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Loving and caring God,
we thank you for Jesus’ love for us that led him to the cross.
Help us to embody his love
in the way we live our lives,
following his path of love, justice, and peace.
Free us from trying to create our own paths,
and help us to proceed on your path,
guided by your light
so that we can experience your joyful peace
even in the midst of the sufferings.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

 
Gospel at the Procession:
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 21:1-11)
 
This is Matthew, a Jew writing especially for Jewish converts to Christ. He wants to make sure he conveys that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise for the Messiah. That is why he has Jesus “riding on a donkey” as the prophet Zechariah foretold and has the crowd cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” from Psalm 118.
 
There are supporters who believe Jesus to be the Messiah, and yet not long after, in this same city, another crowd yells, “Crucify him.” Have you ever wondered why the people of Jerusalem changed sides so quickly? As we hear later in the story, it was the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were threatened by Jesus that wanted him dead and roused up many of the people to turn against him even though it was not in their best interest. It is a pattern that has continued throughout history.
 
A reading from the the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 50:4-7)
 
This is one of the four poems called “Suffering Servant Songs” that depict a messenger sent to convince the people to be true to the covenant they had with God. The Servant suffers rejection and even death while being faithful to his mission. The early Church saw Jesus as the embodiment of the Suffering Servant, as do we today.
 
Have you ever suffered for doing the right thing, for standing up for the truth, for helping someone in need? At times, we all may be called to be suffering servants but not people without hope. Our hope is in Jesus, especially in times of suffering.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 2:6-11)
 
This passage was probably a hymn sung at early Christian liturgies that incorporates the image of the Suffering Servant that was familiar to the Jews of the time. But it goes beyond this image to one obedient to the point of death: “Because of this, God greatly exalted him” … “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”
 
This was a radical statement for any Jew to make. For Judaism, God is totally other, not embodied in some aspect of nature. God is God. That’s it. But here, the early Christians boldly sing of their belief “that Jesus Christ is Lord.” That may be easy for us to say now, but it was a dangerous song back then.
 
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew
(Chapters 26:14-27:66)
 
This is the most important part of the Gospels, and so we read the whole passage reverently. It is impossible to get all the many parts of the story all at once. Please try to read all four of the gospel Passion stories, or at least one of them, sometime this week if possible and talk about it with someone who shares your faith.
 
There are so many interesting characters and stories within stories. Let’s look more closely at Judas and Peter. Both betray Jesus but in different ways and for different reasons. Peter is afraid, afraid for his life. He knew how hideous the Roman crucifixions were. So, here he is the one chosen by Jesus to be the leader, the “rock,” and he crumbles. We do not know why Judas betrayed Jesus to the Romans. Was it just for money or were there other motives? In any case, Judas becomes so wrapped in guilt that he kills himself. He does not believe that he can be forgiven. That means that he did not really understand who Jesus was, the healer, full of compassionate forgiveness, and so he cut himself off from the gift that Jesus offered him. Peter recognized his tragic mistake and turned himself around, had a change of heart, and asked for forgiveness. Later, of course, he gave his life for Jesus and for the message of forgiveness. And what of Judas? Did his suicide mean that he was forever condemned for his lack of faith in forgiveness? No! Who are we to judge?
 
As we celebrate this Palm Sunday in the midst of a global pandemic and remember all the horrible suffering that Jesus endured, let us pray to the suffering Jesus who bore the suffering of his people and the risen Jesus who overcame suffering and death and is now with all who suffer throughout the world.
 
Let us also ask ourselves what we can do to help those who are in danger and who may be hungry.
 
As you may know, I co-founded WhyHunger with the late Harry Chapin. We started the first hunger hotline in America, the New York Hunger Hotline. Some years later, we started the National Hunger Hotline which still operates at 1-800-548-6479. Over the years, we have helped millions of hungry people find food in their neighborhoods. During the past two weeks our calls have gone up 300 percent. If you know people who are hungry, please tell them to call that hotline. And if you can do anything to help hungry people near you or far away, please do.
 
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.
 
Image courtesy of www.LumoProject.com and can be found at FreeBibleImages.org
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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With the world health challenges, it is an understatement to say that life has been disrupted this Lenten season, and not because of our usual choices of self-discipline and penance.

