Branching Out Blog

Twelve and Counting

Posted by Sharon Krause on Oct 1, 2023 6:00:00 AM

We humans are very involved with numbers. We use numbers for identification, for communication, for evaluation, for measuring, and for much more. We count up, we count down. We add and subtract, multiply and divide.

 So, let’s count down to Christmas Day and consider how many weeks until we will celebrate our Savior’s birth. Did you count? I did. Twelve weeks from today is Christmas Day. We often use an Advent calendar to count down to Christmas. Let’s do more. I suggest, just for a prayer exercise, to devote each week a few extra minutes in our daily prayer time for some intentions that we say we are going to pray for but might postpone or even unintentionally forget because of distractions or busyness.

 Here are 12 suggested topics, but, of course, you can personalize to fit your needs and preferences.

 Perhaps for this first week of October, we can pray for the repose of the souls of those friends, or relatives of friends, for whom we have said we would pray. So many times I hear people say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” and that is that. We can pray for the deceased friends and relatives and for comfort to families experiencing loss. We can even ask our Mother Mary, who experienced grief, to pray for the deceased.

  1. Week 2 could be filled with extra prayers for those people experiencing natural and manmade disasters and their aftermath–Maui and Libya, to just name two.

  2. Maybe for the third week of October we can add prayer minutes for peace in this world, especially in Ukraine. We can ask our Lord for peacemakers to encourage peaceful resolutions in nations that threaten and feel threatened.

  3. During the week of October 23, we might pray for more people to return to praying and worshiping God. We need to remember who really is in charge! I am sure we all have family members and friends who have lost their way to God’s truth.

  4. The week beginning October 30 could include extra prayers for innocent victims of crimes and various forms of abuse and war.

  5. We hear about thousands of homeless people. We can pray for wise solutions, and for safety and healthcare for these men, women, and children.

  6. The week of November 13 can be punctuated with extra prayers for health and wise preventive measures for us and for family members and friends.

  7. November 20 can start a week of adding a few prayers for safety for our first-responders and gratitude for all medical caregivers.

  8. The last week of November can include prayers for Pope Francis, our bishops, priests, and religious, and for an increase in vocations.

  9. So much in life seems to depend on spending money. As Christmas gets closer, we start spending money for gifts. We could say extra prayers for wisdom in financial matters for ourselves and for those in government.

  10. December 11 could start a week with added prayers for our military personnel. We are not at war and can forget all the sacrifices our service members make in peacetime.

  11. The week just before Christmas can be very busy. Of course, we focus on the miracle of God coming to earth in human form, but we can add some special prayers of gratitude for the blessings we have received over the past year. We might include those little graces that seem like lucky coincidences but are really God’s love strokes.

 

 

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Topics: Christmas, Advent, praying, Sharon Krause

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: The Nativity of Our Lord

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 24, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 52:7-10)

Isaiah spoke about someone coming who “brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news.” The Church chooses this reading for Christmas day because we believe that the birth of Jesus fulfills this promise.

We do not live in a peaceful world, and each day brings headlines with bad news, sometimes terrifying news. There is plenty of bad news to go around, but there is also so much good news, so many people doing good for their neighbors, for their country, for their world. There are individuals and organizations working to reduce the number of poor and hungry people in the world, even though there are still far too many. There are more peaceful countries in the world in this century, even though there is still horrible violence in Ukraine and elsewhere. There is less crime, violence, poverty, unemployment, and hunger in our own country than there was 10 years ago, even though we still have a long way to go to be the just and peaceful people of our hopes and dreams.

The point is that the promise of Jesus does not work like magic. It is a gift of peace and good news offered to each of us that we can accept or reject. On the birthday of our Savior, let us accept this amazing gift on a deeper level than ever before. Let us remember that the power of his love that lives in our hearts is a more powerful force than all the negative forces that exist. We can live in his love despite all the unloving that we experience in our world, all this from a little baby whose birth we celebrate today.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6}

“All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.” Many have seen, but not all have believed. Let us pray that today more hearts will be opened to the transforming power of God.

