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A reading from the Book of Wisdom
(Chapter 7:7-11)
 
The Book of Wisdom is one of the last books in the Hebrew Bible, compiled not too long before the birth of Jesus. Notice that Wisdom is referred to as “she,” an interesting term in a patriarchal society. The writer imagines the words coming from the mouth of one of Israel’s greatest leaders, King Solomon. Here, Solomon prays for prudence and wisdom which are more precious than gold and silver.
 
Have you ever prayed for wisdom in the midst of a crisis or difficult decision? Have you asked the Holy Spirit, the giver of wisdom, to help you decide or act prudently or boldly in times of distress? Remember, the Spirit is not “out there” somewhere but lives in each of us. That is exactly what Jesus told the disciples, and we have been given that same Spirit. Try being quiet in times of stress or crucial decisions, and pray for the wisdom to make the right choice, to help someone you care about, or to heal wounds that are causing pain.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17)
 
“Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy.” That is why we can sing with joy—because God has given us unconditional love, way beyond our imagining. It is rejoicing for receiving such an unimaginable gift.
 
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 4:12-13)
 
“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective.” What does the “word of God” mean? We know that Jesus is the “Word of God,” the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, but we also call the Gospels the word of God. Which is it? Perhaps the author, who can be very enigmatic at times, means both. The point the author is making is that God’s word is alive, not a dead set of letters, and it is effective, not like so many words that are just words with no power or deep meaning.
 
Have you ever noticed that words you hear and speak sometimes have a surface meaning but also a deeper meaning that can be heard and known only by the heart?
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 10:17-30)
 
This is the famous and controversial story of the rich young man. Jesus challenges him to take the next step, to follow his call. Jesus is talking to this one man, not proclaiming a universal commandment. He is not condemning the man to hell but giving him an opportunity to have a much richer life as a disciple. Jesus was a poor man living in a society comprising mostly poor people. This man was an exception. We might say today that he was a part of the one percent. Jesus knew how difficult it would be for the man to go beyond his worldly riches. Jesus knew this was a good man: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Imagine that. Jesus looked right at the young man, into his heart, and called him.
 
When we talk today about a calling, we usually mean our profession in life, but each of us has a deeper more wonderful calling to follow Jesus. It does not mean that we all have to sell everything we own but rather not to put material things first. We live in a super-materialistic society, and it is so easy for us to be seduced by products—bigger and better things. We are told that “greed is good,” and many of the richest people in America have power over so many less affluent people. Sometimes the wealthy use that power for good, but sometimes they treat people—especially those who are poor—unfairly, or at least indifferently. Pope Francis asks us to follow the example of Jesus and reach out to those who are the poorest in our society and around the world. One way to do that is to support and volunteer with an organization in our community that is working to help people in need.
 
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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A reading from the Book of Genesis
(Chapter 2:18-24)
 
This is the ancient story in which God creates woman from the rib of the man. It is a parable with a powerful message but one that has been used for centuries to defend the primacy of men over women on the premise that woman came from man. However, the text itself has quite a different meaning.
When God brought the woman to the man, the man said: “‘This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.”
 
The two become one flesh—an image that implies that they are equal partners. Yet for generations, people have used this passage to justify subjugation of women in civil society and in religious traditions, including our own. It often has been a foundation for male patriarchy rather than an insight into a breakthrough many thousands of years ago that spoke of the equality of men and women.
 
Our society is in creative turmoil on the issue of women’s rights in all dimensions of life, including that of institutional religion. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go, especially we men who are beginning to understand and even to feel the toxicity of sexism.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 128:1-2,3,4-5,6)
 
“May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.” Do you feel that God has blessed you every day? When you are having a bad day after several bad days it might not feel that way. But then, something positive happens, you receive a gift, no matter how small. Let us be thankful even for small gifts.
 
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 2:9-11)
 
“Brothers and sisters: He ‘for a little while’ was made ‘lower than the angels’ that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
 
You and I believe in Jesus as a “suffering servant” who died a horrible death for us. No other people believe in such a reality—a God who becomes one of us and then dies for us. That is how much our all-loving Father loves us. He became one of us, shared our human reality, and embraced us as no other deity is reputed to have done. But, of course, it does not end with his death. Christianity would not be the faith that we believe in and live without the resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 10:2-16)
 
The first part of this reading is about a confrontation that Jesus has with the Pharisees who ask him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” In the Law of Moses, there were certain circumstances in which a man could divorce his wife. But a wife could not divorce her husband, period. Jesus responds, “So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Jesus does not approve of men using the Law of Moses to do what women were not allowed to do—divorce.
 
The second part of this reading has to do with the love Jesus had for children: “And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.’ Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.”
 
