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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 8:23-9:3)
 
We are way back in the eighth century B.C., and the Assyrian army has taken over the two provinces Zebulun and Naphtali. Isaiah says that darkness covers the land, but now, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed.” The Assyrians were terrible rulers, but now God has spared his people from domination.
 
Today, countless millions of the poorest people on earth are under the rule of despotic powers, and millions more in more developed countries such as Russia, Iran, and Brazil live in dictatorships where democracy is being strangled. Let us be thankful for our democracy and the Constitution that protects us, and not take these gifts for granted.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14)
 
“The Lord is my light and my salvation.” There are times in our lives when the darkness seems to surround us, but the light of the Lord is always there to guide and protect us. Let us seek the light of the Lord when darkness tries to drag us down.
 
A reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 1:10-13, 17)
 
There are real divisions within our Church throughout the world and right here in our country. As we hear from St. Paul today, this is nothing new. He beseeches the Corinthians, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you are saying, ‘I belong to Paul’ or ‘I belong to Cephas’ (Peter) or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? … For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”
 
As we know, there were real differences among the apostles and the various Christian communities, and yet, they stayed together. They worked out their differences. That is our challenge today, as it has been for Christians throughout the past twenty centuries—to work out our differences without bad mouthing the other side, and to focus on the great truths we all believe in that bind us together.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 4:12-23)
 
Matthew tells us that when Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested, he moves to the same land that we read about in the prophesy of Isaiah, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And Matthew reports that as Jesus “was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once, they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them and immediately they left their boats and their father and followed him.”
 
So, that is how it all started—poor, uneducated fishermen were somehow moved to make a radical change in their lives. Obviously, Matthew gives us only the short version of these conversations. There must have been much more said, but Matthew wants us to feel the immediacy and power of the call from Jesus.
 
You and I have a “call” from Jesus, not just once, but throughout our lives. We refer to it as a vocation, but not long ago that word, “vocation,” applied in popular use only to people who were called to priesthood or religious life. Now, we know that it is a call to each of us, perhaps several different and related calls. In any case, it is a call to serve others—as wife, husband, father, mother, sister, brother, friend, partner. Do you see your life as a response to a call from God, perhaps several calls at different times? Ask yourself if you feel called, if your life is a response to calls from God. Your calls are gifts as well as challenges. Have you said yes? It is never too late.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 49:3, 5-6)
 
“The Lord said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.” Then later, the Lord continues, “It is too little … for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation shall reach to the ends of the earth.”
 
First, God is establishing Israel’s relationship to God, that of “servant,” But then God says that he will make Israel a “light to the nations.” Jesus also saw himself as a servant of his Father, eventually, a “suffering servant.” The word “servant” has a negative connotation in our society which proclaims equality for all, but what Jesus means by “servant” is quite different. It is a calling to serve God and one another. It is a calling of strength and power, not weakness.
 
In what ways do you see yourself, in a positive light, as a servant of others? How do you feel about your service? Do you rejoice in it, feel put upon, or is it just something you take for granted? How do others serve you? Are you thankful for their service? How do you express your thanks?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10)
 
“Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” Have you ever said anything like that to God? Do you try to determine what the will of God is for you in a difficult situation, or in a very happy time?
 
A reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 1:1-3)
 
Paul starts out his letter with a greeting: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Christ Jesus, their Lord and ours.” Paul is writing to the people of one city, Corinth, but he wants the Corinthians to know that they are related spiritually with all who have been “called to be holy.” That means all the new churches throughout the part of the world that Paul and the other apostles have visited. Even then, Paul and the other apostles saw the Church as one, not as a series of individual churches but a community of churches. That is what we have today, except that our Church now is worldwide, universal.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 1:29-34)
 
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he may be made known to Israel. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
 
At every Mass, we have a prayer that refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” Here, the author tells us of the origin of this title that connects Jesus with the lamb offered at the Passover—the animal whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts to let the angel of death know that the inhabitants were part of God’s chosen people and were not to be harmed. Jesus, as the Lamb, is also seen as the “Suffering Servant” who gives his life for the people.
 