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews

(Chapter 1:1-6)

The author writes, “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son.”

Throughout history, God has spoken to his people in many ways: through nature, through various religious traditions, and especially through the Jewish people and their prophets. God continues to speak through all those means today, but the fullness of God’s message and presence is in Jesus.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 1:1-18)

This is the famous prologue to John’s Gospel, added on for an important reason. It starts with an amazing statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So, who is this “Word”? The answer is clear: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”

The author wants to be clear that this is Jesus. Jesus is equal to God, because Jesus is God who came among us in the form of a human being. For all the centuries before, God spoke especially through the Jewish people. That communication does not and will not ever end, but now there is a direct communication to the whole world in the presence of Jesus. Even though Jesus died and ascended into Heaven two thousand years ago, he sent us the divine Presence in the form of the Holy Spirit who lives within each of us. So, this Christmas Day and all days, if we want to experience the presence of God and live with true peace and good news, we need to listen to his Spirit within us and in the community of our Church.

Peace and good news to all on this Christmas day and always!

✝️

Painting: Adoration of the Shepherds, Gerard van Honthorst, Pomeranian State Museum. Greifswald, Germany. Public Domain.

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. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: Christmas, Nativity of the Lord

"Christ the Savior is born"

Posted by Charles Paolino on Dec 23, 2021 6:00:00 AM
Joseph Mohr was born in Salzburg, in what is now Austria, in 1792 under inauspicious circumstances. His mother was an unmarried embroiderer, and his father was a soldier who hired himself out to fight for one of the many armies in the field in Europe in those days.
 
The father was also a deserter twice over—he deserted his army post, and he deserted his wife before she gave birth to Joseph.
 
The boy was lucky, though. The music director at the cathedral in Salzburg took an interest in him and saw to it that he got an education, and the young Joseph also sang and played the violin at a church and a monastery.
 
Joseph entered a seminary and, in 1815, he was ordained a priest; he served parishes in the region, including Orberndorf bei Salzburg. Joseph was serving at St. Nicholas parish on Christmas Eve in 1818 and was wishing he had an original song for the Nativity Mass
that night. So, he took a poem he had written and walked about two miles to visit his friend Franz Gruber, who was choirmaster at St. Nicholas. He asked if Gruber could set the poem to music in time for the Mass.
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Topics: Christmas, God's love, RENEW International, Silent Night, Joseph Mohr

Visual Aids

Posted by Sharon Krause on Dec 20, 2021 6:00:00 AM

We recently been seeing the removal and even destruction of statues of certain famous people who, besides their heroic deeds, had either committed or permitted some not-so-admirable practices.

This underscores for me the fact that we humans like visual aids to reinforce certain ideals or to perpetuate certain virtues. Eyes-on and even hands-on experiences are effective for teaching and making lasting impressions on us. We find it helpful to see tangible things and not just rely on understanding abstract concepts. We need to “flesh things out.”

While I understand and appreciate Jesus’ birth, there are no photos of his coming. However, I have a lovely set of nativity figurines I put on display every Advent and Christmas season. Right after Thanksgiving, I brought out my set and carefully arranged the porcelain figures on the top of a small bookcase in my living room. I know some people don’t put out the baby Jesus until Christmas Day, but I love that baby all season long, and I know he came, so I don’t wait.

I finished my decorating and went to bed. In the middle of the night, I heard the telltale sound of porcelain clinking together, and then bang! My husband went downstairs and found the donkey from my nativity set broken on the floor. Buddy, our senior cat, had jumped up onto the bookcase and could not get out of his own way. He took off in a guilty flurry and zipped up and down the staircase a couple of times at top speed.

