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AT THE PROCESSION WITH PALMS
 
A reading from the Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 19:28-40)
 
Luke tells us of a joyous procession of the followers of Jesus into Jerusalem. You would think, just from this reading, that Jesus is about to be accepted as the true Messiah, not crucified as a dangerous criminal. How did the situation change so radically and lead to his death just a few days later? On one level, the politics of the time, Jesus is obviously a threat to the Roman rulers, and on the religious level he is also a threat to the Pharisees and Sadducees whose seat of power was the Temple in Jerusalem. Suppose the majority of the people turned against them and wanted Jesus as their leader. The Romans would never have let that happen, and they had the military power to prevent it. At the same time, the religious leaders’ power existed only with the support of Rome, which would not be happy with some upstart prophet leading a rebellion against their authority or that of the Temple.
 
On another level, however, there was God’s plan that was not about any specific earthly power but rather about salvation, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, for all people for all time.
 
READINGS AT MASS
 
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 50:4-7)
 
Isaiah tells of a Suffering Servant. “The Lord God has given me a well- trained tongue, that I may know how to speak to the weary a word that may arouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. … The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” Throughout history, Jesus has been seen as the Suffering Servant Isaiah envisioned, the one who came not to be served but to serve, the one who came to die for us.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24)
 
“My God my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus prayed these words on the cross, but this is not an utterance of disbelief or despair. We can assume that Jesus knew the whole psalm, including the strong expression of hope that follows these words.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 3:8-14)
 
“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
 
This is a remarkable passage from St. Paul who, like all the followers of Jesus, was trying to make sense of who Jesus was. He put together the two parts of the mystery, the human and divine dimensions of Jesus. It is the mystery of our faith: Jesus was not only a prophet and a healer, but also the Son of God who shared the divine life. Paul “got it” and gave his life for it. In this letter, he shares the mystery with his contemporaries and with us.
 
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke
(Chapter 22:14-23:56)
 
At the beginning of this long reading, Luke recounts the story of Jesus sharing a Passover meal with the apostles. “When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is cup is the new covenant in my blood, which shall be said for you.’”
 
This is the beginning of our Eucharist, the one we share today and at every Mass. Yes! It comes from Jesus himself, and for two thousand years people have gathered to celebrate the presence of Jesus in our midst and in our very bodies. The Eucharist binds us to Jesus and to one another every time we celebrate in his name.
 
There is so much more in today’s Gospel. Please listen carefully and read it again. Each time, you will be rewarded with new insights and a growing closeness with Jesus. It is the story of our faith living in us now.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 43:16-21)
 
“Remember not the things of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.” “I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink.”
 
Isaiah is writing this toward the end of the exile in Babylon to give people hope in the midst of great suffering. Through the prophet, God reminds the Israelites that he had the power over the waters as they escaped from Egypt, that he opened a path for the chosen people to pass and then closed it on the Egyptian army, destroying it. Now, as the people hope to return from exile, he will produce another miracle, putting water in the desert for the people to drink.
 
To understand this wonderful gift, we need to realize that the desert-like Mideast region that includes Israel today was a desert thousands of years ago when all these events happened. Without water there is no life. God, who is the source of all life, promises this gift of life to his people.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6)
 
“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” What has God done for you or your loved ones that has filled you with joy? Sometimes, it is too easy to take God’s gifts for granted. How do you give thanks to God for these gifts?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 3:8-14)
 
“For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his Resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.”
 
The Pharisees and Sadducees believed that salvation came from adherence to the Law of Moses. Paul and the early Christians believed that only faith in Jesus would save them, not keeping the hundreds of religious laws imposed on the Jewish people. That was heresy to the Jewish leaders and threatened their whole way of existence. Paul, who was previously called Saul, had been a strict follower of the Law, but he came to believe that everything he had been attached to was “so much rubbish … because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.”
 
How do you and I know Jesus as more than an important historical figure from the distant past? How do we see his crucifixion and resurrection as more than past events, as unique and dramatic as they may have been back then? How can we have a personal relationship with someone who is much more than a benevolent and even heroic historic figure? Who is Jesus NOW for us?
 
