Branching-Out

'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

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 3, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 

(Chapter 10: 34a, 37-43)

The Acts of the Apostles is really a continuation of Saint Luke’s Gospel, completing the story of what happened after the Resurrection. Peter speaks for the community and recounts the major events in the life of Jesus: his anointing with the Holy Spirit, his ministry of healing and doing good for people, his death and resurrection, and his eating and drinking with the disciples after he conquered death. Peter wants everyone to know that he and the other apostles have been “commissioned” by Jesus to preach the Good News and that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Imagine how difficult all this was for Peter and the other apostles. They had lost their friend and leader in whom they had placed all their hope. They had given up everything to follow him, and then they lost him to a horrible death. They could have called it quits and returned to their former lives. There were probably many who encouraged them to stop risking their lives and lead a “normal” existence, but they persisted. Why? Somehow, in ways we cannot understand, they still experienced the presence of Jesus. He was still there for them, and they continued to answer his call. Because of those relatively few courageous people, we have a community, a Church today. Let us be thankful for them.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 118)

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” The next line is so important: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” God’s mercy is always there, no matter how far we may have strayed or how much harm we may have done. Please pass that on to someone in your life that really needs to hear those words of everlasting mercy. That is something we can all “rejoice and be glad.”

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

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Palm Sunday

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 28, 2021 11:11:01 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 50:4-7)

This reading is one of Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” songs. The early Christians, who were almost all Jews, related this passage to Jesus. He suffered rejection, torture, and death, but He did not turn back and was not disgraced. The early community could believe that about Jesus even though he had a terrible death, because they also believed in his Resurrection. He lives!

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 22)

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus could very well have felt abandoned, but he made it through terrible torture, because his Father was with him. Our Father has given us his Spirit who lives within us. Let us call upon the Holy Spirit in our times of greatest suffering. It is not as though we will suddenly be freed from that suffering, but the Spirit will remain with us and help us to make it through.

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Topics: Palm Sunday, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, The Passion of the Lord, Crucifxion, Dying to new life

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 13, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Second Book of Chronicles

(Chapter 36: 14-16, 19-23)

This reading tells the people of Israel how the terrible Babylonian Exile happened and how it ended.

“In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on them and his dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of the God, despised his warnings, and scoffed his prophets, until the anger of the Lord against his people was so enflamed that there was no remedy. Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all of its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects. Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon….”

So, that is how the Babylonian Exile began and this is how it ended:

“The Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom…. ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem which is in Judea. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him.’”

Somehow, the God of the conquered people of Israel reached into the heart of this powerful king, and the people are once again free. Of course, there were also political reasons for the king to free the Israelites, but the author attributes it all to the Lord.

There is an old saying that “God works in strange ways.” Perhaps, when you think about it, you’ll recall that happening to you, not only in the ancient past but now.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 137)

“Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you.” Are there times when you seem to be tongue-tied, unable to talk to God in prayer? Sometimes, your deepest prayer may simply be silence. No words come to you. Relax! It may take a while, but the Spirit that dwells within you will hear you in the silence.

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Topics: Bill Ayres, Lent, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Fourth Sunday in Lent

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 6, 2021 6:00:00 PM

A reading from the Book of Exodus

(Chapter 20:1-17)

Here the Hebrews are given the Ten Commandments by God, through Moses. The first three deal with every person’s relationship with God, and the first commandment sets the Jewish people apart from all other nations. At that time, most people were polytheiststhat is, they worshiped many gods that were not the one God: the sun, moon, stars, animals, and many more. Over the years, the Hebrews, too, were tempted to engage in false worship. This commandment is the most important of all, because it creates a powerful bond between God and the whole nation and with each person. Yet the bond was always in danger of being broken by false worship.

The last seven commandments deal with a person’s relationship with others. These, too, constituted a quantum step forward in laying out standards for good behavior within families and communities. Of course, the commandments were stated in the context of a society thousands of years ago, a patriarchal society that we are still struggling to go beyond, a society in which there is no slavery or gender inequality.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 19)

“Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.” On one level, the commandments are words of everlasting life, but on a much deeper level, Jesus is the Word of God who gives us the gift of everlasting life.

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Topics: Bill Ayres, Lent, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Third Sunday of Lent

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

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

A reading from the book of Genesis

(Chapter 22: 1-2,9a,10-13, 15-18)

This reading is foreign and horrible to us, even after these thousands of years. The first line is the clue: “God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am!’ he replied. Then God said: ‘Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.’”

What? God is asking Abraham to kill his only son, the child God had promised when Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was beyond child-bearing age? And worse still, Abraham agrees: “Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.” But in the nick of time God says, “Do not lay your hand on the boy…. I know now how devoted you are to God.”