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Topics: Christmas, Christmas season, Advent, crèche, prayer, Sharon Krause

Advent Calendars

Posted by Sharon Krause on Dec 1, 2021 6:00:00 AM

These days I see advertisements for Advent calendars. What I see are kits that have the first 24 days of December displayed with either candies or trinkets of some kind for each day. I think that, by and large, it is children who are attracted to these calendars that help build excitement and anticipation as Christmas Day draws nearer and nearer. Certainly, retailers will do all they can to build enthusiasm for the approach of the big day. Also, Advent calendars are more items to offer consumers.

If we get away from the buyers’ calendars and check out the liturgical calendar, we consider the days before the feast of the Nativity with a focus on the joyful anticipation of God’s greatest Gift to the world. Sure, Advent calendars offer the viewer a little gift every day; but we need to think about the many gifts God gives us every day.

Let’s make up a spiritual Advent calendar. Based on the readings for Masses, let’s concentrate on a gift God gives us each day. A certain word, psalm verse, or clause from a reading might be chosen. There are so many possibilities, but I will get us started. Ready?

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Topics: Christmas, Advent, Advent calendar, Sharon Krause

Thoughts and Concerns

Posted by Sharon Krause on Nov 29, 2021 6:00:00 AM

Here we are, coming fast to the end of the year. Two big holidays punctuate these last days: Thanksgiving and Christmas. People have already wished me happy holidays.

 What are the current concerns we hear about on the news? For Thanksgiving, the prices of turkey and all the fixings will be going up because of shortages and pandemic repercussions. If the most important thing about the holiday is food and making it taste the way it should, then we had better get shopping and searching for sales and supplies. After all, isn’t Thanksgiving mainly about those favorite recipes and eating a feast? Who are we thanking anyway: the workers at the farms and grocery stores, those who prepare the savory dishes, those who planted the vegetables? Do we go far enough and thank the Creator for all the blessings? Do we think more about our appetites and our pigging out than the true meaning of the holiday? Certainly, it is enjoyable to eat lots of good food and share time and stories with family and friends; but do we also take the time to truly be thankful to God for all we have? Is one little “Grace Before Meals” prayer the beginning and end of our effort of giving thanks? How do we allot our time?

 Retailers are getting nervous about the supply shortages. They are urging consumers to shop very early. After all, isn’t the Christmas holiday supposed to be when we all splurge and spoil our families and friends? Aren’t all the decorations, lights, and gifts the objects of our hectic activities? Who cares whether we call the season “the holidays,” or “Christmas?” Isn’t the focus on those special presents and Santa Claus? Spend that money! Everyone should be merry and bright as we concentrate on material goods!

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Topics: Christmas, Christmas season, thanksgiving, Sharon Krause, Meaning of Christmas

Keeping it Handy

Posted by Sharon Krause on Jan 5, 2021 6:00:00 AM

It is almost time for me to put away at least some of my Christmas decorations. I am a figurine collector. All year round, most of the flat surfaces of my living space display some sort of decorative accessory amid framed family photos. Christmastime is special, with a number of angel figurines, three figures of singing children figures, and two Nativity scenes. There is also a Christmas village with small figures engaged in seasonal activities. So it is a job to put all these decorations back into their storage boxes.

I noticed this morning something that should have been obvious. The traditional décor is sharing the space with additional occupants: small bottles of disinfectants and sanitizers. I had left them out so as to be handy and to remind my husband and me of the importance of trying to avoid contracting any viruses lurking beyond our domicile.

I have a bowl of peppermint candies handy near my front door; I often grab one on my way out the door just to make sure my breath is not offensive to anyone I might encounter.

I got to thinking about the idea of keeping important things handy. I possess a large number of small prayer pamphlets and holy cards I have gotten from many different sources. They are stuffed in among books on my three bookcases, but they are not really handy or obvious reminders like the sanitizers on my tabletops.

