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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Seventh Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 31, 2019 7:00:37 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 7:55-60)
 
Here we have two stories, one an end and one a beginning. Stephen, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” a deacon, was a powerful preacher and witness to the Gospel and who infuriated the religious leaders, who stoned him to death. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, Stephen forgave his murderers. He is considered the first Christian martyr, a glorious ending.
 
Saul is an avid Jew who feels called to persecute what he considers to be a dangerous sect of Judaism, the young Christian community. He obviously was held in esteem by the Sanhedrin, and the witnesses who testified against Stephen “laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul” as they were stoning Stephen. This is a shocking story about the man, known to us as Paul, who was most instrumental in the growth of the early Church. He had a deep fear and hatred for all that Stephen proclaimed. Yet, after his dramatic conversion, he became the most important and courageous apostle who is more responsible than anyone for spreading the message of Christ. That is the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church, the same Spirit that abides in each of us today and in our Church with all its problems and weaknesses.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 97:1-2, 6-7, 9)
 
“The Lord is king, the most high over all the earth.” The psalmist lived in a time of kings. We do not, but his intention is the same as ours, to honor the power of God in our midst.
 
A reading from the the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 22:12-14, 16-17, 20)
 
“Come Lord Jesus.” These are the last words of the Book of Revelation and Revelation is the last book of the Bible. Those words were written at a time of persecution and great distress to give hope to a struggling people. “Come Lord Jesus. Come Lord Jesus.” Could these words be part of our prayer when we experience crises, disappointments, and fears for the safety of our loved ones or our own safety and health; when we see pictures and hear stories of the millions of refugees and victims of war and persecution? We may feel helpless in the face of such daunting personal or global tragedy. Let us pray, “Come Lord Jesus.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 17:20-26)
 
John wrote his Gospel long after the death of and resurrection of Jesus, and it includes not only the basic story that the other Gospels tell but also John’s accounts that are somewhat different from what the other evangelists recorded. This passage has a powerful theme: “so that they may all be one, as you Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us.” The dual message here is that Jesus and the Father are one and that we are one with them. That is the basis of our faith. We do not believe in an isolated being up in the sky, as it were, but in a Trinity, a community of persons—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and the best part is that we, in a way, are part of that community. God is our Father, too. Jesus is our brother, and the Holy Spirit lives within us. That is quite a community in which to share!
 
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: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 24, 2019 7:00:37 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 15:1-2, 22-29)
 
One of the first great controversies in the early Church was about whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised. This issue arose in Antioch because, as Luke writes, “Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.’” The apostles and elders in Jerusalem sent this response, which opened the Church to all: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place any burden on you beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.”
 
The animal restrictions may seem strange to us, but it was an important part of Jewish practice that the apostles kept while eliminating the need for circumcision. This was a major breakthrough that opened the doors to thousands of Gentiles who otherwise might not have become Christians.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8)
 
“O God, let all the nations praise you.” Of course, not all nations praise God, but we do.
 
A reading from the the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 21:10-14, 22-23)
 
The writer tells us, “The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” This was written long after the physical city of Jerusalem had been destroyed. “I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light.”
 
Jerusalem, the heart of Judaism, had been destroyed, but in the vision the new holy city came down from heaven. It was the symbol of the new faith, built on Judaism but fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 14: 23-29)
 
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. . . . I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me you would rejoice that I am going to the Father.’”
 
Here we have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one passage. This occurred right before Jesus left for the last time, so he wanted to be clear about what was most important for the apostles to remember and follow. They should not worry about what to teach. The Holy Spirit would teach them everything they needed to know and remind them of what Jesus had already taught them.
 
This is what was most important to remember—that the Holy Spirit would be with them, guiding them always and helping them make important and difficult decisions such as the question of circumcision that we heard about in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We believe that the same Holy Spirit is with us today, guiding us and our leaders. Of course, the Spirit has been stifled so many times throughout the history of the Church, including in our own time when some Church leaders failed to act property to deal with sexual abuse by clergy. That does not mean that the Spirit is absent but rather that it is not heard and followed.
 
Let us pray that our Church and each of us in our own lives will be open to the power of the Holy Spirit, that we may seek wisdom and follow it in the love of Jesus Christ.
 
