Branching-Out

Opting for Silence

Posted by Sharon Krause on Dec 7, 2020 6:00:00 AM

Years ago, when our daughter and her family lived in the duplex apartment next door to us, my three grandkids would pop in to visit unannounced. One day, the 10-year old made an entrance and found me sitting on my couch in silence. I was not reading or working on a craft or watching television or even listening to a radio. Mandy was concerned. Was everything all right? Little Miss Busy Person could not figure out how I could be sitting there in silence. Of course, I reassured her that I was fine and just collecting my thoughts and enjoying the quiet.

At least once a year, I try to attend a silent weekend retreat at a retreat house in Massachusetts. There are inspirational sessions each day led by the retreat presenters, but for the rest of the time the retreatants do not intermingle or socialize. We pray and talk to God, read, and take peaceful walks around the lovely grounds. We take time to rest and refresh.

A long time ago, I went on a six-day silent retreat. That was really a shock to my active life. I had to get used to not seeking eye contact or exchanging friendly greetings with other retreatants I would pass in the hallways or at meals. However, I visited the reservation chapels many times, I read my Bible, I prayed, I journaled, I felt the closeness of the Lord in a very comforting way. He spoke to me in marriage images. He put happiness in my heart. He filled my silence. 

So today I am touting the praises of occasional times of silence. Silence is almost counter-cultural during these days of hi-tech electronics and constant media bombardment. We are a very audibly-informed society. We might need to enforce radio silence—-like a submarine—and take a dive into quiet for a little while.

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Topics: catholic renew progam, Jesus Christ, Martha and Mary, prayer, RENEW International, silence, pandemic, COVID, virus, retreat, Be still

Wreath Reflections

Posted by Sharon Krause on Dec 2, 2020 6:00:00 AM

Like just about everything this year, the season of Advent will be different in a number of ways. I am considering four important words we will see in sacred scripture, reflection pieces, and other spiritual offerings: awake, prepare, rejoice, and behold. Often the first word in one of the Sunday readings during Advent, each one may grab our attention as if in boldface typeand that is a good thing! 

Awake. Pay attention! We have had to be so alert and careful about avoiding the COVID virus contagion that we are weary. However, this Awake we are seeing is a more positive encouragement. Wake up and hear the wonderful news: the best is yet to come! Sure, we have to watch out to avoid anything that will make us too content in our earthly comfort zones. Jesus came to save us and will come again at the end of time. Be ready! Be joyful! It’s really good news!

Lord, send me gentle reminders to be vigilant,
to grasp more fully my responsibility
to focus
on opportunities for goodness and positivity.
Teach me to celebrate that I
am graced
with your message of salvation and am waiting
to see your awesome
face in our kingdom of everlasting love. Amen.

Prepare. John the Baptist was very good at his job of preparing the way of the Lord. He did his work, and we can do ours. Regardless of the world situation, we can all be creative as we give witness, example, and encouragement to othersin mundane issues but, more importantly, in spiritual things. So many people are preparing their houses for Christmas with bright fancy decorations, but how much more important is the preparation we do to repent of our sins, to open the windows of our hearts to let the Holy Spirit decorate our lives with hope. 

I ask you, John the Baptist, to intercede for me
that I may shake off the shackles of
complacency and habit
so as to make straight my path to the Lord and his to me.
Help me to convey the message of the truth of Christmas
in pure and simple ways.
 Amen.

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Topics: Advent Wreath, catholic renew progam, hope, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, prayer, rejoice, RENEW International, pandemic, COVID, virus, Prepare, Awake, Behold

Temptations

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

With so much instability in the world today, we have had to adjust to cope with the disruption of routines and ways of thinking. Unfortunately, we might be faced with adapting to compromises and battling temptations. I have heard that the devil is in the details, but it is just as true that the devil is in the derailsthose times we get off track for one reason or another.

 As I thought about the possible temptations to sin, my categorizing brain reminded me that in the 1960s and 1970s there was a very popular singing group called the Temptations. They were not something to be avoided; their music and the way they did their choreography were very entertaining. Next, I looked at some of the names of this quintet’s famous recordings. So, without going into the lyrics specifically, there are song titles that seem fitting with today’s not-so-desirable temptations.

 One song was called Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today). I certainly see how that designation could apply to our poor world today. I told my husband I never thought before that I might envy the four astronauts that recently left the earth for six months away at the space station. Of course I was joking, but with so many openings and closings of schools, stores, and restaurants, it is easy to become a little cranky or short with people around us. We might be tempted to lose our patience and our temper. We might say things that are not so loving. We might indulge in a bit of self-pity. A good antidote is a few thoughts of gratitude, taken with a tall glass of water or a walk around the block.