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Topics: Bible, Christmas, catholic program renew, prayer, renew catholic program, RENEW International, rosary, pandemic, covid-19, decorations, Nativity scene, handy, accessible

Comfort and Joy

Posted by Sharon Krause on Jan 1, 2021 6:00:00 AM

There is a warm, soft blanket at the foot of my bed. My cat, Buddy, loves to get on top of it and, with his front paws as if he is marching, alternate left and right while purring up a storm. That can go on for a few minutes. He closes his eyes and appears to be comforting himself and soaking up the feeling perfectly.

With the coming of the new year, I hope we all can somehow find comfort….even if we are not marching on a soft blanket. For us, it may be best to cover ourselves with a blanket of prayer. Let’s all ask our loving Lord for a blessed new beginning, as we take comfort in Lamentations 3:22-23:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

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Topics: Christmas, New Year, catholic program renew, prayer, renew catholic program, RENEW International, 2021, comfort and joy

Loving Hands

Posted by Sharon Krause on Dec 30, 2020 6:00:00 AM

When our daughter was born, I looked at each of her little hands in aweall ten tiny fingers, little pink fingernails, small perfect knuckles. Now I wonder if Mary ever took one of baby Jesus’ hands into hers and marveled at its beauty as she compared its size to hers. Did he lightly squeeze her finger? Did she kiss that tiny hand and hold it close to her face? That’s often what mothers do. 

When the boy Jesus helped Joseph with some of his work, did Joseph ever put his bigger hand on top of Jesus’ hand to guide him in how to use a tool efficiently? Did Joseph ever, even just in his mind, compare his big hand to the little boy’s? Did Joseph make note of his own callouses, the likes of which not yet appeared on his foster son’s hands? 

Once, on a silent weekend retreat, I was praying in the chapel. My hands were intertwined, and my eyes were closed. And as I prayed, it felt as if someone’s hands were folded over mine in protective love. I sensed it was Jesus there with me, although I certainly did not see any hands but mine. What a comfort it was! For a few minutes, my whole world was in his hands, reminding me of that African-American spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” 

In his ministry, Jesus’ hands came together in private prayer, made a muddy paste to give sight to a blind man (John 9), touched and healed a leper (Luke 5), wrote in the sand as he stopped the stoning of an adulteress (John 8), and grabbed struggling Peter whose faith wavered as he tried to walk to Jesus on water (Matthew 14) —-to name just a few of his numerous loving actions. 

I sometimes wish I could have been at the Last Supper to see Jesus take the bread in his hands and pass his consecrated Body to his apostles. Priests’ hands are so blessed to be able to consecrate the unleavened bread at Masses! Even the privilege of our receiving the Body of Christ into our very own hands is so special!

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Topics: Christmas, Body of Christ, catholic program renew, Jesus Christ, Mary, prayer, renew catholic program, RENEW International, St. Joseph

The White Shiny Nativity Set

Posted by Sharon Krause on Dec 28, 2020 6:00:00 AM

Every year, when I unpack all my Christmas decorations, I display a little white ceramic Nativity set. It has a sticker on one of the six pieces that says, “Made in China.” I do not remember where or from whom I got the figures, but something about them is very appealing to me. So much for my expensive taste, eh?

 The white color reminds me of the purity of Mary, Joseph, and the Savior Infant. The three-inch, four-inch and one-inch figures reflect the light in the room and attest to the radiance of the family’s holiness. The little touches of gold paint tell me that this is also a regal family: members of God’s kingdom. Wrapped in the folds of the parents’ clothes, I can imagine, are all the ins and outs of their experience to arrive at this holy event.

 The baby’s arms are outstretched. I remember the first time I held my baby girl. She stretched out her arms as she searched to ascertain her safe surroundings. Jesus in this Nativity set is sending a message of openness to the human experience—safe or not— and a willingness to become available to all the world.

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Topics: baby Jesus, Christmas, three kings, catholic program renew, Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph, prayer, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Natvity set

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