Branching-Out

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 11, 2020 7:00:53 AM

A reading from the Book of the Sirach
(Chapter 27:30-28:7)
“Forgive your neighbor’s injustices; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? Remember your last days and put enmity aside, remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.”
 
Please read that again and let it sink in.
 
It is so easy to focus on minor injustices done to us, a seeming neglect or inappropriate words. Wonderful relationships can be ruined, families torn apart. Why? Cannot justice and love be restored through patience and forgiveness? These are the same gifts we ask from God for ourselves. Without them, we are at a loss and isolated. With them, we are renewed and enlivened.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12)
 
“The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.” Is that the God you believe in? I hope so. It is the only God that exists.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 14:7-9)
 
“Brothers and sisters: None of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, if we die we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be the Lord of the dead and of the living.”
 
Let’s think about that for a moment. Jesus is with us throughout our lives, every day of our lives and at the time of our deaths—especially then. Have you ever had the opportunity and privilege to be with someone who is dying? It is a sad time, a challenging time, but also a blessed time with Jesus and our loved one. It is a time when gifts are given. We can call forth those gifts for the dying person, and they will come to us as well in faith.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 18:21-35)
 
“Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy seven times.’” Peter would know what Jesus meant. Seven was a powerful number in Jewish culture, and seven times seven would be heard to mean as many as needed.
 
But to make it clear, Jesus tells a parable of a king who forgives a servant who owed the king “a huge amount.” The servant had pleaded with the king: “Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full.” The master was moved with compassion, forgave the loan, and let the man go. However, then the servant found another man “who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt.”
 
Other servants saw what had happened and told their master. “His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
Jesus is using language and an example from his time, not ours, but the point is the same. We must forgive others if we want to ask God for forgiveness. Yes. Sometimes that is very hard, but it is what we are called to do.
 
Is there someone that you need to forgive? Ask the Holy Spirit who lives within you for the strength to forgive on whatever level you are able. Does it mean that you have to be best friends with the person? Sometimes it works out that way, but that is not always possible. What is possible for you? How can you take the first step or help a person you know to take that step toward reconciliation?
 
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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Lost and Found

Posted by Sharon Krause on Sep 9, 2020 7:00:07 AM

It is repulsive to imagine what it was like to be an African man or woman crammed into the hold of a dirty, smelly slave ship en route to being sold in the marketplace to work on a plantation in Cartagena in the 1600s. Hungry, sick, abused, and disrespected—those poor souls must have felt totally lost and defeated.
 
Today we observe the memorial of St. Peter Claver, the apostle of Cartagena in what is now Colombia. He was a dedicated Jesuit priest who spent 33 years of his life as the personification of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy in service to these African slaves. He ministered to their bodies and their souls as he brought them food, medicine, Christian instruction, baptism, and encouragement. He found the courage to work right in the slave ship holds. He tirelessly found the words to preach and encourage abolition of the slave trade.
 
Suggested readings for today’s liturgy include verses 6-11 from Isaiah 58 in which the prophet finds better ways to fast: sharing bread with the hungry, housing the homeless, covering the naked, freeing those who are yoked, refraining from judging and speaking evil.

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Amazement

Posted by Sharon Krause on Sep 7, 2020 7:00:54 AM

In the early days of the COVID pandemic, I watched a newscast in which an emergency-room nurse who was on a brief break burst into singing the familiar hymn, “Amazing Grace.” It struck me that, in the midst of the flurry and fluster, this nurse found her voice in a song that gives hope and respite to all of us. That particular hymn seems to be a universal favorite; it is sung at public funerals and on many religious occasions. It seems to be such a comfort to so many.
 
I got thinking about what makes something amazing. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines amazing as “causing astonishment, great wonder or surprise.” To me, in most cases, amazement requires time on our part to realize what really has happened. If we are too much in a rush, we miss that fullness of amazement; we miss the surprise, the depth, the scope of what has occurred. I like to think that amazement usually has a good connotation, and sometimes even a spiritual dimension.
 
For example, it is amazing that Jesus came to earth to live as a human being and to suffer and die for our salvation. If we meditate on that fact, if we take the time to explore all the implications, if we slow down enough to take in the magnitude of that sacrifice, we can be amazed every single day.
 
I count fourteen passages in Mark’s Gospel that report that people were astonished, astounded, awestruck, or amazed at something Jesus did. I will point out two.
 
There was a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit that Jesus rebuked:
 

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Prayer: To Be Reconcilers

Posted by RENEW on Sep 6, 2020 7:00:22 AM
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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 4, 2020 7:00:43 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 33:7-9)
God calls Ezekiel. “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.” In those days the “watchman” had a most important job. He stood on the top of the wall of the city and looked in all directions to determine if an enemy was approaching and then call out to warn the people. All the prophets were like moral watchmen, warning the people of dangers, not only those from foreign enemies but also from within. Ezekiel had warned the people of the danger from the Babylonians, but they did not listen and now, when this prophesy is being recorded, they are in exile in Babylon. God tells Ezekiel not to give up trying: “But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, he shall die for his guilt but you shall be saved.”
 
Have you ever tried to warn someone about an impending danger only to have your warning fall on deaf ears? You tried to be the “watchman” or the “watchwoman,” but you were not heard. Sometimes, you can try again using different words or a friendlier attitude. If you are still not heard, ask yourself why you missed the mark. Were you wrong in voicing your concern, or did the problem lie with the person who has ears yet cannot hear?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9)
 
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Maybe our problem is not that we have hardened our hearts but that we do not hear God’s voice. Do you hear that voice more during this time of COVID 19, or less? Try to take some time each day, when you pray, to just listen. You may hear nothing, or you may hear the very voice of God. We never know unless we try.
 
A reading from the letter to the Romans
(Chapter 12:1-2)
 
Jesus said that the two great commandments were to love God and to love our neighbors. Paul makes that clear to the Christians in Rome: “Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Then he writes, “Whatever other Commandments there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
 
Imagine if all of us Christians really believed that and practiced it, no matter who our neighbor is, whatever his race, whatever her religion or politics. As Paul concludes this reading, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfilment of the law.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 18:15-20)
 
The last paragraphs of this reading are extraordinary: “Again, amen, I say to you’ if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
 
So, every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is there in our midst. And every time we pray as a family or with friends, or even when we are not praying but celebrating with each other in love, Jesus is there as well.
 
I don’t know about you, but I do not think of that presence often enough; and yet, it does not take much to deepen the experience either during the gathering or even after. Jesus is there.
 
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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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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