Knowing Jesus is both like and unlike knowing anyone else. On the one hand, we need to learn as much about him as possible and communicate with him in our prayer life. Yet, we only really know Jesus when we accept that he is a gift to us, coming TO us rather than we coming to him. He is always there, always present to us, even when we don’t realize his presence, when he may seem distant. Have there been times for you when you felt his presence powerfully but then felt that it slipped away? Maybe it was at a time of great rejoicing or a special insight or, more likely, at times when you were down, in need of support to climb out of some deep darkness or danger. Of course, it helps if you, can find time each day to say hello, to say “thank you” or “help me.” But the key thing is to know that the presence of Jesus in our lives is not dependent on our attention. His very Spirit lives within us at all times. Sometimes you can feel it or hear it. At most other times we simply need to trust that he is there.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 8:1-11)
 
Jesus is in the temple area, and people are coming to see and hear him. “Then the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ They said this to test him so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write in the ground with his finger. But when they continued to ask him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one. Then Jesus asks her ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She replied, ‘No one sir.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on do not sin anymore.’ ”
 
This is a powerful story of the forgiveness of Jesus, but it is much more. The scribes and Pharisees quote the Law of Moses, but Jesus is saying that he is above and beyond that law. No wonder that they wanted to kill him. He had turned their world upside down. Today, the forgiveness of Jesus can turn our world around as well.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of Joshua
(Chapter 5:9a, 10-12)
 
Up until this point in the story of the Israelites’ journey to freedom from Egypt, they have been fed with manna, the mysterious substance God provided in the desert. Now, everything has changed. “On the day after the Passover, they ate the produce of the land. On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.”
 
This whole story of the Passover from Egypt, the wandering for so long in the desert, all of this is a gift from God. But now, the people have a new gift that challenges them to become active participants. Now, they are out of the desert and in a land that they can farm to grow their own food. The gift is still there but in a different form. It is time for them to grow into a people by doing their part to become self-reliant.
 
You and I have been given great gifts, starting with the gift of life itself and continuing throughout our lives. We too must be active participants, doing our part to become self-reliant. Just as the Israelites were gifted by God throughout their existence and needed to actively accept and embrace their gifts, so too must we be active recipients, accepting the continuous gifts that God showers upon us.
 
Do you give thanks for all the gifts that God gives to you, or do you focus on the negative, all the things you do not have, all the challenges that you face every day? Just as Israel had a partnership with God and had an active role in using their gifts, so too must we be thankful for our gifts and fulfill our role in partnership with God to become fully ourselves.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7)
 
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Do you ever spend time savoring all the goodness of the Lord, or do you all too often taste the bitterness of what you do not have and the sorrows you face?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 5:1-2, 5-8)
“Brothers and sisters: whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away, behold, new things have come. And all this is from God.” Wow! You and I are a “new creation,” and every day “new things have come.”
 
Do you experience your life in this dynamic way or is it the “same old, same old” or worse, a series of traps or boxes that keep you from being who you really are? If instead you try to see the opportunities for “new creation” appearing in your life, your life can change. The “old things” that Paul talks about which may drag you down can be transformed by the new life that is being offered to you now, if only you can accept the gifts being offered.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 15:1-3, 11-32)
 
This is one of the most powerful and hopeful of all the parables of Jesus. It is commonly called the story of the “prodigal son,” but it is more appropriately called the “parable of the father’s love.” You and I have heard the story dozens of times but try to hear it from the perspective of the father.
 
“A man had two sons, and the younger said to his father, Father give me the share of my estate that should come to me. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off for a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.” The son spends everything, and not wisely, and the country he has traveled to falls into a severe famine. He is starving and hires himself out to take care of pigs, the worst kind of job for a Jewish person.
 
“Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s workers have more than enough food to eat, but here I am dying of hunger? I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers. . . .” While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. . . . (and) ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattest calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come to life again, he was lost and has been found.’”
 
Remember that Jesus is telling his audience a story that creates an image of God that may not be familiar to them. On one level, this is a story of the younger son’s repentance, but on a deeper level it is a story about who an all-forgiving, all-loving God—represented by the father. Jesus wants to reorient his audience, whose idea of God has been focused on divine punishment. With this story, Jesus tells his audience that the love of God is indeed a “crazy love” beyond their imaginings. Everything else is secondary, including the sins of the younger son and the anger of his brother. Jesus wants people to broaden and deepen their understanding of who their God really is.
 
And for us today, can we see the all-powerful “crazy love” of God? Or do we judge God’s love and forgiveness according to our own limited human standards. Do you believe that God will forgive you anything if you truly repent? That is the God of Jesus, the God who is our Father.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of Exodus
(Chapter 3:1-8a, 13-15)
 
This is the famous story of God speaking to Moses from a burning bush. God says to Moses, “‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. But the Lord said, ‘I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.’”
 
Moses does not know what to make of this and especially he does not know who is this God, so he asks what he should say if the people ask who this God is. God’s answer is both enigmatic and revealing. “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM WHO AM. This is my name forever.”
 