What a beautiful passage, but what does it mean beyond the obvious love that Jesus had for children? What does it mean to “accept the kingdom of God like a child?” Is Jesus asking us to be childish? No. Rather, he is asking us to be “childlike,” being open to God’s unconditional love, accepting all the love and gifts that God gives us, even amid pain and suffering. Later in Jesus’ story, we learn just what being faithful to God in the deepest suffering really means. Jesus did it and broke through death in his resurrection, and so can we.
 
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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millstoneA reading from the Book of Numbers
(Chapter 11:25-29)
 
“The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, the Lord bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.” However, there were two men who were left in camp, “yet the spirit came to rest on them also.” Joshua, Moses’ aide said, “Moses, my Lord, stop them.” But Moses answered them, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”
 
Moses obviously has a broader and deeper vision of God’s generosity than Joshua, who seems to be stuck in legalism. But think about God’s generosity to us now. We do not receive some sort of spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit who then lives in us every day throughout our lives, even when we are not aware of this powerful presence or even if we are not faithful to the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit remains, abides in each of us. The Spirit is our constant companion, even in our darkest hours—especially in our deepest darkest hours and days and years. Do you talk to the Spirit within you? Even more important, do you listen to the Spirit?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14)
 
“The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.” For the Jewish people following the precepts, the Law of Moses was the way to salvation. For us Christians, the way to salvation is through faith in Jesus, and his Law is simple: “Love your God with all your heart and soul and your neighbor as yourself.” It is so simple, yet so challenging.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint James
(Chapter 5:1-6)
 
James is very hard on the few rich people of his time. “Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries… . You have stored up treasures for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”
 
So, here we are two thousand years later, right here in our own country where there are billions of dollars in wages stolen each year from the poorest of the poor workers. Unlike some other countries, we have laws to protect people who are being cheated and dozens of organizations that work to promote justice, but it still happens, harming not only the workers but also the majority of businesses that treat workers fairly and do not steal their wages. This ancient admonition from James is as true today as it was centuries ago.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 9:38-43, 45, 47-48)
 
There was a form of speech that was popular in the time of Jesus, and he used it from time to time to make his point. It is called “Semitic exaggeration,” and it certainly sounds strange to us today. When Jesus talks about cutting off a hand of a foot or plucking out an eye, he is using Semitic exaggeration, but over the years it has caused much confusion.
 
The point that Jesus is making is the importance of entering into the kingdom of God, or what we call heaven. That is what is most important. That is our goal.
 
In the beginning of this reading, there is a disagreement between Jesus and John, similar to the one we saw between Moses and Joshua: “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who, at the same time, speaks ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.” Jesus is always more inclusive, more understanding than we might be, always looking at the deeper motivation rather than categories of exclusion.
 
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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Jesus_childA reading from the Book of Wisdom
(Chapter 2:12, 17-20)
 
This book was written sometime between the late first century BC and the early first century AD—in other words, roughly around the lifetime of Jesus. And there are several verses that could apply to Jesus: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings. … For if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him and deliver him from the hands of his foes. … Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to him, God will take care of him.”
 
For centuries, the Jewish people hoped and prayed for a messiah. These passages could refer to such a person. Jesus did die “a shameful death,” and God did “take care of him” in the resurrection. Jesus has promised us that, even though we too may suffer unjustly, we will live forever with him.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 54:3-4, 5, 6, 8)
 
“The Lord upholds my life.” How have you experienced the Lord upholding your life? Maybe it has been a series of small gifts you have been given or one or more major saving interventions in your life. Let us remember and be thankful for God’s upholding presence in our lives.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint James
(Chapter 3:16-4:3)
 
We live in a dangerous world. James was well aware of that in his own time, two thousand years ago. Where could his people, or we today, find peace? “Where jealousy and selfish ambitions exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. … Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
 
Jesus said, “Ask and you shall receive.” James is saying that we need to ask with an open heart, not selfishly or ambitiously seeking power over others. In our prayers let us be open to God’s gifts, God’s answers, not just what we think we need. Surprises may abound.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 9:30-37)
 
This reading is in two parts, but they are connected. First of all, Jesus is teaching his disciples, “‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying and were afraid to question him.” Of course, Jesus is talking to a group consisting mostly of semi-illiterate farmers and fishermen, and he shocks them by speaking of his death and the seemingly impossible promise of rising again. What were they to make of this? What were they to think as Jesus began to prepare them for an experience at first heartbreaking and then hopeful—an experience unprecedented in human history. Have you ever asked yourself how you would have felt if you were in this band of apostles? How could you have believed this wild story and promise? Somehow, all but one stayed the course.
 
Then, in part two of this gospel story, Jesus hears the apostles arguing about “who was the greatest.” Jesus answers them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Then, to make his point, “Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
 
Would it not be wonderful if the leaders of our church and our secular society lived by this model and truly cared for the children amongst us? We would not have hundreds of millions of children hungry in our world and tens of millions hungry in our own country. We would not have millions more abused and neglected. “Whoever receives one such child in my name, receives me. … If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” How can we help our leaders to be “servants of all”?
 
