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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 11, 2019 7:00:12 AM

A reading from the second Book of Kings
(Chapter 5:14-17)
 
In ancient times, lepers were considered unclean. They were avoided and were almost never in positions of power. Naaman was a leper but also was a commander in the army of the king of Aram. The king had such high regard for Naaman that he told him to ask the prophet Elisha to cure the leprosy. Elisha told Naaman to plunge into the Jordan River seven times. At first, Naaman refused, but his servants talked him into it, and he was cured of leprosy. He then told Elisha, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.” But Elisha would not accept the gift. So, Naaman said, “If you will not accept, please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth, for I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other God except to the Lord.”
 
This was a big deal. A high-ranking pagan had converted to the God of Israel, and he asked for a bit of Israel (“two mule-loads of earth”) to take with him so that he could worship in Israel no matter where he is. The author wants his readers to know that even a powerful pagan army commander came to believe because of the power of the true God.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4)
 
“The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.” Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, we read that God did reveal his saving power over and over. Have you ever asked yourself how God has gifted you in all sorts of ways? Perhaps it was a surprise gift in the form of a new and important love in your life or a healing for you or someone you love. Or perhaps it is the all-abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in your life every day.
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 2:8-13)
 
Paul is in prison once again, but this time it is very serious. “I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory. … If we have died with him we shall also live with him; If we persevere we shall also reign with him.”
 
We’re thankful that none of us suffers for our faith in the way that Paul did, but there are times when we do experience intense suffering. When has that kind of deep suffering hit you, surrounded you, gotten inside you? How did you get through it? Are you still going through it? Maybe a certain cause of suffering has passed, only to be replaced by a newer and more intense form of pain. Have you asked for help from someone close to you or a counselor or therapist? Maybe there is someone who can help ease your suffering even if that person can’t take it away entirely. Or, maybe you can learn to live with it and go on with the more loving and positive aspects of your life. Often, we can become overwhelmed by one painful part of life and lose sight of all the gifts we continue to receive amid the suffering. A suffering time might be a good time to recall the gifts you continue to experience and the times in your life when God did help you through your pain.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 17:11-19)
 
In the first reading, we heard about a leper being healed. Here, we have ten lepers. “They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!’ And when he saw them, he said ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’ As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God with a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, ‘Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?’ Then he said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
 
Jesus was a healer. Even scholars who do not believe he was the Son of God agree, and there are examples of Jesus healing many people and sometimes only one. This time, he tells the lepers to “show yourselves to the priests.” But it is not the priests who heal them. “As they were going they were cleansed.” Jesus was the one who healed all ten, but only one, a Samaritan, came back to thank him. Jesus asks, “Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” So now, Jesus takes the healing one step further. “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” The man who had been considered a heretic because he was a Samaritan is not only healed but he is saved for all eternity.
 
You and I may ask Jesus for healing at many times in our lives, but he gives us much more, the gift of eternal life.
 
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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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 4, 2019 7:00:27 AM

A reading from the book of the Prophet Habakkuk
(Chapter 1:2-3; 2:2-4)
 
“How long O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I see misery?” Habakkuk was one of the 12 minor prophets of Israel and, like most, he was speaking in a time of oppression by a foreign power. God answers him: “For the vision still has its time, presses on to its fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”
 
This was written thousands of years ago, but it has meaning for us today even though our situation is not so challenging. Or is it? Perhaps there are times when we can identify with this ancient man’s cry. Not that we have to deal with hostile Babylonians, but maybe we have troubles with our health, our family, or our work. We still can rely on God’s promise of ultimate salvation.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9)
 
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” How and where can we hear the voice of God? Sometimes it is at prayer, at our Eucharistic celebration, in nature, or any time when we speak to a loved one or look into her or his eyes. Or, it may be in times of stress, danger or disappointment. But we can truly hear God’s voice only if we have open, not hardened hearts.
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 1:6-8, 13-14)
 
Paul is writing from prison to his disciple Timothy who is now also a pastor. Paul tells Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control…. Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God…. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.”
 