Over the centuries people have speculated about what this means. Is God saying that he is all that is or all the people can know? In any case, the God who called himself I AM was powerful enough to lead the people out of slavery into freedom.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11)
 
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Have you ever hardened your heart toward anyone or anything? It could be an understandable reaction to an injustice or hurt you have received, but if it remains it could do you and perhaps others harm. That is the time to “hear his voice,” a voice of forgiveness, mercy, and a new understanding. It is a very different voice than the one you might have in you that has not done you any good. It is time to listen to this voice, his voice.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 5:1-2, 5-8)
“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
 
That’s right, even though many Christians do not realize it, the Holy Spirit lives within each one of us and fills us with grace, the very life of God. Imagine that! No matter how bad or disappointed we may feel with our lives, if we look more deeply we will find the presence of God. It may reveal itself in prayer but also from another person or in the deepest moments of our hopelessness and pain.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 4:5-42)
 
This is one of the most powerful and unexpected stories in the gospels. “A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ The Samaritan woman said to him ‘How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?’ Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you give me a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’”
 
There are several things that we need to know in order to understand this text. Jews considered Samaritans to be heretics. A good Jewish man would never have talked to any Samaritan, much less a woman. And this is taking place at a well which was a familiar place to meet prostitutes, and this woman has a checkered past. Jesus is risking scandal speaking to a woman, who is a heretic, at a place of sin. But he is talking about something so important that he takes the risk and talks about truly living water, the water of eternal life.
 
You and I were given that living water when we were baptized, and the very Spirit of God lives in us. God is present in us always even if we do not think of it often. We all know that water is essential for life, and this living water is essential for eternal life that has already begun in each of us. Let us rejoice in the Spirit who has given us this 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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A reading from the Book of Genesis
(Chapter 15:5-12, 17-18)
 
This is the story of God making a covenant with Abram who from then on was known as Abraham. He had a new identity and a new role as the leader of his people. All of this came about through the power of God who told Abraham, “To your descendants I give this land.” This covenant binds the Jewish people to God forever.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14)
 
“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom should I fear?” The word fear that is used here means that we have an awesome respect not a cringing, terrifying relationship with God. Many Christians have been misled into thinking that their relationship with God was primarily that negative fear instead of love. May we never fall into that trap. It has ruined the lives of many throughout the centuries.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 3:17-4:1)
 
Everyplace Paul went there was always controversy, not only with pagans but also with his fellow Jews who were still tied to the old ways of following the Law. That was true of the Philippians, so Paul refocused them on Jesus. “Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly bodies to conform to his glorified body. . . . Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord.”
 
Paul, who had been a persecutor of Christians, was converted after having a personal encounter with Jesus several years after the resurrection. Paul then became the greatest of all the apostles, traveling Asia Minor and Europe, converting thousands of people to Jesus. Life was never easy for Paul but he never gave up, even when he suffered in body, mind, and spirit. May his powerful determination and courage be with us in our times of need and suffering.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 9:28b-36)
 
“Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” The role of a mountain is important here, because God gave the Covenant to Moses on a mountain as well. Peter, John, and James were asleep and suddenly awoke and saw the two great men standing with Jesus. Peter was so taken by the power of this experience that he wanted to stay on the mountain and make three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Luke tells us that Peter “did not know what he was saying.”
 
Have you ever had a powerful spiritual experience in which you felt especially close to Jesus? Maybe, like Peter, you did not want it to end, but of course, it did end, and you went about your life. Jesus gave the apostles this extraordinary experience knowing that they would suffer with him throughout the whole of his crucifixion and beyond. If you have been blessed with a special experience of God’s presence, rejoice and be glad and allow it to strengthen you for your own suffering and help you to reach your own resurrection, whenever it may occur.
 
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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Jesus_desertA reading from the Book of Deuteronomy
(Chapter 26:4-10)
 
Moses gives the people a short summary of their history—the call of Abraham, their suffering in Egypt, and finally their deliverance by God, as Moses puts it, “with his strong hand and outstretched arm with terrifying power, with signs and wonders; and bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, I have now brought you the first fruits of the products of the soil which you O Lord have given to us.”
 
This is a powerful creed that the Jewish people have recited throughout their history, and it is part of who we are as Christians as well. In our Eucharist, we join with Jesus, who is the first fruits of God’s new covenant with his people.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15)
 
“Be with me O Lord when I am in trouble.” Later in the Psalm, God says, “I will be with him in distress.” But then God promises much more: “I will deliver him and glorify him.” That is quite a promise, and it is right there for us now, in our lives NOW.
 