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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servant_leaderA reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 50:5-9a)
 
Here are three powerful sentences from this reading: “The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” “The Lord is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” “See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?”
 
Have you ever had the experience of God opening your ear or even your heart? Perhaps you had closed your heart to someone or to some truth, and you would not budge. But then, something happened, and you had a change of heart that helped you to see another side of the person or the issue that had closed you, and you moved on.
Did you ever feel rejected or even disgraced, but then someone came to your aid or your defense? Maybe God sent that person to you, because God is your help.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9)
 
“I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” The line before this reads, “For he has freed my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” This amazing insight was written hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus Christ, who truly saves our souls from the ultimate death.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint James
(Chapter 2:14-18)
 
Here is Saint James with a strong statement about the age-old question about whether we are saved by faith or by good works. His answer is clear. We need BOTH.
 
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says that he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister says he has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well” but you do not give him the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also, faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
 
Our parish has many excellent spiritual ministries, but we also have our social ministries to help those who have material needs. But that does not let us “off the hook.” Each of us needs to respond to those we know who are in material need by providing them help or connecting them with a person or an organization that has more resources. There are dozens of community-based organizations in our town and county that exist to help those who have problems. We need to become familiar with them or ask our parish social ministries director to connect us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 8:27-35)
 
For many centuries, the Jewish people believed in the coming of a Messiah who would save his people and restore Jerusalem to its rightful place in the world. When the apostles first became followers of this remarkable man who healed so many people in so many ways, they naturally saw him as that Messiah. But Jesus was a very different kind of Messiah, a suffering servant.
 
In this reading, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They answer, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” But then Peter really gets it. “You are the Christ.” Jesus replies in a seemingly strange way: “He warned them not to tell anyone about him. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” Obviously, this is not the kind of Messiah that people had hoped for. What a disappointment! What a scandal! Jesus wants to keep all this a secret for the time being. He knows it is too much for his close followers and certainly for the people to accept.
 
Even Peter, who gets that Jesus is the Messiah, does not get what kind of Messiah he really is. “Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” Then Jesus says something even more shocking: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
 
That’s it! The so-called Secret of Mark is out. Jesus is a very different kind of Messiah, not the person that people had been expecting. This Messiah will suffer and die horribly, but he will rise after three days! No wonder so many people did not believe. It was not what they had expected. But really, it was so much better, because it came with a promise of everlasting life, not just for Jesus but for all. That means for all of us, now and forever. That is the greatest gift from Jesus: Life forever with our all-loving God.
 
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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healingA reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 35:4-7a)
 
“Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” This is a promise from the Lord that becomes very specific and includes assurances that “the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared,” “the tongue of the mute will sing.” Then, to top it off for people struggling in a parched desert, “the burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.”
 
This is God giving new life to the people of Israel who have suffered so much. It is a messianic prophesy of a new kingdom, a new relationship between God and his people. However, there is untold new suffering, new trials to come for thousands of years. Yet, people have returned to Isaiah, and this passage in particular, to give them hope. We Christians believe that this promise has been fulfilled in Jesus and we live in that promise.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10)
 
“Praise the Lord, my soul.” How often do you say a prayer of praise to God? Most of our prayers are asking God for something or for forgiveness. Of course, those are necessary and often heartfelt prayers. But what about saying a prayer of praise that can be added to our prayer of thanksgiving or just stand alone in our moments of awe before our loving God?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint James
(Chapter 2:1-5)
 
Most of the early Christians were not rich, but a few were and apparently there were situations in which the relatively rich person was given the choice seat at the celebration, and the poor man was treated shabbily. James wanted to put an end to that.
 
“For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say ‘Sit here, please,’ while you say to the poor one, ‘Stand there,’ or ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs? … “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who loved him?”
 
There was a time in many Christian churches when rich people “bought” the best seats in the church and had them reserved each Sunday. I have never known that in any parish I have been in, but I suspect it still exists in some places. You never know if someone sitting next to you may be “poor in the world” but is rich in faith.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 7:31-37)
 
People at the time of Jesus suffered many afflictions for which there was no medical cure. They also lived in continual political and economic chaos, feeling powerless in the face of oppression from the Romans and from their own countrymen who had power over them in so many ways.
 
So you can imagine how popular Jesus was because of his many cures. “They were exceedingly astonished and they said, ‘He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” But this is only one instance of Jesus healing. We know of many occasions when he healed someone of illness or infirmity, raised the dead to life, and—most important—forgave people for their sins.
 
