Branching-Out

Peace of Mind

Posted by Sharon Krause on May 23, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A certain phrase stood out for me in the first reading in the Liturgy of the Word for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. In this reading from the Acts of the Apostles, (15:1-2, 22-29) St. Luke writes that Barsabbas and Silas were sent to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to deliver a letter to reassure the gentiles that by abstaining only from certain foods and by refraining from unlawful marriage, they will be acting rightly.

The apostles felt it was necessary to deliver this message to the Gentiles. Luke records their explanation:

     “Since we have heard that some of our number without any mandate from us

   have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, we have

   with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you

 along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul…” (Acts 15;24-25)

 

So can you guess which phrase stood out for me? The answer is disturbed your peace of mind. In today’s world, there is so much that can disturb one’s peace of mind! Depending upon the broadcast channel you are watching or listening to or the newspapers you read, or even on situations in your personal life, it is easy to have your peace of mind disturbed. How about the rising prices of everything, or the upsurges in the pandemic, or the questions of “fake news,” or climate change, or local crime? The list is long!

 What factors make up peace of mind? I suggest that when you decide upon personal definitions of what is right and wrong, you give yourself a base on which to build peace. It also gives you a confidence and, perhaps, a certain methodical calmness. Of course, research and fact-finding are important, along with faith and trust in your sources of information.

 

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Topics: Sharon Krause, Gifts of the Holy Spirit, peace of mind

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 21, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 15:1-2, 22-29)

One of the first great controversies in the early Church was about whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised. This issue arose in Antioch because, as Luke writes, “Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.’” The apostles and elders in Jerusalem sent this response, which opened the Church to all: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place any burden on you beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.”

The animal restrictions may seem strange to us, but it was an important part of Jewish practice that the apostles kept while eliminating the need for circumcision. This was a major breakthrough that opened the doors to thousands of Gentiles who otherwise might not have become Christians.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8)

“O God, let all the nations praise you.” Of course, not all nations praise God, but we do.

A reading from the Book of Revelation

(Chapter 21:10-14, 22-23)

The writer tells us, “The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” This was written long after the physical city of Jerusalem had been destroyed. “I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light.”

Jerusalem, the heart of Judaism, had been destroyed, but in the vision the new holy city came down from heaven. It was the symbol of the new faith, built on Judaism but fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

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

Three Meditations

Posted by Sharon Krause on May 16, 2022 6:00:00 AM

No. 1

The Gospel according to Luke recounts the birth of Jesus. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to be enrolled.

While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2: 6-7)

 Oh, that I were those swaddling clothes. The purpose of swaddling clothes is to calm the baby and decrease anxiety. The thought of being that close to the baby Son of God, to somehow be a comfort to him, to quiet him and comfort him is quite satisfying. As a human, Jesus had needs. Certainly, the circumstances of his birth were not ideal. If I could wrap around him, be so close to him, be of help to him, I would be joyful. Who can resist the awesome wonder of a newborn baby? I know this baby is the promised Redeemer. I want to be near him. I want to be near Him every day. As the swaddling clothes, in the quiet, I can adore him, listen to his breathing and his little baby whimpers. May I feel that closeness to Jesus today as I shut out unnecessary distractions from the world that can be very cold and disquieting.

 No. 2

The Gospel according to Luke recounts the great consecration at the Last Supper.

 Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you. (Luke 22:19-20)

Oh, that I were the tablecloth at the Last Supper. I would behold the first Blessed Sacrament right there as the apostles looked on. I would smell the aroma of that wine. I would see close-up the soon-to-be-pierced hands of Jesus as he broke the bread and lifted the cup of wine. I would be of ritual service at this blessed table fellowship. Perhaps I would catch some crumbs of the sacred bread as the apostles shared it. I would be clean and pure and ready to serve throughout the Passover celebration, recognizing that this celebration is new and special and will be repeated for all years to come! May I be of willing service to others. May I always appreciate the awesome gift of the Holy Eucharist and spread the news of the gift to others. May I never take this gift for granted.

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Topics: Sharon Krause, three meditations

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 14, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 14:21-27)

Another name for this book could be “The Travels of the Apostle Paul,” because even though other apostles are mentioned in the book, it is mostly about the heroic and enormously important 30-year journey of this amazing man. Paul was a driven man, driven by his new found faith in Jesus, driven by his guilt for having persecuted the early Church, but also energized by the forgiveness he received from the risen Jesus and by his initial belief that Jesus would soon come again and so would the end of the world. Of course, Paul was wrong about that expectation, as were so many early Christians. We don’t know when he became enlightened and changed his belief, but what is clear is that he was faithful to the end in preaching Christ crucified and resurrected.

Here we see Paul and Barnabas at the end of one of Paul’s early journeys. We are told that “they made a considerable number of disciples” and that they “strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.’” That was an understatement. Many of the new disciples would be martyred by the Roman Empire which regarded them as dangerous to imperial authority. That is why it was most important that they leave behind someone to be in charge, and so, “They appointed elders for them in each church.” The new faith spread everywhere Paul traveled.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13)

“I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.” The Jewish people had a series of kings but worshiped God as their true king. We don’t think of God as a king but rather as a loving community of persons, the holy Trinity, in whose image we have been born and live in God’s all-loving presence.