So, this is a story, not an historical event, to show the devotion to God embraced by Abraham, the father of his people. The Book of Genesis and beyond throughout the Pentateuch is full of these stories about the journey of the people of Israel. Some may be historical, some not, but all tell the story of God’s Covenant with his people, our ancestors in faith.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 116)

“I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.” Do you ever feel that you are, indeed, “walking with the Lord.” Are there times when you feel closer to God than usual? These experiences may not come often, but when they do, let’s stop a while and be as present to God as we can. These wonderful gifts may pass quickly but their memory is itself a powerful presence. They may come again when we least expect them to help us on our journey not the Mystery.

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Topics: Bill Ayres, Lent, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Second Sunday of Lent

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 21, 2021 10:12:16 AM

A reading from the book of Genesis

(Chapter 9:8-15)

The term covenant is essential to understanding God’s relationship with Israel. It means a promise made by God to the people. This is the first covenant between God and his people—a promise to spare future generations from a devastating flood like the one that occurred in Noah’s time. This is all pre-history. There is no historical record, but it is a powerful story in which God makes a broad all-inclusive promise that includes protection of “every living creature.” A whole series of promises follow to Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah, each of which calls on the people to repent and be faithful to their promise. This leads to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ which you and I live today.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 24)

“Your ways O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.” If we keep our promise, our covenant with God we will live in truth and love. Of course none of us does that perfectly, but part of God’s promise to us is forgiveness, beyond any we can imagine.

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Topics: Lent, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, first sunday of Lent, New Covenant

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

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

A reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah

(Chapter 31:31-34)

“The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…. I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God and, they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more.”

This is an important moment in the history of the Jewish people and their relationship to God. The original Ten Commandments were inscribed in stone, something apart from living men and women. Now, God says he will “place my law within them and write it upon their hearts.“ God will “forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” The Law of God is no longer only external but internal, in their very own hearts.

Can you feel the Law of God in your heart? Yes! Because the very Spirit of God lives within us.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 51)

“Create a clean heart in me, O God.” This is a prayer of renewal for us when our hearts feel broken or heavily burdened. It is a response to God’s ever-present invitation for us to start anew.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, Fifth Sunday of Lent, Crucifxion, Dying to new life

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 6, 2021 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the book of Deuteronomy

A reading from the Book of Job

(Chapter 7:1-4, 6-7)

Here is a nice cheery reading from Job, one of the most difficult characters in the Bible.

“Job spoke, saying: “‘Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings.? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages. So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. If in bed I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.’”

Ow! What is this doing in our liturgy? It is actually a part of Job’s dialogue with three of his so-called friends who try to dissuade him from believing in God. But throughout his seemingly undeserved sufferings, Job does not lose his faith in God, and in the end, he is rewarded.

Have you or anyone you know ever felt like Job? Suffering! Sadness! Tossing and turning at night! No help from supposed friends or family! I hope that has not happened to you or anyone you love.

What we can learn from Job and his life of woes is that he did not give in. He did not lose his faith in God, even when his friends did not comfort him. Now, not only does God care for us, but God is not far from us, as he seemed to be far from Job. No! God lives within us. His Spirit is with us always. We have only to listen, especially when we feel down, depressed, or deserted. The Spirit is God within us.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6)

“Praise the Lord who heals the brokenhearted.” Yes, sometimes our hearts do break for any number of reasons. But God is a healer. Ask Jesus, the healer of hearts, to help you to heal.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Jesus Christ, RENEW International, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nearness of God, The Prophet Job, Jesus heals

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

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

A reading from the book of Deuteronomy

(Chapter 18:15-20)

God has always sent prophets to guide his people, so Moses said, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among his own kin; to him you shall listen.” But Moses knew that there would also be false prophets, so he warned the people, “But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.”

Throughout the history of Israel, there were many false prophets but also many genuine prophets who truly spoke the word of the Lord and helped the people in their times of great need. Who are the true prophets and who are the false prophets in our world today? Who speaks the truth and who spews lies? Who calls for healing and reconciliation and who calls for violence and destruction? Whom can we trust in all the dimensions of our lives?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9)

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Where and how does the voice of God speak to you? In prayer and in times of quiet, or in conversations with people you trust and sometimes, even with people you do not trust or respect but still have something that strikes you as true and important? The voice of God may come to us from many sources. Let us pray to discern which voices deserve to be heard.

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Topics: Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Jesus Christ, Moses, RENEW International, Ordinary Time, authority of Jesus, fourth sunday in ordinary time, false prophets

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