Branching Out Blog

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Pentecost

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 22, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 

(Chapter 2:1-11)

Among the ancient Jewish people, Pentecost was a harvest festival but was also associated with the occasion when God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinaiin a sense, the birth of Judaism.

Pentecost is also considered the birth of the Church, because it was during that feast that the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles as we read in this passage. Did you ever wonder how the apostles had the courage to preach this new faith when everyone else seemed to be against it, and they were in constant danger of a violent death? The Pentecost event made the difference. The apostles and everyone with them were changed and found a new courage. Something powerful happened that bound them together in a new way in the power of the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit is in each of us personally and with all of us together now.

Imagine that! The very Spirit of God lives within youright now and always. The Holy Spirit of God is your life-long partner, forever. Have you been aware of that? Do you talk to the Holy Spirit in your prayer times? In your times of distress and anxiety? In moments of great joy or accomplishment? The Spirit is always there within you.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 104)

“Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” This is a continuing process of the power of the Spirit renewing our wonderful planet. Right now, we really need that presence.

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Topics: Pentecost, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, feast of pentecost, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

'Hear the Word!' by Deacon Charles Paolino: Solemnity of the Ascension

Posted by Charles Paolino on May 15, 2021 6:15:00 AM

Note: In some dioceses, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is moved from Thursday to replace the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 

(Chapter 1:1-11)

This reading describes the episode in which the risen Jesus, who had appeared alive to his apostles on several occasions, finally disappearing. The author reports that “he was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight.’’ The apostles, as one might expect, were dumbfounded, having never witnessed or even imagined such a thing. Then, the account goes on, two men in white confronted the apostles and asked, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” The men went on to say that Jesus would return, which is part of our faith. That abrupt question—“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”—didn’t imply that they should go back to their former trades and wait for Jesus to reappear. On the contrary, it implied that they should get busy spreading the word that Jesus had conquered sin and death, was alive, and was inviting all people to encounter him and carry on his work of healing, generosity, and justice. It’s the same invitation he extends to us.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 47)

This is an exuberant psalm that urges those who believe in God, “clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness.” God has given us existence itself, life, the earth and everything in it, and he has given us spirits that will live forever. Do we believe this? No wonder we should clap and shout!

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, spread the Gospel, The Ascension

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 15, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 

(Chapter 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26)

There were originally 12 apostles seen by some as representing the 12 tribes of Israel that Jesus wanted to reunite. With the tragic suicide of Judas, there were only eleven. The apostles knew that the mission of Jesus was to proclaim the reign of God over Israel, and they wanted to have the same number of apostles moving forward. Notice that Peter once again is the leader as they choose a man named Matthias by lot.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 103)

“The Lord has set his throne in heaven.” The Jewish people thought of God as a benevolent king with a throne someplace above them. We learned in the ministry of Jesus that God lives not only in heaven but also in us and all around us.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, God is love, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Seventh Sunday of Easter

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 8, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 

(Chapter 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48)

The first great internal crisis that the early Church faced was the question of inclusion or exclusion—who could be in the Church? Almost all of the first disciples were Jews, and Peter at first believed that new members who were not Jews had to be circumcised and keep other Jewish religious laws. Paul, who preached mostly to gentiles, disagreed. He wanted the Church to be inclusive, reaching out to non-believers. Here we have a great example of how Peter, who we consider to be our first pope, changed his mind and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” This was a major breakthrough for the young Church. It meant that it was to be a universal church, a catholic Church, not merely a sect or offshoot of Judaism—a Church where everyone is welcome.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 98)

“The Lord has revealed to the nations his power.” God first revealed his power through the people of Israel. Today, he reveals his power through all of us who believe in him and in his Son, Jesus Christ.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, God is love, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Sixth Sunday of Easter

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 1, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 

(Chapter 9:26-31)

Let us try to imagine for a moment what it was like to be a Christian in the early years after the death of Jesus. The Romans targeted Christians as strange and possibly dangerous fanatics. Most Jews saw them as a danger to their faith and to their very lives if they were seen by the Romans as being at all sympathetic to this new movement. We know that Saul was a persecutor of Christians and that he had some sort of conversion experience on his way to Damascus where he had planned to help suppress Jesus’ disciples. Of course, people were afraid of him. He was a personification of the enemy, so Barnabas must have been well respected and trusted to get the community to accept the man now known as Paul.

It is amazing how someone we do not trust, someone we may even despise, can have a change of heart and become a friend or ally. Without Paul there would be no Roman Catholic Church as we know it. Redemption is possible, even for a persecutor, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 22)

“I will praise you Lord, in the assembly of your people.” That is exactly what we are doing in church today and every day that we gather to celebrate the Eucharist.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 24, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 

(Chapter 4:8-12)

Peter and the apostles are being criticized by the Scribes and Pharisees for healing a disabled man. Peter tells them that the man was healed in the name of Jesus Christ, the very person they condemned to death. This was not the kind of thing that the leaders wanted to hear. They thought they were done with Jesus forever when he was crucified, and now his followers are healing in his name. They thought they must put a stop to this, but they never could, no matter how hard they triedand they certainly tried.

