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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 55:6-9)
“Seek the Lord where he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way. And the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
 
In this time of massive fires and floods and a virus that has killed more than 200,000 of our brothers and sisters in our country, and nearly million throughout the world, God can seem far away. In this time of so much death and suffering, Isaiah reminds us of the tragedy of the Babylonian Exile when many of those held captive in a foreign land may have thought that God had abandoned them. Isaiah tells them to “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.”
 
This could be a time when tragedy can divide us and destroy us, but it need not be. We can “turn to the Lord for mercy” and see the good in one another and show respect for the natural world that nurtures us and yet now threatens us. We can “turn to the Lord for mercy” and show mercy for one another.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18)
 
Does the Lord seem near to you in these times of chaos? The Psalmist says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.” We each need to know our deepest truth and call upon the Lord from that truth. What is your deepest truth?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 20c-24, 27a)
 
Paul was in prison and knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be killed. “Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death. For me life is Christ, and death is gain. …I am caught between the two. I long to depart from this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet, that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.”
 
Paul had a powerful purpose for living. What is your purpose in life? Has it given you the strength to carry on in hard times and joy in the good times?
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 20:1-16a)
 
It can be difficult to see what is fair about the situation described in this parable. A landowner goes out at dawn and hires some workers. After agreeing with them about their wages, he sends them to his vineyard. He goes out again at nine o’clock, then again at three, and finally at five o’clock to hire more workers at the same pay. “When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’” Naturally, when the latest laborers are given the same pay as those who have worked hard all day, the early workers protest. The landowner replies, “my friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Are you envious because I am generous?” And Jesus adds, “Thus, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”
 
On one level, this parable is about the enormous generosity and mercy of God. What may seem like an injustice is really unbounded grace. But why did Jesus tell this story in this way if he wanted to simply say how generous his Father was? Some scholars say that he wanted to make sure that the first disciples would not look down on new disciples. All would be treated with the same unconditional love. That is the way God treats us today and forever: no discrimination, no hierarchy, only total love and mercy for 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. 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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Contagion is certainly nothing new. In 19 places in the biblical book of Leviticus, we can read about such things as how to eliminate contagion from clothing and even from walls. Clearly, from ancient times, people have worried about uncleanliness and diseases and how to combat them.
 
Psalm 91 offers assurance and hope of God’s protection:

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;…
You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction
that wastes at noonday. (Verses 3, 5-6)

 
However, dangers still arise. We have to be so careful these days to take precautions to avoid catching the Corona virus which is very contagious. Masks, distancing, sanitizers, and good ventilation are what we hear about day in and day out. Then there are the dangers of flu season looming around the corner! Contagion, contagion everywhere!
 
But how about things we would like to catch? We have heard about someone having a contagious laugh or a contagious smile. Those might be good to contract! We may find it difficult not to follow suit if we find ourselves in the presence of someone who yawns. Also, if we are in the right company, we might find enthusiasm for a good cause or a noble endeavor contagious.
 
For example, today we celebrate the memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, a doctor of the Church. Ordained to the Jesuit order in 1570, he was a prolific author, a professor and scholar. Gifted with a brilliant intellect, he compiled three volumes of Disputations of the Christian Faith, and two catechisms. Although he was elevated to the rank of cardinal, he lived a very simple life; he was always ready to give aid to the poor and needy. If only his habits of self-discipline, generosity, and austerity were contagious!
 
What can we do to make ourselves more susceptible to catching compulsions toward good, generous, loving behavior, and attitudes. First, we may have to remove our masks of self-centeredness, comfort zones, or complacency. Granted, old habits are not easy to break, but we can try, one day at a time.
 
In the gospel reading for the memorial today, in Matthew 7:21-19, we read that we have to do more than just talk about loving God; we have to do the Father’s will. In a way, we have to catch the good news of the kingdom and run with it. We must act on it and share God’s love.
 
We may have to put less distance between ourselves and our Lord by opening ourselves up to him with more prayer. From the other reading for today, Wisdom 7, we see how wise it is to pray:

Therefore, I prayed, and understanding was given me,
I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to scepters and thrones,
and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. (V. 7-8)

 
We should increase the good ventilation from the Holy Spirit, who will breathe in us as we pray St. Augustine’s prayer:

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love butwhat is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.

 
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.
 
