Branching-Out

Bill Ayres

Recent Posts

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jan 23, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jonah

(Chapter 3:1-5, 10)

God asks Jonah to go to Nineveh, not a Jewish city but the capital of Assyria, an enemy of Israel, and preach a message of repentance. Repentance is a very powerful word used throughout the Bible. It does not mean changing your mind or being sorry for something. It means having a change of heart, a whole change of direction in your life. We often say we are sorry for something, but repentance involves our whole being focused on something very serious. This was the second time that Jonah had preached this message, so it must have been a difficult and dangerous mission.

Prophets were special people called by God to carry a message to people who had lost their way and were mired in sinfulness. Every age has its prophets, even though they are not necessarily called prophets. Think about people in our own time that you consider as prophets. Who would they be? How can you know that they are true prophets, not false prophets?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9)

The response to these psalm verses is, “Teach me your ways O Lord.” This is a life-long process, learning God’s ways. We need to be open to new insights and callings from God. What we learned in the third grade or even last year needs to grow continually. How are you open to God’s ongoing message as God speaks to you every day in so many ways? Is there some new call that you believe God is sending to you? How should you respond?

Read More

Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic renew progam, God's call, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, repent and believe in the gospel, resurrection in our lives, Ordinary Time, the prophet Jonah, third sunday in ordinary time

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jan 16, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the First Book of Samuel

(Chapter 3:3b-10, 19)

“Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was. The Lord called to Samuel , who answered ‘Here I am, you called me.’ ‘I did not call you,’ Eli said. ‘Go back to sleep.’ So, he went back to sleep.”

This happened again and then again, but eventually Eli understood what was happening, that it was God calling Samuel. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”

Samuel went to sleep again and “the Lord came and revealed his presence.” “Samuel answered, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” Indeed, he was one of the most important leaders in the history of ancient Israel.

Each of us must make decisions in lifesome minor, some life-changing such as choosing a new school and a direction in life or deciding to marry and have children. How do you approach your callings and opportunities? Do you pray? And, most of all, do you listen to the Spirit who lives within you?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10)

“Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” Sometimes, it is certain what your path should be, but often, it is not clear. Is the voice of God coming directly to you in consciousness or dreams? How or through whom does the voice of God come to you? Can you say as Samuel said, “Speak, your servant is listening”?

Read More

Topics: apostle Peter, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic renew progam, First Book of Samuel, God's call, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, Ordinary Time, Apostle Andrew

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: The Baptism of the Lord

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jan 9, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah

(Chapter 55:1-15)

This reading begins, “Thus says the Lord: all who are thirsty, come to the water.” The Middle East was and is a thirsty place, a desert area. We tend to take water for granted today, but for the Jews it was life itself. Isaiah portrays a loving, bountiful God who promises to give plentiful water and food to the people and offers to “renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.”

Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, God seeks out the people even after they have betrayed him and suffered because of their sins. Our God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is never far from us and actively seeks us out. Isn’t that amazing, God pursuing us? Sometimes the Jewish people felt that God had abandoned them. That was never the case and is not now with us. God pursues us in so many ways that we are not even aware of. Do you think that God is pursuing you now in your life? How? What is God calling you to do? The Holy Spirit who lives within you will guide you discern how God is calling you.

Responsorial Psalm from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah

(Chapter 12:2-3,4, 5-6)

“You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.” This is not just any water; it is from the spring of salvation. Throughout history, people have sought a fountain of youth and even risked their lives for it. There is no fountain of youth, but there are the “springs of salvation.” They will renew us if we will drink from this never-ending spring.

Read More

Topics: catholic renew progam, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, receive the Holy Spirit, RENEW International, savior, Sunday readings

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: The Epiphany of the Lord

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jan 2, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 60:1-6)

Most Jewish and Christian scholars believe that the Prophet Isaiah was really three different people writing at three different times. Today’s reading is from the last section of Isaiah, written at the end of the Babylonian Exile. It is a time of great joy: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you…. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”

The Church reads this passage today because in the birth of Jesus all this and more has come. He is the fulfillment of all the prophesies and all the promises from God.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 3:2-3a, 5-6)

Paul writes, “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” The mystery he is referring to is God’s whole plan for salvation in Jesus. However, it is not only for Jews: “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body”

Most of the early Christians were Jews, and many of them thought that Jesus came only for them. He certainly did come to proclaim the reign of God to Israel, but Paul makes it clear that it is for all people. We are all called to be a part of “the same body.” Paul dedicated his ministry to all people but traveled far and wide to reach the Gentiles. Without him, Christianity might have been limited to being a sect of Judaism and most probably would have died out as many other Jewish communities did over the decades and centuries. No, the Church of the apostles that you and I live in and believe in is inclusive, not an exclusive club for the holy. Pope Francis refers to himself as a sinner. We are all sinners, a Church of sinners, forgiven and saved by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to always reach out our arms and our hearts to those who have felt excluded or alienated from our Church.