John, the Gospel writer, is telling us that Jesus has always had the Spirit of God living within him. When we are baptized, we too share in that Spirit. That is truly amazing, that God’s Holy Spirit lives within each one of us. I did not know that as a child, but I believe it now as an adult. I hope you also not only believe it but remember that the presence of the Spirit in you is dynamic, guiding you and being your life partner. Imagine that! God’s very Spirit lives in you. I hope you share that Good News with your children and all whom you know and that you talk to your Spirit partner often.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 42:1-4; 6-7)
 
“Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have placed my spirit.” Who is this servant that the Lord says is his chosen one? Is it Isaiah, a prophet after him, or the Messiah? There are many schools of thought, but what is certain is that the early Church saw this mysterious figure as Jesus Christ. He is “a light for the nations.” He will “open the eyes of the blind and bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeons those who live in darkness.” The love of Jesus has done all that and more throughout the ages.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 9-11)
 
“The Lord will bless his people with peace.” Do you normally feel you are at peace in your life? If so, how do you experience that peace? If not, what is keeping you from that feeling, and how can you find peace?
 
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 10:34-38)
 
“Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered in the house of Cornelius, saying: ‘In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts rightly is acceptable to him.” Who is Cornelius? We know for certain that he is a Gentile and that Peter is in this Gentile’s house when he makes it clear that Jesus came for all, not only the Jewish people. That is something we have mentioned in previous commentaries, because it is essential for understanding the history and meaning of the Catholic faith. This faith is inclusive, a joyful, hopeful community with a powerful message of unconditional love and a challenge to live in service to others, especially those in need.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 3:13-17)
 
“Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’” John the Baptist was a big deal, a powerful preacher who had a large following and who baptized hundreds. Yet, he knew his role. At first, he did not want to baptize Jesus, because he recognized that Jesus was more important than him. It is not easy for an influential leader to know the importance of his own calling while deferring to someone who is more powerful. John was able to do it, because he did not let his pride get in the way of following Jesus. The leader became the faithful follower.
 
Jesus sought John’s baptism and took on the role of Suffering Servant that Isaiah foretold. Both John and Jesus had callings, missions in life. John could not be Jesus, but he had a most important role in preparing the way for Jesus.
 
Each of us has a calling in life from God. Sometimes it is not easily discernable but rather remote or confusing. We need to know that we, too, have callings and work to discover them several times in our lives. One’s calling may have several elements. A person often has a calling to be a spouse, a parent, a good trusted friend, a dedicated worker, and a member of one or more creative communities. Then, after many years of being faithful to those calls, they may change or evolve. There are new challenges and opportunities, but the experience of change can be hard to accept unless we see it as the next step in our following God’s call.
 
Where has your call led you so far? How have you responded to it? Is it evolving now? How are you dealing with the new direction your call is taking you? The key is to remember you are not alone. The Holy Spirit who lives in you will guide you. Try to stay connected to the Spirit of God each day, sometime, somewhere, in whatever way works for you.
 
I am very aware that I am at a point in my life that has brought major changes. I will try to follow my own suggestions and listen to the Spirit. Peace!
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 60:1-6)
 
Light and darkness are two of the great biblical images. In this reading, Isaiah is telling the people of Israel that “your light has come.” Although “darkness covers the earth,” God will bring light to the whole world through Israel.
 
The word “catholic” means universal. We are part of the Catholic Church, a universal church whose light and presence should touch the whole world. Pope Francis is a truly catholic—that is universal—leader. He preaches and lives a life of peace, concern for the poor and forgotten and a broad, welcoming message. He sees the Catholic Church not as some exclusive club but rather as a warm loving embrace for all. He believes that our mission is to all, and we should welcome all, be a light for all, not an obstacle.
 
Isaiah was preaching this message at a most challenging time for the people of Israel—the exile in Babylon—when their world had been turned upside down and they endured great suffering. He came with a message of hope. Pope Francis has that message of hope for us and for all people.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 72:1-2 7-8, 10-11, 12-13)
 
“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” The psalmist knew when he wrote this, thousands of years ago, that it was not true but, he prayed that it would be someday, as we do today.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 3:2-3a, 5-6)
 
Paul talks about the mystery that has been revealed and writes that it is not only for Jews but for Gentiles as well. It is an inclusive message, a universal mystery. This may seem obvious to us, but it was the occasion for the first major division in the early Church. There were many, including Saint Peter for a while, who thought the new Church was only for Jews. Imagine that: our first pope was wrong about a crucial truth and was big enough to admit it and move on.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 2:1-12)
 
Who were these men? Scholars have speculated about their identity for centuries. There are several theories, but the real importance of the visitors is that they represent the Gentiles, the wider world beyond Judaism. Jesus came for all, no matter where they come from or what their religion is. His appeal and call are universal.
 