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: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 17, 2019 7:41:46 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 14:21-27)
 
Another name for this book could be “The Travels of the Apostle Paul,” because even though other apostles are mentioned in the book, it is mostly about the heroic and enormously important 30-year journey of this amazing man. Paul was a driven man, driven by his new found faith in Jesus, driven by his guilt for having persecuted the early Church, but also energized by the forgiveness he received from the risen Jesus and by his initial belief that Jesus would soon come again and so would the end of the world. Of course, Paul was wrong about that expectation, as were so many early Christians. We don’t know when he became enlightened and changed his belief, but what is clear is that he was faithful to the end in preaching Christ crucified and resurrected.
 
Here we see Paul and Barnabas at the end of one of Paul’s early journeys. We are told that “they made a considerable number of disciples” and that they “strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.’” That was an understatement. Many of the new disciples would be martyred by the Roman Empire which regarded them as dangerous to imperial authority. That is why it was most important that they leave behind someone to be in charge, and so, “They appointed elders for them in each church.” The new faith spread everywhere Paul traveled.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13)
 
“I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.” The Jewish people had a series of kings but worshiped God as their true king. We don’t think of God as a king but rather as a loving community of persons, the holy Trinity, in whose image we have been born and live in God’s all-loving presence.
 
A reading from the the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 21:1-5a)
 
There is a controversy about when the Book of Revelation was written, whether around 70 AD or much later in the 90s. We know from the text that it was written during a time of terrible persecution by the Roman emperors who saw Christians as a major threat to their power. In this reading, John gives the Christians hope, a new vision. “Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth.... I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.... I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.’”
 
And here is the best news for a persecuted people who were in danger of death and imprisonment every day: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” Imagine hearing that in the midst of terror.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 13:31-33a, 34-35)
 
It is now time for Jesus to leave and go to his Father. He gives the disciples a beautiful gift and a challenge: “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
 
That’s it! Simple, powerful, life-giving, and challenging! It was all of that for the early disciples who needed to stand by one another in a time of crisis, persecution, and possible betrayals. History records many instances of persecution against the Church, in the Church, and sometimes by the Church. Could it all have been avoided if during the two thousand years of our history as the people of God we had followed this simple, profound gift, living the call of Jesus to love one another? Yes, of course, easier said than done, but possible for us today if we first totally accept the gift of merciful all powerful love from Jesus. This is not something we promise to do, and then it happens. It is a lifelong journey into the mystery of God’s unconditional, ever-present merciful love. It is a love that we can never earn, no matter how we might try. But we need not try, only accept this love that Jesus gave to the disciples two thousand years ago and still gives us 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: The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 10, 2019 7:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 13:14, 43-52)
 
What we read in the Acts of the Apostles implies that Paul and Barnabas were inspired speakers who had a powerful effect on their listeners. They started out preaching mainly to Jewish people and converts to Judaism, but at this point their message is being received more positively by the Gentiles. It must have been hard for Paul who, in his previous life as Saul, was a rabid persecutor of the new Christian community. Up to this point, most of the followers of Jesus were Jews. From now on, Paul will truly be the Apostle to the Gentiles. It is because of him more than any of the other apostles that Christianity spread all over the Mediterranean world and beyond. Without him, it may have only been one more sect within Judaism. From what we know of Paul, he could be difficult at times but always courageous and persevering in his mission.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 100:1-2, 3, 5)
 
“We are his people, the sheep of his flock.” What does it mean for you to be a part of God’s people? How does that change you?
 
A reading from the the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 7:9, 14b-17)
 
This book was written long after the death and resurrection of Jesus—around 95 AD. By this time, there were many thousands of believers, but they were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. It is hard for us, centuries later, to imagine how hard it was for people to be practicing Christians. By then, the Romans saw them as a major threat to the empire’s power and did everything they could to wipe Christians out. Some emperors were worse than others, but persecution was the order of the day. The author of the Book of Revelation wants to assure his readers and listeners that God is with them. Their suffering will end, and they will be rewarded.
 
We do not face anything like the vicious all powerful and pervasive force that was ancient Rome, although Christians in other parts of the world are subject to violent persecution even today. We do all suffer in many ways at numerous times in our lives. When you are in your deepest and most prolonged suffering, do you still believe in the healing, saving power of God’s unconditional love? Are you able to go back in time to other occasions of deep suffering and remember how you made it through? Remembering those past experiences can help you be conscious of, and rely on, the supportive Spirit within you.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 10:27-30)
 
The role of shepherd in the ancient world is something that we often romanticize today. In ancient times, shepherds were shadowy figures, often shunned in everyday society. Some were good and took care of their sheep, but others were not devoted or honest. A good shepherd was highly regarded, because he had to take care of a large herd often in dangerous and lonely conditions. Jesus knows all this when he calls himself the Good Shepherd. He knows that his audience will get it in a way that is more difficult for us today when we do not like to be thought of as sheep.
 