Are you truly in awe of God, enthralled with his goodness, in wonder of his great creation? Or are you still caught up in the words you may have heard in your childhood: “You better be good, or God will punish you.” How you answer that question may either bring you a powerful sense of God’s peace and protection or encourage that little voice that sometimes in your head that says, “You’re not good enough.”
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 10:8-13)
 
Paul tells the Romans, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
 
Some of our Christian brethren have believed for centuries that this is all they need, faith, to be saved. We Catholics believe that it is faith and good works that save us. Jesus gives us the gift of faith, but as with all gifts, we need to put it into practice for it to be fully accepted. We are in partnership with Jesus throughout our lives to truly live this gift.
 
When many of us were children, we were told that we needed to do certain things or avoid other things to “get to heaven.” That got things backwards. Salvation starts with a gift from God. We can’t earn it. It all starts with God, with a gift from God that we then need to accept through our words and actions.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 4:1-13)
 
Here we have the famous three temptations of Jesus. It is no coincidence that they take place in a desert. Deserts have often been seen in history as dark places where danger lurks. Our spiritual ancestors, the Jewish people, were tempted several times in the desert, but God was on their side, and they ultimately made the right decisions. So, just as the people were tempted by real hunger—not the kind you and I experience but life-threatening hunger—so, too, is Jesus tempted by this most primal threat: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” But Jesus is on a whole other level: “It is written, one does not live on bread alone.”
 
The next temptation has to do with power: “Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, ‘I shall give to you all this power and glory. … All this will be yours if you worship me.’ Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written, You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.’”
 
You might think that the devil had just pulled out his best trick, his most powerful promise. But no, there was one more—the temptation about life itself and trust in God in the most sacred of all places, the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and with their hands they will support you lest you dash your foot against a stone. . . . Jesus said to him in reply, It also says, you shall not put the Lord, your God to the test.”
 
That was it. The devil had played his strongest card and lost. We might think Satan was defeated, but the last line says “he departed from him for a time.” As we know, the temptations of Jesus followed him to the cross.
 
Sometimes, when we have overcome a difficult temptation, we feel good about it, as well we should. However, we need to be aware that there will be more and that Jesus is there to help us navigate our own dangerous deserts.
 
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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familyA reading from the Book of the First Book of Samuel
(Chapter 3:20-22, 24-28)
 
This is a heart-warming and heartbreaking story, especially for those of us who are parents. Many of us have prayed for a child as Hannah did and were overjoyed when that child was born. I suspect that none of us would do what Hannah did nor would we ever be asked to do so. This story, however, took place thousands of years ago in a different culture. Hannah did what she thought was right and, in a sense, sacrificed the life of her child to God’s service. He did indeed perform great service to God and to God’s people.
 
Sometimes, we make sacrifices for our children and for others, and make do them with some pain but also with the joy of giving from deep in our hearts.
 
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” has been misunderstood for centuries and has been used to frighten and mislead people into both spiritual and emotional illness. The fear of the Lord that the Psalmist is talking about is not the cringing, debilitating fear that drains the joy from people and keeps them from the all-powerful and all-forgiving love of God. The real meaning of the word “fear” in Hebrew is awe and wonder at God’s great power and might.
 
Are you truly in awe of God, enthralled with his goodness, in wonder of his great creation? Or are you still caught up in the words you may have heard in your childhood: “You better be good, or God will punish you.” How you answer that question may either bring you a powerful sense of God’s peace and protection or encourage that little voice that sometimes in your head that says, “You’re not good enough.”
 
A reading from the first Letter of Saint John
(Chapter 3:1-2, 21-24)
 
Saint John is writing to people who have been shunned by their fellow Jews and persecuted by the ruling Roman Empire. These Christians risk their lives every day. What do they have to show for it? First, they are the “children of God.” “They shall be like him.” They “shall see him as he is.” And, “the way that we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.” That’s not bad for anyone but especially for people who were on the bottom of the social and economic ladder. Imagine that you are being told that you are like God, that you will see him face to face, and that his very Spirit lives in you right now. That was John’s great message then, and it is ours now. This is what we have been told. This is who we are. God’s Spirit lives in us, now and always.
 
As we celebrate this feast of the Holy Family, we need not only to look into the past at the family of Jesus but also to look into our own families. We can rediscover the Spirit that can help us heal all our wounds, including those that we inflict on one another. We can celebrate the Spirit-filled family that we are, despite our faults and insufficiencies, and forgive each other as the Father forgives us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 2:41-52)
 
Some years ago, I read a novel about a man who takes his daughter, his only child, to the supermarket and has her sitting in the shopping cart as they reach the checkout. She asks him to take her down and let her stand behind him as he puts the items on the counter. Against his better judgement, he agrees, and when he is finished and turns around, she is gone. He never sees her again even though he spends the rest of his life looking for her.
 
Losing a child, even for a while, is a horrifying experience. Imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt. They knew how special Jesus was, and now he was nowhere to be found. How distraught they must have been until they found him in the temple conversing with the teachers.
 