Jesus was a healer, unlike any before him, and he wants all of us his followers to be healers as well. What opportunities do you see in your life for healing someone? Perhaps it is an emotional or spiritual healing or maybe the healing of a relationship. How about the healing of your marriage or your family? That does not necessarily mean that something is badly broken but rather that there are wounds of one kind or another that need the healing mercy of Jesus.
 
And, what about you? Where and how do you need healing in your life? Is it the loss of a loved one, the loss of some part of yourself that does not work the way it used to, the loss of memory, or simply the loss of a joy that used to be there every day of your life but now comes and goes. What steps can you take to restore your joy? How can you pray to Jesus to be with you on your journey to healing and wholeness? Jesus offers us healing gifts every day of our lives, but sometimes we are too busy or tired or wounded to experience them. His healing touch doesn’t work like magic. He wasn’t a magician; he was a healer.
 
Let us pray for whatever healing we may need and be aware of the healing gifts we are offered—in prayer, in the sacraments, in the empathy of others.
 
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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justic3A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy
(Chapter 4:1-2, 6-8)
 
This is an important moment in the history of Israel. God establishes a Covenant with the people through Moses and gives them the Law which was not a purely external, juridical thing but rather was meant to be in their hearts. Moses warns the people on the Lord’s behalf, “you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” But by the time of Jesus, there were so many add-ons to the Law that Jesus challenged religious leaders for placing a yoke on the shoulders of the people that God never intended. In contrast, Jesus said, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” For the past fifty years, the Church has moved slowly away from rules, such as abstinence from meat on Fridays, so as to focus our attention more on the basic message of Jesus: Love God and one another, and believe in the reign of God that Jesus came to make present.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5)
 
The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” Injustice has been present in every society, and it is present today in our own country. There are always those who oppress and cheat others. We are called to live justly and speak up for those who are oppressed and treated unjustly.
 
A reading from the Letter of James
(Chapter 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27)
 
James has a strong, challenging message. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” It is not enough to only hear God’s word. We must act on it. How? He tells us: “Religion that is pure and undefiled is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Widows and orphans were often the poorest people in society and so needed special care. They represented others who were also poor and who also suffered physical, emotional, or mental illnesses. The early Christian community kept to this calling, and most of our churches do today, individually and collectively. It is the responsibility of the Christian community and each of us to leave no one behind.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 7:1-8, 15-15, 21-23)
 
At the time of Jesus, there were some 613 commands in Jewish religious law, most of which were not in the Torah or Law that God gave to Moses. Several of these commands had to do not so much with cleanliness but with ritual purity. Jesus and his disciples did not observe all these burdensome commands, and that was one of many reasons that the Scribes and Pharisees wanted Jesus gone. He challenged the burdensome authority that they exercised on people. Jesus argued that “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile the person, but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Then he mentions several things that come from within a person that defile: “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly.” It sounds like a list from today’s tabloids, but we can become so used to it that we take it for granted or rail against it to no effect. The message of Jesus is love, accepting his gift of unconditional love, living it in our lives, and standing up for justice, especially for the poor and oppressed, and seeking God’s mercy as well as showing mercy to others.
 
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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A reading from the Book of Joshua
(Chapter 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b)
 
Joshua is an important person in the history of the Jewish people. He took over when Moses died and had to lead the people into the Promised Land. Under Joshua, the Israelites fought the city of Jericho and destroyed it, then moved on to take over the rest of nearby towns and cities. In today’s passage, Joshua is talking to all the people, including those who had been conquered, and tells them they have a choice:
 
“If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River (the famous Jordan River) or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” But the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods. … Therefore, we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
 
This seems like an obvious thing for people to say after being saved from slavery in Egypt, saved from starvation in the dessert, and led to victory over a strong foe, but monotheism was a new concept. The Jewish people gave the world a great gift—faith and worship of one God, not many.
 
Skip now to the time of Jesus, generations and generations later, and we can see how difficult it was for most Jews to believe in a trinitarian God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all fully God. Many did believe because of the power of Jesus and his message, but many more could not bring themselves to believe in a God who was among them in the person of this Teacher. But we continue to honor our Jewish brethren who kept the belief in one God for all those years in the face of so many false gods.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 29-21)
 
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Did you ever have someone offer you a piece of fruit that you never had before? You tasted it and were delighted that it was, indeed, sweet. God’s goodness is like that. Take a few moments this week to sit back and savor that sweetness. Maybe it will come in a surprise encounter or with someone you hold dear, or it may be just you in a powerfully quiet moment.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 5:21-32)
 
This reading includes one of the most disliked and misunderstood lines in the whole New Testament.
 
“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” Wham! Those words have reverberated throughout history and today have driven many women, and men too, out of our Church. What about equality?
 
Paul then says “The husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church.” We hear this in the male-dominated terms of Paul’s time, but we do not have to take it literally now as we are working to bring gender equality to our Church and our world. Let’s not forget the last two beautiful sentences of this reading: “So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Can you recall anything written two thousand years ago that is so positive about the relationship of a man and wife? And there is also a call to husbands: “Husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the church.”
 
