Branching-Out

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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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 14, 2020 7:00:41 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 56:1, 6-7)
 
The context for this passage is the return of the Jewish people from exile in Babylon in the sixth century before the birth of Jesus. Isaiah starts off with a call and a promise: “Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.” There were many foreigners who wanted to convert to Judaism. “Them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer…. For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” Isaiah is proclaiming a much more inclusive religion, one that welcomes foreigners.
 
Our Catholic Church in the United States has always welcomed immigrants and foreigners, including our own ancestors. Today, immigrants are still a growing part of our Church and we welcome them.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8)
 
“O God, let all the nations praise you.” Imagine, if that really happened!
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 11:13-15, 29-32)
 
Paul refers to himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles,” and he is saying that both Jews and Gentiles have a history of rejecting Jesus. Yet, from their disobedience has come reconciliation. “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? … For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.”
 
God made a promise to the Jewish people and, even though many of them rejected Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, the promise remains. “Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that , by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. … For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all,”
 
Have you thought very much about God’s mercy? Pope Francis has and has written about mercy because he experienced it many years after he made a decision that harmed some of his fellow Jesuits in Argentina.
 
Whatever you or I may have done, the loving mercy of God is always there for us. We need only ask for it and express genuine sorrow.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 15:21-28)
 
Matthew wrote his Gospel especially for his fellow Jews. So, at first, he has Jesus being reluctant to deal with a Canaanite woman because she was not a Jew. “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” The disciples were annoyed at her. “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” But the woman did not give up. “Lord, help me.” Then, Jesus said something that seemed to be a rejection: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The woman was desperate and not deterred. “‘Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.’ … Jesus said to her in reply, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ … And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.”
 
Matthew clearly sees the mission of Jesus as the savior of Israel and yet, he adds this story that expands the mission of Jesus to all.
 
The lesson for us is perseverance, even when we too are desperate, frustrated, and almost without hope. God hears us but not necessarily on our time.
 
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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Holy Patience

Posted by Sharon Krause on Aug 12, 2020 7:00:08 AM

No one has ever complimented me on having a green thumb. I am not really a plant person, although I do love looking at flowers and plants of many kinds. It was not a surprise that last spring I noticed a small clump of pretty yellow flowers on one side of my front porch. They were impatiens, and the name was not lost on me; I quickly found the wordplay and realized that it would not hurt to continue to try to work on my problem with impatience—especially during these months of limited socializing and freedom to just go out and about.
 
Patience can be a virtue in short supply when we are confined or forced to change our daily way of life. It is hard to be patient, for example, waiting for a Corona vaccine to be tried and tested properly. It can be trying to wear a face mask, to be constantly worrying about contagion and hygiene, to wait farther back on a line of people because of social distancing.
 
A saint who is a powerful example of a person with patience is St. Jane Frances de Chantal whose memorial is celebrated today. Born in France in 1572, she wisely learned to order and manage a feudal household with her husband and their four children. Any parent knows how much patience is needed to raise children.
 
Jane was widowed at a young age, and even though she had to live with her father-in-law and a testy servant, she maintained a faithful way of life and was even known for her great sanctity. With the help of St. Francis de Sales, she founded the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary which accepted older and infirm women. Despite family troubles and her own spiritual challenges, Jane was patiently generous to the poor that repeatedly came to her door. She lived a virtuous and austere life as she tried to guide those she loved. She even forgave the man who had accidentally killed her husband. Personally, I think it would have been difficult living in St. Jane Frances’ shoes.
 
Those clumps of impatience that we all experience, that are hard to overcome, can be gradually weeded out with prayer as we gratefully remember God’s patience with us! St. Paul tells us that “Love is patient” (1 Cor 13:4a); and that we should “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience” (Col 3:12).
 
We can be encouraged to be patient. The psalmist says in Psalm 40:1, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” Proverbs 14:29 says, “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” And Proverbs 15:18 says, “Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife, but those who are slow to anger calm contention.”
 
It seems logical to conclude that when we are patient, we have God waiting with us; we might gain greater understanding, and we can help to establish a certain calmness to a situation. Whether we are impatient with ourselves, others, or a circumstance, we should remind ourselves that God’s timing is not our timing. We are always in control. Patience comes as fruit of the Holy Spirit, so I try to remember to ask the Spirit for help.
 
Thank you for your patience, readers. I end with some encouragement from the Letter of James (1:2-4): “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
 
Resources: Catholic Online; Catholic Encyclopedia.
 