How can we reach God with our prayers when God is “out there” somewhere beyond our reach? Only with the help of the “Holy Spirit that dwells within us,” that is not “out there.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within you? Do you think of the Holy Spirit as your partner throughout life, your God partner? If you were taught as a child and have believed as an adult that God was “up there in heaven,” you have a wonder-filled surprise waiting for you. It is the very presence of the Holy Spirit within your soul now. Rejoice!
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 17:5-10)
 
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’ it would obey you.” Of course, this is what we call Semitic exaggeration, a mode of speech used throughout the Bible to make a point. The point in this Gospel passage is the power of faith. Unfortunately, we modern folks often think of faith as going to a prayer bank and making a withdrawal. We expect an answer, the answer we want, as soon as possible, and if we do not receive the answer we want, we might find our faith wavering. Jesus wanted the apostles and us today to have a wild faith, a deep faith, and at times a long winding faith that does not work as a straight line of prayer and response but helps us to live in the deep mystery of God’s love.
 
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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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 27, 2019 7:00:39 AM

A reading from the book of Amos
(Chapter 6:1a, 4-7)
 
Amos is condemning the rich and powerful in the Northern Kingdom of Israel just before they are invaded by the Babylonians and sent into exile, roughly 800 years before the birth of Jesus. Amos blames the elite for their uncaring and unjust lifestyle and declares, “Therefore, they shall be the first to go into exile.” In the next century the rest of Israel, the Southern Kingdom, would be captured by the same nation and sent into the infamous Babylonian Exile. These are all dim historical memories for us, but they had a devastating effect on the Jewish people for generations.
 
What is the warning for us? After all, we are the most powerful country in the world. The lesson is the same for us as it was for the Israelites. Despite our power and wealth, our leaders and all of us need to take care of those in need, not in a condescending way but with a real feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood. That is why our parish ministries are so important not only for those we serve but also for those who serve.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10)
 
“Praise the Lord my soul!” Praising the Lord may be the least practiced prayer of many of us, as opposed to prayers of petition. It can go right along with thanking God for all we are and all we have been given.
 
A reading from first Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 6:11-16)
 
Timothy had accepted the call from God through Paul to preach the Good News of Jesus, the unconditional love and mercy of God that comes through Jesus. Paul wants to make sure that Timothy not only preaches this loving message but that he himself lives it with all those qualities: righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness. Imagine if those who preached and taught and led our Church throughout history did so with all or even most of those qualities. There would not have been any inquisitions that brutally murdered thousands of innocent people, or religious wars that killed millions, and hundreds of millions who left the Church in anger and hopelessness. But that was the past. It need not be the present or the future as Pope Francis opens his arms to all who may feel they are outcasts and offers hope and God’s merciful love.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 16:19-31)
 
The Pharisees were often depicted as “those who loved money.” So this is the audience that Jesus addresses, and he tells a parable about a rich man who in life did not care at all for the poor man, Lazarus, who “would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” After the rich man dies, he is in a place of torment and wants out. He asks Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, for help for himself and his five brothers. He never admits he is wrong, never asks for forgiveness. He simply wants to make a deal with Abraham.
 
Over the years, people have asked if hell is real and, if so, who is there since God is all-loving? Here, Luke gives us an example of hell. The rich man does not get out of hell in this story, because he never asks for forgiveness, never admits his sins.
 
God's offers kindness and forgiveness to us throughout our lives. It is never too late for repentance, but it is possible for a person to refuse God’s love and mercy. We have had examples of mass murderers in our lifetime. Are they in hell? Perhaps, but that is not our business. What is our business is to proclaim God’s merciful forgiveness to all we know, especially those who may seem to have missed this most important message 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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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 20, 2019 7:00:27 AM

A reading from the book of Amos
(Chapter 8:4-7)
 
We tend to think of ancient Israel as a poor nation, and that is true. Most of the people were poor peasant farmers who barely got by and often were vulnerable to the whims of their landlords, seed providers, and more well-off merchants who cheated the poor families that depended on them for their livelihood.
 
Amos, teaching in the eighth century before the birth of Jesus, socks it to these predators: “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a think they have done!” This was a time of relative economic growth, but poor people saw little if any of that money. Sound familiar? One of the biggest issues in our society today is economic inequality. It is not only an economic concern but also a moral issue. People who are working hard, often at two or three minimum-wage jobs per family, are still poor and hungry in our rich country. Imagine what Amos would be saying today, how angry he would be. How should we, as followers of Jesus, act to overcome economic injustice in our society? Can we say that we are truly on the side of the poor?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8)
 
“Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.” How does God really lift up the poor unless we believers act as God’s partners here on earth?
 