Sexism is a grave injustice, whether in our Church, our country, our workplaces, or our families. Let us all work for true gender justice at all times, in all places.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 6:60-69)
 
This reading follows last week’s gospel passage in which Jesus said, “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven… . whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Many of Jesus’ disciples said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” It is one thing to hear the words of Jesus and be excited and then to experience his healings. Jesus offers those who eat his body and drink his blood eternal life. But who is he? How can this be a real offer? It seems to many to be bizarre. Jesus knows this and says, “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe. For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by my Father.”
 
Jesus is offering them an amazing gift, eternal life with him, but for some it is just too hard to believe. “Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Remember, this was written fifty years or more after the death of Jesus. John, who is the last living apostle, wants everyone to know that the journey of Jesus was not easy. His message was rejected even by some who started out to be his disciples. It all depended on their accepting a remarkable and yet almost unbelievable gift. When you think about it, that is the same for us today. Can we accept this wondrous gift from Jesus?
 
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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A reading from the Book of Proverbs
(Chapter 9:1-6)
 
The Book of Proverbs is a collection of seven sets of aphorisms that were collected and edited in their present form seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus and later. The writer of today’s passage wants his fellow Jews to pursue true wisdom, and he envisions Wisdom inviting people to a meal: “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding” (verses 5-6). The notion of coming to a meal to receive fine food and, at the same time, wisdom is important from a Christian perspective because of its relationship to the Eucharist.
 
When we come to the Eucharist, we are filled with the presence of Jesus and we are offered wisdom in many ways. Let us try to be open to the wisdom that is there for us at each Eucharistic celebration through the reading of the Scriptures, the homily, the music, and our own prayerful reflections. Amazing wisdom can come to us if we are truly listening with our heart as well as our minds.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7)
 
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (verse 9a). Sometimes we say, “It is so good I can almost taste it.” Have you ever felt that way about the goodness of the Lord?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 5:15-20)
 
Saint Paul is talking here about that ever-elusive reality of wisdom. “Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise… . Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord… but be filled with the Spirit” (verses 15, 17, 18b).
 
How can we find true wisdom? We are not talking about mere knowledge, as important as that may be. We are on another level here. Wisdom is a GIFT of the Spirit—a gift, and we only need ask for it, because it is always there where the Spirit lives deep within us. Yes, that has always been true, but too often we forget it as we struggle with so many challenges, disappointments, hard choices, and darkness of one kind or another. It calls for another kind of prayer, not necessarily saying prayers but in an open kind of silence. Have you had those moments when somehow you “got it?” It can happen more often if we let the Spirit in.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 6:51-58)
 
The notion of God feeding his people goes way back to the Lord feeding his people in the desert after their escape from Egypt. Throughout the history of the Jewish people, they depended on God for good harvests in the harsh drought-like conditions of much of Israel much of the time. So, it is understandable for Jesus to feed his people as well, and he did. But this is different: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (verses 53-55).
 
No wonder the Romans thought that Christians were crazed murderers and persecuted them. They took the words of Jesus quite literally, as did many Jews. That is obviously not what Jesus meant. Today, you and I believe that Jesus is really present in the bread and wine, that he nourishes us in a spiritual but powerful way. It is an ancient religious tradition going back to God sending food to his people in the wilderness, but in the Eucharist there is an intimacy with the Divine that is unknown in any other faith tradition. It is built on the Jewish experience of God feeding the people but in Jesus God actually became one of us, fed his people while he was on earth, and now continues to feed us spiritually.
 
How do you need to be nourished today? Ask Jesus to bring you that gift of nourishment as you receive communion this very day.
 
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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barelyA reading from the First Book of Kings
(Chapter 19:4-8)
 
David was a very good king of Israel—the best. Some hundred years later, in the ninth century before the birth of Jesus, Ahab was one of the worst kings of Israel. He had a very bad wife, Jezebel, whose name and reputation have survived for thousands of years. She worshiped the false god Baal and had her own band of false prophets protecting her.
 
Elijah was a true prophet of Israel, called by God to proclaim the truth and persecuted by the king and queen. In this reading, we find Elijah exhausted and in despair. “He prayed for death, saying: This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (verse 4b). Then he fell asleep and was awakened by an angel who provided him with food and water which Elijah consumed before falling asleep again. But the angel woke him up and ordered him, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you! He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb” (verses 7b-8).
 
This story is a testament to God providing food and hope for his people in a time of great need. God also feeds us in many ways, especially in the Eucharist which gives us nourishment for our souls and strength to go on in the face of challenges and suffering.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 34:2-3,4-5,6-7,8-9)
 
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (verse 9a). How has God’s goodness nourished you in your times of need?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 4:30-5:2)
 
“Brothers and sisters: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love as Christ loved us” (verses 30-32).
 