Scripture passages are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1965, 1966 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Additional resource: Catholic Online/Saints & Angels. Other resources: franciscanmedia.org, Catholic Online.

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Have you ever noticed someone’s shirt tag sticking out at the back of their collar? As long as I know the person, I will probably tell them or help them tuck the label back inside.
 
I got to thinking about those tags and labels that tell us sizes, brand names, composition, and, often, washing and drying instructions. There may even be more than one tag on an article of clothing, and tags might be presented in more than one language.
 
Imagine if each of us had a label or tag or two to offer information about us and our best possible spiritual presentation and care. Maybe the tags would and should always stick out to remind ourselves especially about these vital details.
 
What would our tags say? First and foremost, our designer is God, who made us in his image.
 
We are trying to be 100 percent Christian, but that isn’t always so easy. We try to have a large heart and pray it will not shrink. Verses from Psalm 51 can help:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,and cleanse me from my sin…
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.(verses 1-2, 10)

 
Proper care would include daily scripture and spiritual reading, maybe journaling, and definitely endeavoring to love others as we love ourselves. Just as with certain fabrics, we can develop some wrinkles that have to be straightened out. We can pray and ask Jesus to help us. We remember the prophecy of Isaiah 40:4 that is repeated in Luke 3:5:

Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. (Is 40:4)

 
As some labels indicate, certain things are “best if used by ….” We are at our best if we stay close to Jesus through reception of the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. Our labels would remind us that we need spiritual nourishment in order to grow. Forgiveness is a wonderful stain remover! We also have other believers to help us live up to our labels. We read in 1 John 1:7:

….but if we walk in the light as he (God) himself is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son
cleanses us from all sin.

 
I think if I were to wear a tag or label to build up myself and others I meet along my way, it would contain these joyful instructions from Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 
Just remember, our Father’s heart is X-tra Large and, in his mercy, he often uses the Gentle Cycle with us. I challenge you to write your own labels! Tag! You are it!
 
Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
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, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.

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Good and gracious God,
your Son’s teaching on forgiveness
is hard to put into practice.
Yet forgiveness brings us peace and harmony
not only within ourselves
but also with others and with you, our Creator.
Enable us to let go of our painful memories and
to experience the healing power of forgiveness
that you continue to offer us.
May we be more willing to offer forgiveness
so that we will also receive forgiveness.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of Sirach
(Chapter 27:30-28:7)
“Forgive your neighbor’s injustices; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? Remember your last days and put enmity aside, remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.”
 
Please read that again and let it sink in.
 
It is so easy to focus on minor injustices done to us, a seeming neglect or inappropriate words. Wonderful relationships can be ruined, families torn apart. Why? Cannot justice and love be restored through patience and forgiveness? These are the same gifts we ask from God for ourselves. Without them, we are at a loss and isolated. With them, we are renewed and enlivened.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12)
 
“The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.” Is that the God you believe in? I hope so. It is the only God that exists.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 14:7-9)
 
“Brothers and sisters: None of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, if we die we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be the Lord of the dead and of the living.”
 
Let’s think about that for a moment. Jesus is with us throughout our lives, every day of our lives and at the time of our deaths—especially then. Have you ever had the opportunity and privilege to be with someone who is dying? It is a sad time, a challenging time, but also a blessed time with Jesus and our loved one. It is a time when gifts are given. We can call forth those gifts for the dying person, and they will come to us as well in faith.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 18:21-35)
 
“Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy seven times.’” Peter would know what Jesus meant. Seven was a powerful number in Jewish culture, and seven times seven would be heard to mean as many as needed.
 
But to make it clear, Jesus tells a parable of a king who forgives a servant who owed the king “a huge amount.” The servant had pleaded with the king: “Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full.” The master was moved with compassion, forgave the loan, and let the man go. However, then the servant found another man “who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt.”
 
Other servants saw what had happened and told their master. “His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
Jesus is using language and an example from his time, not ours, but the point is the same. We must forgive others if we want to ask God for forgiveness. Yes. Sometimes that is very hard, but it is what we are called to do.
 
Is there someone that you need to forgive? Ask the Holy Spirit who lives within you for the strength to forgive on whatever level you are able. Does it mean that you have to be best friends with the person? Sometimes it works out that way, but that is not always possible. What is possible for you? How can you take the first step or help a person you know to take that step toward reconciliation?
 
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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