A reading from the Book of Revelation

(Chapter 21:1-5a)

There is a controversy about when the Book of Revelation was written, whether around 70 AD or much later in the 90s. We know from the text that it was written during a time of terrible persecution by the Roman emperors who saw Christians as a major threat to their power. In this reading, John gives the Christians hope, a new vision. “Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. . . . I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. . . . I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.’”

And here is the best news for a persecuted people who were in danger of death and imprisonment every day: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” Imagine hearing that in the midst of terror.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, God's unconditional love for all, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

Restarting Fresh

Posted by Sharon Krause on May 9, 2022 6:00:00 AM

In so many public places nowadays we see bottles of hand sanitizers for public use. The pandemic has caused many of us to be very aware of cleanliness. Whether it is a bank transaction we do, or credit card machines we finger-tap, or groceries we touch, sanitizers offer chances to immediately clean off any contaminants and start fresh. Small chances to start over, to refresh, to be clean again are good, whether it be on a physical level or even a spiritual level.

With regard to the spiritual life, for example, we read in the Letter of James,

   Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners,

   and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (4:8)

At the beginning of Mass, after the greeting, the first prayer we say is a prayer of penance. We consider our past sins and ask forgiveness, so we start our Mass with a sort of conscience sanitizing. In fact, even before that, as we entered the church, we might have dipped our fingers into the holy water font and blessed ourselves so as to start fresh. We end the Mass with a new start as the celebrant gives us the final blessing.

Think about it. Would it be helpful to frequently review our interactions with others and try to “clean up” our possible sarcasm or uncharitable remarks or our not-so-loving afterthoughts? It is not that we are so terrible, but with the speed of modern technology and ease of communication, it is easy to come up with fast responses that are not always so loving. Perhaps we should sanitize a little more often and freshen up with kindness and understanding.

   Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,

   O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

 

 

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Topics: penance, resurrection, Sharon Krause, starting fresh

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 7, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 13:14, 43-52)

What we read in the Acts of the Apostles implies that Paul and Barnabas were inspired speakers who had a powerful effect on their listeners. They started out preaching mainly to Jewish people and converts to Judaism, but at this point their message is being received more positively by the Gentiles. It must have been hard for Paul who, in his previous life as Saul, was a rabid persecutor of the new Christian community. Up to this point, most of the followers of Jesus were Jews. From now on, Paul will truly be the Apostle to the Gentiles. It is because of him more than any of the other apostles that Christianity spread all over the Mediterranean world and beyond. Without him, it may have only been one more sect within Judaism. From what we know of Paul, he could be difficult at times but always courageous and persevering in his mission.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 100:1-2, 3, 5)

“We are his people, the sheep of his flock.” What does it mean for you to be a part of God’s people? How does that change you?

A reading from the Book of Revelation

(Chapter 7:9, 14b-17)

This book was written long after the death and resurrection of Jesus—around 95 AD. By this time, there were many thousands of believers, but they were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. It is hard for us, centuries later, to imagine how hard it was for people to be practicing Christians. By then, the Romans saw them as a major threat to the empire’s power and did everything they could to wipe Christians out. Some emperors were worse than others, but persecution was the order of the day. The author of the Book of Revelation wants to assure his readers and listeners that God is with them. Their suffering will end, and they will be rewarded.

We do not face anything like the vicious all powerful and pervasive force that was ancient Rome, although Christians in other parts of the world are subject to violent persecution even today. We do all suffer in many ways at numerous times in our lives. When you are in your deepest and most prolonged suffering, do you still believe in the healing, saving power of God’s unconditional love? Are you able to go back in time to other occasions of deep suffering and remember how you made it through? Remembering those past experiences can help you be conscious of, and rely on, the supportive Spirit within you.

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Topics: epiphany, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Holy Trinity, RENEW International, The Good Shepherd

Thinking Farther

Posted by Sharon Krause on May 2, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A few nights ago, my husband and I were asleep in bed when, all of a sudden, I was awakened by a chirping sound. Every 30 seconds or so, I heard a chirp in the dark hallway. Ah! The smoke detector battery was dying, and it wasn’t going to go quietly. My husband’s hearing is poor, so I woke him and asked him to take the detector down from the ceiling and relieve its distress. Neither of us was happy about the untimely chore. Everything ended well, but I was a bit annoyed about being awakened. As I lay there trying to get back to sleep, I thought a little more about the trivial incident. It really is a good thing that the detector alerts us when the safety device cannot perform its function. Safety first, sleep later!

On that same night, Buddy, our elderly cat, decided not only to jump up into bed with us, but to jump again, onto our headboard whose upper edge is only about two inches wide. Have you ever watched a cat as he estimates distance before trying a jump to a certain height? Well, Buddy was considering the third phase of his caper, likely to the cluttered top of our chest of drawers, when I grabbed him and gently changed his mind. He was thinking farther ahead, but so was I! I could imagine the clock, the lamp, and a great number of pocket treasures sent flying if our “Feline Wallenda” had his way! In that case, I had to think farther and fast in that room lit only by the minimal glow streaming through the windows from the outside streetlight.

