Branching-Out

Climate of Joy

Posted by RENEW on Aug 31, 2020 7:00:31 AM

I still remember that afternoon. Dressed in her black Ursuline nun’s habit, Mother Mary Edith was on playground duty. It was a very hot day. The white starched collar and scalp covering wrapped around the nun’s face so that only her half-circle face was visible, and on that day, that face was very red from the heat. Some children were gathered around her, chatting, and one of them must have asked her how she felt standing out there in such hot weather. Mother Mary Edith smiled and burst into a little song about joy.
 
That made quite an impression on me at my preteen age; I still remember that smile and that ditty after so many years. She was joyful, even when she had to have been so uncomfortable. Was she happy in such heat? Probably not. She was joyful, and that leads me to some thoughts about joy versus happiness.
 
I compare joy and happiness to climate and weather. Joy is more a state of being, a condition, an atmosphere, while happiness is more fleeting, more on the surface, more subject to change. Joy gives us fullness. The Bible has many verses that mention joy, and they are easy to find. For example, Psalm 126:5-6 tells us:
 

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Prayer: To Be Grounded in God's Love

Posted by RENEW on Aug 30, 2020 7:00:48 AM
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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 28, 2020 7:00:05 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah
(Chapter 20:7-9)
 
Being a prophet of God has never been easy for anyone, but for Jeremiah it was excruciating: “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” Wow! Talk about suffering and unhappiness, and this is only one of Jeremiah’s famous lamentations. Jeremiah had much to be unhappy about. God asked him to deliver a powerful message of repentance to the people in a time of crisis. Jeremiah did, and the people hated him for it and tortured him, imprisoned him, and tried to murder him. No wonder he was so angry with God; and yet, he stayed on message, faithful to his call.
 
Have you ever had an especially difficult call from God? Maybe it did not entail such a dangerous undertaking, but it had a painful effect on you. Perhaps it was the loss of someone you loved, a long illness, another kind of tragedy. Or perhaps it was having to stand up for truth and love in the face of rejection and condemnation. Whatever it was, you need not be alone in your suffering. A willing listener may not heal your pain but may lighten your load.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9)
 
“My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” This is the prayer of a man who lived in the desert and knew what it meant to be thirsty every day. We have only to turn on a faucet to quench our thirst, and we have only to ask God for the water of life, and we will receive.
 
A reading from the letter to the Romans
(Chapter 12:1-2)
 
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may discern what is the will of God.” Rome, in Paul’s time, was a very sophisticated, cosmopolitan city. The Romans had brought clean water through a series of aqueducts as well as the best roads and architecture of the time, but they had also brought many false gods, a violent tyranny, and racist repression of Jews and other minorities. However, since the overall material standard of living was better than it was in most places in the ancient world, Christians could easily fall away from the deeper truth.
 
I think Paul would see a parallel in our society today with all its modern wonders but also with the over-the-top graphic violence, extreme injustice, distortions of sexuality, and worship of the false god of greed. He would ask us again to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 16:21-27)
 
In gospel passage read at last Sunday’s Masses, Peter gets it right. He identifies Jesus as the Son of God, and Jesus calls him a rock upon which Jesus will build his Church. Here, Peter gets it wrong. He can’t believe that Jesus will be killed: “Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. God forbid, Lord! No such thing should ever happen to you.” But Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” So now Peter is not being called a rock, but rather an obstacle, a “stumbling stone.” Why? “Because you are thinking not as God does but as human beings do.” That is certainly a great deal to ask of Peter—to think as God does—but it is necessary if Peter is to lead the Church. Be steadfast, like a rock not a stumbling stone.
 
Have you ever tried to think as God does? Suppose someone treats you unjustly and tries to make it feel as if it is your fault. You’re furious, and rightfully so, but what do you do? Do you focus your righteous anger on the offender and go after him or her? Or do you step back, ask someone you trust for advice, and then move forward, not seeking revenge but rather truth and justice? Suppose someone betrays your trust on a very important matter in such a way that your reputation is at risk? Or think of something that has actually happened to you. Did you respond in God’s way or in your way?
 
Jesus never asked Peter to be perfect. He knew all too well that Peter was an impetuous, imperfect man, but he challenged Peter to think “as God does.” It did not always work for Peter, and it won’t for us either, but we can try, one step at a time, one decision at a time, one move, one word that is more loving, more compassionate than before.
 
