Branching-Out

'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!' by Bill Ayres: Third Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 30, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 5:27-32, 40b-41)

Many commentators on the scriptures call the Acts of the Apostles the Acts of the Spirit and for good reason. The power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the early Church is chronicled throughout this book. The author wants it to be very clear that Jesus gave his Spirit to the disciples and that all that they do is through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know what your experience of the Holy Spirit was in Catholic school or religious education classes, but I went to Catholic grammar school, high school, and college, and I knew almost nothing about the Holy Spirit. I certainly had no clue about the important role the Spirit played in the early Church, nor did I know that the very presence of the Spirit was in me and all my classmates. The Holy Spirit was truly the forgotten member of the Blessed Trinity.

If you had a similar experience, then let’s face it—we all were deprived of a most important truth of our faith. That was not the intention of Jesus, as we read here of “the Holy Spirit whom God has given.” Let us rejoice this Easter season and in all seasons in the presence of our life partner, the Holy Spirit. The Apostles and the other disciples were never alone in their challenges, suffering, and even death. Neither are we.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13)

“I will praise you Lord, for you have rescued me.” How often and in how many ways has God rescued you? Think about it, and you will most likely come up with a rather long list.

A reading from the Book of Revelation

(Chapter 5:11-14)

Do you find the readings we hear during this time of Easter to be weird, over the top, incomprehensible? You are not alone. This is apocalyptic writing meant to give people courage in the midst of persecution and immanent disaster through symbols and stories that were not comprehensible to outsiders but were hope-filled for the early Christians. The basic message throughout is, hold on, have faith despite your persecution and trials. God is greater than all this, and you will be rewarded.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, faith in Jesus, RENEW International, the miraculous catch of fish, Jesus loves us

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 23, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 5:12-16)

We know from many stories in the gospels that Jesus was a healer. Here we read that he passed on that power to the apostles: “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. . . . A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.”

Today, healing is still happening through the Holy Spirit, sometimes physical healing and more often spiritual and emotional healing. We pray for the healing of relationships, the healing of hurts we may have suffered or brought upon others. Sometimes, we may pray for a physical healing for ourselves or a loved one, and it seems that nothing happens, and yet something very deep is happening on a spiritual or emotional level that we may have missed. A loved one may have died despite our prayers, but that person was healed on a deeper level during the time of death and family and friends have taken part in that healing. Or perhaps we have suffered a disappointment, an injustice, or even a betrayal that does not seem to have a resolution, but other doors are opened, other people have brought us healing. A light still shines in the deep darkness.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24)

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.” God’s love cannot be measured by whether God “answers one or more of our prayers” but rather by God’s deep presence in us and around us.

A reading from the Book of Revelation

(Chapter 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19)

This book was written many years after the death of Jesus to give hope and support to Christians who were being persecuted throughout Israel and beyond. The author has a powerful experience of Jesus:

“When I caught sight of him, I fell down at his feet as though dead. He touched me with his right hand and said, ‘Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and to the netherworld.’”

Imagine how you would have heard these words two thousand years ago as you were suffering rejection and persecution every day. This message could have given you insight into who Jesus was beyond just a man who had walked the earth many years before, and it would have brought hope amid persecution and even death. We are thankful that you and I are not in that kind of danger, but we have our own challenges living in a society whose values and beliefs are different from ours in a number of important ways. So, it is good to hear the words of Jesus: “Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.”

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Topics: doubting Thomas, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, faith in Jesus, RENEW International

The Everyday Gospel: Catholic Ed - Quo vadis?

Posted by Charles Paolino on Apr 14, 2022 6:00:00 AM

When I was beginning my senior year in a public high school, my mother mentioned that my father would be pleased if I attended Seton Hall University.

Sixty years later, I still don’t know why that was Dad’s preference, but it’s an indication of how indifferent I was as a student that, based only on my mother’s remark, I applied to, was admitted to, and attended Seton Hall.

It didn’t take more than a few days for me to realize that I wasn’t going to sleep walk through four years at The Hall as I had done in high school. Everything about the two experiences was different.

For example, in high school, I schmoozed with as many teachers as would tolerate it, creating personal relationships that I imagined would influence grades. At the Hall, I saw most of my instructors for only one semester, and then only in class. There was little opportunity for a con artist.

Also, the curriculum in my high school in the late 1950s probably hadn’t changed much since the late 1940s. It wasn’t particularly challenging, which explains, in part, how I graduated.

At Seton Hall, I was required to take courses in disciplines that I hadn’t known existed. With only a semester instead of a whole academic year to master the material, the urgency of the situation quickly became clear to me. I realized in short order that the high school more or less had to keep me, regardless of my grades—The Hall not so much.

Somehow—maybe for Dad’s sake—I became a student and, in a way, I have been a student ever since. And yet, beyond shocking me into the rigors of scholarship, my time at Seton Hall affected my life in an even more important way; it made me a more mature Catholic.

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Topics: RENEW International, The Everyday Gospel: Deacon Charles Paolino, Catholic education

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 9, 2022 6:00:00 AM

AT THE PROCESSION WITH PALMS

A reading from the Gospel According to Luke

Luke tells us of a joyous procession of the followers of Jesus into Jerusalem. You would think, just from this reading, that Jesus is about to be accepted as the true Messiah, not crucified as a dangerous criminal. How did the situation change so radically and lead to his death just a few days later? On one level, the politics of the time, Jesus is obviously a threat to the Roman rulers, and on the religious level he is also a threat to the Pharisees and Sadducees whose seat of power was the Temple in Jerusalem. Suppose the majority of the people turned against them and wanted Jesus as their leader. The Romans would never have let that happen, and they had the military power to prevent it. At the same time, the religious leaders’ power existed only with the support of Rome, which would not be happy with some upstart prophet leading a rebellion against their authority or that of the Temple.