Read More

Topics: magi, New Year, catholic renew progam, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, savior, Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Sunday readings, birth of our Savior, universal Church

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: The Nativity of the Lord, Christmas Day

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 25, 2020 12:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 52:7-10)

Isaiah talks about someone coming who “brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news.” The Church chooses this reading for Christmas day because we believe that the birth of Jesus fulfills this promise.

We do not live in a peaceful world, and each day brings headlines with bad news, sometimes terrifying news. How can that be? Is that really true, or is bad news merely what sells? Of course, there is plenty of bad news to go around, but there is also so much good news, so many people doing good for their neighbors, for their country, for their world. There are fewer poor and hungry people in the world than in past eras, even though there are still far too many. There are more peaceful countries in the world in this century, even though there is still horrible violence in the Middle East and elsewhere. There is less crime, violence, poverty, unemployment, and hunger in our own country than there was 10 years ago, even though we still have a long way to go to be the just and peaceful people of our hopes and dreams.

The point is that the promise of Jesus does not work like magic. It is a gift of peace and good news offered to each of us that we can accept or reject. On the birthday of our Savior, let us accept this amazing gift on a deeper level than ever before. Let us remember that the power of his love that lives in our hearts is a more powerful force than all the negative forces that exist. We can live in his love despite all the unloving that we experience in our world, all this from a little baby whose birth we celebrate today.

Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6)

“All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.” Many have seen, but not all have believed. Let us pray that today more hearts will be opened to the transforming power of God.

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 1:1-6)

The author writes, “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son.”

Throughout history, God has spoken to his people in many ways: through nature, through various religious traditions, and especially through the Jewish people and their prophets. God continues to speak through all those means today, but the fullness of God’s message and presence is in Jesus.

Read More

Topics: peace, catholic renew progam, Good News, Jesus Christ, Nativity of the Lord, RENEW International, wedding garment, Christmas Day, birth of our Savior

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 18, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the second Book of Samuel
(Chapter 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16)

God made a series of promises to his people throughout the Old Testament that are called covenants. This one is the Davidic covenant because it is with King David and the whole people. God says it will endure forever.

Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29)

This psalm refers to the previous reading about the promise to David. The response that we sing is “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” Saint Augustine said that when we sing our prayers it is like praying twice. That is something to be aware of when we sing hymns or psalms.

A reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 16:25-27)

Paul talks about “the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages.” This is a mystery in the deepest sense of the word, not like a mystery story in which there is an answer, even though it may take a while for the detective to find out “who done it.” No! This mystery is the continual unfolding of God’s love for us in Jesus, and it is this mystery that you and I live every day. Imagine that! The true mystery of life is the unfolding of God’s love for us in and through our brother Jesus Christ. We live in mystery. Although we may not think about it often, it is always there.

Read More

Topics: 4th Sunday of Advent, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, agapé, catholic renew progam, God's love, Gospel according to Luke, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, RENEW International

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Second Sunday of Advent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 4, 2020 8:32:11 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 
(Chapter 40:1-5, 9-11)

Historical records show that the Babylonian Exile, which was a defining event in the relationship between God and Israel, ended around 538 B.C. This reading comes from just before that time and is truly prophetic. It looks to a time when God will make things right for Israel. The prophet sees the exile as a punishment for Israel’s sins, and now “her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated.” God is giving comfort to his people.

God offers comfort to us today even—no, especially—amid the COVID pandemic. Now is the time when we need to pray and remember the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. When we are dealing with addictions, family squabbles, betrayals and conflicts at work, or loss of work, God is there, helping us to deal with our responsibilities in these difficult times and forgiving others for their short tempers and fears.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14)

“Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.”

How do you experience the kindness of God, especially in such troubled times? Perhaps it is reaching out to your neighbors, friends, and relatives that you miss but can’t be with physically, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet or are trapped in depression or constant anxiety. 

A reading from the Letter of Saint Peter

(Chapter 3:8-14)

The author and date of this letter are matters of debate among scholars. The earliest Christians, including Peter and Paul, believed that the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world would occur in their lifetimes. This letter, perhaps written around 85 AD, reminds the faithful that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years” and warns them that “all should come to repentance.” In other words, don’t worry about when the Lord will come again, be prepared all the time.

Read More

Topics: Babylonian Exile, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, First Sunday of Advent, Gospel According to Mark, Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, prepare the way of the Lord, Psalm 85, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Second Letter of St. Peter

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: First Sunday of Advent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Nov 27, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 
(Chapter 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7)

It has finally happened. The Jewish people have been freed from the long Babylonian Exile and can go home to Israel. But the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, and their land has been devastated. Worse! The people themselves are in terrible shape.

“Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry and we are sinful; all of us have become as unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; you have hidden your face from us and delivered us up to our guilt.”