A reading from first Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 2:1-8)
 
The early Christians were not big fans of kings, the Roman emperor, and other officials, but the author of this letter calls upon Christians to pray “for kings and all authority.” He also asks the people to pray “without anger or argument.”
 
That was a difficult task then, and it is today, especially if we do not agree with our local, state, or national leaders. We can pray to change their minds, work to challenge their positions or their leadership within our democratic process, and join in an ongoing debate on the issues we hold dear.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 16:1-13)
 
One of the challenges posed by this passage is that Luke combines a parable with moral teachings. The parable begins with a theft. Most of the Palestinian farmland at the time of Jesus was controlled by royalty or super-rich absentee landowners. This landowner had hired a steward to administer his land, and the steward stole from him and then was caught. Afraid that he would lose his position or worse, the steward decided to make friends with the farmers who were his business contacts. He made deals with several, thinking that they would treat him right after he lost his job. It is unclear whether he lowered the price by giving the landowner less or that he gave up part of his own share. In any case, the landowner found out and surprisingly “commended that dishonest steward for for acting prudently.”
 
Jesus then goes into a long explanation of “the children of this world” making friends with dishonest wealth. The two moral teachings here are about being trustworthy with small matters and large, and, most important, about Jesus’ exhortation, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Whatever is mammon? It seems to be a term for ill-gotten or dishonest wealth.
 
Almost every day we learn of one or more examples of wealth that is not only excessive but acquired through dishonesty or out-and-out robbery with a fancy name. The people who swindled are all too often honest business people and hard-working investors or consumers.
 
It is interesting how stories and moral teachings from 2,000 years ago are still relevant today.
 
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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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 13, 2019 7:00:04 AM

A reading from the book of Exodus
(Chapter 32:7-11, 13-14)
 
This reading is about the infidelity of the people who were saved by God from slavery in Egypt. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once to your people. … They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out, “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” I see how stiff-necked this people is. … Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.’
 
“But Moses implored the Lord, his God, saying ‘Why, O Lord, should your wrath raise up against your own people?’” Then Moses began to bargain with God. This may seem strange to us but “Semitic bargaining” was a feature of life at that time. And God relented and said to Moses, “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual inheritance.”
 
Notice that at first God refers to the Hebrews as “your people,” even though he has always considered them as his people. Then, after he has forgiven them for their idolatry, they are once again his people.
 
We do not worship any golden calf today, but we may be tempted to worship power or money or possessions. Of course, we would never say that, but we might be tempted to discard our values for power or possessions. It is good to ask ourselves these questions every once in a while. What are we tempted to worship? Does anything hold power over us?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19)
 
“I will rise and go to my father.” The first line of the Psalm says, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.” God’s mercy is always there for us.
 
A reading from first Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 1:12-17)
 
Saint Paul was more responsible for the growth of the early Church than any other person. But he had been a really “bad guy.” As he writes, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant.” This great man had participated in the murder of Christians before his conversion: “I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. … Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that as me as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.”
 
In the first reading, from the Book of Exodus, we read about God’s mercy for his people. Here, Paul talks about the great mercy that he received from Jesus, a mercy that literally turned his life around.
 
Has the forgiveness of God, the mercy of God ever turned your life around? Has it helped you out of depression, self-doubt, even self-hatred? The healing mercy of God is truly amazing, transforming, life- changing. Perhaps you know someone who is in need of God’s mercy but does not know it or does not know how to ask for it. Have you ever thought that one of our great gifts and roles in life is to embody the merciful love of Jesus in your life and work? It is right there within us, and the need is all around us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 15:1-32)
 
This passage contains the most beautiful and important parable of Jesus. It is often called “the parable of the Prodigal Son,” but the true focus is on the father’s Love, his crazy, over-the-top love for the son who demanded his inheritance even though, as the younger son, he should have waited until his older brother received his share. “He set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.” So, he took the only job available, “to tend the swine.” What a disgusting, demeaning job for a formerly rich young Jewish man to have. It got so bad that “he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.”
 
Finally, he came to his senses: “Here am I, dying of hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired workers.” Then, a remarkable, unsuspected thing happened. “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’” You know the rest of the story. The father was so happy that he threw a homecoming celebration. This angered his older son who refused to enter the house and rightfully complained that he had been the worthy one. The father told him, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
 
Jesus told this parable to proclaim his Father’s love and mercy for all, even great sinners. Of course, his Father is also Our Father who continues to offer us his “crazy,” unconditional love. Always.
 
