Branching Out Blog

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 17, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 7:10-14)

Ahaz was the ruler of the kingdom of Judah in the eighth century before the birth of Jesus, at a time when Judah and other small nations were allied against the Assyrian Empire which was more powerful and certainly brutal. But Ahaz refused to be true to the coalition, so some of the nations that should have been his partners turned against him. While Judah was under attack from two directions, “The Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…. But Ahaz answered “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord.” This was a phony excuse designed to mask Ahaz’s lack of faith. Isaiah told him, “Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel”—a promise that Judah, the nation of David, would endure—in spite of its enemies and in spite of Ahaz.

Isaiah never tells us who the virgin is nor who the child is, except to say that his name will be Emmanuel which means “God with us.” The prophesy was fulfilled, not in Ahaz’s time but with the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6)

“Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.” Today, and every day, let us ask God to enter ever more deeply in our minds and hearts.

A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans

(Chapter 1:1-7)

In this letter to the Christian community in Rome, Paul does two things. He lays claim to his credentials as “a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God,” and he explains more specifically that, through Jesus, he had “received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Christians in Rome were being arrested and martyred every day. We do not risk our lives or suffer for the faith as the martyrs in Rome did, but we need to remember that our forebears in faith suffered and, in other parts of the world, many do today.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 1:18-24)

This gospel passage focuses on Joseph who had a critical decision to make. Mary had not yet lived with Joseph, but she was pregnant. How? By whom? What should he do?

Matthew is the only evangelist who tells this story: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” Then Joseph had a dream in which the angel of the Lord said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins…. “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”

Each of us has difficult decisions to make throughout our lives, usually without the help of angels in our dreams. Praying and asking for counsel from family or friends can help, and then asking the Holy Spirit to guide us by helping us discern God’s will can lead us to the best decisions in troubling times.

✝️

Painting: St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, oil on canvas, by Guido Reni (1575-1642). Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. Public Domain.

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: St. Joseph, say yes to God's will, fourth sunday of advent

Control

Posted by Sharon Krause on Oct 25, 2021 6:00:00 AM

When I was in grammar school, much of my free time was spent with my girlfriend Betty Jane. She and I would divide up my small wooden blocks, my black-and-white dominoes, and my plastic dollhouse furniture and dolls so that we could creatively design houses for the doll families. After the houses were carefully built, we would make up adventures for the doll families, with Betty and I providing the doll voices and commentary. You could say we strayed from the ordinary dollhouse play because we put our sometimes silly and always enjoyable spins on the exercise. Betty and I had complete control of the outcomes for the doll families. Other than the occasional mishap with domino walls toppling, we orchestrated every aspect of our play-date episodes.

In real life, control is always an issue. Especially today, we hear controversies spurred by such words as “mandates,” “restrictions,” “requirements,” “regulations,” and “orders.” There are controls on things we eat, use, view, and administer. Certainly in any society, rules and laws are necessary to protect everyone’s health and safety. Invariably, certain people will challenge these controls either for self-interest or, perhaps, out of well-meant concerns.

In our personal lives, health issues can limit our control. For example, we may not feel so free if diabetes treatment affects our diet. My arthritic knees challenge my control of certain exercises and other physical activities.

And let’s not forget who wants control of our spiritual lives. Satan is very sneaky and tries to disturb our peace and obstruct our journey to holiness. It is not unheard of for us to become a bit content and lackadaisical when life goes on routinely. We can get a bit “spoiled” when things are going our way. We might become complacent and overly lenient with ourselves.

Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25:28)

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Topics: Sharon Krause, say yes to God's will, self control

The Everyday Gospel: Keeping Clean

Posted by Charles Paolino on Aug 25, 2021 6:00:00 PM

In the 1997 movie As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson plays Marvin Udall, author of more than sixty romance novels. Udall lives alone in an upscale New York City apartment where he writes love stories.

He also washes his hands again and again during the day, each time peeling the shrink wrap off of one bar of antiseptic soap after another, passing each one across his hand only once and then throwing it out, because it has been contaminated. And he rinses his hands in water that is as hot as he can stand.

When he ventures outside of his apartment onto the busy Manhattan streets, he uses all kinds of maneuvers to make sure that he doesn’t come in contact with the other pedestrians.

So, from that point of view, Marvin Udall is clean, but there are other aspects to his personality. He is not interested in anything or anyone that does not serve his needs. He is rude. He is insulting. He is openly abusive of people he doesn’t approve of, such as homosexuals and Jews.

If Jesus had known about Marvin Udall—clean on the outside, on the inside not so much—he might have used him as the subject of a parable to answer the critics we read about in the synoptic gospels­—asking why Jesus’ disciples or, according to Luke, Jesus himself did not follow the Jewish practice of washing their hands before eating.

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Topics: RENEW International, The Everyday Gospel: Deacon Charles Paolino, interior life, say yes to God's will

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