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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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A reading from the second Book of Exodus
(Chapter 17:8-13)
 
The Amalekites were a tribal desert people who did not like these new people, the Israelites, entering their land sometime after the exodus from Egypt. And so, the Amalekites attacked. Moses told Joshua to resist: “‘Tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ … As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight. Moses’ hands, however, grew tired, so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” The key here is that the “staff of God,” is the sign of God’s power and protection. But Moses could not do it all by himself, he needed the help of Aaron and Hur.
 
So often, God’s power and protection for us comes through the help of others. Have you experienced that in your life when someone was there for you or you for someone? The power of God is not some kind of magic. It often comes through the support and kindness of others.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8)
 
“Our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” When does this happen? Later in this Psalm, the author tells us. “The Lord will guard your coming and going, both now and forever.” Let us remember a time when God helped us, and give thanks. Actually, the presence of God is not far away. God lives in each of us, but all too often we forget and feel disconnected. Prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist help us to reconnect.
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 2:8-13)
 
“Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed.” That is great advice, but suppose you learned some of the wrong teachings. Suppose you were taught that God was a judgmental, disconnected force somewhere “up there” in heaven. Suppose you were taught that “You’d better be good, or God will punish you.” Then your basic relationship with God would be founded on fear. Where do you find the true God? Paul tells Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction and for training and righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
 
I was not taught very much from Scripture as a child but as an adult I have found reading from Scripture to be enlightening and faith filled. I hope that your experience of the Scriptures, listening and reading, has been life-giving. A whole world of wonder and grace is to be found there.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 18:1-8)
 
“Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she might finally come and strike me.’” Then Jesus makes his point: “Then will not God secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.”
 
The point of this parable is persistence. The widow was on the bottom of the social scale in Israel, and yet, even she received an answer because she was such a persistent pest. Of course, God does not think of us as pests when we pray, but Jesus is suggesting that we need to be persistent in prayer. You might ask how we can actually change God’s mind with our persistence. That is not the point. Our persistence can help us to change our own minds and hearts to be able to listen to and follow God’s help.
 
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 Kings
(Chapter 5:14-17)
 
In ancient times, lepers were considered unclean. They were avoided and were almost never in positions of power. Naaman was a leper but also was a commander in the army of the king of Aram. The king had such high regard for Naaman that he told him to ask the prophet Elisha to cure the leprosy. Elisha told Naaman to plunge into the Jordan River seven times. At first, Naaman refused, but his servants talked him into it, and he was cured of leprosy. He then told Elisha, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.” But Elisha would not accept the gift. So, Naaman said, “If you will not accept, please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth, for I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other God except to the Lord.”
 
This was a big deal. A high-ranking pagan had converted to the God of Israel, and he asked for a bit of Israel (“two mule-loads of earth”) to take with him so that he could worship in Israel no matter where he is. The author wants his readers to know that even a powerful pagan army commander came to believe because of the power of the true God.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4)
 
“The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.” Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, we read that God did reveal his saving power over and over. Have you ever asked yourself how God has gifted you in all sorts of ways? Perhaps it was a surprise gift in the form of a new and important love in your life or a healing for you or someone you love. Or perhaps it is the all-abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in your life every day.
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 2:8-13)
 
Paul is in prison once again, but this time it is very serious. “I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory. … If we have died with him we shall also live with him; If we persevere we shall also reign with him.”
 
We’re thankful that none of us suffers for our faith in the way that Paul did, but there are times when we do experience intense suffering. When has that kind of deep suffering hit you, surrounded you, gotten inside you? How did you get through it? Are you still going through it? Maybe a certain cause of suffering has passed, only to be replaced by a newer and more intense form of pain. Have you asked for help from someone close to you or a counselor or therapist? Maybe there is someone who can help ease your suffering even if that person can’t take it away entirely. Or, maybe you can learn to live with it and go on with the more loving and positive aspects of your life. Often, we can become overwhelmed by one painful part of life and lose sight of all the gifts we continue to receive amid the suffering. A suffering time might be a good time to recall the gifts you continue to experience and the times in your life when God did help you through your pain.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 17:11-19)
 
In the first reading, we heard about a leper being healed. Here, we have ten lepers. “They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!’ And when he saw them, he said ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’ As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God with a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, ‘Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?’ Then he said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
 
Jesus was a healer. Even scholars who do not believe he was the Son of God agree, and there are examples of Jesus healing many people and sometimes only one. This time, he tells the lepers to “show yourselves to the priests.” But it is not the priests who heal them. “As they were going they were cleansed.” Jesus was the one who healed all ten, but only one, a Samaritan, came back to thank him. Jesus asks, “Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” So now, Jesus takes the healing one step further. “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” The man who had been considered a heretic because he was a Samaritan is not only healed but he is saved for all eternity.
 