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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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 6, 2019 7:00:28 AM

A reading from the book of Wisdom
(Chapter 9:13-18b)
 
The author of the Book of Wisdom asks, “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” The author gives his answer toward the end of this passage: “Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?”
 
The only knowledge we have of God comes from God. God sends us his holy spirit, according to the author, writing during the century before the birth of Jesus. Today, we Christians say our knowledge of God comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17)
 
“In every age O Lord, you have been our refuge.” Throughout the history of Judaism and Christianity God has always been presented as the recourse of those who are troubled. In your darkest times, do you experience God as your refuge?
 
A reading from the Letter of Paul to Philemon
(Chapter 12:18-19, 22-24a)
 
In ancient times, slaves were often treated cruelly as we might imagine, but there were also slaves who rose to positions of wealth and even authority in the Roman Empire. Onesimus was not one of those elite slaves, but he was much loved and respected by Paul who considered him a brother. Paul writes from prison to Philemon, a leader of the Church in Colossae, asking him to also consider Onesimus as a brother. Paul is not challenging the institution of slavery but rather calling this young man, Onesimus, to a whole new identity.
 
Tragically, it took two thousand years and hundreds of millions of destroyed lives before slavery came to be regarded as unjust and immoral in much of the world. Yet, even today, there are more than a million people still living in bondage. Let us remember to pray for all those who have lived and died in slavery and for those who are still enslaved.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 14:25-33)
 
This is certainly one of the challenging Gospel readings. The context is important. These remarks by Jesus follow his discourse about people being invited to a banquet and giving a variety of lame excuses for not attending (Luke 14: 15-25). Jesus follows this parable with a strong sermon to the crowd following him in which he uses the word “hate” (misein in Greek) in reference to a person’s family. Matthew includes the same account in his Gospel and uses the term equivalent to “love less.”
 
Jesus is not telling the crowd to hate their families, in the sense that we usually use the word “hate,” but rather saying that anyone who wishes to follow him must make a radical commitment to him, over and above their commitment to their families and possessions. Many did literally leave their families, but many more followed Jesus while remaining with their families, some of whom Jesus visited, partaking of their hospitality at meals. In our own day, many people have answered the call of Jesus and joined religious orders. We owe them our admiration and support for their sacrifice. However, most of us have chosen to follow Jesus as members of families whom we love dearly. It is in our families and the larger family of our community that we are called to follow Jesus.
 
Jesus also says, “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” This may be another case of Jesus using what is known as “Semitic exaggeration” to make a point. The challenge for us today is not necessarily renouncing all our possessions but rather rethinking the role our possessions play in our lives. Are we seduced by the call of advertisers to have more and more and the best and the newest rather than sharing with those in need, starting with our families and going beyond when and where we can?
 
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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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 30, 2019 7:00:32 AM

A reading from the book of the prophet Sirach
(Chapter 3:17-18, 20, 28-29)
 
This is one of the few times in the liturgical cycles when we read from a book of Jewish writings that is not an accepted part of the Hebrew Bible. Yet, it is part of Jewish wisdom teaching. The first line is somewhat problematic: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.” Do you think that is true? I suppose it depends on what gifts you are giving and whether you are looking for anything in return. A true giver of gifts such as love, compassion, honesty, and service does not look for anything in return and usually is a very humble person rooted in the truth.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11)
 
“God, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor.” If that is really true, God has a tremendous amount of work to do. We have more than a million homeless people here in our own country and hundreds of millions all over the world, especially refugees. Actually, it is more accurate to say that we humans are God’s partners in making a home for poor people.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Hebrews
(Chapter 12:18-19, 22-24a)
 
The early Christians made a clear distinction between the Old Covenant that was approached in fear and the New Covenant that we approach in communion with Jesus and “the Spirits of the just made perfect.” So too, when we approach our Loving Father at the time of our death, we are not alone. We journey in the presence of the Holy Spirit and Jesus and all our previously departed loved ones. As Jesus says over and over again in the Gospels, we are never alone. He is always with us, not only in life but also as we pass from this life to the other ever-lasting life. It is so important for all of us to believe this, especially those in danger of death.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 14:1, 7-14)
 
At first, this seems like a perfect pairing with the first reading from the book of Sirach. The message again seems simple—be humble. That is only the first point, however.
 