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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One Line at a Time

Posted by Sharon Krause on Aug 11, 2020 7:00:05 AM

Good ol’ tropical storm Isaias paid a nasty visit to my neighborhood and left part of the street on which I reside with no power for almost five days. That may not sound like a lot of time until you are the family without electricity to power an air-conditioner in very hot August weather or even a fan to help keep the air moving.
 
The situation would have been worse for my husband and me had it not been for a neighbor who lives on a street perpendicular to mine. His street did not lose power. He rapped at our door the morning after the transformer on our utility pole blew out with a loud bang and asked if we would like to string an electrical cord from one of his home outlets so that we could at least plug in our refrigerator. After that, for about four days, a bright orange, fifty-foot-long extension cord could be seen stretching from my neighbor’s cellar hatchway to our slightly open kitchen window. That one skinny power line meant cold water, cold milk for cereal in the morning, and all those other convenient foods that taste much better unspoiled!
 
One line—not a whole bunch of lines, just one—made such a difference. I got to thinking about simple things and how they can bring about change. I remember how, when I was in parochial school, my sixth-grade teacher used to have us students recite a simple prayer when we were changing from one subject of study to another:

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Neighborhoods

Posted by Sharon Krause on Aug 11, 2020 4:30:45 AM

Sometimes I think about the different neighborhoods I have lived in over my lifetime. When I was a child, the people that lived in the nearby houses were, for the most part, familiar and friendly with me and each other. The first neighborhood I encountered after I got married was quite different. The houses were farther apart, in a more out-of-town setting; there were no sidewalks and a state road passed by my dwelling. I really did not get to know many neighbors.
 
Then we lived for a few years in a four-family apartment house in a town’s historic district before moving just down the same street to a duplex that we purchased. This neighborhood has lent itself to more interaction and familiarity. Over the many years, children played together. Porch and backyard conversations were not uncommon. We knew a lot about each other’s lives.
 
Now, in a broader sense, I suggest that we each live in a spiritual neighborhood of sorts. We may feel close to various saints in our lives, for example. My middle name is Anne, after St. Anne, our Blessed Mother’s mother. I was made aware of that as a youngster and have prayed for her intercession over the years. She is one of my spiritual neighbors.
 
I chose Mary as my confirmation name, so Jesus’s mother is one of my close companions. I guess many of us have St. Anthony as one of our helpful neighbors whom we have asked to pray and intercede to help us find something we had lost. My family and friends, whose souls I pray for and who pray for mine, are spiritual neighbors as well. I think we all have favorite saints whose help we often seek, and whose virtues we try to make our own. I know many of my relatives and friends who have died pray for me, too, so my neighborhood is happily well-populated. The more the holier!
 
It is not only at Pentecost that I personally recite the sequence prayer (from which I partially quote) and invite the Holy Spirit to come in my spiritual neighborhood:
 

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Creating Community Online—Turn to the Nerds

Posted by Jennifer Bober on Aug 10, 2020 7:00:32 AM

When we talk about creating community online, I have to admit that the tagline to an ad from an internet financial services and information company comes to mind: “Turn to the Nerds.”
 
Now, I have many friends who would proudly declare themselves nerds of one form or another, so I am familiar with the idea of online community. They meet people in online games or in Facebook communities. They talk to their online team as they play a game, or comment about a topic that interests them which leads to a deeper discussion. Friendships form between people who have never met in person.
 
That can seem strange to those who are used to relationships formed in person. However, to those in these communities, these relationships are real and strong, and we can learn from them.
 
During the past several months, I participated in an online faith-sharing group that we hosted here at RENEW. Aside from Sister Terry, president of RENEW, there were two people in the group whom I knew in person. Yet, after our weeks of sharing, I feel connected to the other members of the group.
 
Each week we would log in a bit early and chat beforehand. I learned that one member’s wife and I went to the same college and, in fact, knew several people in common. We discovered common interests, learned about each other’s families, and, most importantly, grew in faith together.
 
The very definition of the word internet is: “a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks.” It is all about connections. Using this medium to help our parishioners form connections with each other and with our Church is a natural progression. While the message of the Church is eternal, the way we communicate that message must evolve as our communication forms evolve.
 
While creating community through online forums may be new to many of us, it is old hat to many and if we take our cue from them, we can continue to strengthen the bonds of community in our parishes, even in this time of social distancing.
 
Jennifer Bober is manager of marketing at RENEW International.

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