly in our lives without warning. But in the midst of the darkness there is always light that comes from our faith in the ultimate salvation that God has promised us. That faith is the source of life for us, especially in the face of the “little deaths” we may experience during a lifetime.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

Attention to the Details

Posted by Sharon Krause on Aug 1, 2022 6:00:00 AM

The other evening I saw a local news story about a tractor-trailer that collided with a train. There are photos of the badly damaged truck. Maybe it was too early to report all the details of the incident, but I was waiting to hear about the condition of the truck driver. I never did. That was an important detail about the story, but it was not in the report.

We can learn a lot from details. In the gospel reading in the liturgy today, the detail about Jesus having heard about the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, reminds us of the humanity of our Savior. He withdrew by himself, to be alone, probably to grieve, but the crowd of followers wanted his attention. How generous he was to be solicitous of them! His grief and his solitude did not come first.

We read another detailthat Jesus unselfishly reached out to the sick and healed them. He also paid attention to what time of day it was and was concerned about the hunger of the crowd. Jesus multiplied the five loaves and two fish, but we read the detail that he said a blessing first. Does that remind us to give thanks for our food, or do we save grace before meals for special family gatherings?

One more detail that is important is that the disciples picked up the leftovers after the crowd was satisfied. Do we waste food? Do we get careless about leftovers or too busy to plan well? Do we consider donating to our local food pantries or organizations that help to feed impoverished people? It is so easy to read or hear again about Jesus feeding the multitude and miss some of the subtle messages.

In order to notice and get the benefit of details, we have to try to be fully aware of what we hear or read. That is difficult sometimes, because we are often distracted or just too busy. In today’s world, it is hard to be in the moment and our best selves. I doubt we will have five thousand people to worry about at once!

Let us pray:

     Jesus, help us to be aware of the needs of the people we encounter and give

     us generous hearts. Make us aware of the details that suggest opportunities to

     spread your healing compassion. Send Your Holy Spirit to enlighten our busy

     minds so that we can be more like you. May we use our giftedness to exemplify

     grateful servitude and gentle love. We ask all this in your precious name. Amen.

  

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Topics: Scripture, scripture readings, Sharon Krause

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jul 30, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes

(Chapter 1:2; 2:21-23)

This is a reading of uncertain origin. Some biblical scholars believe it was written about 300 years before the birth of Jesus, others say much earlier. “Qoheleth” is not a personal name but rather a title meaning teacher or preacher—a very gloomy and pessimistic one: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity. … For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest.” It’s a stark message that Jesus, with more context, repeats in the gospel passage for today.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17)

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Do you know someone who has been so hurt, so disappointed, so misjudged, so betrayed, that he or she has a hardened heart? Maybe it was a child, a spouse, a friend, or a co-worker, but someone caused that person to harden his or her heart so as not to be hurt again. Could the offer of a kind word or a kind ear from you be the first step in the long healing process?

A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians

(Chapter 3:1-5; 9-11)

Paul wants to contrast this earthly life with the new life of glory with Christ: “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator.”

You and I have “put on the new self,” the self of grace, God’s very Spirit living within us. We have a power in us that is a pure gift, but, of course, it is truly a gift that we did not earn but that was given to us freely by God. We need to believe in the gift, accept the gift, and share the gift with all, especially those in need. It is not that we have the answer or solution to everything but rather that we share our gift-filled presence. We may feel we have nothing to say to someone in sadness, loss, or conflict. It is our loving presence that in itself will share the gift of the Spirit, the gift of healing. It is not magical, and it is not from us but rather from the Spirit living within us.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

Five to Consider

Posted by Sharon Krause on Jul 25, 2022 6:00:00 AM

Did you notice? In five months we will be celebrating the birth of our Savior! Two thousand years ago, Mary, Jesus’ young mother, was experiencing the babe in her womb growing and stirring. She, herself, was showing signs of growth and her appearance was changing. The miracle of the Nativity was approaching.

