Branching-Out

Oh, So Blessed

Posted by Sharon Krause on May 31, 2022 6:00:00 AM

With the lingering pandemic, visiting relatives and socializing with friends and family have been limited over the past couple of years. I have not heard of anyone recently staying with a relative for three months as Mary did with her cousin, Elizabeth. I am sure Mary was a very helpful visitor. I can imagine some happy conversations and sincere prayers of gratitude going up to God.

In the gospel reading for today’s Feast of the Visitation, the word “blessed” is found four times. Elizabeth tells Mary that she is blessed and blessed is the baby she is carrying. She tells Mary that she is blessed because Mary believed what the Lord had told her through the angel would come to pass. And then Mary, in her “Magnificat,” says that generations will call her blessed.

How often do we call yourselves blessed? Do we take the time to count our many blessings? Blessed isn’t a word that I hear too frequently. I do hear: “Good luck!” or “I hope things work out for you.” Despite all the evils and dangers in this troubled world, there are so many blessings we do enjoy and often take for granted. When God answers a prayer, do we spend as much time thanking him as we did asking for the blessing? God, the Creator, the Almighty, the Omnipotent, is loving us, even though sometimes we don’t understand his timing or his answers. We are blessed over and over again, in big ways and in small ways!

Did we ever go to visit a friend or relative and casually point out how blessed that person is? It is so easy to find fault and complain. People will eagerly sympathize with you. However, it is better still when we encourage people to offer thanks with us!

Jesus said in the Beatitudes in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) that those who live in certain ways are blessed. What might seem like big challenges in life can result in future blessings! Being meek, being merciful, being righteous can be hard work, but we will be oh, so blessed for our efforts, according to our Savior.

We are especially blessed to have the true Body of Christ available to us at every Mass. we hear the priest remind us of that:

   Behold the Lamb of God,

   behold him who takes away the sins of the world.

   Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.

Without a doubt, we are blessed—with life, with love, with hope. In our daily prayer time, the Letter to the Ephesians 1:3-6 is a good starting point:

    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who had blessed us in

   Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before

   the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he

   destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor

   of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.

 

 

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Topics: Gratitude to God, Sharon Krause, counting our blessings

The Everyday Gospel: The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Posted by Charles Paolino on May 28, 2022 6:15:00 AM


Note: In some dioceses, the celebration of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is transferred from the traditional date, 40 days after Easter, to the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 1:1-11)

This reading describes the episode in which the risen Jesus, who had appeared alive to his apostles on several occasions, finally disappears. The author reports that “he was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight.’’ The apostles, as one might expect, were dumbfounded, having never witnessed or even imagined such a thing. Then, the account goes on, two men in white confronted the apostles and asked, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” The men went on to say that Jesus would return, which is part of our faith. That abrupt question—“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”—didn’t imply that they should go back to their former trades and wait for Jesus to reappear. On the contrary, it implied that they should get busy spreading the word that Jesus had conquered sin and death, was alive, and was inviting all people to encounter him and carry on his work of healing, generosity, and justice. It’s the same invitation he extends to us.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 47)

This is an exuberant psalm that urges those who believe in God, “clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness.” God has given us existence itself, life, the earth and everything in it, and he has given us spirits that will live forever. Do we believe this? No wonder we should clap and shout!

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Topics: RENEW International, The Everyday Gospel: Deacon Charles Paolino, The Ascension

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 28, 2022 6:00:00 AM

Note: In some dioceses, the liturgy for the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated on this Sunday.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 7:55-60)

Here we have two stories, one an end and one a beginning. Stephen, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” a deacon, was a powerful preacher and witness to the Gospel and who infuriated the religious leaders, who stoned him to death. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, Stephen forgave his murderers. He is considered the first Christian martyr, a glorious ending.

Saul is an avid Jew who feels called to persecute what he considers to be a dangerous sect of Judaism, the young Christian community. He obviously was held in esteem by the Sanhedrin, and the witnesses who testified against Stephen “laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul” as they were stoning Stephen. This is a shocking story about the man, known to us as Paul, who was most instrumental in the growth of the early Church. He had a deep fear and hatred for all that Stephen proclaimed. Yet, after his dramatic conversion, he became the most important and courageous apostle who is more responsible than anyone for spreading the message of Christ. That is the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church, the same Spirit that abides in each of us today and in our Church with all its problems and weaknesses.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 97:1-2, 6-7, 9)

“The Lord is king, the most high over all the earth.” The psalmist lived in a time of kings. We do not, but his intention is the same as ours, to honor the power of God in our midst.

A reading from the Book of Revelation

(Chapter 22:12-14, 16-17, 20)

“Come Lord Jesus.” These are the last words of the Book of Revelation and Revelation is the last book of the Bible. Those words were written at a time of persecution and great distress to give hope to a struggling people. “Come Lord Jesus. Come Lord Jesus.” Could these words be part of our prayer when we experience crises, disappointments, and fears for the safety of our loved ones or our own safety and health; when we see pictures and hear stories of the millions of refugees and victims of war and persecution? We may feel helpless in the face of such daunting personal or global tragedy. Let us pray, “Come Lord Jesus.”

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

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

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