Jesus was a healer and our Church, founded in his name, should always be about healing, reconciling, forgiving, not condemning and excluding. Pope Francis is working through his words and his deeds to heal so much of what is missing from our Church and to allow the power of the Spirit to heal and unify.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 118)

“The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone. “

Throughout the history of Israel, the people have rejected the God who revealed himself through Moses, yet he has remained the cornerstone of faith as Jesus is for us Christians.

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Topics: The Resurrection of the Lord, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, The Good Shepherd

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 17, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 

(Chapter 3: 13-15,17-19)

This reading has been misinterpreted over the centuries and became a basis for the virulent anti-Semitism that caused the death and suffering of millions of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Peter said to the people, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence when he decided to release him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.”

There is the accusation that has led to millions of deaths. But somehow, Peter’s next words of Peter are forgotten: “Now I know brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did; but God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouths of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer. Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”

All of the apostles were Jews, and most of the earliest Christians were as well. Moreover, the Church teaches that God’s covenant with Israel was fulfilled in Jesus, that covenant was in no way abrogated by his ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Jewish people, the Second Vatican Council declared, “are most dear to God because of their fathers.”

Responsorial Psalm

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 4)

“Lord, let your face shine on us.” What a great and beautiful image! Imagine that, God’s face shines upon each of us. We cannot see the face of God in this life, but the face of God shines on us. I must say that I never thought of it that way, but it is never too late to learn more of God’s powerful love for us.

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Topics: The Resurrection of the Lord, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, gift of faith, having faith, Jesus Christ, Jews, RENEW International, New Covenant, Covenant with Israel, Suffering Messiah

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 10, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 

(Chapter 4:32-35)

Saint Luke tells us, “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own.” How could people be so generous? It may seem foolish to us. The answer lie in their powerful belief in the Resurrection: “With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great favor was accorded them all.” The community had experienced something extraordinary. The man who was their beloved leader had been crucified, but they knew that he had conquered death. They also knew that they shared in that new life, a life in the Holy Spirit. Of course they would share what little they had with all in the community. None of that was really important. They had a new life, a life in the Spirit. They would never really die even though their bodies would die.

How would our lives be different if we really, deeply believed that we were living in the resurrected life of Jesus with his Spirit within us? Would we be as concerned so much with mere things, no matter how trendy or special or necessary they were portrayed?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 118)

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love is everlasting.” Everlasting means everlasting. There is not much else that lasts forever. Let’s go with the sure thing, God’s love!

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Topics: The Resurrection of the Lord, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, gift of faith, having faith, Jesus Christ, RENEW International

Road Repairs

Posted by Sharon Krause on Apr 9, 2021 6:00:00 AM

When springtime arrives here in New England, driver complaints about all the potholes in the paved roads are rampant. The bouts of freezing and thawing of the asphalt over the winter cause cracks and crumbles that often lead to some very large car-threatening holes. If the potholes don’t slow us down, the prospect of wending around the road-repair crew trucks will certainly challenge us.

Have we ever thought about the potholes in our spiritual lives? Sometimes we fluctuate in the warmth of our prayer life and religious fervor. Sometimes we yield to temptations for immediate, selfish gratification. The season of Lent has been a good time to evaluate and atone for those ruts and bumps in our road to holiness; and now that Easter has come, we can rejoice in the perfect Savior solution to our challenges.

Jesus has risen! His tomb is empty, and we are full of joy and hope! We can rise, tooabove all the sickness, anxiety, and world-threatening problems that menace us with doubt and despair. Jesus’ terrible suffering and death give us powerful examples of how to follow God’s will. God the Father raised his Son to new life and showed us that, thanks to Jesus, our road to new life in heaven is open. It may not always be a smooth road, but we know how much God loves us and offers us help to avoid the ruts.

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Topics: Easter Season, Jesus Christ, prayer life, RENEW International, Sharon Krause

Easter Basket Prayers

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

Come Easter morning when I was a little child, there would usually be a good-sized, fancy-wrapped Easter basket waiting for me on the dining room table. Through the colorful cellophane wrap I would see a rainbow of yummy jellybeans half-circling marshmallow yellow chicks, small chocolate eggs, and a fair-sized hollow chocolate bunny decorated with little candy flowers. I think it is a safe guess that many of my readers share a similar memory. A perennial question is, what part of the chocolate bunny you eat first? All these thoughts about the Easter basket and its contents have inspired an Easter basket prayer.

The Easter basket, possibly made of woven wicker, is the container that holds the colored plastic grass; it is the foundation or base holding all the good stuff! I think of the foundation of my spiritual life: the religious instruction I have had, the materials I have read, the teachers I have had, and the spiritual experiences I have had in my decades of life. What holds my spirituality together? What keeps me together and supports me?

Risen Savior, I acknowledge and appreciate how You lift me up and lovingly keep me from losing my way to You. Sometimes I feel like I cannot “keep it all together,” but You are always with me, and ready to help me through my tough times.

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Topics: Easter, Jesus Christ, prayer life, RENEW International, Sharon Krause

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