Branching Out Blog

'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: 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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