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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So Many Shoes

Posted by Sharon Krause on Aug 27, 2020 7:00:08 AM

I have way too many shoes! I am not a collector as Imelda Marcos was, but over the years I have acquired different colored shoes to go with certain outfits, shoes that are so comfortable I just cannot get rid of them, and shoes that are appropriate for certain sports activities. Shoes go with different occupations I have had; I worked in a store for about a year, and I was on my feet the whole work shift, so I had to have foot comfort. If one’s feet hurt, it can be very distracting! Today, shoes also bring to my mind the many varied paths we are called to follow in life.
 
St. Monica of Hippo, whose memorial we celebrate today, probably did not have much time to think about her shoes or how comfortable she was. She lived with a testy mother-in-law and a husband who had a bad temper and licentious habits. Her son, Augustine, grew up acquiring immoral life habits of his own, and adopting a Manichean heresy. However Monica was shod, she walked a life of deep faith, persistent prayer, and fasting. Her efforts were rewarded as her mother-in-law and husband at last became Christians. After following her son to Rome and Milan, she finally got to see Augustine baptized before she died.
 
Without a doubt, a mother’s shoes can be hard to fill. The gospel reading for the optional memorial mass today (Luke 7:11-17) includes the account of the poor widowed mother in Nain coping with the death of her only son. Jesus was filled with compassion and brought the man back to life.
 
So many times, as I saw my daughter growing up, I prayed to the Lord for guidance, and he was always there to help, even if I grew impatient because he did not necessarily agree with my timeline. Have you had that experience?
 
I think of the teachers who may be struggling with the prospect of putting on their classroom shoes as they return to instruct children while the virus pandemic makes outcomes iffy. I encourage prayers for safe outcomes.
 
I think of all the medical professionals’ worn-out shoes as doctors, nurses, and technicians struggle to do the best jobs they can do. I pray for good soles for these good souls!
 
I think about the shoes, usually sandals, mentioned in Bible stories. I would not need any shoes if I were with Moses as God spoke to him in the burning bush (Exodus 3:5) or with Joshua as he spoke to the commander of the army of the Lord in a vision (Joshua 5:15); in both cases all shoes were off as Moses and Joshua stood on holy ground. In Ruth 4:7-8, we read of the practice of giving a sandal to attest to the exchange of property. And, of course, we remember how John the Baptist declared how unworthy he was to even untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal (John 1:27).
 
As the presidential election approaches, the campaigning gets hot and heavy. With the decision of who will wear the shoes of the U.S. president in January getting closer, I hope the contenders will consider St. Paul’s advice to the Ephesians (6:15) as he describes the whole armor of God, including the shoes:

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Add a Little More

Posted by Sharon Krause on Aug 24, 2020 7:00:38 AM

Having attended parochial schools most of my school-age years, I was well acquainted with rules, laws, and commandments. Fear of breaking rules became second nature to me; I always wanted to please everyone. I was very compliant. As I got older, however, I got a bit weary and tended toward minimalism of a sort: I did pretty much what I was supposed to do, but did not add much frosting on the duty-cake of life. I just wanted to stay in good standing with God and others.
 
Fortunately, more self-awareness, a degree of maturity, and some wonderful, inspirational people have helped me to understand a better approach to being a loving follower of Jesus. While I have not attained sainthood yet, I will share a few observations.
 
Let’s start at the top. Matthew quotes Jesus in chapter 5 of his Gospel:

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Prayer: To Grow in Love and Devotion

Posted by RENEW on Aug 23, 2020 7:00:09 AM
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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 21, 2020 7:00:22 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 22:19-23)
 
This is the sad story of two men who, in turn, held a powerful position in the royal house, being master of the palace. “Thus says the Lord to Shebna, master of the palace: ‘I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority.”
 
That seems to be it. God choses a new man who will be faithful and do the right thing. Shebna was a bad, self-absorbed leader, so God chooses Eliakim who will do better. But that is not the end of the story, because Eliakim turns out no better and abuses his power to enhance his relatives.
 
This passage prepares us for the gospel reading in today’s Mass in which Jesus promises the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” to Peter, who will faithfully carry out his responsibilities. Does God ask less of us?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 138:1-2, 2. 3. 6-8)
 
“Lord, your love is eternal: do not forsake the work of your hands.” There is another verse that follows. “When I called, you answered me; you built up strength within me.” This is certainly a time when we need to call out to the Lord. He does not forsake us nor the millions of people who are in far worse conditions than most of us and for whom we pray.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 11:33-36)
 
This is the way Paul ends his Letter to the Romans:
 
“Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgements and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever.”
 