Ephesus was the third largest city in early Christianity after Jerusalem and Antioch, and it was filled with a variety of magicians and other strange characters who often caused bad behavior and superstition. That is why Paul is insistent that Christians behave differently, based on the all-powerful love “as Christ loved us.”
 
Two thousand years later, the message is the same—to allow the love of Christ to overcome divisions and controversies in our families, our workplaces, our communities, our parishes, and our country. It all starts with our one-on-one relationships, whatever they may be. Of course, no one of us is perfect or always loving in the way we ought to be, and that is why the mercy and forgiveness of God is so important. Sometimes, when we have hurt someone, we may feel so guilty or stubborn or embarrassed that we do not try to heal the relationship, and then things get worse. But if we reach down deep in our hearts, we will find the love of the Spirit to guide us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 6:41-51)
 
Jesus’ townspeople knew him and “his father and his mother,” so how can he say, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”? (verse 42). Jesus tells his critics to “stop murmuring” and then tells them, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (verses 48-51).
 
Bread was a major item in ancient Israel mainly because so many people were hungry for so much of the time. If the harvest was bad, they went hungry. If the Romans took too much of their crops, the people of Israel were hungry. If a farmer died or became disabled, his family often became hungry. Bread was life, and now Jesus says that he is the real bread, the eternal bread, the bread that came from God himself. All this was hard for people to believe, but some did and followed Jesus, because they knew what bread was and how it was also a symbol of life itself. They wanted to be fed in spirit as well as in body.
 
Today, as we come to the Eucharist, we too ask to be filled with the “Bread of Life” and we will not be denied. Jesus offers himself to us once again under the symbols of bread and wine, and so we are gifted by Jesus himself one more time.
 
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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eucharistA reading from the Book of Exodus
(Chapter 16: 2-4,12-15)
 
How could all this happen—bread in the morning and quail in the evening? Of course, we have no idea, except that through thousands of years this story has been told. Scientists and scripture scholars have made numerous suggestions, but the fact remains that this story has strengthened the faith of millions of people throughout the centuries. The point of the story is simple. God takes care of his people, is faithful to his people, even when they are doubtful, complaining, and angry. God’s people have often been unfaithful and have done horrible deeds. We have lost our way.
 
But God has never forsaken us, and we always come back to him through the power of his mercy and forgiveness. Has that been true in your life as well or in the lives of your loved ones? We do not live in perfection, we live in faith and forgiveness, and we continue to be nourished by the bread of life in the Eucharist.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 78:3-4,23-24,25,54)
 
“The Lord gave them bread from heaven” (verse 24b). Today, we too will receive the bread from heaven. Let us rejoice as we receive the Body of Christ.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 4:17,20-24)
 
Paul writes to the Ephesians, most of whom were Gentile converts, “You must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (verse 17). He is addressing new converts who all too easily might slip back into their old ways. After all, life as a Christian is new to them, a different way of life, a turning away from the old ways. It is also exciting to them, as though their minds and hearts have been suddenly opened to a whole new horizon. “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (verses 23-24).
 
“Put on the new self.” Have you ever wanted to do that—get rid of some of your worst fears and self-doubts; find that place “deep within” that you have glimpsed from time to time, perhaps when you were younger, or maybe just yesterday? It is there within you, within each of us. It is a gift, a gift of the Spirit. You and I need only to ask, to open our minds and hearts, and to never give up, to continue our journey into the ever-embracing power of the love of Jesus through his Spirit within us. Our “new self” is already there, struggling to emerge in the midst of our weakness as we continue to call it forth in faith and an enduring hope.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 6:24-35)
 
The story of God giving his people manna in the desert was still a powerful reminder at the time of Jesus of God’s care for his people. So, when Jesus fed the multitude, they were amazed and impressed, and then followed Jesus. He challenged them: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal” (verses 26-27).
 
Now, Jesus has their attention and an amazing back-and-forth begins. The people ask him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one that he sent.” They reply, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?” Jesus reminds them that it was “God my Father” not Moses who fed them in the dessert. “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” Now, they are excited and they ask Jesus, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Then Jesus gives them the real answer: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (cf. verses 28-35).
 
You and I gather at church on Sundays to be together, to hear the word of God, and especially to receive this Bread of Life, the very person of Jesus himself under the visible appearances of bread and wine. We are nourished, renewed, filled once again with the very presence of Jesus. It is so easy to take this all for granted. We have done it hundreds and hundreds of times, and yet it is always new, always regenerating for our deepest selves, beyond all those fears and doubts, into the joy of his loving presence.
 
