Branching-Out

Stop and Think

Posted by Sharon Krause on Sep 28, 2020 7:00:58 AM

When I look out my kitchen window, I can see a stop sign. I have resided in this house for over 40 years, so that sign is nothing new to me, but, for some blogging reason, it has taken on a new significance.
 
In our quest for personal holiness, and in trying to spread the word and love of God, we might think about the stop sign. First, it is the only octagonal traffic sign—eight equal sides with eight junctures in its composition. In Matthew 5:1-11, we read about how we can be blessed and holy when we live by the eight beatitudes Jesus proclaims in his Sermon on the Mount. At each of the junctures or chapters of our lives, we have the Lord there, holding us together with hopefulness.
 
Noticing that the stop sign is red, a color often connoting warning or caution, I am reminded that there are many temptations and deceptions along our path to holiness. Under the influence of familiarity or habit, it is easy to become lax and distracted, especially when unprecedented challenges arise.
 
As a driver comes to a stop sign, he usually slows down. We are not so used to slowing down. High-speed everything contradicts slowing down. It is still true, I believe, as the old adage says, that haste makes waste. I have seen from my window a number of accidents at that nearby corner, because drivers did not slow down or stop. To take time to cherish God in our lives, to nourish a healthy spirituality, we need to slow down and regularly stop to pray and assess our progress.
 
I noticed that the top of the stop sign is straight, and every side, is the same size. We have to try to keep a level head, a balance in our thinking, an even keel in our spiritual endeavors. Because the stop sign is different from most shapes that we see, it stands out.
 
The contrast of white letters against the red background also draws our attention. May we stand out in good ways as we exemplify our Christian virtues. We should take note of the little God-instances in our lives and be happy to share witness stories with friends and co-workers.
 
I noticed that the town recently made my neighborhood stop sign taller. With all the troubles in our world right now, we ourselves have to rise to great heights of generosity, prayerfulness and selflessness. That traffic sign is in position to promote safety and good traffic flow. We can ask the Holy Spirit to help us to safely grow in self-discipline so God’s love may flow through us.
 In the midst of all the closings and reopenings, political speeches and protests and riots, I suggest we stop and think. Let us reflect on what St. Paul says in Ephesians 5:15-20: 

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,
making the most of the time because the days are evil.
So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery;
but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns
and spiritual songs among yourselves,
singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,
giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.

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Prayer: In Word and Deed

Posted by RENEW on Sep 27, 2020 7:00:42 AM
Good and gracious God,
we thank you for creating us with the desire to do good
and to avoid evil.
We ask for forgiveness
for the ways we may have hurt others.
May we be willing to make amends for the pain caused,
for lost opportunities, and for the broken relationships.
And may we help create a family of peace and fellowship
to which you constantly invite us.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 25, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 18:25-28)

“Thus says the Lord: You say, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair.’” Many of the Israelites felt that the Babylonian Exile was not fair. God had not protected them. Ezekiel wanted them to know the truth: “Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is not fair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”

Before, during, and after the Babylonian Exile, numerous prophets tried to warn the people to turn away from their sinfulness and lack of faith. This is one of those numerous warnings. Here, Ezekiel wanted to make sure that the people knew they had another choice, to turn away from wickedness. We have the same choice many times throughout our lives. We always have another choice, another chance, no matter how far off the path we may have wandered.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14)

“Remember your mercies, O Lord.” Pope Francis has spoken and written repeatedly about God’s unbounded mercy for each of us. In the midst of our several societal challenges, have you sought God’s mercy, for yourself and your family but also for our country and our world? We all need God’s merciful healing power.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians

(Chapter 2:1-11)

This passage is one of the most beautiful and powerful passages in the Christian Bible.
 
“Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selflessness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out for his own interests, but also for those of others.
 
“Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
 
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 21:28-32)

Jesus is talking to the “chief priests and elders.” These were the leaders, the supposedly wise and holiest people. He tells them a parable of two sons whose father asks them to go out and work in their vineyard. The first says, “I will not,” but afterwards changed his mind and went. The other son said, “Yes sir,” but didn’t go. Jesus asks: “Which of the two did his father’s will?” The priests and elders answer, “The first.” “Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.’”

