Branching-Out

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 21, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 15:1-2, 22-29)

One of the first great controversies in the early Church was about whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised. This issue arose in Antioch because, as Luke writes, “Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.’” The apostles and elders in Jerusalem sent this response, which opened the Church to all: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place any burden on you beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.”

The animal restrictions may seem strange to us, but it was an important part of Jewish practice that the apostles kept while eliminating the need for circumcision. This was a major breakthrough that opened the doors to thousands of Gentiles who otherwise might not have become Christians.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8)

“O God, let all the nations praise you.” Of course, not all nations praise God, but we do.

A reading from the Book of Revelation

(Chapter 21:10-14, 22-23)

The writer tells us, “The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” This was written long after the physical city of Jerusalem had been destroyed. “I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light.”

Jerusalem, the heart of Judaism, had been destroyed, but in the vision the new holy city came down from heaven. It was the symbol of the new faith, built on Judaism but fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 14, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 14:21-27)

Another name for this book could be “The Travels of the Apostle Paul,” because even though other apostles are mentioned in the book, it is mostly about the heroic and enormously important 30-year journey of this amazing man. Paul was a driven man, driven by his new found faith in Jesus, driven by his guilt for having persecuted the early Church, but also energized by the forgiveness he received from the risen Jesus and by his initial belief that Jesus would soon come again and so would the end of the world. Of course, Paul was wrong about that expectation, as were so many early Christians. We don’t know when he became enlightened and changed his belief, but what is clear is that he was faithful to the end in preaching Christ crucified and resurrected.

Here we see Paul and Barnabas at the end of one of Paul’s early journeys. We are told that “they made a considerable number of disciples” and that they “strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.’” That was an understatement. Many of the new disciples would be martyred by the Roman Empire which regarded them as dangerous to imperial authority. That is why it was most important that they leave behind someone to be in charge, and so, “They appointed elders for them in each church.” The new faith spread everywhere Paul traveled.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13)

“I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.” The Jewish people had a series of kings but worshiped God as their true king. We don’t think of God as a king but rather as a loving community of persons, the holy Trinity, in whose image we have been born and live in God’s all-loving presence.

A reading from the Book of Revelation

(Chapter 21:1-5a)

There is a controversy about when the Book of Revelation was written, whether around 70 AD or much later in the 90s. We know from the text that it was written during a time of terrible persecution by the Roman emperors who saw Christians as a major threat to their power. In this reading, John gives the Christians hope, a new vision. “Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. . . . I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. . . . I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.’”

And here is the best news for a persecuted people who were in danger of death and imprisonment every day: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” Imagine hearing that in the midst of terror.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, God's unconditional love for all, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 7, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 13:14, 43-52)

What we read in the Acts of the Apostles implies that Paul and Barnabas were inspired speakers who had a powerful effect on their listeners. They started out preaching mainly to Jewish people and converts to Judaism, but at this point their message is being received more positively by the Gentiles. It must have been hard for Paul who, in his previous life as Saul, was a rabid persecutor of the new Christian community. Up to this point, most of the followers of Jesus were Jews. From now on, Paul will truly be the Apostle to the Gentiles. It is because of him more than any of the other apostles that Christianity spread all over the Mediterranean world and beyond. Without him, it may have only been one more sect within Judaism. From what we know of Paul, he could be difficult at times but always courageous and persevering in his mission.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 100:1-2, 3, 5)

“We are his people, the sheep of his flock.” What does it mean for you to be a part of God’s people? How does that change you?

A reading from the Book of Revelation

(Chapter 7:9, 14b-17)

This book was written long after the death and resurrection of Jesus—around 95 AD. By this time, there were many thousands of believers, but they were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. It is hard for us, centuries later, to imagine how hard it was for people to be practicing Christians. By then, the Romans saw them as a major threat to the empire’s power and did everything they could to wipe Christians out. Some emperors were worse than others, but persecution was the order of the day. The author of the Book of Revelation wants to assure his readers and listeners that God is with them. Their suffering will end, and they will be rewarded.

We do not face anything like the vicious all powerful and pervasive force that was ancient Rome, although Christians in other parts of the world are subject to violent persecution even today. We do all suffer in many ways at numerous times in our lives. When you are in your deepest and most prolonged suffering, do you still believe in the healing, saving power of God’s unconditional love? Are you able to go back in time to other occasions of deep suffering and remember how you made it through? Remembering those past experiences can help you be conscious of, and rely on, the supportive Spirit within you.