How about us? Shouldn’t we be showing signs of growth, an increase in holiness, over these next five months? We can find some encouraging words in today’s liturgy reading from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (4:8-10), telling us five things:

  1. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
  2. perplexed, but not driven to despair;
  3. persecuted, but not abandoned;
  4. struck down, but not destroyed;
  5. always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.

It’s always helpful to pursue growth knowing that we can be hopeful having Jesus on our side. One way to grow spiritually is to seek new forms of prayer. I recommend little changes at a time. There are many resources available, especially at RENEW International. The Liturgy of the Hours offers prayers for different times during the day. So many materials are available these days online or in libraries.

Our materialistic society may not encourage self-denial, but we all know our society has many imperfections. Fasting from a favorite food indulgence for a day can be a good idea. What that food would cost could be donated to a food kitchen or other charity. Growth involves change. Sometimes change makes us uncomfortable, but that is not necessarily negative. Little sacrifices are little growth steps.

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Topics: prayer life, Sharon Krause

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jul 23, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Genesis

(Chapter 18:20-32)

Imagine making a deal with God, bargaining with God over the fate of thousands of people. That is the scene here with Abraham asking God to spare the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is like a scene from a Middle Eastern marketplace, except this one has the fate of two cities in the bargain. The authors of Genesis use this story because they know it will resonate with their audience.

“In those days, the Lord said: ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me. I mean to find out.” Standing in the divine Presence, Abraham sees an opening and asks, “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? Far be it from you to do such a thing to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike!’” God then says that he would spare the city for the sake of the innocent people, and the bargaining begins! Abraham keeps on lowering the bar to forty five, then forty, thirty, twenty, and finally ten. God then relents: “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.”

This may seem like a strange story about an all-loving and forgiving God, but remember, this was written at a time when most people believed in pagan gods that were unloving, violent, and untrustworthy. Abraham was the first of a whole new order, a new relationship with a God who was just and always on the side of his people. We Christians come from that tradition, which was fulfilled in the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8)

“O Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.” That’s the refrain, from verse 3; we also read in Psalm 138, “When I called, you answered me.” But there is no timetable. Prayer is not like putting your card in the machine, and out comes money. Even if we know that, we can be disappointed when it seems there is no answer, or at least not the one we want and when we want it. We need, then, to pray for discernment and patience.

A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians

(Chapter 2: 12-14)

“Brothers and sisters: You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” Paul wants all the converts to Christianity to know that in baptism they died with Christ and were raised with him. There was no need for them to be circumcised. “And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all of our transgressions.”

There was a major controversy in the early Church about whether gentiles who wanted to be baptized needed to be circumcised. Paul spoke out many times against this obligation and eventually won the battle, thus opening the Church to thousands and soon millions of new converts.

For Paul, baptism was the first step in finding a new life, a new community, and the presence of the Holy Spirit who comes to all in baptism. That is so important for us to remember—that the very Spirit of God dwells in each of us, even if and when we may have our doubts and major failings.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

Disco

Posted by Sharon Krause on Jul 18, 2022 6:00:00 AM

The word disciple is not tossed around much in daily conversation. I consider myself a disciple of Jesus Christ, but I don’t think much about what that term indicates. Let’s go a little deeper.

According to my grandson, who studies Latin in college, disciple is derived from the Latin disco which has to do with learning, becoming acquainted with, and instruction. It is easy to conclude that disciples are people who have learned about or become acquainted with someone or something. Thankfully, I am aware of the good news of salvation, of the wondrous saving, loving power of Jesus Christ. I have learned about God, our Creator, and the Holy Spirit. I understand what true love is and what priorities I should have. I am working at being a faithful disciple of Christ.

I have also learned that to be a good disciple, another disco word comes into play: disciplinemore specifically self-discipline. It is necessary to apply what I have learned about myself and others in order to learn more about living a life dedicated to following the way of Jesus.