The other significant figure here is Herod, the prototype of the bad king, the selfish ruler who thinks only of himself and will do anything, including mass murder, to protect his position. Of course, Herod’s plan to have the newborn king killed fails, and although Herod’s son plays a role in the death of Jesus, Jesus by then has grown into a charismatic healer who attracts large masses of followers and proclaims a message that is truly life giving.
 
This is a classic story of the seemingly powerless overcoming powerful evil rulers. It is a great model for our time when we have seen numerous despotic rulers rise and then fall before the power of the powerless.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of Sirach
(Chapter 3:2-6, 12-14)
 
The Book of Sirach was written about two hundred years before the birth of Jesus when male patriarchy was much more common than it is today when we are moving—though too slowly—towards equality between the sexes. Thus, the author of this book writes mainly about honoring the father and hardly at all about honoring the mother in the family. Here are some of the main points:
 
“God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” That’s about it for the mother. The rest of the reading focuses on fathers: “Whoever honors his father atones for sins…. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children and, when he prays, is heard…. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life.” Then, the writer offers advice on how to care for an aging father, but nothing for the mother: “My son, take care of your father when he is old…. Even if his mind fails, be considerate of him, revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten.” Sirach does have one other line for mothers: “He who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.”
 
Most of us have heard this reading many times and perhaps have not thought much about gender inequality, because that is the way it was when this book was written. But we should remember that it is still that way, and worse, for millions of women throughout the world, even some in our own society.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5)
 
“Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.” The expression “fear the Lord” in the Bible does not mean a haunting, dominating, cringing fear of God’s punishment. It means respect, honor, recognition of God’s power, and openness to hearing God’s word.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians
(Chapter 3:12-21)
 
Paul has some beautiful words for these people whom he loved dearly: “Brothers and sisters, put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love that is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts.” May those words guide our family lives and all of our relationships.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 2:13-15)
 
Matthew is the only evangelist who tells the story of the magi, the flight to Egypt to escape the evil king Herod, and the eventual return to Israel—not to Judah but to Galilee. What does all this mean? First of all, who are these magi? They are not Jews, nor are they kings, but probably astrologers. More importantly, they represent the whole world outside of Israel. Their appearance means that Jesus has come for everyone.
 
What about Herod, the evil king? He is afraid that this baby might one day challenge him or his successors, so he tries to kill Jesus. In a dream, Joseph finds out about this plan. An angel tells him, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him. Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt, and stayed there until the death of Herod.” Why Egypt? “That what the Lord had said through the prophet (Hosea) might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son.” Moses was called out of Egypt to save his people. Jesus is considered the new Moses as well as the new David, a real king. Matthew tells us this so that we may know that these promises have been fulfilled in Jesus who has come to save his people.
 
Then, after Herod has died, Joseph has still another dream in which an angel says, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel.” But Herod’s son, Archelaus, is now the ruler, so Joseph does not go back to Judea but to Nazareth in Galilee. There, Jesus would grow up among Jews and gentiles, again foreshadowing his ministry to all people.
 
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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Meditation on John 1:1-5
 

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

The light shines on in the darkness.
 
The darkness may surround you,
but the darkness will not overcome the light.
The darkness may be your constant companion,
but it need not overcome you.
It need not be your life.
Seek the light. Seek it all around you, within you.
Let it be your lifelong partner, your protector, your energy, your salvation.
The light, the light within you and all around you, will help you overcome the darkness.
The darkness will try to surround you, take over your life,
and penetrate your very being,
but it need not destroy you.
The light will always shine, out there, somewhere.
Seek the light wherever you can find it,
and always look within, past the darkness, to the Spirit of Light that lives within you.
Yes! The Spirit of Light is your greatest gift to lead you out of the darkness.
Seek the gift. Rejoice in the gift. Live in the gift. Banish the darkness.
Live in the Light of the Spirit
 
—Bill Ayres
 
Scripture passage from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 7:10-14)
 
Ahaz was the ruler of the kingdom of Judah at a time when Judah and other small nations were allied against the Assyrian Empire which was more powerful and certainly brutal. But Ahaz refused to be true to the coalition, so some of the nations that should have been his partners turned against him. While Judah was under attack from two directions, “The Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…. But Ahaz answered “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord.” This was a phony excuse designed to mask Ahaz’s lack of faith. Isaiah told him, “Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel”—a promise that Judah, the nation of David, would endure—in spite of its enemies and in spite of Ahaz.
 