Mary “kept all these things in her heart” until one day when she lost her son for what may have seemed to her forever. But a short time later she had him back in a new life that he shares with her and offers to share with all of us—life in his presence forever.
 
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 Micah
(Chapter 5:1-4a)
 
The prophet Micah lived some 700 years before Jesus at a time when Israel was overtaken by the Assyrians. Micah offers a hopeful promise for a messiah: “He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; and they shall remain, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth;
he shall be peace.”
 
We Christians see this as a prophecy proclaiming the true Messiah, Jesus, and most important, his mission: “he shall be peace.”
 
Jesus brings peace for all who truly seek peace not just those who say it but don’t live it. How do you see yourself as living the peace of Jesus? Are you a peace maker?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19)
 
“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”
How often do you turn to Jesus? Do you ever make the turn when you are not asking for anything but simply to be near Jesus?
 
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 10:5-10)
 
In the Jewish faith when this letter was written, a whole series of offerings and sacrifices were fulfilled at different times in the year. Attributing the words to Jesus, the author says, “‘Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in. They are offered according to the law.’ Then he says, ‘Behold, I come to do your will.’ He takes away the first to establish the second.”
 
Jesus challenges the Old Law and replaces it with a new law, himself. He replaces the Old Law with its hundreds of impossible prescriptions with his Law of Love for God and one another. No wonder the religious leaders opposed him so dramatically. They felt, in effect, that he was putting them out of business, the business of ruling, of deciding who was in and who was out. For Jesus, everyone could be in who believed and lived accordingly, as it should be today.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 1:39-45)
 
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures there are a series of unexpected, miraculous births. They all come through the power of God to exceptional women who were called by God to greatness through their children. For both Elizabeth and Mary, the births were full of joy, but the deaths of their sons were painful for the sons to experience and for the mothers to bear.
 
When we see the emaciated bodies of children dying in Yemen and Syria and on and on, imagine the extreme sorrow of their mothers and fathers. Mary and Elizabeth bore that sorrow but did it in faith, knowing that their sons were living and dying for the salvation of a whole people. So many mothers today who lose their children to starvation, violence, illness, or the disease of addiction are left only with memories, lifelong and very painful. Let us pray and act in solidarity with those mothers and fathers in their grief that they may believe in the power of the Resurrection of Jesus and of their children and all children.
 
And let us do our part to bring peace to our broken world, the peace that Jesus offers to 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.
 
Image, “Mary’s Song,” by Sr. Therese Quinn, RSJ

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah
(Chapter 3:14-18A)
 
This prophecy warns the Jewish people of God’s judgment of the nation because of its sins but, like much of the prophetic literature, it ends with a promise of God’s blessings on those who survive: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!”
 
Now, that’s excitement! We Americans have had such moments—most recently VJ Day, the end of World War Two. People came out in the streets, bands played, and a whole country rejoiced at the end of that terrible war. The Jewish people, whose punishment would consist of the destruction of Jerusalem and exile in Babylon, would ultimately experience similar elation, but Zephaniah wants them to know that all this comes from the power of God. “The Lord has removed the judgement against you, he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. … He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.” The prophet is well aware that there are political reasons why this could happen, but he wants the people to know that the mercy of God is the ultimate reason.
 
Today, something positive and important might happen to any one of us for what seem like obvious reasons but there is also the deeper dimension of our Father at work.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6)
 
“Cry out with Joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.” When was the last time that you cried out with joy and gladness because of the presence of God in your life? Try to bring back that feeling in your life. It may have been lost among so much other “stuff.”
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 4:4-7)
 
Here is the whole of this beautiful reading: “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: but, in everything, by prayer and petition rejoice! Your kindness shall be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
 
“Have no anxiety at all.” How can that work for us who live in an age of anxiety? Anxiety is a billion-dollar industry of multiple medications and therapies, many of which are extremely helpful in the healing process. But what about spiritual healing? More and more people seek spiritual healing through a variety of methods but all too often give up when they do not receive immediate relief from anxiety and the disorders associated with it. That is where prayer comes in—not a prayer here and there but an ongoing spirit of prayer to our all-loving Savior.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 3:10-18)
 
People were attracted to John the Baptist. They could hear and feel the power of his message, so they asked him. “ ‘What should we do?’ He said to them in reply, ‘Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He answered them. ‘Stop collecting more than what has been prescribed.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And what is that that we should we do?’ He told them, ‘Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.’ ”
 
John the Baptist was a challenging prophet and leader, calling on the powerful people of society to act with justice toward the poor and the oppressed. This did not sit well with the rulers of Israel and John died for his beliefs.
 