Paul was always aware that all that we have and all that we are is all gift. We do not have a “deal” with God: “You do this for me God, and I will do this for you.” Our very lives and all that we have is a gift. Let us give thanks today and every day. Even on, no—especially on the days when we do not feel especially gifted.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 16:13-20)
 
This reading has a question from Jesus, an answer from Peter, and a calling from Jesus to Peter. Here is the question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples tell Jesus what people are saying: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Good guesses, but no. Finally, “Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ … Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.’”
 
Then comes Peter’s calling from Jesus: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
 
Peter is the one chosen by God, but Peter is far from perfect. At crucial times, he denies Jesus, and after Jesus dies Peter is on the wrong side of one of the first crucial decisions for the early Church, whether non-Jewish converts must be circumcised. Peter said yes, but Paul said no. Peter eventually agreed. He was not perfect, but he was always faithful.
 
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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You Can Say That Again!

Posted by Sharon Krause on Aug 20, 2020 7:00:03 AM

Have you noticed that people, and especially young people, do not make eye contact with others as much as they used to? Many individuals don’t look up from their cell phones or computers even when they are sitting at a table together. I think we miss a lot when we don’t look into others’ eyes. Tapping in words on a keyboard does not really convey connotation, emphasis, or attitude in the same way as facial expressions do. Some of the messages get lost.
 
We all know people who express themselves very well verbally. We may enjoy the way certain priests or deacons, for example, express themselves in homilies. If they look up at the audience instead of just reading words from a page they connect better and impress their message more effectively.
 
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) did not have the options of all our 21st-century computer devices, and it is probably better that he did not. One of the reasons Franciscan Media labels him the “man of the 12th Century” is the fact that Bernard was a very eloquent preacher. He spoke! I think I would have learned a lot from this gifted scholar and theologian. St. Bernard was also a reformer, a counselor, and a great arbitrator. All those talents require the ability to make one’s points out loud while maintaining another’s attention.
 
While we are not all called to be preachers or public speakers, we do have a wonderful, powerful message to share about how much we are loved by God and have the promise of eternal joy with him in heaven. In the Gospels, Jesus teaches us how to be deliverers of this good news. From my experience, witness accounts and personal stories conveyed as someone looks up at the listeners are quite effective and often enjoyable.
 
In the suggested gospel reading for this memorial for St. Bernard (John 17:20-26), Jesus prays for his disciples, for holiness and unity:

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Show the Glow

Posted by Sharon Krause on Aug 17, 2020 7:00:49 AM

My husband surprised me with a gift of an opal pendant. The pretty milky white stone has lots of “fire” in it—meaning there are a lot of color spots in it and it is pleasant to look at it as I turn it this way and that. As I thought about it, I could see some parallels between opals and ourselves.
 
The main body of the pin-fire opal, such as I have, is usually white and shows a myriad of small pinpoint-like colors all through the surface. The flashes of color are due to a special optical effect occurring when a ray of light meets a very thin film of the opal which has a different optical density from that of the light. Precious opal contains a large number of these thin films which are thin layers of submicroscopic spheres. The flashes of color vary as the stone is rotated.
 
Now, how can we compare ourselves to opals? First of all, an opal with lots of fire in it, is attractive, and is very precious. When we have the fire of the Holy Spirit in us, we can attract others by our Christian attitude and behavior. We can draw more people to us and to our Lord.
 
Every opal is different. Each of us is very different—unique and precious in God’s eyes. Each of us has different color spots: different ways of reflecting to those around us the Light that is Jesus. When I turn my opal, I see different colors; when we show our talents and God-given gifts to our brothers and sisters, we find more colorful ways to lovingly serve the Lord.
 
Color, or fire, in opals is caused by the collision with light. Our fire is caused by our collision or meeting with the Holy Spirit who can fill us with zeal and power if we are open. In the Old Testament especially, fire was a symbol of theophany, the presence of God, and it was an instrument of his power. God came to Moses in a burning bush.

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Prayer: Call to Conversion

Posted by RENEW on Aug 16, 2020 7:00:55 AM
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