Branching Out Blog

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 18, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the second Book of Samuel
(Chapter 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16)

God made a series of promises to his people throughout the Old Testament that are called covenants. This one is the Davidic covenant because it is with King David and the whole people. God says it will endure forever.

Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29)

This psalm refers to the previous reading about the promise to David. The response that we sing is “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” Saint Augustine said that when we sing our prayers it is like praying twice. That is something to be aware of when we sing hymns or psalms.

A reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 16:25-27)

Paul talks about “the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages.” This is a mystery in the deepest sense of the word, not like a mystery story in which there is an answer, even though it may take a while for the detective to find out “who done it.” No! This mystery is the continual unfolding of God’s love for us in Jesus, and it is this mystery that you and I live every day. Imagine that! The true mystery of life is the unfolding of God’s love for us in and through our brother Jesus Christ. We live in mystery. Although we may not think about it often, it is always there.

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Topics: 4th Sunday of Advent, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, agapé, catholic renew progam, God's love, Gospel according to Luke, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, RENEW International

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Third Sunday of Advent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 11, 2020 2:41:55 PM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11

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Topics: 3rd Sunday of Advent, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic renew progam, RENEW International, Magnificat, Gospel of John

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Second Sunday of Advent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 4, 2020 8:32:11 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 
(Chapter 40:1-5, 9-11)

Historical records show that the Babylonian Exile, which was a defining event in the relationship between God and Israel, ended around 538 B.C. This reading comes from just before that time and is truly prophetic. It looks to a time when God will make things right for Israel. The prophet sees the exile as a punishment for Israel’s sins, and now “her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated.” God is giving comfort to his people.

God offers comfort to us today even—no, especially—amid the COVID pandemic. Now is the time when we need to pray and remember the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. When we are dealing with addictions, family squabbles, betrayals and conflicts at work, or loss of work, God is there, helping us to deal with our responsibilities in these difficult times and forgiving others for their short tempers and fears.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14)

“Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.”

How do you experience the kindness of God, especially in such troubled times? Perhaps it is reaching out to your neighbors, friends, and relatives that you miss but can’t be with physically, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet or are trapped in depression or constant anxiety. 

A reading from the Letter of Saint Peter

(Chapter 3:8-14)

The author and date of this letter are matters of debate among scholars. The earliest Christians, including Peter and Paul, believed that the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world would occur in their lifetimes. This letter, perhaps written around 85 AD, reminds the faithful that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years” and warns them that “all should come to repentance.” In other words, don’t worry about when the Lord will come again, be prepared all the time.

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Topics: Babylonian Exile, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, First Sunday of Advent, Gospel According to Mark, Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, prepare the way of the Lord, Psalm 85, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Second Letter of St. Peter

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: First Sunday of Advent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Nov 27, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 
(Chapter 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7)

It has finally happened. The Jewish people have been freed from the long Babylonian Exile and can go home to Israel. But the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, and their land has been devastated. Worse! The people themselves are in terrible shape.

“Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry and we are sinful; all of us have become as unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; you have hidden your face from us and delivered us up to our guilt.”

Yet, all is not lost. “You, Lord, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever…. Return for the sake of your servants the tribes of your heritage.” It was the faith of so many of the Israelites that helped them through their painful captivity.

I suppose that many of us feel as though we have been in a kind of captivity, exiles from our former lives for most of this year. Now there is hope that if we follow common sense rules and, as various vaccines appear safe and available, we too will emerge from our exile safe and healthy. Let us not fall victim to the sadness that is all around us, sometimes very close to us, and be strengthened by those near to us and our ever-present community.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19)

“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” Where do you see God’s face? In your loved ones! In those that you have not been able to see but remain in your heart and perhaps on the telephone? In the 54 million hungry people right here in America, 18 million of whom are children? In the hundreds of millions of poor and hungry people in our world, including the many millions of those struggling just to survive? We can’t help them all, but we can reach out to some and keep all in our hearts and prayers.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians

(Chapter 1:3-9)

“Brothers and sisters: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Do you believe that Jesus “will keep you firm to the end”? We do live in shaky times. Have you felt shaken by what is going on in your life or in our world? Have you tried to find time each day to pray to Jesus for that firmness that seems to be hard to come by these days? What have you been especially thankful for this season?