Isaiah never tells us who the virgin is nor who the child is, except to say that his name will be Emmanuel which means “God with us.” The prophesy was fulfilled, not in Ahaz’s time but more than six centuries later with the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6)
 
“Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.” Today, and every day, let us ask God to enter ever more deeply in our minds and hearts.
 
A reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans
(Chapter 1:1-7)
 
The Rome of Paul’s time was large for its time though not as large as it would become. That’s why it was necessary for him to introduce himself properly as an important apostle. That is why he referred to himself as “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” It is “the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” These are Paul’s credentials, and he wants to make sure everyone knows who he really is. This was especially important, because Christians were being arrested and martyred every day. If they were risking their lives, they needed to know that Paul and his message about God, Jesus was the real deal.
 
We do not risk our lives or suffer for the faith as the martyrs in Rome did, but we need to remember that our forebears in faith suffered and many do today.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 1:18-24)
 
This gospel passage focuses on Joseph, a troubled man with a critical decision to make. Mary had not yet lived with Joseph, but she was pregnant. How? By whom? What should he do?
 
Matthew is the only evangelist who tells this story: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” Then Joseph had a dream in which the angel of the Lord said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins…. “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
 
Each of us has difficult decisions to make throughout our lives, usually without the help of angels in our dreams. Praying and asking for counsel from family or friends can help, and then asking the Holy Spirit to guide us can lead us to the best decisions in troubling times.
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 35:1-6a, 10)
 
This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday, a day of rejoicing because of the great promise that we hear from Isaiah. The prophet addressed this message to the Jewish people in a time of terrible crisis: exile from their homeland, the destruction of their homes and temple, and their enslavement by a foreign power. Yet, in the midst of all their suffering, Isaiah has this powerful message of hope: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God; he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”
 
We do not face the same kind of horror in our society, but what sufferings are you going through now that may seem hopeless or at least painful? Have any of your relationships caused you suffering? How can you bring healing rather than continuing the pain? Have you allowed relatively minor troubles to diminish your joy? How can you turn that around into thankfulness for all you have been given?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10)
 
“Lord, come and save us.” Those words resonate with us thousands of years after they were written. How and when have you asked God to save you or someone you love? Do you feel you were heard?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint James
(Chapter 5:7-10)
 
James is telling his hearers to be patient for the coming of the Lord. Of course, he is talking about the Second Coming which the Christians of that time thought would occur any day. Today, we are not impatient for the Second Coming. We hardly think about it, but we should always be thinking and praying for the continuous coming of Jesus into our minds and hearts. Let us think of Christmas not as the coming again of the baby Jesus. That only happened once, 2000-plus years ago. Rather, let us rejoice in the remembrance of that event that changed the world and our own lives so profoundly, and then enter into an even deeper bond with Jesus whose Spirit lives in us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 11:2-11)
 
Put yourself in John’s shoes, or rather sandals, for a minute. Here he is, a man with a mission from God to prepare the way for the long-awaited Messiah, and he is stuck in prison. He is giving it his all, but he wants to make sure Jesus is the real deal, so he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” John is risking his life, and he wants to be sure. Jesus answers, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”
 
How many times has Jesus healed you, not necessarily from a physical ailment but emotionally or mentally? How many times has Jesus brought you or someone you love back from the death of sin or addiction or some other deep darkness? This week is a good time to remember all the times when Jesus healed you or a loved one in any way.
 
Maybe it is right now that you feel powerless or deeply injured. Ask Jesus to be present to you to help heal you. And this Christmas, let us thank Jesus for all the times of healing and all the gifts he has given us.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 11:1-10)
 
The prophets of Israel preached several massages, some hopeful and some judgmental, but all to awaken the people of Israel during hard times and give them courage. Here, Isaiah talks about a new leader, a future king. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord…. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. Justice shall be the band upon his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”
 
The kings that followed the greatest king, David, were far from the image Isaiah presents. They led their country poorly, so Isaiah wants to give the people some hope. We believe that this promised new ruler is Jesus, the Christ, and we place our hope in him.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17)
 
The psalmist gives us the qualities of a true leader: “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.” The psalmist gives us the qualities of a true leader. Would that that were always the case.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 15:4-9)
 
Paul is writing for both Jews and gentiles who followed Jesus, knowing that these groups did not always get along. “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
 
Throughout history, there have been differences of opinion among us Christians even to the point that large groups broke away from the Church and formed new denominations. We live in a time of divisions between the old order and emerging challenges in which, not doctrine but rather rules and traditions are being questioned. In this atmosphere, we need to keep focused on what Jesus himself preached and practiced, loving God and one another. That has not changed in two thousand years, nor will it ever.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 3:1-12)
 
“John the Baptist appeared preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…. It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said, ‘A voice crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
John must have been a sight to behold. He “wore clothing made of camel hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.”
 