There was a severe class distinction in ancient Israel that the prophets had railed against for centuries. The poor were exploited, often treated as little more than slaves. There is no way that a relatively well- off Pharisee in the time of Jesus would have even thought to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Then Jesus adds, “Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”
 
There is no silver-bullet answer to ending or even reducing poverty. Everyone needs to share the table of plenty in America so that everyone can eat from the bounty of our great nation: the government at all levels, businesses both big and small, labor unions, faith communities, the super-rich and all of us. And we all need to do it without expecting a payback. God will reward us in ways we may never expect or understand. Actually, given where we live, we have already been rewarded in so many ways.
 

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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 23, 2019 7:00:26 AM

A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 66:18-21)
 
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah was not written by one person all at once. There are three main sections, and today’s reading comes from the last chapter of the third section, written as the Jewish people were finally returning from the terrible Babylonian exile.
 
Isaiah writes, “I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. … They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the Lord. To Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the Lord.”
 
This was always the dream for Israel, to bring all the nations, including the many gentiles, to worship at Jerusalem. There were moments of breakthrough and hope throughout many centuries, but the hope was not fulfilled. Yet, many of the people maintained that hope. When Jesus began his ministry, there were those who wished that he would fulfill this promise. He did much more than that.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 117:1, 2)
 
“Go out to all the world and tell the good news.” What is the “good news” as you know it? What does it mean to you? How do you share it with those whom you love and with others whom you may hardly know? In the midst of some bad news in your life, can you still believe in the good news of Jesus?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Hebrews
(Chapter 12:5-7, 11-13)
 
We often think of discipline as harsh and painful, but the author here is talking about a different kind of discipline—God’s discipline. “My son, do not distain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines. … At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those trained by it.”
 
So, if we get into that “Woe is me” mentality and wonder where God is in a time of trouble, perhaps the trouble will lead to a breakthrough and healing. The key is knowing that we are not alone and remembering the times when we felt lost but found our way. That may be hard to do in the midst of whatever pain we may be feeling, but it can help us to overcome adversity and move on to a better place.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 13:22-30)
 
Someone asked Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus answered with a story, as he often did: “After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then you will stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’”
 
Jesus was talking to traditional Jews who believed that they had a sure thing in entering the kingdom. But Jesus was widening the entrance to the Kingdom: “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at the table in the Kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
 
Jesus is making an important point here. The Kingdom of God, or what we call heaven, is not limited to people who are Jews or have any other identity. It is for all people. So, just as the Jewish people of Jesus’ time did not get a free pass, so we Christians do not enter heaven simply because we bear the name of Christ. We have been given a free gift that we could never earn by being good or simply keeping the Commandments. It is in accepting this gift—God’s love in our lives—and sharing it with those close to us and those afar that we gain eternal life.
 
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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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 16, 2019 7:00:51 AM

A reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah
(Chapter 38:4-6; 8-10)
 
There is an old saying that “no prophet is honored or accepted in his own time.” That was certainly the case with Jeremiah who lived just before the Babylonian Exile of the Jewish people. Israel was surrounded by Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon—all more powerful kingdoms. Jeremiah tried to warn the people of Israel of their impending doom at the hands of one of these kingdoms, but the powers that ruled in Jerusalem vowed to stop him. “In those days the princes said to the king: ‘Jeremiah ought to be put to death; he is demoralizing the soldiers that are left in the city, and all the people, by speaking such things to them; he is not interested in the welfare of the people, but in their ruin.’” Zedekiah, who was a very weak king gave in to them. “And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern…. There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.” They left him to die a horrible death, but Ebed-melech, a court official, asked the king to release Jeremiah, and the king agreed. Prophets of any age often have to proclaim bad news, and people often are not receptive. Jeremiah suffered throughout his life for speaking the truth as God revealed it to him, and the consequences for Israel were catastrophic.
 
For many years, climate change prophets have been warning us about the dangers of man-made pollution of our air, water, and land. Global warming has already caused rising sea levels and has compromised our food production and our air quality. In this case, the prophets are not just politicians with elections to win but scientists whose numbers have grown exponentially in the past decades, across the world and throughout the scientific community. How can we listen to their wisdom without panic but with real concern?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 40: 2, 3, 4, 18)
 
“Lord, come to my aid.” How often have you and I said that prayer in any number of ways? How often has it worked? Wait! Isn’t that the wrong question and the wrong approach? Our prayers are not always answered in our time and in exactly the way we desired. Prayer is not only “saying prayers”; often prayer consists of a deep openness to the Spirit within us which may help us to see the larger and long- term gifts that we are offered.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Hebrews
(Chapter 12: 1-4)
 
This was a challenging and dangerous time for Jewish converts. They were often thrown out of their synagogues and treated as traitors to their faith. And now, their Roman rulers had two things against them—being Jews and belonging to this new band of strange believers who met to worship their dead leader, Jesus Christ, and partake in his body and blood. That was madness to the Romans, who saw it as threatening to their rule.
 