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Topics: Babylonian Exile, Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, First Sunday of Advent, Gospel According to Mark, Jesus Christ, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Psalm 80, Be watchful

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe

Posted by Bill Ayres on Nov 20, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 34: 11-12,15-17)

Here we are at the end of another liturgical year. Next week, Advent begins.

Ancient Israel was a very pastoral country with numerous herds of sheep and many shepherds to protect them from predators and bad weather. David, who became Israel’s greatest king, was a shepherd who took good care of his people. Every king was required to, in a sense, be a good shepherd, but not all did. In this passage, Ezekiel has God saying that he will take care of the people in every way. In one of the truly moving passages in the scriptures, God says he will rescue them, give them land and rest, seek out the strays, and bring them back, bind up the injured, and heal the sick.

That and more is what our God does for us every day. God lives within us and all around us. That is true even when God seems far away, and we may feel unworthy or lost in depression, addiction, loss of a loved one, or some combination of painful situations. As we seek God, God is already there. We need only to be open and not think of God’s love as having magical powers. We ask for something, and there it is. No! What we have with God is never magic but rather mystery in the best and deepest sensethe mystery of unconditional love, a true ongoing relationship beyond our deepest longings.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 23:2-3, 3-4, 5-6)

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” We truly want for nothing, at least not what we truly need, because Jesus, our shepherd, is always there for us. We have only to ask and wait patiently, something that is most difficult for us to do.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians

(Chapter 15:20-26, 28)

A paradox is not the same as a contradiction. Our faith is full of paradoxes that are not contradictions. Saint Paul is talking about the paradox of the Resurrection. Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we share in new life. It is happening now, but the paradox is that it is not yet complete. As we have mentioned several times in these commentaries, Paul and most of the early Christians thought that the completion, the Second Coming of Christ, was coming in their lifetime. That did not happen, and so, over the centuries, we have learned to live in the paradoxthe life of the resurrection has already begun but is not complete. Let us focus on what already is and rejoice in it.

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Topics: end of liturgical year, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus Christ, Psalm 23, renew catholic program, RENEW International, social justice, Matthew 25 Christians, Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, first letter of saint paul to the corinthians

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Nov 13, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Proverbs
(Chapter 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 )

“When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good, and not evil all the days of her life.”

This was written thousands of years ago when women were usually seen as subordinate and undervalued. So, the author calls her a “prize” which we would see as an inappropriate term at best. Yet, he also says that her husband is “entrusting his heart to her.” That is amazing, to entrust your heart to your wife or husband. If you are married, reflect on that most powerful bond that you have with another person, the one to whom you have entrusted your heart. It is not always smooth sailing, but you have found the person who is sharing your lifelong journey. Rejoice!

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 138: 1-2,3, 4-5)

“Blessed are those who fear the Lord.” This is one of the most misunderstood lines in all of the scriptures. Over the centuries, people in power have used this expression, “fear of the Lord,” to bully and control and even enslave people. The Psalmist uses the word to mean reverencing and honoring the Lord. If we do that, it frees us to have a healthy and loving relationship with the Lord.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians

(Chapter 5:1-6)

“For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night…. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.”

Paul wants the Thessalonians to know that the false security that the Roman Empire offers to its neighbors will not save them. It is darkness, but Jesus brings light.

We also need to beware of so many modern kinds of darkness: materialism, greed, disrespect for life, racism, economic injustice, and a false sense of security that can come from our own power, prestige, and possessions. Instead, we need to live in the light of the Holy Spirit who lives within each of us and among us.