The chief priests and elders were among the enemies of Jesus because he threatened their power and prestige. Tax collectors and prostitutes were at the bottom of society and yet, they “got” Jesus. They saw their own sinfulness and turned instead to Jesus. Throughout history, many, if not most of the rich and powerful did not truly “get” Jesus and follow him. Often, the people we might think of as unworthy because of their position in society are those who will enter the kingdom of God first. We should never “look down” on them but rather “look up” with them.

Image:”Two Sons” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube

Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.

Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: every knee shall bend, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, RENEW International, Sunday readings, tax collectors, parable of the two sons, prostitutes

Friendship through Faith

Posted by Samantha Howath on Sep 23, 2020 7:00:55 AM

Even though I have already completed two weeks of remote classes, I still cannot believe I am a junior at Loyola University Maryland. Given my introverted nature, I was nervous about making friends in freshman year. I am grateful to have found a core group of friends early on that have always been there for me.
 
Although we met in different ways, something that connects us is a faith foundation. For instance, I reconnected with a high school classmate and became friends with her and her roommate by attending weekly Mass with themr. Meanwhile, I enjoy supporting my sophomore roommate and other friends who sing in chapel choir.
 
I got to know these friends even more when I joined their Campus Ministry Koinonia group and was welcomed by each member. Koinonia, which means “fellowship” in Greek, is a faith-sharing and reflection program. Since freshman year, we’ve all been involved in Campus Ministry in various forms as student interns, retreat leaders, liturgical ministers, and more.
 
I recently reunited with friends at Loyola after months of being apart. Until I saw them in person once again, I did not realize how much I had missed my friends! After a relaxing weekend with my sophomore roommates in August, I recently spent a week in Sea Isle City with those I planned to live with this semester. While we were at the beach, we had the chance to watch livestream Mass at which our friend was a lector.
 
Between hiking and roasting s’mores and then having September beach days, I feel incredibly blessed for these memories. Although 2020 has not been an ideal year for anyone, my friends remind me to live to the fullest.
 
I have witnessed the power of faith through my parents’ friendships with connections from childhood and Catholic school communities. I have always admired how they all look out for each other in joyful and trying times through prayer, thoughtful gestures, and meaningful conversations. I hope to emulate their compassion and loyalty in my own relationships.
 
What I love most about my friends is their demonstration of Christian values whether it be through engaging with the Baltimore community or reminding me to believe in myself. They allow me to be my authentic self: someone who overdresses for every occasion, lacks cooking skills, and takes endless sunset photos.
 
Even states away, my friends and I take time to reach out and discuss Taylor Swift’s “Folklore,” send good luck texts during finals, or recommend books and televisions shows. I’m so lucky to have found the gift of spirituality in friendship from my Loyola experience.
 
Photo: A view of Alumni Chapel at Loyola University Maryland.
 
Samantha Howath, who has been an intern at RENEW, is an occasional contributor to the RENEW blog.

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Staying on Track

Posted by Sharon Krause on Sep 21, 2020 7:00:02 AM

All aboard! Chug-a-chugga, chug-a-chugga! Woo woo! Let’s climb aboard the spiritual train of thought! This has been a long year of illness and unrest and disruption of routine. It has been so easy to get off track or to lose track of the best use of our time and attention.
 
On the spiritual train of thought, we can feel confident so long as we have God the Father as our conductor in overall control, and Jesus as our engineer who saves us from going in wrong directions. With the Holy Spirit as the fireman who fills us with the flame of God’s love, we can be full of motivation and zeal. It is important to pay attention to the signals of danger: those temptations to laziness, despair, anxiety, and fear.
 
We all have friends, those coach attendants, that can encourage us on our spiritual journey. We should also be coach attendants to others by sharing spiritual insights with which we have been blessed, directing others to helpful books on spirituality, and praying for them. As the popular slogan goes, “We are all in this together!”
 