You and I may ask Jesus for healing at many times in our lives, but he gives us much more, the gift of eternal life.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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mulberry treeA reading from the book of the Prophet Habakkuk
(Chapter 1:2-3; 2:2-4)
 
“How long O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I see misery?” Habakkuk was one of the 12 minor prophets of Israel and, like most, he was speaking in a time of oppression by a foreign power. God answers him: “For the vision still has its time, presses on to its fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”
 
This was written thousands of years ago, but it has meaning for us today even though our situation is not so challenging. Or is it? Perhaps there are times when we can identify with this ancient man’s cry. Not that we have to deal with hostile Babylonians, but maybe we have troubles with our health, our family, or our work. We still can rely on God’s promise of ultimate salvation.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9)
 
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” How and where can we hear the voice of God? Sometimes it is at prayer, at our Eucharistic celebration, in nature, or any time when we speak to a loved one or look into her or his eyes. Or, it may be in times of stress, danger or disappointment. But we can truly hear God’s voice only if we have open, not hardened hearts.
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 1:6-8, 13-14)
 
Paul is writing from prison to his disciple Timothy who is now also a pastor. Paul tells Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control…. Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God…. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.”
 
How can we reach God with our prayers when God is “out there” somewhere beyond our reach? Only with the help of the “Holy Spirit that dwells within us,” that is not “out there.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within you? Do you think of the Holy Spirit as your partner throughout life, your God partner? If you were taught as a child and have believed as an adult that God was “up there in heaven,” you have a wonder-filled surprise waiting for you. It is the very presence of the Holy Spirit within your soul now. Rejoice!
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 17:5-10)
 
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’ it would obey you.” Of course, this is what we call Semitic exaggeration, a mode of speech used throughout the Bible to make a point. The point in this Gospel passage is the power of faith. Unfortunately, we modern folks often think of faith as going to a prayer bank and making a withdrawal. We expect an answer, the answer we want, as soon as possible, and if we do not receive the answer we want, we might find our faith wavering. Jesus wanted the apostles and us today to have a wild faith, a deep faith, and at times a long winding faith that does not work as a straight line of prayer and response but helps us to live in the deep mystery of God’s love.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the book of Amos
(Chapter 6:1a, 4-7)
 
Amos is condemning the rich and powerful in the Northern Kingdom of Israel just before they are invaded by the Babylonians and sent into exile, roughly 800 years before the birth of Jesus. Amos blames the elite for their uncaring and unjust lifestyle and declares, “Therefore, they shall be the first to go into exile.” In the next century the rest of Israel, the Southern Kingdom, would be captured by the same nation and sent into the infamous Babylonian Exile. These are all dim historical memories for us, but they had a devastating effect on the Jewish people for generations.
 
What is the warning for us? After all, we are the most powerful country in the world. The lesson is the same for us as it was for the Israelites. Despite our power and wealth, our leaders and all of us need to take care of those in need, not in a condescending way but with a real feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood. That is why our parish ministries are so important not only for those we serve but also for those who serve.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10)
 
“Praise the Lord my soul!” Praising the Lord may be the least practiced prayer of many of us, as opposed to prayers of petition. It can go right along with thanking God for all we are and all we have been given.
 
A reading from first Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 6:11-16)
 
Timothy had accepted the call from God through Paul to preach the Good News of Jesus, the unconditional love and mercy of God that comes through Jesus. Paul wants to make sure that Timothy not only preaches this loving message but that he himself lives it with all those qualities: righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness. Imagine if those who preached and taught and led our Church throughout history did so with all or even most of those qualities. There would not have been any inquisitions that brutally murdered thousands of innocent people, or religious wars that killed millions, and hundreds of millions who left the Church in anger and hopelessness. But that was the past. It need not be the present or the future as Pope Francis opens his arms to all who may feel they are outcasts and offers hope and God’s merciful love.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 16:19-31)
 
The Pharisees were often depicted as “those who loved money.” So this is the audience that Jesus addresses, and he tells a parable about a rich man who in life did not care at all for the poor man, Lazarus, who “would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” After the rich man dies, he is in a place of torment and wants out. He asks Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, for help for himself and his five brothers. He never admits he is wrong, never asks for forgiveness. He simply wants to make a deal with Abraham.
 