The author tells the readers. “Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus the leader and perfecter of faith.” It was a race for the people then to keep one step ahead of their persecutors. Thankfully, we do not live under persecutors, but sometimes our own lack of faith and the distractions of material things and personal crises can slow us down in our own race to follow Jesus Christ.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 12:49-53)
 
Many fire-and-brimstone preachers throughout history, including our own time, have used this text to justify their version of Jesus as a powerful, divisive, judgmental force in the world. “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” Of course, Jesus is talking about his death, which he knew was not going to be not peaceful but violent. That is the “baptism” that he is talking about.
 
Then he says something that many find shocking: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you but division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three.” Then he mentions a whole series of family divisions.
 
He had already experienced these divisions as he traveled the countryside, preaching and often having a meal with a family. Today, we call Jesus the Prince of Peace, but he was a most divisive figure, and he knew it. The divisions caused by his message—decisions to adopt or reject his gospel of mercy, love, and justice—were painful, as they are today in families all over the world. True peace comes not from the necessary accommodations we make in life but through the unselfish model taught and exemplified by Jesus who said that the whole law consisted of this: love God and love your neighbor.
 
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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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 9, 2019 7:00:38 AM

A reading from the book of Wisdom
(Chapter 18:6-9)
 
This reading is from the Book of Wisdom, so what is the wisdom offered here? Perhaps it is faithfulness to God’s promises in the face of challenges and persecutions over a long period of time. That was certainly true for the ancient Israelites, and it may be true for many of us at times. It is hard to keep faith with God when a series of bad things happen. There is a temptation to lose hope, but in troubled times faithfulness and trust in God’s promises must endure.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22)
 
“Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.” Do you feel chosen? Do you feel blessed? These are great gifts, given to us every day but often overlooked.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Hebrews
(Chapter 11:1-2, 8-19)
 
This beautiful reflection on the history of the Jewish people focuses on faith under challenging circumstances, starting with Abraham. His faith must have seemed like foolishness, yet it was the foundation of a great nation, a great people of faith.
 
We Americans are also a people of faith, faith in a dream of freedom and justice for all people. We have maintained that faith, especially when it has been tested sorely through prejudice, wars, and economic depressions and recessions as well as attempts to limit our rights, freedom and wellbeing.
 
That same cycle can appear several times in our individual lives: childhood abuse of one kind or another, poverty, divorce or other broken relationships, betrayals, illness, and the death of loved ones. These realities may pop up randomly in our lives without warning. But in the midst of the darkness there is always light that comes from our faith in the ultimate salvation that God has promised us. That faith is the source of life for us, especially in the face of the “little deaths” we may experience during a lifetime.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 12:32-48)
 
“Do not be afraid any longer little flock, for the father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” It is understandable that the early followers of Jesus were living in fear. They might be forbidden to worship in their local synagogue because of their faith in Jesus. They might be hunted down as believers in a forbidden sect by the Romans who were suspicious of any religious beliefs that would threaten their rule. Jesus wanted to be sure that his disciples did not live in fear but rather in joy and that they would be ready when the Lord would call them.
 
Of course, we all have unhealthy fears at times, but Jesus has also taught us that love casts out fear. If we believe that we are loved passionately and unconditionally by God, that love can cast out fear. But how do we know that we are loved in this way? Were we loved in that way by our parents and family? If so, rejoice! If not, all is not lost. A most important part of our journey in life is to connect with loving people, people who will open their hearts to us as we to them. Perhaps that happened to you with your life partner or close friends, or a teacher or mentor who was there for you at exactly the right times. It is never too late to experience the love of God poured out to you through others. It is never too late for you to love in the same way, even if you were not properly loved as you grew up or at other times in your life. After all, Jesus tells us that we have been given a kingdom, not of material power or possessions but of a powerful love. Imagine that! We live in a kingdom of love, if only we can open ourselves to the wonders of God’s embrace.
 
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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