Branching-Out

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 4, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Baruch

(Chapter 5:1-9)

How can you find hope amid desolation, exile from all that you have loved, and the never-ending feeling that you have been abandoned by the very God who you believed would save you? That was the situation for the Israelites as they suffered for what seemed like forever in exile in Babylon in the seventh century before the birth of Jesus. It is hard for us to imagine how awful life for the people was during that time, but here the prophet Baruch, a scribe of the prophet Jeremiah, offers a message of hope for a despairing people.

Has there ever been a time when you have felt abandoned by God, in exile from ones you loved, and perhaps also from your better self? The same message of hope that God sent to the Israelites he gives to us, not from afar but from the very Spirit who lives within each of us.

May we open our minds and hearts to the healing word of the Spirit for God. It might not come right away and it might come as a surprise from an unlikely source. But have faith that it will come.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 126)

“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” What are the great things that God has done for you that have given you joy? Please take some time during Advent to reflect on these gifts and how they have changed your life.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Advent, RENEW International, Second Sunday of Advent

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: First Sunday of Advent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Nov 27, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah

(Chapter 33:14-16)

This is a prophecy by Jeremiah for the Jewish people who had suffered from the long exile in Babylon. “The days are coming says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall be secure.”

The early Christians and we today believe that Jesus was the person that Jeremiah foretold. This person was the Messiah, but much more than that, he was the Son of God, finally coming after all those generations to save his people. At the time, many believed but many did not, and that is still true today. Many who were brought up as followers of Jesus have rejected him. Just as God did not forsake the people who rejected him 2,000 years ago, we should not reject those of our families and friends who have drifted away now. Our God is a God of mercy and forgiveness.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 25)

“To you O Lord, I lift my soul.” Do you ever “Lift your soul” to God? It does not have to be a formal prayer. It can simply be an awareness of God’s loving presence.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Advent, First Sunday of Advent, RENEW International, second coming of Christ

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King

Posted by Bill Ayres on Nov 20, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Daniel

(Chapter 7:13-14)

Daniel refers to “one like a Son of man coming.” Whom did he mean? Remember, this book was written less than 200 years before the birth of Jesus. It was a time of horrible persecution, and this scripture was intended to give the people hope. The “Son” envisioned here was probably seen as God’s messenger who would herald the last days. The last days of what? Probably, it was the last days of the evil Seleucid King Antiochus IV which did come soon after. This Son of man would have been considered the messiah, a messenger sent by God to bring justice and peace.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 93)

“The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.” The psalm proclaims the one God, the God of Israel, who always was and always will beGod, whom we encounter in an intimacy unknown to the ancients, through his Son, Jesus Christ.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, RENEW International, Jesus Christ the King

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: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

A reading from the First Book of Kings

(Chapter 17:10-16)

Like many passages in scripture, this one delivers messages in layers. One layer has to do with the immediate circumstances of the prophet Elijah. This prophet had invoked the wrath of Ahab, king of Israel, who had married a Phoenician woman, Jezebel, and turned to worship of Baal. Elijah, on God’s instructions, declared that, until Elijah said otherwise, there would be a drought in the land. Also on God’s instructions, Elijah sought out the widow mentioned in this passage while hiding from Ahab.

The lesson more immediate to us, however, is found in the humility and generosity of the widow, a Gentile, who risked her life and the life of her son by giving Elijah something to eat. Jesus would call attention to this incident as a sign that God’s mercy extends beyond Israel—a radical idea at the time. (Luke 4:26) Moreover, Jesus calls his disciples—that’s us—to the same level of generosity, which we see demonstrated again in today’s gospel reading.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 146)

“The Lord secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry …. gives sight to the blind …. Raises up those who were bowed down …. protects strangers.” God’s own mercy is magnified by the extent to which we participate in it. So many people are without homes or food or health care. So many are marginalized, neglected, mistreated, only because they are “other”—they speak a different language, wear different clothes, or have a different complexion than the dominant population. It’s an enormous problem, but ours are the lips, hands, and feet with which God can address it. 

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Topics: humble life, humility, RENEW International, The Everyday Gospel: Deacon Charles Paolino, meek and humble of heart

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 30, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy

(Chapter 6:2-6)

“Moses spoke to the people, saying: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

That is the basis of Judaism, monotheism, loving the one God. The Jews were the first and for centuries the only religious group to worship one God. What an amazing breakthrough! They have been hated and even killed for their faith from ancient times through the horrors of the Holocaust and down to our own time, in our own country. Let us pray for the Jewish people and give thank them for their faithfulness amid persecution.

“Fear the Lord your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have a long life.” This Moses’ challenge to his people. But the “statutes and commandments” imposed on the Jews eventually went way beyond what was handed down to Moses to include more than 600 regulations affecting every aspect of life.