The last line of this passage is the most important. “The Father and I are one.” Remember that this Gospel is the last to be written, long after the death of Jesus and the writing of the other three Gospels. Why does John write such a powerful sentence? It is precisely because that is what people believed about Jesus these many years later. Jesus is not only the Messiah, not only the Son of God, but Jesus and the Father are one. Gradually, this level of belief developed into the central dogma of our faith, the Holy Trinity. It took centuries, but then something so extraordinary was not to be written on the back of a napkin.
 
We are truly created in the image and likeness of God, and God is a community of persons, not a solitary isolated being. We are communal persons as well, in our families, among our friends, and in our parish. We are not meant to be alone. It is not in our nature.
 
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: Third Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 3, 2019 7:00:24 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 5:27-32, 40B-41)
 
Many commentators on the scriptures call the Acts of the Apostles the Acts of the Spirit and for good reason. The power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the early Church is chronicled throughout this book. The author wants it to be very clear that Jesus gave his Spirit to the disciples and that all that they do is through the power of the Holy Spirit.
 
I don’t know what your experience of the Holy Spirit was in Catholic school or religious education classes, but I went to Catholic grammar school, high school, and college, and I knew almost nothing about the Holy Spirit. I certainly had no clue about the important role the Spirit played in the early Church, nor did I know that the very presence of the Spirit was in me and all my classmates. The Holy Spirit was truly the forgotten member of the Blessed Trinity. If you had a similar experience, then let’s face it—we all were deprived of a most important truth of our faith. That was not the intention of Jesus, as we read here of “the Holy Spirit whom God has given.” Let us rejoice this Easter season and in all seasons in the presence of our life partner, the Holy Spirit. The Apostles and the other disciples were never alone in their challenges, suffering, and even death. Neither are we.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13)
 
“I will praise you Lord, for you have rescued me.” How often and in how many ways has God rescued you? Think about it, and you will most likely come up with a rather long list.
 
A reading from the the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 5:11-14)
 
Do you find the readings we hear during this time of Easter to be weird, over the top, incomprehensible? You are not alone. This is apocalyptic writing meant to give people courage in the midst of persecution and immanent disaster through symbols and stories that were not comprehensible to outsiders but were hope-filled for the early Christians. The basic message throughout is, hold on, have faith despite your persecution and trials. God is greater than all this, and you will be rewarded.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 21:1-19)
 
Numbers are often symbolic in the Bible. For example, the number of 153 fish that the apostles caught represents all the different types of fish that were known in that region. More important, the three times that Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” connects to the three times that Peter denied knowing Jesus. It is an amazing story. The first leader of our Church was a “Jesus denier,” a man so filled with fear that he denied even knowing this man that he now professes to love. Peter is no longer afraid and acts in a courageous way right up to his death. How did he have this profound change of heart? Love, as Jesus said, “Love casts out fear.”
 
We are all afraid many times in our lives for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we are afraid for our own safety or the safety of loved ones. Sometimes it is a fear of failure or even a fear of success. But, we can’t live our lives in fear. It will destroy our joy and possibly our very lives. Peter overcame his fear because of his deep love for Jesus and because, despite his fears and faults, he was in turn loved by Jesus. Jesus loves us in the same way, not only for our successes but in the midst of our fears, disappointments, and failures. Jesus is with us always, not only when we are “good” but especially when we are struggling, tempted, and overwhelmed.
 
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: Second Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 26, 2019 7:00:45 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 5:12-16)
 
We know from many stories in the gospels that Jesus was a healer. Here we read that he passed on that power to the apostles: “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. . . . A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.”
 