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Topics: catholic renew progam, hope, Jesus Christ, prayer, RENEW International, temptation, pandemic, COVID, virus, despair

All the Trimmings

Posted by Sharon Krause on Nov 25, 2020 6:00:00 AM

According to reports in the media, people have begun decorating for the approaching holidays already. One woman who was interviewed said that it makes her kids feel better to see all the bright lights inside and outside her house. Some families have put up their Christmas trees even before Thanksgiving. A business advertised on television that it employs workers who will decorate your whole front yard with tons of lights and electronic trimmings. Granted, it has been a dark year of pandemic and controversy, so we do need to lighten up.

Whether we are planning a big family meal on Thanksgiving or a small gathering, most likely the turkey will be trimmed with savory basting and spices. We may even dress to decorate ourselves a little fancier during holiday celebrations or at least wear a special gaudy Christmas sweater in December.

 As we enhance the walls of our homes and our shrubbery, our luscious turkeys and desserts, and our own physical bodies, we could lose touch with the fact that we have to have positive foundations under the trimmings. If our fuses blow, our bushes collapse, our fowl is really foul-tasting, or our appearance is disheveled, our original intentions may not realize the desired results.

 We should try to remember, for example, that while lights brighten up the early darkness outside and the pine trees in our living rooms, the true Light in our world all year long is Jesus, who shows us the way out of the darkness of sin and evil. In the incident described in John 8:12, the Pharisees were with Jesus:

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows
me will never walk in darkness
but will have the light of life.”
   

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Topics: Christmas, Christmas season, catholic renew progam, holiday, Jesus Christ, prayer, RENEW International, pandemic, COVID, virus, trimmings, decorations, I am the light of the world

When the parade passes by

Posted by Sharon Krause on Nov 23, 2020 6:00:00 AM

As we get close to Thanksgiving, we hear on the media about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which will be a very different even this year because of the COVID pandemic. 

That parade, as well as preparations for Christmas, can bring to mind pleasant holiday memories. To sit back and relax as the memory pictures cavort in procession before our mind’s eye can make us very sentimental and grateful. Of course, we can become nostalgic and even sad if we consider our losses and some of the virus-triggered changes in our more recent history. 

So what can we do to keep ourselves peaceful and open to holiday joy? I think it requires a conscious effort to remain positive as so much negativity parades around us. I like to think of other parades in my life. 

When I was a little girl, my mother used to take me to see the local Independence Day parade. My uncle was a member of the fire police, so I would watch for him to march past where I was standing. When I saw him coming and heard the band playing, I would start mischievously dancing around—-just off the curb and into the street—only to be quickly pulled back by my mother. It was a happy dance and is a happy recollection. 

When I was in fifth grade, I was marching with my class in a procession honoring our Blessed Mother. I liked being first in line, and so I was that day. However, I got distracted and did not notice that Mother Mary Edith, our teacher and procession leader, had stopped for some reason. Well, I just kept walking and walked right into her. No big deal, but I was a very embarrassed 10-year-old. Now it makes me smile.

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Topics: Christmas, catholic renew progam, communion of saints, Jesus Christ, prayer, RENEW International, pandemic, COVID, virus, when the saints go marching in, Thanksgiving parade

Slogans and Shortcuts

Posted by Sharon Krause on Oct 21, 2020 6:00:00 AM

Did you ever notice how we use catchy sayings in the name of efficiency or expediency in getting messages across? Certainly, it can be profitable in merchandising and advertising. Good ol’ Benjamin Franklin knew that proverbs and maxims were useful. For example, he wrote, “God helps those who help themselves,” in his Poor Richard’s Almanac.

These concise sayings can be like little lectures or sermons that are easy to remember and repeat. There are a number of these verbal shortcuts that mention God. I will mention a few and maybe some timely implications.

Let’s look at that selection from Mr. Franklin I just mentioned. The implication is that God is always there to help people who take the initiative to help themselves. While the maxim might have the purpose of encouraging us not to be lazy or dependent upon others, it is important to remember that in all circumstances, God is ever-present to us to give us physical, intellectual, or emotional strength.

Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread that of them,
because it is the Lord,
your God who goes with you;
he will not fail you or forsake you. (Deut. 31:6)

“In God we trust” is a brief statement we see on our currency; we may not really stop to think about the implications of such a familiar idea. Especially in these stressful days of pandemic, political sparring, and civil unrest, do we really trust God? Many institutions have managed to remove references to God, so it would not matter if he were trusted. How about us, personally; do we really trust God? Perhaps we should pray and ask the Lord to make us more trusting.

There are numerous prayer resources available online, but even a simple ad-libbed shortcut is useful: “Faithful Lord, I trust in your mercy and love. Strengthen my faith and trust in You.” We might want to read the story of Shadrach, Mechach, and Abed-Nego again in Daniel, Chapter 3.