But John was not fooled by the hypocrisy of many of the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming for baptism. He said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? And do not presume to say to yourselves ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones…. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
 
John knew his role in life. As popular as he was, he knew that he was to prepare the way for Jesus, not be the message himself. His mission, his very life, was short but absolutely essential for the mission of Jesus. Each of us also has a role to play in the living and sharing of our faith. We too are not the message, but we are the messengers.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah
(Chapter Chapter 2:1-5)
 
“In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills….For from Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples.”
 
The two important points here are that God will “judge between the nations” and that God’s word comes “from Jerusalem.” What is God’s word to the nations? “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” If they do these things, they will “walk in the light of the Lord.”
 
If only nations had obeyed this command, millions of innocent people would not have been killed right up to today. Jesus himself preached and lived non-violence as should we in our own lives.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9)
 
“Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” Have you come to the house of the Lord today rejoicing? Or, is it simply a matter of habit or obligation?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 13:11-14)
 
Paul tells the Romans, “For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
Paul knows that he will be killed and so he wants to let the Romans to know how important it is for them to stay the course and not fall into bad habits that were rampant throughout the city. Of course, the same holds true for we who live in an age that is all too prone to excuse these same excesses.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 24:37-44)
 
After Jesus died there was a belief that he would come back again on the last day. But when? Matthew wants to tell people to “Stay awake! For you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
 
This belief that Jesus would come back, perhaps in their lifetime and that the world would then end was very popular among Christians in the decades after the death of Jesus. It was intensified by the constant threat of prison and execution at the hands of the Romans. Even today, there are sects of Christianity that believe that the world will end soon, and Jesus will return. They go up to a mountain or some other remote place and wait, and wait until it becomes apparent that the time is not now.
 
We have no idea when the world as we know it will end, but we do know that our lives here on earth will end at our death. We know not the day or the hour, but we pray for a long and healthy life and then, even more important, a new resurrected life forever with Jesus.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of the Second Book of Samuel
(Chapter Chapter 5:1-3)
 
David was the greatest king of Israel, chosen by God and “all the tribes of Israel.”
 
“And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel and be commander of Israel.’” So, David had two responsibilities—shepherd, or spirit leader, and military commander. Despite his personal flaws, he was seen as successful in meeting both responsibilities.
 
Jesus called himself “the Good Shepherd” but was never considered to be a king. He himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” However, throughout history, kings were among the most powerful people on earth, and so the Church chose to refer to Jesus as a king, but expanded the title to “King of the Universe.” The point is that the power of Jesus goes way beyond that of earthly kings, whose use of power has often been corrupt and unjust. Jesus’ power, righteous and just, reaches to the ends of the universe.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 18:33B-17)
 
“Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” That is exactly what we are doing here today, coming to the house of the Lord and rejoicing. What are you rejoicing about today?
 
A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Colossians
(Chapter 1:12-20)
 
This reading focuses on a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving and what was undoubtedly a hymn sung at early church liturgies. It deserves a full reading.
 
“Brothers and sisters: Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the powers of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins …. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace through the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.”
 
Wow! What does all of that mean? It was written at a time when the people of Colossae were being bombarded by other teachers who were talking about other powers in the universe and other obligations that they must fulfill. Paul soars in this language to keep the Colossians on the right path, and the Church believes that this hymn was sung at liturgies throughout the early church to focus on the true power of Christ, “the firstborn of all creation …. in him all things hold together.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 23:35-43)
 
The setting for this reading is the crucifixion of Jesus. “The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God …. Even the soldiers jeered at him. ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself …. Above him there was an inscription that read, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’” Jesus gave no response that was recorded, but one of the criminals who were also being crucified with him “reviled Jesus, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.’” But the other man said, “This man has done nothing criminal.” Then the dying man said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “Amen, I say to you, today, you will be with me in paradise.” So, at a moment of excruciating pain, Jesus offers total forgiveness to this man, the same forgiveness he offers 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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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi
(Chapter Chapter 3:19-20a)
 