Over the years, people have asked if hell is real and, if so, who is there since God is all-loving? Here, Luke gives us an example of hell. The rich man does not get out of hell in this story, because he never asks for forgiveness, never admits his sins.
 
God’s offers kindness and forgiveness to us throughout our lives. It is never too late for repentance, but it is possible for a person to refuse God’s love and mercy. We have had examples of mass murderers in our lifetime. Are they in hell? Perhaps, but that is not our business. What is our business is to proclaim God’s merciful forgiveness to all we know, especially those who may seem to have missed this most important message of all.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the book of Amos
(Chapter 8:4-7)
 
We tend to think of ancient Israel as a poor nation, and that is true. Most of the people were poor peasant farmers who barely got by and often were vulnerable to the whims of their landlords, seed providers, and more well-off merchants who cheated the poor families that depended on them for their livelihood.
 
Amos, teaching in the eighth century before the birth of Jesus, socks it to these predators: “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a think they have done!” This was a time of relative economic growth, but poor people saw little if any of that money. Sound familiar? One of the biggest issues in our society today is economic inequality. It is not only an economic concern but also a moral issue. People who are working hard, often at two or three minimum-wage jobs per family, are still poor and hungry in our rich country. Imagine what Amos would be saying today, how angry he would be. How should we, as followers of Jesus, act to overcome economic injustice in our society? Can we say that we are truly on the side of the poor?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8)
 
“Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.” How does God really lift up the poor unless we believers act as God’s partners here on earth?
 
A reading from first Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 2:1-8)
 
The early Christians were not big fans of kings, the Roman emperor, and other officials, but the author of this letter calls upon Christians to pray “for kings and all authority.” He also asks the people to pray “without anger or argument.”
 
That was a difficult task then, and it is today, especially if we do not agree with our local, state, or national leaders. We can pray to change their minds, work to challenge their positions or their leadership within our democratic process, and join in an ongoing debate on the issues we hold dear.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 16:1-13)
 
One of the challenges posed by this passage is that Luke combines a parable with moral teachings. The parable begins with a theft. Most of the Palestinian farmland at the time of Jesus was controlled by royalty or super-rich absentee landowners. This landowner had hired a steward to administer his land, and the steward stole from him and then was caught. Afraid that he would lose his position or worse, the steward decided to make friends with the farmers who were his business contacts. He made deals with several, thinking that they would treat him right after he lost his job. It is unclear whether he lowered the price by giving the landowner less or that he gave up part of his own share. In any case, the landowner found out and surprisingly “commended that dishonest steward for for acting prudently.”
 
Jesus then goes into a long explanation of “the children of this world” making friends with dishonest wealth. The two moral teachings here are about being trustworthy with small matters and large, and, most important, about Jesus’ exhortation, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Whatever is mammon? It seems to be a term for ill-gotten or dishonest wealth.
 
Almost every day we learn of one or more examples of wealth that is not only excessive but acquired through dishonesty or out-and-out robbery with a fancy name. The people who swindled are all too often honest business people and hard-working investors or consumers.
 
It is interesting how stories and moral teachings from 2,000 years ago are still relevant today.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the book of Exodus
(Chapter 32:7-11, 13-14)
 
This reading is about the infidelity of the people who were saved by God from slavery in Egypt. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once to your people. … They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out, “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” I see how stiff-necked this people is. … Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.’
 
“But Moses implored the Lord, his God, saying ‘Why, O Lord, should your wrath raise up against your own people?’” Then Moses began to bargain with God. This may seem strange to us but “Semitic bargaining” was a feature of life at that time. And God relented and said to Moses, “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual inheritance.”
 
Notice that at first God refers to the Hebrews as “your people,” even though he has always considered them as his people. Then, after he has forgiven them for their idolatry, they are once again his people.
 
We do not worship any golden calf today, but we may be tempted to worship power or money or possessions. Of course, we would never say that, but we might be tempted to discard our values for power or possessions. It is good to ask ourselves these questions every once in a while. What are we tempted to worship? Does anything hold power over us?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19)
 
“I will rise and go to my father.” The first line of the Psalm says, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.” God’s mercy is always there for us.
 