 

Today we celebrate St. Francis of Paola, Italy (1416-1507), who would probably be in his element if he were here. His chosen life included isolated cave-dwelling and severe dietary restrictions. He, and the orders of friars he founded, shared his focus on pursuing the eternal inheritance promised by the Lord, his “chosen portion and …cup” (Psalm 16:5a), although Francis carried on a ministry of healing and prophecy to the poor and the royal, because he felt called by God to do so.

 

Nowadays when grocery items and what we consider staples are not so accessible, we might be so distracted that we do not take the time to focus on our spiritual life and practices. It is possible, however, that we can draw strength from rising above the material realm and reassessing our needs, losses, and luxuries. True, we probably won’t opt to live in caves and eat a diet devoid of animal products as St. Francis did, but we can take the opportunity to do what St. Paul says he did: “I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ, Jesus”
(Philemon 3:14).

 

That prize! What a treasure! To attain that treasure, we may struggle with the pursuit; but unlike the grocery stores’ inventories, the supply of this heavenly treasure “that no thief can reach nor moth destroy” is inexhaustible (Luke 12:33).

 

Jesus reassures us in the gospel for this memorial (Luke 12:32-34) that it is the Father’s pleasure to give us the kingdom, that we have no need to be afraid. When there is so much uncertainty and sickness in this world, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

 

Our faith and the gospels tell us that Jesus understands suffering. We are not alone, even if we are isolated in our houses. Jesus, as he prayed to his Father in the garden on the night before he died, must have felt isolated as his close friends fell asleep instead of praying with him.

 

Ultimately, God is in control and loves his flock so much that he sent his Son as Savior. As Holy Week approaches, we can regroup. We turn our attentive hearts to where our eternal treasure is and to the sacrifice of Jesus that made our inheritance an attainable reality. Today we pray that St. Francis of Paola, who was a devout person of prayer, will intercede for us and help us attain our upward calling.

 

Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, CT. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.

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God of life,
you want us to live and be happy.
The words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life”
assure us that you will not let your life in us
die or be wasted.
Help us to cooperate with you
so that we may follow your inspirations
to choose what is right, healthy, and productive
and to reject what is wrong, unhealthy, and destructive.
Help us to always be alive to your life and goodness.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

A reading from the the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 37:12-14)
 
The Babylonian Exile (597 BC to 538 BC) was a terrible period in the history of the Jewish people. Many thousands died and many more lost hope. Amid this tragedy, the prophet Ezekiel preached hope. Ezekiel lived in exile in Babylon which for thousands of Israelites was a grave. But Ezekiel has a message from God: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord…. “I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land…. I have promised, and I will do it.”
 
In times of disaster, there are true prophets, sent from God, and false prophets. Sometimes, it is hard to tell the difference unless we listen to the Spirit dwelling within us and all around us.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 130:1-8)
 
“With the Lord there is mercy and the fullness of redemption.” Mercy is a key word for Pope Francis. He feels he experienced God’s mercy in powerful way when he was a bishop in Argentina in a period of political strife and violence. It changed his life forever. He encourages us to seek God’s mercy throughout our lives.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 8:8-11)
 
Paul tells the Romans, “You are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you…. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
 
As you know, Paul was not always a believer in Jesus, but once he “got it” he was all in. He experienced the Holy Spirit in him, and he knew the power it gave him to face adversity, torture, and even death. He believed that his mortal body would be given a new life after death. Jesus died and will live forever, a seeming contradiction but not for Jesus and not for us because God’s Spirit lives in us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 11:1-45)
 
Have you noticed that as we come closer to Holy Week the gospel readings have been longer? Let us try to really get into this beautiful story: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Yes, Jesus loved everyone, but he was also fully human and had an especially deep friendship with this family. So, you would think that when Jesus heard that Lazarus had died, he would have rushed to comfort the family. No! “So, when he heard that (Lazarus) was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.” Then finally he said to his companions, “Let us go back to Judea.”
 
Of course, by then Lazarus was not only dead but already entombed. “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you…. Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will live forever. Do you believe this?’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord….’”
 
So, Jesus went to the tomb and “cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” John ends the story by telling us, “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what had been done began to believe in him.” Still, many more did not, just as many today who are Christians doubt that we will also be resurrected. Yet, there are only two choices: believe in resurrection or there is nothingness. I am going with Jesus and the promise of resurrection. How about you?
 
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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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