But in this passage, John says something amazing: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. This is the same baptism that we receive today, and it imparts to us the presence of the Holy Spirit. That means that you and I are never alone. We have our lifetime spiritual partner living within us, the very Spirit of God. Please remember that, especially in times of trouble, and yes, anxiety.
 
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 Baruch
(Chapter 5:1-9)
 
The Hebrew word baruch means “blessing.” The man Baruch was said to have been a scribe of the prophet Jeremiah, but this book was written much later than the time of Jeremiah, around the era of the Maccabees when the Jews were being persecuted by the Greeks:
 
“Jerusalem, take off your robe of misery and mourning; put on the splendor of glory from God forever. … For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.”
 
This is similar to messages of hope attributed in Scripture to a series of prophets who lived over many centuries. Throughout their history, the people of Israel were subjugated by other countries and rulers, and yet, they never gave up hope. One of the roles of the prophets was to give the people hope but also to remind them of God’s great love and mercy in the midst of their suffering. It is a powerful message for us today in the midst of the crises we face as a country and as a people of faith.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6)
 
“The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy.” Think for a moment of all the great things that the Lord has done for you. Allow yourself to rejoice in God’s goodness to you and experience the joy, even—no, especially—in your times of sorrow, disappointment, or suffering.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapters 1:4-6, 8-11)
 
Paul traveled all over what is now Israel, Syria, Lebanon, western Turkey, Greece, and eventually Italy, but he never forgot the people he loved so much in the city of Philippi: “I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. … God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge.”
 
Paul had a hard, often torturous life preaching the Gospel of Jesus. Without Paul, Christianity would not have flourished as it did in the decades after Jesus died. He was a dedicated, passionate man who was sometimes wrong but who always followed the man he had never met, Jesus Christ. Think of him sometimes as you travel in your car or on a train or plane, none of which had been invented in his time. His road was hot and dusty, often dangerous and always tiring, but he found peace and love among the many who heard and followed him, including his beloved Philippians.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 3:1-6)
 
Luke introduces us to John the Baptist by mentioning many of the leading political and religious leaders of the day. But then Luke tells us that “The word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” Luke then has a long passage from the prophecy of Isaiah that ends with these words: “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
 
The Jewish people were familiar with a form of baptism that was for the forgiveness of sins. That is what John preached. Jesus brought a different form of baptism—the sacrament that we know today that brings us the everlasting presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus referred to John as the greatest of all the prophets, and John led many to Jesus. We always think of him as the one who prepared the way of the Lord.
 
Most of us were baptized as infants, and we may not have been told about the true meaning of baptism when we grew up. It is no less a gift than the presence of the Holy Spirit. I say it again here because it is life-changing. We are never alone. God’s Spirit is always with us. How often do you think about your life partner, and pray to the Holy Spirit? It could be a life-changer.
 
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 Jeremiah
(Chapter 33:14-16)
 
This is a prophecy by Jeremiah for the Jewish people who had suffered from the long exile in Babylon. “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe, and Jerusalem shall be secure.”
 
The Church teaches that Jesus was the person that Jeremiah foretold. He was the Messiah, but—much more than that—he was the Son of God, finally coming, after all those generations, to save his people. In the early days of the Christian era, many believed, but many did not. That is true today. Many who were brought up as followers of Jesus have rejected or abandoned him. Just as God did not blame the people who rejected him 2,000 years ago, we should not reject those of our families and friends who have drifted away now. Our God is a God of mercy and forgiveness.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14)
 
“To you O Lord, I lift my soul.” Do you at whatever time and place ever “lift your soul” to God? It does not have to be a formal prayer. It can simply be an awareness of God’s loving presence.
 
A reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians
(Chapters 3:12-4:2)
 
At this point in his life, Paul believed that Jesus would be coming again soon: “Brothers and sisters: may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”
 
The early Christians were always in danger of persecution by the Romans and expulsion from their synagogues as heretics by their fellow Jews. So Paul is trying to encourage them to hold on because Jesus is coming back soon. Of course, Jesus did not come back in Paul’s lifetime, and eventually Paul would accept that. But for many years many Christians believed it. Imagine yourself as a semi-literate peasant two thousand years ago, placing all your faith in something that would not happen in your lifetime. How would you have continued to believe? Yet, most did believe, and many gave their lives for their beliefs. They are the many unremembered heroes among our spiritual ancestors.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 21:25-28, 34-36)
 
If you wonder why so many people believed that Jesus was coming back soon, read this: “Jesus said to his disciples: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
 
This is what is called apocalyptic language—language that had been used for centuries before Christ to depict the end of the world. Jesus had heard this language, and here he is giving it a far different meaning. Instead of stressing terror, Jesus is saying that this will be the time of redemption, something to celebrate. He did not say it was coming soon, and yet that is how Paul and many in the early Church understood it. Twenty centuries later, Jesus has not yet returned, and the world has not been destroyed despite all the devastation we humans have brought to it. And still we have faith that he will come to reclaim the just who have believed in him and lived by his word.
 