A reading from first Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 1:12-17)
 
Saint Paul was more responsible for the growth of the early Church than any other person. But he had been a really “bad guy.” As he writes, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant.” This great man had participated in the murder of Christians before his conversion: “I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. … Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that as me as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.”
 
In the first reading, from the Book of Exodus, we read about God’s mercy for his people. Here, Paul talks about the great mercy that he received from Jesus, a mercy that literally turned his life around.
 
Has the forgiveness of God, the mercy of God ever turned your life around? Has it helped you out of depression, self-doubt, even self-hatred? The healing mercy of God is truly amazing, transforming, life- changing. Perhaps you know someone who is in need of God’s mercy but does not know it or does not know how to ask for it. Have you ever thought that one of our great gifts and roles in life is to embody the merciful love of Jesus in your life and work? It is right there within us, and the need is all around us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 15:1-32)
 
This passage contains the most beautiful and important parable of Jesus. It is often called “the parable of the Prodigal Son,” but the true focus is on the father’s Love, his crazy, over-the-top love for the son who demanded his inheritance even though, as the younger son, he should have waited until his older brother received his share. “He set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.” So, he took the only job available, “to tend the swine.” What a disgusting, demeaning job for a formerly rich young Jewish man to have. It got so bad that “he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.”
 
Finally, he came to his senses: “Here am I, dying of hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired workers.” Then, a remarkable, unsuspected thing happened. “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’” You know the rest of the story. The father was so happy that he threw a homecoming celebration. This angered his older son who refused to enter the house and rightfully complained that he had been the worthy one. The father told him, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
 
Jesus told this parable to proclaim his Father’s love and mercy for all, even great sinners. Of course, his Father is also Our Father who continues to offer us his “crazy,” unconditional love. Always.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the book of Wisdom
(Chapter 9:13-18b)
 
The author of the Book of Wisdom asks, “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” The author gives his answer toward the end of this passage: “Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?”
 
The only knowledge we have of God comes from God. God sends us his holy spirit, according to the author, writing during the century before the birth of Jesus. Today, we Christians say our knowledge of God comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17)
 
“In every age O Lord, you have been our refuge.” Throughout the history of Judaism and Christianity God has always been presented as the recourse of those who are troubled. In your darkest times, do you experience God as your refuge?
 
A reading from the Letter of Paul to Philemon
(Chapter 12:18-19, 22-24a)
 
In ancient times, slaves were often treated cruelly as we might imagine, but there were also slaves who rose to positions of wealth and even authority in the Roman Empire. Onesimus was not one of those elite slaves, but he was much loved and respected by Paul who considered him a brother. Paul writes from prison to Philemon, a leader of the Church in Colossae, asking him to also consider Onesimus as a brother. Paul is not challenging the institution of slavery but rather calling this young man, Onesimus, to a whole new identity.
 
Tragically, it took two thousand years and hundreds of millions of destroyed lives before slavery came to be regarded as unjust and immoral in much of the world. Yet, even today, there are more than a million people still living in bondage. Let us remember to pray for all those who have lived and died in slavery and for those who are still enslaved.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 14:25-33)
 
This is certainly one of the challenging Gospel readings. The context is important. These remarks by Jesus follow his discourse about people being invited to a banquet and giving a variety of lame excuses for not attending (Luke 14: 15-25). Jesus follows this parable with a strong sermon to the crowd following him in which he uses the word “hate” (misein in Greek) in reference to a person’s family. Matthew includes the same account in his Gospel and uses the term equivalent to “love less.”
 
Jesus is not telling the crowd to hate their families, in the sense that we usually use the word “hate,” but rather saying that anyone who wishes to follow him must make a radical commitment to him, over and above their commitment to their families and possessions. Many did literally leave their families, but many more followed Jesus while remaining with their families, some of whom Jesus visited, partaking of their hospitality at meals. In our own day, many people have answered the call of Jesus and joined religious orders. We owe them our admiration and support for their sacrifice. However, most of us have chosen to follow Jesus as members of families whom we love dearly. It is in our families and the larger family of our community that we are called to follow Jesus.
 
Jesus also says, “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” This may be another case of Jesus using what is known as “Semitic exaggeration” to make a point. The challenge for us today is not necessarily renouncing all our possessions but rather rethinking the role our possessions play in our lives. Are we seduced by the call of advertisers to have more and more and the best and the newest rather than sharing with those in need, starting with our families and going beyond when and where we can?
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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

“The Lowest Places at the Feast” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube.

 
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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