Today, healing is still happening through the Holy Spirit, sometimes physical healing and more often spiritual and emotional healing. We pray for the healing of relationships, the healing of hurts we may have suffered or brought upon others. Sometimes, we may pray for a physical healing for ourselves or a loved one, and it seems that nothing happens, and yet something very deep is happening on a spiritual or emotional level that we may have missed. A loved one may have died despite our prayers, but that person was healed on a deeper level during the time of death and family and friends have taken part in that healing. Or perhaps we have suffered a disappointment, an injustice, or even a betrayal that does not seem to have a resolution, but other doors are opened, other people have brought us healing. A light still shines in the deep darkness.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24)
 
“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.” God’s love cannot be measured by whether God “answers one or more of our prayers” but rather by God’s deep presence in us and around us.
 
A reading from the the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19)
 
This book was written many years after the death of Jesus to give hope and support to Christians who were being persecuted throughout Israel and beyond. The author has a powerful experience of Jesus:
“When I caught sight of him, I fell down at his feet as though dead. He touched me with his right hand and said, ‘Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and to the netherworld.’”
 
Imagine how you would have heard these words two thousand years ago as you were suffering rejection and persecution every day. This message could have given you insight into who Jesus was beyond just a man who had walked the earth many years before, and it would have brought hope amid persecution and even death. We are thankful that you and I are not in that kind of danger, but we have our own challenges living in a society whose values and beliefs are different from ours in a number of important ways. So, it is good to hear the words of Jesus: “Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 20:19-31)
 
This is the famous story of the apostle called “Doubting Thomas.” Jesus comes into a gathering of the apostles when the door is locked. He shows them his hands and his side and says, “Peace be with you. . . . As the Father has sent me, so I send you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you shall retain are retained.” But Thomas was not there. When he later sees the apostles, he says, “‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my fingers in the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.’ Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’”
 
Jesus is saying that to us today. We have not seen him, and yet we are called to believe. What is the source of your belief? How do you experience Jesus in your life? In prayer? In the love of others? In the Eucharist? Or perhaps it is a bit of each.
 
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: EASTER SUNDAY OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 19, 2019 7:00:29 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 10:34a, 37-43)
 
The Acts of the Apostles is regarded as a continuation of Saint Luke’s Gospel, completing the story of what happened after the resurrection. Peter speaks for the community and recounts the major events in the life of Jesus: his anointing with the Holy Spirit, his ministry of healing and other good deeds, his death and resurrection, and his appearance as the resurrected Lord, eating and drinking with the disciples. Peter wants everyone to know that he and the other apostles have been “commissioned” by Jesus to preach the good news and that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
 
Imagine how difficult all this was for Peter and the other apostles. They had lost their friend and leader in whom they had placed all their hope. They had given up everything to follow him, and then they lost him to a horrible death. They could have called it quits and returned to their former lives. There were probably many who encouraged them to stop risking their lives and lead a “normal” life, but they persisted. Why? Somehow, in ways we cannot understand, they still experienced the presence of Jesus. He was still there for them, and they continued to answer his call. Because of those relatively few courageous people, we have a community, a Church. Let us be thankful for them.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23)
 
“This is the day the Lord has made: let us be glad and rejoice.” What do you rejoice in today and every day?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians
(Chapter 3:1-4)
 
The resurrection is not only something that happened to Jesus two thousand years ago. It is something that we, too, live every day. We were raised with Christ. There is a new life for us not only in the next life but starting now. We can live in the Spirit, because the Spirit has been given to each of us. We do not live alone. We live in the Spirit, and the Spirit connects us to God and to one another. We are all brothers and sisters in the Spirit. Let us rejoice this day.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 20:1-9)
 
It is surprising that in the deeply patriarchal society of the time, the author of this Gospel reports that the first person who learned that Jesus was no longer in the tomb was a woman. And it was the same woman, Mary Magdalene, who told the shocking news to Peter. When Peter and John entered the tomb, they get it. His body was not stolen. Something else happened. Now, their challenge was to convince the others that they were not out of their minds, that something else had happened that they could not yet explain.
 
There is no historical account of the resurrection itself. We know that it was not a resuscitation. The physical body of Jesus did die. The risen Jesus was different, but so real that the apostles and many others placed their faith in him and he in turn gave them and now us the presence of the Holy Spirit always present in our lives and in our Church, even in our darkest moments. It is a matter of faith. It is, in fact, the basis of our faith. HAPPY EASTER! HAPPY RESURRECTION! HAPPY NEW 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: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 12, 2019 7:00:45 AM

AT THE PROCESSION WITH PALMS
 
A reading from the Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 19:28-40)
 
Luke tells us of a joyous procession of the followers of Jesus into Jerusalem. You would think, just from this reading, that Jesus is about to be accepted as the true Messiah, not crucified as a dangerous criminal. How did the situation change so radically and lead to his death just a few days later? On one level, the politics of the time, Jesus is obviously a threat to the Roman rulers, and on the religious level he is also a threat to the Pharisees and Sadducees whose seat of power was the Temple in Jerusalem. Suppose the majority of the people turned against them and wanted Jesus as their leader. The Romans would never have let that happen, and they had the military power to prevent it. At the same time, the religious leaders’ power existed only with the support of Rome, which would not be happy with some upstart prophet leading a rebellion against their authority or that of the Temple.
 