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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A reading from the Second Book of Kings
(Chapter 4:42-44)
 
This reading, in which a hundred people are fed with 20 barley loaves, obviously is here because of its connection to today’s gospel passage which describes Jesus feeding thousands of people. In the Old Testament episode, a man brings the prophet Elisha twenty barley loaves in the midst of a famine. The man can’t believe it when Elisha tells him to give the bread to the people. Elisha insists, “Give it to the people to eat. For thus says the Lord. ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’ ” Remember how God fed the Israelites in the dessert with manna from heaven and the many times God fed people who were in need. The message is clear: God takes care of his people.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 145:10-11,15-16-17-18)
 
“The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” Do you believe that? There are times in our lives when we may doubt that God is present, taking care of all our needs. But think about times when times when you thought yourself in dire need but, somehow, made it through. Do you think God was present then? It may just be that God sees more than we can possibly see and knows what we really need in the long run.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 4:1-6)
 
Paul and the other apostles had a major problem integrating gentile converts into a religious tradition that included Jews who had been told for centuries that they were God’s chosen people. That was their identity, their heritage, their gift from God. Imagine how difficult it was for them to abandon many of their practices and find common ground with folks who had been pagans. Paul, “a prisoner for the Lord,” knows he does not have long to live, and he wants to “urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and patience, bearing with one another through love striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
 
That is it. That is his message and the message of Jesus and the message for us today. As different as we may be from one another, as many different views as we may have about all sorts of issues and events, we must “preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” We have significant divisions within our Church throughout the world, throughout our country, and right here in our own community but they are not as strong as what binds us together, “one God and Father of all.” Somehow, our Father is there for us—all of us—in the most joyful of times and the most challenging of times.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 6:1-15)
 
Jesus was aware of images, in the history of his people, of God feeding the people in time of need. We saw an example in the first reading today. In the incident described in this gospel passage, Jesus continues that pattern. He shows divine power disguised in the simple act of a boy being willing to share his meal. Notice that he has the people recline. That means that this is no quick meal but rather a banquet at which people take their time, celebrate in the Jewish tradition, and gather up what is left over, a Jewish banquet tradition. There are six variations of this story in the gospels, so obviously the early Church thought this was a big deal—not just feeding people but inviting them to a feast. It was a sign that the Kingdom of God had actually come in the person of Jesus.
 
You and I come to the feast of the Eucharist each week, but because we do it so often it can seem rote, a variation of something we have heard and seen before. But the Eucharist is really always new, because Jesus is inviting us to a feast, a celebration of the Kingdom of God in our midst, the presence of our Brother and Savior right here in our community. That is why we call it the celebration of the Eucharist not just “going to Mass.”
 
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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shepherdA reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah
(Chapter 23:1-6)
 
Jeremiah was one of the most courageous and tortured of all the prophets. Today’s reading from his prophecy was composed in the context of the battle for power between the Babylonians and the Egyptians with Judea, and specifically Jerusalem, in the middle. The Jewish king Zedekiah was torn between the two enemies and was weak. Jeremiah has a message from God for the king and the people. “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture. … You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. … I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; … Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is right and just in the land. In his days Judah will be saved.”
 
Over the centuries Israel had many kings—some good, such as David, the best, and many others weak and dishonest, such as Zedekiah, who was responsible for the horrible Babylonian Exile and the destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah has God promising to send a new king in the quality of the great king David. Of course, the Gospels tell us that Jesus came from the line of David, so his disciples saw him as that righteous shepherd.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 23:1-3,3-4,5,6)
 
“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” This is the most quoted and prayed line in all the Psalms, even though shepherds are not a part of our daily lives or thinking. That’s because, for us, Jesus is the shepherd. He is always with us and takes care of us. Do you believe that? How have you experienced the care of Jesus?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 2:13-18)
 
This letter has some of the deepest and most meaningful messages for our faith. Here, Paul wants to bridge the gap between Jews and Gentiles.
 

“In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace. … He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father.”

 
Paul was a devout Jew who loved his people and saw that their salvation was right there in Jesus. He also became friends with many Gentiles, and he saw that they, too, are called to follow Jesus: “Through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Paul spent his life trying to bring these two peoples together. Sometimes he succeeded, but more often he did not. It was a source of great suffering for him, but it never deterred him from his mission.
 
Sometimes, we, too, succeed in what is most important to us, and sometimes we seem to fail. But there is always another day, another chance, if we remember that we, too, are called to bring peace and love to all people, starting with those closest to us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 6:30-34)
 
Here we have the theme of Jesus as the Good Shepherd following from the two previous readings. The apostles have been out proclaiming the good news, teaching, and doing good deeds for the people. Jesus tells them, “’Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest for a while.’ …People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.” Jesus is being the Good Shepherd to his apostles, telling them to take a break, have a meal, share stories from the road. But it doesn’t work. “People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.”
 
