Branching-Out

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

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 2, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 5:1-7)

Vineyards were important in the ancient world because grapes were sweet to eat and wine was a favorite drink. Isaiah tells a story about a man who took very good care of his vineyard only to find that it did not bear sweet fruit but only wild, useless grapes. So, the owner destroyed the vineyard.

Isaiah then tells the people, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgement, but see, bloodshed; for justice, but hark, the outcry!” The outcry is from the people who are oppressed, and God’s judgement is upon them.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20)

“The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” But our Psalm ends with a plea: “O Lord of hosts, restore us; if your face shines upon us, then we shall be saved.” What a beautiful image! Have you ever thought that the face of God shines upon you? No? You are not worthy? No! The all-powerful love of God can overcome any faults we may have.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians

(Chapter 4:6-9)

“Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is telling the Philippians to “have no anxiety at all.” Of course, they had much to be anxious about. Their neighbors could turn them in to the Roman authorities, and they might have been tortured and or killed. That did happen to thousands of Christians, but many more were spared. Paul assures them that, amid all this danger, they will have “the peace of God … in Christ Jesus.”

Until this year, it was hard to relate the terrifying experience of the first Christians to our lives today. Not now, thanks to the COVID 19 virus. Paul tells us today, “The God of peace will be with you.” In our crazy world, is the “God of peace” with you? Where have you found some peace in your life, some joy amidst sadness, deep inner love amidst division and the violence of words if not actions? The peace of God is always there. We have only to ask and believe.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 21:33-43)

This long parable is the story of a landowner who planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants to harvest it and then share the produce. He sent his servants twice “to obtain his harvest,” but the tenants killed them. “Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’” But they killed the son too. “Jesus said to them, ‘Did you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

Jesus is saying this to “the chief priests and elders.” They and their predecessors have persecuted the prophets and they will kill Jesus, just as the tenants in the parable killed the landowner’s son. The kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to his disciples and their followers. We do not use the word “kingdom” very much today, but that is where we live and where we are headed.

Image:”The Wicked Tenants” 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, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, RENEW International, Sunday readings, COVID, the stone the builders rejected, parable of the wicked tenants, vineyard of the Lord

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