I have heard people rattle off this Bible quote: “for God loves a cheerful giver.” ( 2 Cor 9:7b) and just smiled in passing. Again, in these days of businesses being closed, people scrimping and scraping to pay for necessities, and anxiety affecting many households, being a cheerful giver to those in special need is a very good idea. There are food banks and community collections that truly need cheerful donors bringing aid and support. While we know God loves us all, this short scripture quote brings home the truth that God especially loves donors whose hearts and attitudes are joy-focused.

We often hear the expression, “What would Jesus do?” There were T-shirts and various other items carrying that logo. While only four words, the question had a wide range of implications, all begging the question of how Jesus would react to our modern-day situations. Do we ever think about that now?

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Topics: catholic renew progam, prayer, RENEW International, thanksgiving, COVID, In God We Trust, What would Jesus do, slogans, Poor Richard's Almanac

'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

Prayer in a Pandemic

Posted by Jessica Guerriero on Oct 15, 2020 6:00:00 AM

The start of this month made me realize that we have been living in a pandemic life for half a year. What started as a whisper, a rumor, has taken over our everyday lives, and the effects are limitless. The struggles and losses have been tremendous and heartbreaking.

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Topics: bible study, adoration, catholic RENEW program, prayer, RENEW International, Sunday Mass, pandemic, COVID, social distancing, Zoom

Brooklyn Haitian Creole Community Goes Virtual

Posted by Dr. Sœurette Fougère on Oct 14, 2020 6:00:00 AM

It is amazing that I am writing this blog post around the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux whom I consider an icon of love, patience, and perseverance. As I reflected on these virtues, I uncovered how essential they may be to pastoral works. In fact, the technology training for the Haitian Creole Community in the Diocese of Brooklyn, conducted in the beginning of the fall RENEW season testifies to the benefits of their implementation.

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Topics: catholic program renew, RENEW International, small faith sharing groups, pandemic, Diocese of Brooklyn, COVID, Haitian Creole, St. Therese of Lisieux, virtual

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 9, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 26:6-10)

The mountain that Isaiah is describing is the mountain, Mount Zion in Jerusalem. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich foods and choice wines…. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face…. Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us.” There is an important progression here, from “Our God, to whom we looked to save us” to “he has saved us.” For thousands of years, the people of Israel have believed in a relationship with God that will bring salvation. That belief has a past, a present, and a future.

We, too, have a relationship with God, in Jesus, who, by his life and sacrifice, won for us our salvation. That relationship is based on his past time on earth, his presence now in our lives, in our Church, and in the sacramentsespecially the Eucharistand in our future life with him forever.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6)

“I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” On one level, the “house of the Lord” is our Church. On another level, it is our own relationship with God. Has the COVID19 pandemic changed your relationship with God? Has it deepened it or damaged it? Do you pray for the victims every day and for those suffering in related ways? Can you do anything to help?

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians

(Chapter 4:12-14, 19-20)

Paul had a very exciting life, filled with hunger, poverty, abandonment, imprisonments, and also endless travels, celebrations, achievements beyond expectation, a growing wisdom, and deep faith. When he was in need, the people of Philippi reached out to him, and he responded, “Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I also know how to live with abundance…. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress…. My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

There is one line here that tells us who Paul was and how he lived: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Have you ever thought about that statement in terms of your own life? Have you ever done something that was extremely challenging and later wondered how you were able to do it? Try it. You might be surprised, and it might give you the strength to face something else that is seemingly beyond your abilities. You may be delighted at what you and Jesus can accomplish together.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 22:1-14)

This is a very complex parable and one of the most difficult to understand. Here is the first part: “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” He sent his servants “to summon the invited guests to the feast.” They refused to come. Jesus is probably talking about a whole series of prophets whose messages were rejected. The king tried again, sending other servants. “Some ignored the invitation and went away…. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them and killed them…. Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come…. The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they had found, good and bad alike, and the hall was filled with guests.” Jesus is talking about the new Christian community, to which all are invited, both Jews and pagans.

The parable ends with a strange addition. One man who came was “not dressed in a wedding garment” and the king ordered his servants to “cast him into the darkness outside.” What? The man is excluded because he did not have the right garment? No, the wedding garment is a symbol of something, but what? What could possibly exclude anyone from the kingdom of God? There are many possibilities, but none of them count if the person ultimately turns away from whatever sin caused the banishment. There is always another chance in God’s eternal mercy.

Image: ”The Wedding Feast” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube

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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Topics: kingdom of God, parable, Wedding Feast, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Book of the Prophet Isaiah, catholic program renew, house of the Lord, Psalm 23, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Sunday readings, The kingdom of God is at hand, COVID, vineyard of the Lord, wedding garment

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