How does that self-discipline work? First of all, decisions have to be made as to what are truthful, worthy goals. With anything that is challenging, perseverance and repetition are necessary. I find that proper rest and sleep are required to keep the mind and body functioning properly. Above all, divine help should be requested through daily prayer, along with the reception of the sacraments. If I want to be a good disciple of Christ, I must stay happily focused on growing in love. I have to open myself to God’s love.

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Topics: discipleship, Sharon Krause

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jul 16, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Genesis

(Chapter 18:1-10a)

“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre. … Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby.” So, God appeared to Abraham, but not as one person but rather as three. It is hard to know who these men were except to say that they represented God or that one of them was God. In any case, Abraham knew that they were special, and so he asked his wife, Sarah, to make them a meal. After they ate, the men asked Abraham where Sarah was. He replied, “There in the tent.” Then, one of the men said something wonderful to a couple who had no children and a woman who was beyond child-bearing age: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.”

This is how it all started. Abraham would be the father not only of children but of a whole nation who would be called the People of God. Throughout the Scriptures, God comes to his people in the context of a meal, and so he does today, at the celebration of the Eucharist.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5)

“He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” Do you consider yourself a just man or just woman—in your family, your business, your community? Great! Beyond that, where do you stand on so many of the justice issues of our day: sexism, racism, economic inequality, the criminal-justice system, immigration, tyrants around the world? It may be that you feel powerless facing these difficult issues but living in a democracy means we need to keep informed so we can act are not passive to injustice and can act when it is within our power.

A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians

In this letter, Paul writes about one of the deepest and most important elements in our lives, mystery not a mystery story that eventually is resolved but the Divine Mystery, the very presence of God in our lives, not in some far-off future but NOW. Paul writes that he is “to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this MYSTERY among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.”

There it is! That is the great mystery, Christ in us. The spirit of Christ lives in us. Amazing, but, of course, like any great gift, we need to accept it. How and when have you experienced the presence of Christ in you and all around you? How have you responded? Please remember that you and I and all of us are living in the mystery of God’s eternal love right now.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

Familiar Words

Posted by Sharon Krause on Jul 11, 2022 6:00:00 AM

Have you noticed how certain words or expressions are used used repeatedly lately? I can think of three right away: uptick, unprecedented, and game-changer. I listen to the news channels a lot, so that might be the reason these terms seem to me to be so popular.

Uptick means a slight increase in somethingfor example, the number of cases of an illness, highway accidents, or instances of crime. The word seems to catch my ear, especially when I think of the hot weather and the increased danger of tick bites. While unrelated to that association, uptick gets the news across in a succinct way. We get the message that the problem is not extremely large but is something to be watched.

Unprecedented is one of those “50-cent” words with 13 letters and attention-getting emphasis. It implies that nothing like what it describes has happened in the past. The unprecedented event is unique. It comes with an implied: “Wow!” from observers.

Game-changer doesn’t refer to sporting events so much as to strategies and breakthroughs that change the way things are done. The word gets our attention because it leads us to look for who is the “winner” in whatever process, or “game,” is involved.

The gospel reading, Luke 10:25-37, for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, which we just heard, contains another term we have heard many times: neighbor. Recently, we have been hearing on the news that Ukrainians have taken refuge in the neighboring country of Poland. We have heard references to the television personality, the late Fred Rogers, who would sing “Won’t you be my neighbor?” to his audience of youngsters.

And, of course, we know of the commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is used by Jesus to expand our definition of neighbor. With modern internet technology, our neighbor can be very far away from us geographically. Thanks to satellites, electronics, and all kinds of wires, we can have neighbors all around the world and communicate with them very quickly. With all these opportunities for connecting to others comes the challenge to share love and the good news of Jesus Christ through words, donations, and kind attention.

Let us pray that we will be more mindful of the unprecedented power we have available through the Holy Spirit to love our many neighbors both near and far. Little by little, day by day, we can provide an uptick of charity that can be a real game-changer!

St. Peter’s words can prompt our prayer:

 

   For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue

   with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance,

   endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.

   If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or

   unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 5-8)

 

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Topics: love your neighbor, good Samaritan, Sharon Krause

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