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Topics: evangelization, resurrection, spreading good news, Sharon Krause

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Third Sunday of Easter

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

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 5:27-32, 40b-41)

Many commentators on the scriptures call the Acts of the Apostles the Acts of the Spirit and for good reason. The power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the early Church is chronicled throughout this book. The author wants it to be very clear that Jesus gave his Spirit to the disciples and that all that they do is through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know what your experience of the Holy Spirit was in Catholic school or religious education classes, but I went to Catholic grammar school, high school, and college, and I knew almost nothing about the Holy Spirit. I certainly had no clue about the important role the Spirit played in the early Church, nor did I know that the very presence of the Spirit was in me and all my classmates. The Holy Spirit was truly the forgotten member of the Blessed Trinity.

If you had a similar experience, then let’s face it—we all were deprived of a most important truth of our faith. That was not the intention of Jesus, as we read here of “the Holy Spirit whom God has given.” Let us rejoice this Easter season and in all seasons in the presence of our life partner, the Holy Spirit. The Apostles and the other disciples were never alone in their challenges, suffering, and even death. Neither are we.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13)

“I will praise you Lord, for you have rescued me.” How often and in how many ways has God rescued you? Think about it, and you will most likely come up with a rather long list.

A reading from the Book of Revelation

(Chapter 5:11-14)

Do you find the readings we hear during this time of Easter to be weird, over the top, incomprehensible? You are not alone. This is apocalyptic writing meant to give people courage in the midst of persecution and immanent disaster through symbols and stories that were not comprehensible to outsiders but were hope-filled for the early Christians. The basic message throughout is, hold on, have faith despite your persecution and trials. God is greater than all this, and you will be rewarded.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, faith in Jesus, RENEW International, the miraculous catch of fish, Jesus loves us

The Love Continues

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

In Chapter I of the Acts of the Apostles, we learn that Jesus stayed among his followers for 40 days after his resurrection. After all his suffering, wouldn’t we expect Jesus to choose to go straight to heaven to be with his Father? Jesus continues to love us.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we read that the risen Jesus told Mary Magdalene and her companions not to be afraid but to go tell his brothers that they would see him in Galilee. (Matthew 28:10) And when Jesus saw his disciples, he assured them that he would be with them always and commissioned them to make disciples in every nation, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all his teachings. (Matthew 28:18-20) Jesus did not want them to be fearful or feel alone. He loved them.

In the episode described in the passage from Mark’s Gospel read at Mass today, Jesus told his followers to go in to “the whole world” to proclaim the Gospel and, in his name, drive out demons, heal the sick, and speak in new tonguesall of this in spite of whatever dangers that might challenge them. (Mark 16:15-20) Disciples have Jesus’ promises of signs, miracles, and safety because they have Jesus’ love.

In the famous passage in Luke’s Gospel, we read about Jesus explaining Scripture to two disciples as they walked to Emmaus. He wanted them to open their hearts and understand. He loved them. (Luke 24:13-35) We read a few verses later that he also helped the eleven remaining apostles to understand the scriptures after telling them all to be at peace. (Luke 24:36-49) Again, Jesus commissioned his disciples to witness to the good news of salvation. He told them he was sending what the Father has promisedthe Holy Spirit. Understanding. Hope. The promise of help. What love!

 

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Topics: Christ's love, resurrection, road to Emmaus, Sharon Krause

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

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

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 5:12-16)

We know from many stories in the gospels that Jesus was a healer. Here we read that he passed on that power to the apostles: “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. . . . A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.”

Today, healing is still happening through the Holy Spirit, sometimes physical healing and more often spiritual and emotional healing. We pray for the healing of relationships, the healing of hurts we may have suffered or brought upon others. Sometimes, we may pray for a physical healing for ourselves or a loved one, and it seems that nothing happens, and yet something very deep is happening on a spiritual or emotional level that we may have missed. A loved one may have died despite our prayers, but that person was healed on a deeper level during the time of death and family and friends have taken part in that healing. Or perhaps we have suffered a disappointment, an injustice, or even a betrayal that does not seem to have a resolution, but other doors are opened, other people have brought us healing. A light still shines in the deep darkness.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24)

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.” God’s love cannot be measured by whether God “answers one or more of our prayers” but rather by God’s deep presence in us and around us.

A reading from the Book of Revelation

(Chapter 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19)

This book was written many years after the death of Jesus to give hope and support to Christians who were being persecuted throughout Israel and beyond. The author has a powerful experience of Jesus:

“When I caught sight of him, I fell down at his feet as though dead. He touched me with his right hand and said, ‘Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and to the netherworld.’”

Imagine how you would have heard these words two thousand years ago as you were suffering rejection and persecution every day. This message could have given you insight into who Jesus was beyond just a man who had walked the earth many years before, and it would have brought hope amid persecution and even death. We are thankful that you and I are not in that kind of danger, but we have our own challenges living in a society whose values and beliefs are different from ours in a number of important ways. So, it is good to hear the words of Jesus: “Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.”

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Topics: doubting Thomas, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, faith in Jesus, RENEW International

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