On another level, however, there was God’s plan that was not about any specific earthly power but rather about salvation, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, for all people for all time.

READINGS AT MASS

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 50:4-7)

Isaiah tells of a Suffering Servant. “The Lord God has given me a well- trained tongue, that I may know how to speak to the weary a word that may arouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. . . . The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” Throughout history, Jesus has been seen as the Suffering Servant Isaiah envisioned, the one who came not to be served but to serve, the one who came to die for us.

Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24

“My God my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus prayed these words on the cross, but this is not an utterance of disbelief or despair. We can assume that Jesus knew the whole psalm, including the strong expression of hope that follows these words.

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Topics: Palm Sunday, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, RENEW International

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 2, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 43:16-21)

“Remember not the things of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.” “I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink.”

Isaiah is writing this toward the end of the exile in Babylon to give people hope amid great suffering. Through the prophet, God reminds the Israelites that he had the power over the waters as they escaped from Egypt, that he opened a path for the chosen people to pass and then closed it on the Egyptian army, destroying it. Now, as the people hope to return from exile, he will produce another miracle, putting water in the desert for the people to drink.

To understand this wonderful gift, we need to realize that the desert-like Mideast region that includes Israel today was a desert thousands of years ago when all these events happened. Without water there is no life. God, who is the source of all life, promises this gift of life to his people.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6)

“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” What has God done for you or your loved ones that has filled you with joy? Sometimes, it is too easy to take God’s gifts for granted. How do you give thanks to God for these gifts?

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Topics: woman found in adultery, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, God's forgiveness, RENEW International, Fifth Sunday of Lent

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 26, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the First Book of Samuel

(Chapter 16:1,6, 6-7, 10-13a)

Saul had been chosen to be the first ruler of the united Israelite kingdom. He was anointed by Samuel, but then God rejected Saul because of his disobedience. Israel needed a new king, and God had chosen one of Jesse’s seven mature sons. All seven were presented to Samuel, and all seven were rejected. Then Samuel asked Jesse if he had any other sons, and Jesse presented David, who was only a teen. He was the one that God chose. God said, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.”

How do you and I see? Do we judge by appearances, or do we look into the heart of each person and not judge them superficially? Our society seems to judge mostly by appearances: “the beautiful people” and the rich and famous receive most of the media attention and accolades. We know that is wrong, but it is easy to become seduced by the appearances and wealth of the “stars” of entertainment, politics, sports, and business and miss the depth of the persons in our midst who are truly genuine if not glamorous.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm:23)

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” Jesus called himself “The Good Shepherd”. The term shepherd in his time was a symbol for extreme caring. The shepherd endured the heat of the day and the cold of night as well as the dangers of the dessert and the mountains. That kind of dedication is how Jesus cares for us today but we need to accept his care that is always there even when we do not feel it.

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Topics: man born blind, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, RENEW International, Fourth Sunday in Lent

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 19, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Exodus

(These readings from Cycle A may be used on this Sunday)

(Chapter 17:3-7)

When the Israelites escaped from Egypt, they entered a desert land that was hardly habitable. There was little food, so God provided manna and quail for the people to eat. In this passage, they are angry because there is no water, a complaint that seems reasonable in a climate that is 100 degrees with the sun beating down. Would you complain? I would.

So, the people test God (that is what Massah means) and quarrel with God (that is what Meriba means) and God comes through. Moses strikes a rock and water pours forth. Remember, this is a story filled with symbolism, so the staff with which Moses strikes the rock is the same staff that he used to part the water so the Israelites could cross the sea dry-shod and escape Pharoah’s army and slavery in Egypt. The question that the people were asking“Is the Lord in our midst?”—was answered with a powerful “Yes!”

Sometimes, in our darkest, most challenging moments we may ask the same question. Where are you, God, to help me out in this tragedy, depression, betrayal, loss, illness, or worse? The answer is always the same. It is the promise that appears most often in the Hebrew scriptures and in the words and actions of Jesus, “I am with you.”

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 95)

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” This is not about hearing voices in your head. How do we really hear God’s voice? It is in prayer, listening to and reading the scriptures, and in our relationships with the people in our lives. We never know when God will speak to us through events and people. The key is listening with the heart as well as the ears.

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Topics: woman at the well, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, RENEW International, Third Sunday of Lent, Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 12, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Genesis

(Chapter 15:5-12, 17-18)

This passage describes is a strange ceremony that is very foreign to us today: a series of animals, split in two, offered to God as a sacrifice. It is a sign of a covenant, a promise God made to Abraham. God is giving Abraham and his people a vast land to be their own and Abraham is to be their leader and father figure. Abraham had faith in God and moved forward in his old age as a partner with God.

Each of us is a partner with God. Have you ever thought about your relationship with God in that way, as a partner? What is God’s role in your partnership? What is yours?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 27)

“The Lord is my light and salvation.” Where is there darkness in your life? Is it in your family, your work, or in some dark corner of your life that keeps you from happiness? Ask the Lord for light to come into that darkness.

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Topics: transfiguration of the Lord, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, RENEW International, Second Sunday of Lent

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