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Topics: a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Book of Proverbs, catholic program renew, Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus Christ, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, Psalm 138, parable of the talents, worthy wife, like a thief at night

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Nov 6, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Wisdom
(Chapter 22:20-26 )

No one knows who the author of the Book of Wisdom was or if there were several authors. We do know that it was written in Greek only about 50 years before the birth of Jesus for the Jewish community in Alexandria, to give them hope in the midst of persecution.

Wisdom is portrayed as a woman, a God-like figure giving advice and comfort to the people. “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.”

We all need wisdom that goes beyond mere knowledge of facts into a deeper level of knowing. We often refer to this special level of wisdom when we say, “She was very wise for her age.” “He is a wise old soul.” Wisdom is a gift that comes to us at different times and from many sources. Do you believe in your own wisdom? How does it help you at important times in your life? From whom do you seek wisdom? Who are your go-to wisdom sources, not necessarily the most knowledgeable people, but folks who have life-teaching wisdom? Do you pray for wisdom, especially during difficult times or in situations that call for you to make hard decisions? The Holy Spirit within you will answer those prayers. Wisdom is never far away if you seek it with an open heart.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 63:2, 3-4,, 5-6, 7-8)

“My soul is thirsting for you my God…. For you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” The author of the psalm lived in a desert area where water was both a necessity and a gift. Thirsting for God was an expression that every desert people could identify with.

Think of a time when you were really thirsty. How did it feel, and how did it also feel when you finally had that drink of water? Your soul and mine thirst for God, but we don’t always realize it until we are in need or when we are struck by the awesomeness of creation or the challenges of our lives.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians

(Chapter 4:13-18)

We Christians believe in a life after death. Paul did as well, and here he wants to say it clearly to his beloved people, the Thessalonians. “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve, like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

It is a great blessing to believe that our loved ones are alive in the peace and loving embrace of God, that they have been forgiven, healed and now live again. Do you believe that for them and for yourself? Do you truly believe that heaven is not some dream, or something made up but rather a new level of reality for all of us, no matter who we are? We cannot gain heaven by our deeds alone. It is a gift that God offers to us and, like all gifts, we need to accept it and live our life here in gratitude for it.

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Topics: parable of the 10 virgins, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Book of Wisdom, catholic program renew, Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus Christ, Psalm 63, renew catholic program, RENEW International, stay awake, Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Solemnity of All Saints

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 30, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 7:2-4, 9-14)

The Book of Revelation is most difficult book of the New Testament to understand. The context in which it was written is an important factor in increasing our understanding. It was a time of persecution, around 65 AD. Christians were being martyred for their faith, and it seemed to them to be the end of days. Many thought the world as they knew it would end. The author of Revelation assures them that they are the elect and will be saved by Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Over the centuries, and even in our time, various sects have taken these words literally and gone to a mountain or desert to wait for the end of the world. Of course, nothing happens, and then they go about their lives wondering what it was all about.

Sometimes, in the worst times of our lives, we experience our own little apocalypse when we do not know how we might go on in the face of loss or deep suffering. At those times, we can experience the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is always with us but whose presence is often somewhere in the background of our lives. The worst times can turn out to be times of enlightenment and healing in the Spirit. Has that happened to you? Do you pray to the Spirit of God within you during those times?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6)

“Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.” We are that people today. We long to see God’s face but in good time, not yet. Most of us would like to stay in this life as long as we are able, and so we can see the face of God even now in so many ways, in so many people, if we have the eyes and hearts to see. Where or in whom do you see the face of God?

A reading from the  first Letter of Saint John

(Chapter 3:1-3)

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Wow! That is one of the most joyful and amazing passages in the whole Bible: “We shall be like him., for we shall see him as he is.” Please spend some time reflecting on what that means to you. This is what our faith teaches us. It is what we believe as Christians, but too often it gets lost in so many other laws, teachings, and rituals. This is it. This is the promise. This is our greatest hope. Let us rejoice.