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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universeA reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel
(Chapter 7:13-14)
 
This is one of the last books of the Hebrew Scriptures, written about 165 years before the birth of Jesus. It was a time of persecution by the Greeks and it is written in the form of an Apocalypse, a popular form of writing at the time. The main character, Daniel, describes a vision of the of the end of the world. He sees “one like a Son of Man received dominion, glory and kingship; all peoples, nations and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”
 
The title Son of Man appears many times in the Gospels, and it is related to the idea of Christ as king. The notion of kingship is somewhat foreign to us in the United States since we fought a war of independence to free ourselves from a tyrannical king. But the meaning in Scripture is simply that Jesus is all powerful but in a beneficent way. Throughout the history of Israel, the people yearned for such a king and were almost always disappointed. We are never disappointed in Jesus.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 5)
 
“The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.” Later in the Psalm, we read, “Holiness befits your house, O Lord, for length of days.” That means forever. Our God is forever.
 
A reading from the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 1:5-8)
 
This last book of the Bible is the most difficult to read and understand. It is attributed to someone named John, but probably not the same John that wrote the fourth Gospel. It was written during a time of persecution by several Roman emperors and was a polemic against them. The author pictures Jesus as the Son of Man who is “the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. … who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood. … Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All peoples of the earth will lament him.”
 
The author is writing to give his fellow Christians faith and courage in the face of persecution at the hands of unjust and cruel emperors. Today, we are fortunate to live in a land of freedom and justice, at least for most. We must cherish our freedom and work to bring freedom and justice for all.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 18:33b-37)
 
This is the famous scene in which Jesus has to defend himself before Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator in Judea: “Pilate said to Jesus, ‘Are you King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?’” They have a dialogue about whether Jesus is claiming to be a king and what that could mean. Finally we read, “So Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’”
 
Pilate is a very interesting and troubling character. We read in all four Gospels that he does not believe that Jesus is guilty of anything, but he does not have the courage to stand up for this belief. Why? It could cause trouble and cost him his job. Historians tell us that some years later Pilate did lose his job, because he massacred many Samaritans, thereby causing trouble that Rome did not need. Some scholars say that he committed suicide soon after at the order of the emperor.
 
The point of this Gospel passage is that Jesus is using a title that was very important in his time and place, “king,” but giving it a new meaning, going beyond anything that people could imagine—a king of souls. In that sense, we can call Jesus King, not of any one place of but the whole universe.
 
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 Daniel
(Chapter 17:10-16)
 
When you were a child were you ever taught that you had a guardian angel? Well, the archangel Michael was considered to be the guardian of Israel. Here, the prophet Daniel associates the appearance of Michael with these words from God: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall lie forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”
 
This is one of the few places in which the Hebrew Scriptures talks about life after death. At the time of Jesus, the scribes did not believe in an afterlife, but the Pharisees did. Jesus took the idea much further, promising resurrection and everlasting life to all who believed and followed him—a promise he made to us as well as to people of his own time.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11)
 
“You are my inheritance, O Lord.” Did you inherit anything from your family? Was it significant? Did it make a difference in your life? Whether you did or did not inherit wealth, you have a priceless inheritance from Jesus—the presence of the Spirit of God within you every day of your life and the assurance of everlasting life with God. Let us remember this and rejoice in it.
 
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 10:11-14, 18)
 
Every day, the high priest went into the temple to offer sacrifices for sins. The author says here that these are “those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.” With Jesus, it is different: “But this one offered one sacrifice for sins. … For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.” Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, the ancient sacrifice is no longer necessary. Our path to forgiveness is through Jesus, and it is assured.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 13:24-32)
 
For centuries, the Jewish people wondered what the “last days” would be like and when they would come. This is understandable considering all they had been through—exiles, endless wars and subjugation, famines, droughts, betrayals, and numerous false prophets and bad kings.
 
The disciples of Jesus also wanted to know about the last days. So Jesus told them, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day and hour, no one knows, neither angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So, today, amid threats of nuclear war, global warming, massive fires, droughts, and floods, we need not think or worry about a scary end of the world as people have for thousands of years, but rather focus on the present. Our Father wants us to protect our beautiful earth in all the ways we are able but also to live life to its fullest, sharing the gifts we have been given with those we love and with those who may not be loved by anyone.
 