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Topics: epiphany, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Holy Trinity, RENEW International, The Good Shepherd

Hear the Word: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Charles Paolino on Nov 13, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Daniel

(Chapter 12:1-3)

This reading from the prophecy of Daniel always reminds me of a poem several generations of school children were forced to memorize: “Abou ben Adhem” by Leigh Hunt. According to that poem, Ben Adhem awoke one night to find an angel in his room writing in a golden book. The angel said he was writing the names of “those who love the Lord,” and that Ben Adhem’s name wasn’t among them. In that case, Ben Adhem said, “Write me as one who loves his fellow men.” The angel wrote and disappeared but returned the next night and “showed the names whom love of God had blest, and lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.”

There’s quite a contrast between that account of Ben Adhem’s encounter in the stillness of his room and Daniel’s description of the day of judgment when “everyone who are found written in the book … shall live forever, [but] others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.”

But, of course, if we take to heart the outcome of “Abou ben Adhem” we needn’t be terrorized by the prospect of condemnation. Love of God and love of neighbor (the “fellow men” of the poem) are two sides of the same coin in our Christian belief. Indeed, Jesus said they are the two greatest commandments. We have opportunities every day to practice love in how we speak to each other in person, how we write to each other online, how we work with each other, how we drive, how we treat restaurant servers and grocery clerks, how we share what we have with those who have less, or little, or nothing.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 16)

“I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.” That is a key to finding our names “written in the book.” If we are mindful—let’s say through little moments of prayer throughout the day—that we are always in the presence of God, we will have a sound foundation for the choices we make, the actions we take, and the things we say.

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Topics: Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, RENEW International

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Nov 9, 2018 6:00:33 AM

A reading from the first Book of Kings
(Chapter 17:10-16)
 
The scene here is very stark. There is a drought in the region. The prophet Elijah comes into the city and he is hungry and thirsty. He asks a poor widow who is at the point of starvation herself for water and some bread. She has no bread but only a small amount of flour and oil. Yet, she has faith, and she feeds him; there is just enough left for her and her son. Then Elijah tells her, “For the Lord, the God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” The widow is a woman of faith, and God is with her.
 
Today, drought threatens the lives of countless millions in dozens of countries all over the world—especially in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. It causes mass migrations, malnutrition, and endless political strife and violence. Let us pray for today’s widows and poor families who suffer from hunger and poverty caused by droughts and floods and crop erosion, and let us use our own water resources wisely.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10)
 
“Praise the Lord, my soul.” We often pray to God and ask for help and forgiveness. Wonderful! Perhaps, sometimes we can simply offer a prayer of praise to God. It is not that God needs it but rather that we need it in order to enrich our souls.
 
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 9:24-28)
 
The author makes an important connection between the death of Jesus and our own deaths. “But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice. Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgement, so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”
 
The death and resurrection of Jesus radically changes our own deaths. It was not the end for him, and it will not be the end for us but rather a new beginning, a new life. Jesus the man died. Jesus the Son of God lives forever, and so will we. Have you ever thought much about this amazing gift? Please let the power of this gift enliven you every day, especially in times when you are troubled or feel alone.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 12:28b-34)
 
Here, Jesus is not gentle. He is challenging: “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
 
Throughout the history of Israel, widows and orphans had a special place in society, because they were economically dependent on the community. The scribes were supposed to take care of them but did not always do their duty. One of the reasons that the scribes were so against Jesus was that he called them out, and they did not like it.
 
Later in this reading, Jesus talks about people contributing to the Temple: “Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself he said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributions to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.’” This woman’s gift has become famous throughout history as the “widow’s mite.” Sometimes, those who are the poorest are the most generous, not only in financial contributions but in the gift of their time and compassion. No matter how little we have, we can contribute in many other ways.
 
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: disciples, Elijah, Letter to the Hebrews, widows and orphans, widow's mite, Word of God, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Book of Kings, Catholic, catholic RENEW program, Good News, Gospel According to Mark, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Jesus Christ, Psalm 146, RENEW International, Scripture, Sunday Gospel

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