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Topics: beatitudes, life in christ, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, blessed, catholic program renew, feast of unity, Gospel According to Matthew, renew catholic program, RENEW International, share love of Christ, Solemnity of All Saints, Sunday readings, Rejoice and Be Glad, First letter of Saint John, Psalm 24

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 23, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Exodus
(Chapter 22:20-26 )

Here we have several laws that God has given to his people to help them be just to themselves and to others.

“Thus says the Lord: You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not harm any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry…. If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act as an extortioner toward him. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”

These were hard times, and yet the people were free from oppression by the Egyptians, so they must not act towards aliens and even one another in any way that could be considered like the way they had been treated.

In our own day, we are strong defenders of our own rights, relations, and property, as we should be. At the same time, we must protect the lives and rights of those around us, especially those less powerful and therefore vulnerable to oppression.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4- 47, 51)

“I love you, Lord my strength.” Have you experienced a certain kind of weakness during this COVID 19 pandemic? Don’t be surprised. Most of us feel that way at least some of the time. You and your family may be safe and healthy now, but you worry that the virus might infect your family. That is understandable, and we must be vigilant and take common sense precautions, but we cannot let worry take over our lives. That is where the strength of the Lord comes in through our prayer. Let us pray each day for those near us and also for those most in need who are infected as well as those who serve the sick or prevent folks from becoming sick.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians

(Chapter 1:5c-10)

This letter is accepted by biblical scholars as the true writing of Paul, and it is considered to be, chronologically, the first book of the Christian Bible, written sometime around 50 A.D. Paul was in Thessalonica for only a short time before his persecutors drove him away, but during that time he established a small thriving community:

“Brothers and sisters: You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.”

Notice that Paul says that the community is “receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit.” Affliction and joy somehow come together, not only for these people but often for us. Has that happened for you? Amid some trouble or affliction, the joy and power of the Holy Spirit break through. The Holy Spirit is not out there in the air, but deep inside our souls. If only we can open our hearts to the Spirit within.

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Topics: a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Book of the Prophet Isaiah, catholic program renew, Gospel According to Matthew, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Sunday readings, thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Love your neighbor as yourself, You shall love the Lord your God, Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 16, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 1:4-6 )

This was written in the sixth century before the birth of Jesus, towards the end of the Babylonian Exile, when Cyrus, the ruler of Persia, conquered Babylon and allowed the people of Israel to return home. The author wants the people to know that it was through the power of God that Israel was saved.

“For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God beside me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that from the rising to the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, there is no other.”

Here we have the classic principle, “repetition aids comprehension.” “I am the Lord, there is no other…. There is none besides me…. There is no God besides me.” OK! you say. We get it. But that is the point. The people did not always get it. “You knew me not.” Why? How could that have been? Well, people worshiped several gods, and there was always a temptation to seek another that seemed to be more powerful.

You and I worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons, but sometimes we may be tempted or even seduced by the false gods of money, power, prestige, and empty pleasure. Temptations are always there, but during this time of COVID 19, emotional stress, isolation, financial worries, and boredom can challenge and sometimes overcome us, at least for a while. It is at these times that we need to reach out to someone we trust for strength and healing and take the time for prayer—often!

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 96: 1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10)

“Give the Lord glory and honor.” It is not that God needs it but that we need it. We need to stay in touch with God, in gratitude, and see what happens. Gifts will be given!

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians

(Chapter 1:1-5b)

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father…. For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”

Do you believe in the power of the Holy Spirit? Have you experienced it in your life? Did you ever think that something that went right for you, or something that seemed hopeless but worked out, or a gift that suddenly appeared, was through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within you every day of your life? It happens! Sometimes, we are “surprised in the Spirit.”

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Topics: Babylonian Exile, census tax, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Book of the Prophet Isaiah, catholic program renew, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Sunday readings, COVID, Power of the Holy Spirit, render unto caesar

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