On another level, however, there was God’s plan that was not about any specific earthly power but rather about salvation, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, for all people for all time.
 
READINGS AT MASS
 
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 50:4-7)
 
Isaiah tells of a Suffering Servant. “The Lord God has given me a well- trained tongue, that I may know how to speak to the weary a word that may arouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. ... The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” Throughout history, Jesus has been seen as the Suffering Servant Isaiah envisioned, the one who came not to be served but to serve, the one who came to die for us.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24)
 
“My God my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus prayed these words on the cross, but this is not an utterance of disbelief or despair. We can assume that Jesus knew the whole psalm, including the strong expression of hope that follows these words.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 3:8-14)
 
“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
 
This is a remarkable passage from St. Paul who, like all the followers of Jesus, was trying to make sense of who Jesus was. He put together the two parts of the mystery, the human and divine dimensions of Jesus. It is the mystery of our faith: Jesus was not only a prophet and a healer, but also the Son of God who shared the divine life. Paul “got it” and gave his life for it. In this letter, he shares the mystery with his contemporaries and with us.
 
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke
(Chapter 22:14-23:56)
 
At the beginning of this long reading, Luke recounts the story of Jesus sharing a Passover meal with the apostles. “When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is cup is the new covenant in my blood, which shall be said for you.’”
 
This is the beginning of our Eucharist, the one we share today and at every Mass. Yes! It comes from Jesus himself, and for two thousand years people have gathered to celebrate the presence of Jesus in our midst and in our very bodies. The Eucharist binds us to Jesus and to one another every time we celebrate in his name.
 
There is so much more in today’s Gospel. Please listen carefully and read it again. Each time, you will be rewarded with new insights and a growing closeness with Jesus. It is the story of our faith living in us now.
 
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: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 5, 2019 7:00:48 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 43:16-21)
 
“Remember not the things of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.” “I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink.”
 
Isaiah is writing this toward the end of the exile in Babylon to give people hope in the midst of great suffering. Through the prophet, God reminds the Israelites that he had the power over the waters as they escaped from Egypt, that he opened a path for the chosen people to pass and then closed it on the Egyptian army, destroying it. Now, as the people hope to return from exile, he will produce another miracle, putting water in the desert for the people to drink.
 
To understand this wonderful gift, we need to realize that the desert-like Mideast region that includes Israel today was a desert thousands of years ago when all these events happened. Without water there is no life. God, who is the source of all life, promises this gift of life to his people.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6)
 
“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” What has God done for you or your loved ones that has filled you with joy? Sometimes, it is too easy to take God’s gifts for granted. How do you give thanks to God for these gifts?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 3:8-14)
 
“For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his Resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.”
 
The Pharisees and Sadducees believed that salvation came from adherence to the Law of Moses. Paul and the early Christians believed that only faith in Jesus would save them, not keeping the hundreds of religious laws imposed on the Jewish people. That was heresy to the Jewish leaders and threatened their whole way of existence. Paul, who was previously called Saul, had been a strict follower of the Law, but he came to believe that everything he had been attached to was “so much rubbish … because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.”
 
How do you and I know Jesus as more than an important historical figure from the distant past? How do we see his crucifixion and resurrection as more than past events, as unique and dramatic as they may have been back then? How can we have a personal relationship with someone who is much more than a benevolent and even heroic historic figure? Who is Jesus NOW for us?
 