This book was probably written about five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, at a time when there was much dishonesty and disrespect for the temple and for the poor and oppressed. “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and evildoers will be stubble.” Strong warning! “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” Fear in the Hebrew Scriptures was not the harrowing kind of fear that paralyzes, but rather the fear that admonishes and heals. We are still far away here from the unconditional love that Jesus taught but a far cry from the destructive fear of pagan gods.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 98:5-6, 7-8, 9)
 
“The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.” Justice, one of the most important and yet elusive virtues throughout history, even until now. Most of us try to act justly in our own lives, yet we often ignore the injustices that may be all around us—economic injustice, racial or gender injustice that may permeate the very structures of our society. How can we be more aware of these injustices and challenge them?
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians
(Chapter 3:7-12)
 
Paul and the other apostles were workers who did not take their livelihood for granted. “Brothers and sisters: You know how one must imitate us. For we did not act in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat food free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you.” Disciples should be self-reliant, not lazy. “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” Of course, Paul did not mean widows and orphans but able-bodied folks who “are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.” Living in communities amidst hostile and dangerous forces meant that everyone needed to look out for one another, but not be busybodies, “work quietly” and not be dependent.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 21:5-19)
 
Let’s start with some history of the temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. It was the Second Temple, built after the disastrous Babylonian Exile in the seventh century B.C., then refurbished and dramatically expanded by King Herod at the time Jesus was growing up. It was the heart of Judaism and was central in the life and death of Jesus.
 
“While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.’ Then they asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this happen?’ He answered, ‘See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them. Nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. … Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.’”
 
Yes, the temple that was the focus of their faith would be destroyed, and they would be persecuted, but they would be saved. Of course, many did die from persecution, but they were saved from final death because of their faith. These are painful words written 2000 years ago but still important for us today, because we too will be saved by our faith in Jesus despite our many sufferings and disappointments.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the second Book of Maccabees
(Chapter 7:1-2, 9-14)
 
We Christians believe not only in the resurrection of Jesus but also in our own resurrection. At the time of Jesus, the Jews were divided about the resurrection of the body on the last day. The Sadducees did not believe in it, but the Pharisees did. This story about the brave Maccabee brothers is one of only two places in which the Hebrew Scriptures
allude to resurrection.
 
As the first brother is being tortured, just before his death, he says, “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the king of this world will raise us up to live again forever.” When the last brother is near death, he says, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.”
 
This was one of the first answers to the eternal question, “What happens to us when we die?” Today, there are only two choices: nothingness, obliteration, or resurrection, new life forever with Christ. I know what I believe. How about you?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15)
 
“Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.” This wish of the Psalmist was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus. But, that is only the first step. The final step will be our own resurrection to live forever in the presence of God.
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians
(Chapter 2:16-3:5)
 
Paul wrote this letter at a time of severe persecution of the young Church, and he wanted to reassure the faithful. “Brothers and sisters: may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word….But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.”
 
Imagine yourself as a new Christian living in fear that you might be caught, tortured, and murdered like the Maccabee brothers. There are no local officers or army to protect you. In fact, they are the very people who will arrest you. You have only your loving community and your faith to protect you. We have these same persecuted people to thank for passing on their faith to us over thousands of years.
 
Let us pray for the millions of our brothers and sisters in the faith who suffer and die every day all over the world for this same faith.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 20:27-38)
 
In this gospel reading, “some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a Resurrection” try to trap Jesus with a complicated question about marriage in the resurrected state. Jesus responds with a strong statement about the dead. “They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones that will arise….He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
 
The message of Jesus to us today is simple yet amazing. Yes, we will all die, but we will also rise and live forever in unity with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Do you believe this? Have you even thought much about it? Here is a clue. Our life with God has already started, because the very Spirit of God lives within us. Yes, the Holy Spirit lives in you and is your constant companion in your journey into the Mystery of God’s unconditional and everlasting 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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A reading from the Book of Wisdom
(Chapter 11:22-12:2)
 
This book was written in Alexandria, only about one hundred years before the birth of Jesus, by a man who at times assumes the voice of King Solomon to make sure his readers pay attention to its important messages. It is one of the few places in which Jewish scriptures refer to an after-life. The main truth that the author wants to covey to his readers is how good and powerful is their God who cares for them dearly.
 
“Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain of sand….And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? …But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are….But you spare all things, because they are yours; O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”
 
Wow! In a few short sentences the author gives us a picture of who God really is: all powerful, all loving, all merciful, and forgiving.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14)
 
“I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.” The Jewish people had many kings in their ancient history, a few good and others weak or corrupt. Fortunately, we have a democracy with no king, but we can still praise God forever. What do you most want to praise God for?
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians
(Chapter 1:11-2:2)
 
“Brothers and sisters: We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accordance with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
This is the beginning of a follow-up letter to the Thessalonians and was probably written from prison with the help of Paul’s friends and disciples, Timothy and Silvanus. Paul wants to clear up what was one of the first great controversies in the early Church: When would Jesus would come again at the end time? Many, including Paul at first, thought that Jesus would come back very soon, but now, some twenty years after the resurrection, there was still no Jesus, no second coming. Remember, this was during a time of severe persecution of Christians and many felt reassured by believing that Jesus would come again soon. So, Paul warns them about “a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.” He wants them to know that there is no such letter. What a disappointment! Did it cause some followers to leave and give up hope? We don’t know, but since Paul too had believed it, he wants to set the record straight before he dies.
 
We live in a time of turmoil in our Church that can affect our own faith. It is hard to stay faithful in the midst of reoccurring scandals and many proposed changes in Church practice. But no one is threatening our lives as the Roman Empire threatened Christians two thousand years ago. No one is persecuting us for our beliefs. We are not expecting the second coming of Christ to be anytime soon. Still, the faith of many has been shattered or at least weakened. Let us reach out to our brothers and sisters who live in growing doubt and help them and ourselves to focus on what is most important: our faith in Jesus and the presence of the very Spirit of God living in us—yes, in our very persons—and the abiding love of the Father.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 19:1-10)
 
This is an important parable, because it turns the tables on the people who thought that only they were good and this hated tax collector was not worthy to have Jesus dine at his house. Zacchaeus was indeed an unjust, greedy man, a dreaded tax collector who was an important part of an evil oppressive empire. Yet, he repented and was forgiven by Jesus. We should not take this story lightly. This was a “big deal,” because Jesus was saying “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” It is never too late for a change of heart that is accompanied by a change of behavior.
Have you ever witnessed that kind of radical forgiveness extended to anyone you know? Or, more important, do you know anyone who needs that forgiveness now? Maybe you can tell that person the good news of God’s mercy.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the second Book of Sirach
(Chapter 35:12-14, 16-18)
 
“The Lord is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial to the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. … The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal.”
 
The Hebrew Scriptures express the Jewish people’s historic sense of responsibility to the poor and oppressed, especially orphans and widows. Jesus shared that passion, as do we who are his followers. We recognize that food is a human right and that hunger anywhere is unjust, including our country, the richest in the world. That is why we in our parish help to feed the hungry. But we must also realize that the root cause of hunger is poverty and the root cause of poverty is powerlessness, so we also support programs that help people to get out of powerless situations through counseling and help in finding a job that pays a living wage. At the same time, we understand that powerlessness also comes from sexism, ageism, racism, and economic injustice which we must not have in our own lives.
 
How can you and I try to “hear the cry of the oppressed” and work for true charity and justice?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23)
 
“The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” When have you heard the “cry of the poor?” Have you really listened? How have you responded? Is there anything more that you can do to help one person or family that is poor? Support your parish’s efforts to reach out to the poor or support another organization that is doing good work to help poor people? Learn about how various government anti-poverty programs work?
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 4:6-8, 16-18)
 
Paul is in prison, suffering deeply and nearing execution: “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Let’s hope that you and I remember those powerful words and can say something like that at the time of our deaths. And let us also remember, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 18:9-14)
 
Here we have another parable that is both shocking and right on target: “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. … Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.” So, one would have been considered the “good guy” and the other—the tax collector—was definitely the “bad guy.”
 
The Pharisee says, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and I pay tithes on my whole income.” Of course, he may also be taxing the poor and oppressed without justice or mercy. “But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’” Jesus gets the picture and responds: “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
 
What does it mean for us to be truly humble? It is not about poor self-esteem or putting ourselves down. It is rather about being thankful for all the gifts we have been given, not only material gifts but the gifts of health, loving friends, and family, the ability to make a living.
 
Do you often think about all the gifts you have been given by God, and give thanks? There, that’s true humility.
 
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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