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 first Book of Kings
(Chapter 17:10-16)
 
The scene here is very stark. There is a drought in the region. The prophet Elijah comes into the city and he is hungry and thirsty. He asks a poor widow who is at the point of starvation herself for water and some bread. She has no bread but only a small amount of flour and oil. Yet, she has faith, and she feeds him; there is just enough left for her and her son. Then Elijah tells her, “For the Lord, the God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” The widow is a woman of faith, and God is with her.
 
Today, drought threatens the lives of countless millions in dozens of countries all over the world—especially in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. It causes mass migrations, malnutrition, and endless political strife and violence. Let us pray for today’s widows and poor families who suffer from hunger and poverty caused by droughts and floods and crop erosion, and let us use our own water resources wisely.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10)
 
“Praise the Lord, my soul.” We often pray to God and ask for help and forgiveness. Wonderful! Perhaps, sometimes we can simply offer a prayer of praise to God. It is not that God needs it but rather that we need it in order to enrich our souls.
 
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 9:24-28)
 
The author makes an important connection between the death of Jesus and our own deaths. “But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice. Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgement, so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”
 
The death and resurrection of Jesus radically changes our own deaths. It was not the end for him, and it will not be the end for us but rather a new beginning, a new life. Jesus the man died. Jesus the Son of God lives forever, and so will we. Have you ever thought much about this amazing gift? Please let the power of this gift enliven you every day, especially in times when you are troubled or feel alone.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 12:28b-34)
 
Here, Jesus is not gentle. He is challenging: “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
 
Throughout the history of Israel, widows and orphans had a special place in society, because they were economically dependent on the community. The scribes were supposed to take care of them but did not always do their duty. One of the reasons that the scribes were so against Jesus was that he called them out, and they did not like it.
 
Later in this reading, Jesus talks about people contributing to the Temple: “Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself he said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributions to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.’” This woman’s gift has become famous throughout history as the “widow’s mite.” Sometimes, those who are the poorest are the most generous, not only in financial contributions but in the gift of their time and compassion. No matter how little we have, we can contribute in many other ways.
 
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 Deuteronomy
(Chapter 31:7-9)
 
“Moses spoke to the people, saying: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
 
That is the basis of Judaism, monotheism, loving one God. The Jews were the first and for centuries the only people to worship one God. What an amazing breakthrough! They were hated and killed for their faith way back then and for centuries thereafter, including in the Holocaust of the last century, and they are persecuted today—even in our own country. Let us pray for and give thanks for our Jewish brethren for their faith amidst persecution.
 
“Fear the Lord your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have a long life.” This was the promise of Moses to his people. It was based on keeping the Law which eventually went way beyond the Ten Commandments to include more than 600 laws and dietary restrictions.
 
Jesus challenged that approach, knowing that the laws were like a millstone around the necks of the people instead of an instrument of their liberation. He was criticized and condemned for actually breaking the law in order to heal people on the Sabbath.
For us Christians, salvation that is more than “a long life” that Moses promised but rather eternal life that comes from faith in Jesus. As Saint Paul tells us, we are saved through faith in Jesus, not through the Law.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51)
 
“I love you O Lord, my strength.” Do you believe that your true and enduring strength comes from the Lord? How have you experienced that strength? Do you sometimes doubt it? Let us be thankful for all the times when God has strengthened us.
 
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 7:23-28)
 
The high priest was a very important figure in the Jewish religion. The author wanted his audience, who were mostly Jewish Christians, to know that Jesus was the one high priest. “Brothers and sisters, The Levitical priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office, but Jesus, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away. … He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.”
 
This is a radical statement because it gets to the root of Christianity. Salvation comes from Jesus, not from the high priest offering sacrifices every day. The Eucharist—Jesus sacrificing himself again on the altar—brings his very presence to us in the forms of bread and wine.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 12:28b-34)
 
“One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘The first is this. Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The scribe said to him ‘Well said, teacher.’ Then Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And no one dared to ask him any questions.”
 
That’s it! Love God and love your neighbor as yourself—two seemingly simple commandments. Yet, they are endlessly challenging. What does it really mean to love God and your neighbor? And—the age-old question that Jesus was asked two thousand years ago—who is my neighbor? It is certainly not only the folks next door. Is it only the people we work with, play with, worship with, and do business with? Is it only those who think as we do, believe as we do, vote as we do, and have the same nationality or color as we do? Or is our neighbor the man in the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan when someone asked that question? That was a man who Jews thought of as an enemy, a heretic, and yet he was the person who saved the life of the man who had been attacked by robbers. His own people passed him by but then the “enemy,” the infidel was the true neighbor.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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