Knowing Jesus is both like and unlike knowing anyone else. On the one hand, we need to learn as much about him as possible and communicate with him in our prayer life. Yet, we only really know Jesus when we accept that he is a gift to us, coming TO us rather than we coming to him. He is always there, always present to us, even when we don’t realize his presence, when he may seem distant. Have there been times for you when you felt his presence powerfully but then felt that it slipped away? Maybe it was at a time of great rejoicing or a special insight or, more likely, at times when you were down, in need of support to climb out of some deep darkness or danger. Of course, it helps if you, can find time each day to say hello, to say “thank you” or “help me.” But the key thing is to know that the presence of Jesus in our lives is not dependent on our attention. His very Spirit lives within us at all times. Sometimes you can feel it or hear it. At most other times we simply need to trust that he is there.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 8:1-11)
 
Jesus is in the temple area, and people are coming to see and hear him. “Then the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ They said this to test him so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write in the ground with his finger. But when they continued to ask him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one. Then Jesus asks her ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She replied, ‘No one sir.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on do not sin anymore.’ ”
 
This is a powerful story of the forgiveness of Jesus, but it is much more. The scribes and Pharisees quote the Law of Moses, but Jesus is saying that he is above and beyond that law. No wonder that they wanted to kill him. He had turned their world upside down. Today, the forgiveness of Jesus can turn our world around as well.
 
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: Fourth Sunday of Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 28, 2019 7:00:53 AM

A reading from the Book of Joshua
(Chapter 5:9a, 10-12)
 
Up until this point in the story of the Israelites’ journey to freedom from Egypt, they have been fed with manna, the mysterious substance God provided in the desert. Now, everything has changed. “On the day after the Passover, they ate the produce of the land. On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.”
 
This whole story of the Passover from Egypt, the wandering for so long in the desert, all of this is a gift from God. But now, the people have a new gift that challenges them to become active participants. Now, they are out of the desert and in a land that they can farm to grow their own food. The gift is still there but in a different form. It is time for them to grow into a people by doing their part to become self-reliant.
 
You and I have been given great gifts, starting with the gift of life itself and continuing throughout our lives. We too must be active participants, doing our part to become self-reliant. Just as the Israelites were gifted by God throughout their existence and needed to actively accept and embrace their gifts, so too must we be active recipients, accepting the continuous gifts that God showers upon us.
 
Do you give thanks for all the gifts that God gives to you, or do you focus on the negative, all the things you do not have, all the challenges that you face every day? Just as Israel had a partnership with God and had an active role in using their gifts, so too must we be thankful for our gifts and fulfill our role in partnership with God to become fully ourselves.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7)
 
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Do you ever spend time savoring all the goodness of the Lord, or do you all too often taste the bitterness of what you do not have and the sorrows you face?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 5:1-2, 5-8)
“Brothers and sisters: whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away, behold, new things have come. And all this is from God.” Wow! You and I are a “new creation,” and every day “new things have come.”
 
Do you experience your life in this dynamic way or is it the “same old, same old” or worse, a series of traps or boxes that keep you from being who you really are? If instead you try to see the opportunities for “new creation” appearing in your life, your life can change. The “old things” that Paul talks about which may drag you down can be transformed by the new life that is being offered to you now, if only you can accept the gifts being offered.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 15:1-3, 11-32)
 
This is one of the most powerful and hopeful of all the parables of Jesus. It is commonly called the story of the “prodigal son,” but it is more appropriately called the “parable of the father’s love.” You and I have heard the story dozens of times but try to hear it from the perspective of the father.
 
“A man had two sons, and the younger said to his father, Father give me the share of my estate that should come to me. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off for a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.” The son spends everything, and not wisely, and the country he has traveled to falls into a severe famine. He is starving and hires himself out to take care of pigs, the worst kind of job for a Jewish person.
 
“Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s workers have more than enough food to eat, but here I am 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 you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers. . . .” 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. . . . (and) ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattest calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come to life again, he was lost and has been found.’”
 
Remember that Jesus is telling his audience a story that creates an image of God that may not be familiar to them. On one level, this is a story of the younger son’s repentance, but on a deeper level it is a story about who an all-forgiving, all-loving God—represented by the father. Jesus wants to reorient his audience, whose idea of God has been focused on divine punishment. With this story, Jesus tells his audience that the love of God is indeed a “crazy love” beyond their imaginings. Everything else is secondary, including the sins of the younger son and the anger of his brother. Jesus wants people to broaden and deepen their understanding of who their God really is.
 
And for us today, can we see the all-powerful “crazy love” of God? Or do we judge God’s love and forgiveness according to our own limited human standards. Do you believe that God will forgive you anything if you truly repent? That is the God of Jesus, the God who is our Father.
 
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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