Jesus challenged that approach, knowing that the laws were like a millstone around the necks of the people instead of their liberation. He was criticized and condemned for actually breaking the law to heal people on the Sabbath.

For us Christians, salvation that is more than “a long life” that Moses promised but rather eternal life comes from faith in Jesus. As St. Paul tells us, we are saved through faith in Jesus not through the Law.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 18)

“I love you O Lord, my strength.” Do you believe that your true and enduring strength comes from the Lord? How have you experienced that strength? Do you sometimes doubt it? Let us be thankful for all the times when God has strengthened us.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, RENEW International, salvation is through Jesus, Jesus as high priest

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 23, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah

(Chapter 31:7-9)

“The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng.”

Jeremiah is talking about the return of the Israelites from exile. But how are we to think of exiles returning today? There are almost 20 million exiles in our world now and the number is growing each year. Most are from Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Niger, the Central African Republic, and several countries in Central and South America. Many of them are women and children fleeing violence, hunger and abject poverty. Some western countries have opened their doors to the refugees others have not. It is a very complex issue, but we need to hold these people in our hearts and do what we can to change hostility toward refugees, knowing that most of us have ancestors who were also refugees.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 126)

“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” What great things has the Lord done for you? Have you been thankful? Has it brought you joy? How do you express your joy and thanksgiving?

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, RENEW International, servant leadership, suffering servant

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 16, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 53:10-11)

This is the last of Isaiah’s “suffering servant” poems. Can one person take on the sufferings of a whole people, a whole nation? The Israelites thought that was possible, and we believe that Jesus is the ultimate suffering servant. He suffered and died for all of us.

What does that say about our own sufferings? To seek out suffering is, of course, not healthy. We do not need to look for suffering. It will find us. So, how should we deal with it? There are times of extreme and extended suffering. It may be very intense, and it does not seem to go away. The key is to reach out rather than turn within. A burden shared is always lighter even though it does not take away the suffering immediately. Knowing that you are heard and embraced on some level is healing. During times of deep suffering we need to find sources of life that will give us at least a little joy. And we need to know that Jesus, “the Suffering Servant,” is always with us. It is possible that our suffering, like his, may become “redemptive suffering.” Have you experienced this redemptive suffering? Has something good come out of something that was so hard? Maybe it has and maybe it will again if you go deep with the Spirit of Jesus in your suffering. It may become a source of life for you as hard as that can seem when you are in the midst of the pain.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 33)

“Lord, may your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.” God’s mercy comes with our trust in him. He tells us repeatedly, “Do not be afraid.” Trust him.

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Topics: trust in God, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, RENEW International, servant leadership, suffering servant, trust in God's mercy

God's Help

Posted by Sharon Krause on Oct 15, 2021 6:00:00 AM

I was in the cafeteria; I was studying for my last exam of my last year at Mt. St. Mary College in Newburgh, New York. A dorm friend walked in with a former neighbor and friend who had given her a ride from home to the college on his way back to his apartment and work in Connecticut. He had been visiting his folks in the Pennsylvania-New York area. My friend and the young man sat down at my table to have some coffee and a snack. We chatted for a while.

A couple of weeks after I graduated from college, I received a phone call from that same young man. To my surprise, he had stopped by the college and found out my address. Ultimately, we dated and, after a year, got married!

Fifty years later, I have to say God must have had a hand in our meeting. The chance of meeting Duane after I graduated was practically non-existent. My home was in New York state, and he lived and worked in Connecticut. Our paths would never have crossed! I was meant to meet him that day. I say it was a divine set-up.

Years passed. Our daughter was doing well in high school. My part time job allowed me the time to start attending a few daily Masses in my parish. I started to feel closer to the Lord. I went to Mass more often. After a while, to my surprise, the pastor approached me with an invitation to become a minister of the eucharist. What a blessing! Did God help me to prepare for this? I think so! The privilege to distribute the Holy Eucharist at Masses and bring the precious Body of Christ to shut-ins was a great blessing! With God’s help, I was able to minister for about 13 years! 

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Topics: divine intervention, RENEW International, Sharon Krause, divine help, divine providence

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 9, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the book of Wisdom

(Chapter 7:7-11)

“I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her.” We all pray for many different reasons, but have you ever prayed for wisdom or prudence? Maybe you did when you were taking a test at school, but what about now, when you have a difficult decision to make? It is not as though you are praying into some abyss. Rather, you and I have the very Spirit of God living within us, our partner, our source of wisdom and strength. Certainly, we should ask others that we trust when we are in need of wisdom, but let’s not forget the Holy Spirit, who is never far away, and seek the divine wisdom in prayer.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 90)

“Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy.” God’s love comes to us in many ways and always brings us joy. Reflect for a moment on times recently when love came to you, when someone in some way touched you with love. Did it bring a smile to your face even if you were not exactly singing for joy? That is a good start.

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Topics: Charity, wisdom, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Book of Wisdom, RENEW International, Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

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