We can learn to shed our distractions while we are on this train. We can visualize packing them up and putting them on boxcars or baggage cars to be dealt with at a later time. We can proceed to the dining car for some spiritual food for thought. And where do we find such food? We can start with some of the Psalms—for example, Psalm 121.

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Prayer: An Unfailing Love

Posted by RENEW on Sep 20, 2020 7:00:16 AM
Lord God, you are good and
your love surpasses all.
Thank you for your willingness to accept us as we are,
and for surrounding us with your infinite presence.
Help us to be open to your goodness in ourselves and others
so that we may always do what pleases you.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.
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'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 18, 2020 9:13:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah

(Chapter 55:6-9)

“Seek the Lord where he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way. And the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

In this time of massive fires and floods and a virus that has killed more than 200,000 of our brothers and sisters in our country, and nearly million throughout the world, God can seem far away. In this time of so much death and suffering, Isaiah reminds us of the tragedy of the Babylonian Exile when many of those held captive in a foreign land may have thought that God had abandoned them. Isaiah tells them to “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.”

This could be a time when tragedy can divide us and destroy us, but it need not be. We can “turn to the Lord for mercy” and see the good in one another and show respect for the natural world that nurtures us and yet now threatens us. We can “turn to the Lord for mercy” and show mercy for one another.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18)

Does the Lord seem near to you in these times of chaos? The Psalmist says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.” We each need to know our deepest truth and call upon the Lord from that truth. What is your deepest truth?

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians

(Chapter 20c-24, 27a)

Paul was in prison and knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be killed. “Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death. For me life is Christ, and death is gain. …I am caught between the two. I long to depart from this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet, that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.”

Paul had a powerful purpose for living. What is your purpose in life? Has it given you the strength to carry on in hard times and joy in the good times?

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 20:1-16a)

It can be difficult to see what is fair about the situation described in this parable. A landowner goes out at dawn and hires some workers. After agreeing with them about their wages, he sends them to his vineyard. He goes out again at nine o’clock, then again at three, and finally at five o’clock to hire more workers at the same pay. “When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’” Naturally, when the latest laborers are given the same pay as those who have worked hard all day, the early workers protest. The landowner replies, “my friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Are you envious because I am generous?” And Jesus adds, “Thus, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

On one level, this parable is about the enormous generosity and mercy of God. What may seem like an injustice is really unbounded grace. But why did Jesus tell this story in this way if he wanted to simply say how generous his Father was? Some scholars say that he wanted to make sure that the first disciples would not look down on new disciples. All would be treated with the same unconditional love. That is the way God treats us today and forever: no discrimination, no hierarchy, only total love and mercy for all.

Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.

Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, God's mercy, Gospel According to Matthew, RENEW International, Sunday readings, workers in the vineyard

Good to Catch

Posted by Sharon Krause on Sep 17, 2020 7:00:10 AM

Contagion is certainly nothing new. In 19 places in the biblical book of Leviticus, we can read about such things as how to eliminate contagion from clothing and even from walls. Clearly, from ancient times, people have worried about uncleanliness and diseases and how to combat them.
 
Psalm 91 offers assurance and hope of God’s protection:

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Tags and Labels

Posted by Sharon Krause on Sep 14, 2020 7:00:02 AM

Have you ever noticed someone’s shirt tag sticking out at the back of their collar? As long as I know the person, I will probably tell them or help them tuck the label back inside.
 
I got to thinking about those tags and labels that tell us sizes, brand names, composition, and, often, washing and drying instructions. There may even be more than one tag on an article of clothing, and tags might be presented in more than one language.
 
Imagine if each of us had a label or tag or two to offer information about us and our best possible spiritual presentation and care. Maybe the tags would and should always stick out to remind ourselves especially about these vital details.
 
What would our tags say? First and foremost, our designer is God, who made us in his image.
 
We are trying to be 100 percent Christian, but that isn’t always so easy. We try to have a large heart and pray it will not shrink. Verses from Psalm 51 can help:

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Prayer: The Healing Power

Posted by RENEW on Sep 13, 2020 7:00:35 AM
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