Yet, all is not lost. “You, Lord, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever…. Return for the sake of your servants the tribes of your heritage.” It was the faith of so many of the Israelites that helped them through their painful captivity.

I suppose that many of us feel as though we have been in a kind of captivity, exiles from our former lives for most of this year. Now there is hope that if we follow common sense rules and, as various vaccines appear safe and available, we too will emerge from our exile safe and healthy. Let us not fall victim to the sadness that is all around us, sometimes very close to us, and be strengthened by those near to us and our ever-present community.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19)

“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” Where do you see God’s face? In your loved ones! In those that you have not been able to see but remain in your heart and perhaps on the telephone? In the 54 million hungry people right here in America, 18 million of whom are children? In the hundreds of millions of poor and hungry people in our world, including the many millions of those struggling just to survive? We can’t help them all, but we can reach out to some and keep all in our hearts and prayers.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians

(Chapter 1:3-9)

“Brothers and sisters: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Do you believe that Jesus “will keep you firm to the end”? We do live in shaky times. Have you felt shaken by what is going on in your life or in our world? Have you tried to find time each day to pray to Jesus for that firmness that seems to be hard to come by these days? What have you been especially thankful for this season?

Read More

Topics: Babylonian Exile, Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, First Sunday of Advent, Gospel According to Mark, Jesus Christ, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Psalm 80, Be watchful

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe

Posted by Bill Ayres on Nov 20, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 34: 11-12,15-17)

Here we are at the end of another liturgical year. Next week, Advent begins.

Ancient Israel was a very pastoral country with numerous herds of sheep and many shepherds to protect them from predators and bad weather. David, who became Israel’s greatest king, was a shepherd who took good care of his people. Every king was required to, in a sense, be a good shepherd, but not all did. In this passage, Ezekiel has God saying that he will take care of the people in every way. In one of the truly moving passages in the scriptures, God says he will rescue them, give them land and rest, seek out the strays, and bring them back, bind up the injured, and heal the sick.

That and more is what our God does for us every day. God lives within us and all around us. That is true even when God seems far away, and we may feel unworthy or lost in depression, addiction, loss of a loved one, or some combination of painful situations. As we seek God, God is already there. We need only to be open and not think of God’s love as having magical powers. We ask for something, and there it is. No! What we have with God is never magic but rather mystery in the best and deepest sensethe mystery of unconditional love, a true ongoing relationship beyond our deepest longings.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 23:2-3, 3-4, 5-6)

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” We truly want for nothing, at least not what we truly need, because Jesus, our shepherd, is always there for us. We have only to ask and wait patiently, something that is most difficult for us to do.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians

(Chapter 15:20-26, 28)

A paradox is not the same as a contradiction. Our faith is full of paradoxes that are not contradictions. Saint Paul is talking about the paradox of the Resurrection. Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we share in new life. It is happening now, but the paradox is that it is not yet complete. As we have mentioned several times in these commentaries, Paul and most of the early Christians thought that the completion, the Second Coming of Christ, was coming in their lifetime. That did not happen, and so, over the centuries, we have learned to live in the paradoxthe life of the resurrection has already begun but is not complete. Let us focus on what already is and rejoice in it.

Read More

Topics: end of liturgical year, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus Christ, Psalm 23, renew catholic program, RENEW International, social justice, Matthew 25 Christians, Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, first letter of saint paul to the corinthians

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Nov 13, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Proverbs
(Chapter 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 )

“When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good, and not evil all the days of her life.”

This was written thousands of years ago when women were usually seen as subordinate and undervalued. So, the author calls her a “prize” which we would see as an inappropriate term at best. Yet, he also says that her husband is “entrusting his heart to her.” That is amazing, to entrust your heart to your wife or husband. If you are married, reflect on that most powerful bond that you have with another person, the one to whom you have entrusted your heart. It is not always smooth sailing, but you have found the person who is sharing your lifelong journey. Rejoice!

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 138: 1-2,3, 4-5)

“Blessed are those who fear the Lord.” This is one of the most misunderstood lines in all of the scriptures. Over the centuries, people in power have used this expression, “fear of the Lord,” to bully and control and even enslave people. The Psalmist uses the word to mean reverencing and honoring the Lord. If we do that, it frees us to have a healthy and loving relationship with the Lord.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians

(Chapter 5:1-6)

“For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night…. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.”

Paul wants the Thessalonians to know that the false security that the Roman Empire offers to its neighbors will not save them. It is darkness, but Jesus brings light.

We also need to beware of so many modern kinds of darkness: materialism, greed, disrespect for life, racism, economic injustice, and a false sense of security that can come from our own power, prestige, and possessions. Instead, we need to live in the light of the Holy Spirit who lives within each of us and among us.

Read More

Topics: a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Book of Proverbs, catholic program renew, Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus Christ, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, Psalm 138, parable of the talents, worthy wife, like a thief at night

Subscribe Here!

Recent Posts

Posts by Tag

See all