Now, we see Jesus as the Good Shepherd for all the people. “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” This notion of Jesus being the Good Shepherd is somewhat foreign to us who have never met a shepherd, but it was a powerful image for people of his time. It meant safety, caring, nurturing, and fidelity to the task of protecting. Those are things we can relate to in our lives. Jesus is our Protector.

 
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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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Amos
(Chapter 7:12-15)
 
“Amaziah, priest of Bethel, said to Amos, ‘Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah! There earn your bread by prophesying, but never again prophesy in Bethel.” Amaziah is protecting his own turf and accusing Amos of being a prophet for money. Amos assures him that he is not a prophet but instead is “a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.” But then, “The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel.’ ”
 
People like Amos do not wake up one day and say, “I think I want to be a prophet.” No! A prophet has to be called by God, and Amos was indeed called by God. Of course, Amaziah could not see any of that, and so he refused to honor God’s call to Amos.
 
Amos preached against the corruption of the kingdom and the neglect of the poor, so like most prophets he was not popular in his time.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 85:9-10,11-12,13-14)
 
“Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” God’s kindness is always there for us even when God seems so far away and silent. Often, we can meet God in that very silence if we can shut off all the everyday noise and listen.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 1:3-14)
 
Here we have a powerful statement about our redemption: “In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.” Then later we hear. “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption.”
 
Many scripture scholars believe that Paul wrote this letter while in prison in Rome where he would be executed. The letter was passed around the various Christian communities for the next twenty years as a summary of just what salvation in and from Jesus Christ really meant. As we hear it today, we know that it is about our redemption that has already started with the presence of the Holy Spirit within our very being NOW, in this life which Paul calls “the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption.” Yes, our redemption has already started.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 6:7-13)
 
Jesus sends the apostles out two by two but with only the bare bones for travel: a staff and sandals but only one tunic and “no food, no sack and no money in their belts.” “Wherever you enter a house,” he tells them, “stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” These are not easy journeys. We know that all the apostles except John were murdered, martyred for the cause; but while they were alive they continued the work of their leader. “The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” Many people accepted the “Good News” of salvation, but many more did not. The Romans thought Christians were another dangerous cult, and many Jews also believed Christians were a danger to the established order. Yet, the disciples moved on, and their communities multiplied from villages, to towns, to cities, including Rome. Some people accepted Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, and many more accepted Jesus as God himself, sent by the Father to save all people. Because of their courage and determination, we share their faith. It is an amazing gift that the apostles have given to us, their legacy in faith. Let us remember to be thankful to them who gave their lives for us and for centuries of believers.
 
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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rejectionA reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 2:2-5)
 
The people of Israel revered the prophets but did not always treat them well. That was still true in the time of Jesus as well and it is true today. Prophets are often not honored by their own people in their own times. It is hard to be a prophet at any time. It is a dangerous calling.
 
Here the great prophet Ezekiel has a visit from God: “As the Lord spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet. … Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: thus says the Lord God! And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house—they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”
 
Who are the prophets in our midst today? They are not necessarily those on the front pages or the stars of social media, but they are here, sent by God to bring peace and justice and love for all. Those especially who speak on behalf of the poor and troubled are challenging us with a call from the Spirit.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 123:1-2a,2b,3-4)
“Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy” (verse 2cd). God’s mercy is the most powerful force in the universe. We need only ask for it and accept it.
 
A reading from the second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 12:7-10)
 
Paul, this great traveling apostle of Jesus, had all sorts of physical as well as spiritual and emotional problems. He begs the Lord that this “thorn in the flesh” be taken away from him. But God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul responds, “I will boast most gladly of my weaknesses in order that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Then he says, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
 
It seems at first like a contradiction, strength coming in the midst of weakness. But God’s strength can and often does come in the times of our greatest feelings of weakness, when we do not know the right thing to do or when we have seemed to fail repeatedly. Have you ever experienced a power that came to you in a difficult or challenging moment? Suddenly, you knew the right way to go, the best decision to make, the healing that you needed to share, and you did it or said it. You did not know that you had it in you, but the Spirit was there.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 6:1-6)
 
Jesus has been traveling all over Israel, but here he comes to “his native place” or, as we might say, his hometown. At first, people seem impressed. “When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!” Then the tone changes. The people see him as a home boy who has gotten too big for his own good: “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with him? And they took offense at him.”
 
Jesus responds, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” Imagine that! This great preacher and healer is challenged, not because what he is saying is wrong but because of his origin and family. And, because of this harsh rejection, “he was not able to perform any mighty deeds there.” Amazing! The very presence of God in their midst and their rejection takes away his power to do “mighty deeds.” Do you think that even today people are blocking the power of God to heal, to love, to bring justice and peace to all because of our inability to believe, to accept the gifts that Jesus has for us? It happened then in the very presence of the Son of God, and it can happen now when we shun the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
 
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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