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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 55:10-11)
 
Most of Israel at this time—the sixth century before the birth of Jesus—was a desert or close to it. The people were dependent on the spring rains to grow food. This last part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah was written as the people came back from the Babylonian Exile. At last they are home, but home is a desert. Isaiah assures them that “the rain and snow come down and do not return till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed for the one who sows and bread for the one who eats.” Then, he connects it with something even more important. “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I send it.” The Israelites understood this, that God’s word is powerful and accomplishes what God intends.
 
As we suffer through another week of deaths and illnesses in the pandemic, we may wonder, in our darkest moments, where the word of God is taking root. It’s taking root in the free will and goodness and bravery of so many people who are doing the right thing and saving lives.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14)
 
“The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” Our hope is that the “good ground” of the world’s best scientists will yield the fruit that will heal the world. Let us pray for them.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 8:18-23)
 
Here is a statement by Saint Paul that we need to hear and understand: “Brothers and sisters: I consider that the sufferings of the present time are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed for us.” The sufferings that Paul was talking about included the oppression imposed by the Roman Empire and the grinding poverty that affected most people. But there is a great hope:
 
“We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, who also groans within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” I never thought of it what way, but maybe that groaning that we feel inside of us from time to time, especially now, is the Spirit inside of us, letting us know that we are not alone.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 13:1-23)
 
Most of the Israelites were farmers, so Jesus often used examples that they could understand. Here he tells them, “A sower went out to sow.” This was an important job. If you did not do it correctly, nothing would grow. “And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and withered for lack of roots. Some fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and chocked it. But some fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
 
“The disciples approached him and said, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’” And Jesus answered, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted…. But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
 
Then, Jesus explained the parable to the disciples: “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among the thorns is the one who hears the word but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
 
Now, let’s move away from agriculture to our lives today. Have you ever had the Word stolen from your heart? Was it because of personal tragedy or our present societal tragedies? Did you grow up with joy in your heart as a child, only to have it lose its power as you grew older? Have the “thorns of anxiety” chocked the Word in your heart? Do you worry about things that you cannot control and shouldn’t try to, but you do, over and over? Are you a one who hears the Word and understands it, and has it borne great fruit in your life? Or, have you had several of those experiences going on at different times in your life? Join the club! Or should I say, come to the community of us believers who do not always find it easy to believe but persevere in faith.
 
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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. 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 Zechariah
(Chapter 9:9-10)
 
Israel was surrounded geographically on all sides by larger, more powerful nations and was often conquered as war-like kings came riding into town in horse-drawn chariots. But the prophet Zechariah presents a quite different picture of the true king:
 
“Thus says the Lord: Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”
 
Zechariah is talking about the hoped-for messiah who we believe was Jesus who did not enter Jerusalem on a horse and chariot as a conqueror but on an ass, a beast of burden, as a servant. He did that intentionally, to make an important point about who he really was.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14)
 
“I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.” This king is not like any other. He is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.”
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 8:9, 11-13)
 
“You are in the Spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
 
Paul uses the word Spirit four times in this short saying because he wants to make sure that his readers know this most important truth, that the very Spirit of God, which we call the Holy Spirit, lives in each one of us. Do you believe that for you? Do you call upon the Holy Spirit, pray to the Holy Spirit?
 
I must say that as a young man attending Catholic high school and college, I did not “get it.” I prayed to Jesus and to our Father, who were apart from me, but not the Holy Spirit who I later learned lived within me. Coming to know the presence of the Holy Spirit within my soul has been a wonderful gift. Think about it. You and I are never really alone. We have the presence of God’s own Spirit within us—always, even in our darkest, most painful moments. Please take a little time to say hello and open your heart to the Spirit.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 11:25-30)
 
Jesus said to the apostles, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
 
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
 
The Jewish people were monotheists. They believed in one God who they thought of as their Father. Jesus is saying that he is the Son of that same Father and that he and the Father are one. So, Jesus is saying only that he is the Messiah but much more. He shares the very life of God. Many in his time could not get it, but Jesus wants those who do to know a different way of living—not under the yoke of an enslaver but in companionship with one who shares a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.
 
Sometimes, especially in these hard days, it might seem that our burdens are not so light but rather heavy: the constant threat of possible illness from the pandemic, economic hardships, disruptions in our worship, isolation from so many we love, and limitations on where we can travel and what we can do.
 
What are you doing to lighten your burdens and those of people around you? What are the main sources of life for you? Do you seek them out and rejoice in them? Let us remember to be in touch with the very Spirit of God who lives in each of 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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. 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 4:8-11, 14-16a)
 
The prophet Elisha was traveling to a town named Shunem where he was invited for dinner with the family of a “woman of influence.” This became the place for a meal whenever Elisha traveled in that direction. The woman suggested to her husband that they prepare a room for the prophet to stay overnight. Elisha was grateful for her generosity and asked, “Can something be done for her? His servant, Gehazi, answered, “‘Yes! She has no son, and her husband is getting on in years.’ Elisha said, ‘Call her’ When the woman had been called and stood at the door, Elisha promised, ‘This time next year you will be fondling a baby boy.’”
 
This is one of many instances in the Jewish scriptures of the power of God to bring forth new life unexpectedly, a power that would take on new meaning in the Christian era.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19)
 
“Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” Sometimes it is hard to see the “goodness of the Lord,” especially during times of overwhelming tragedy and sadness. We are in such times now; yet, the “goodness of the Lord” still shines forth. Where and when have you experienced this goodness? How have these experiences of love and friendship and support helped you through hard times?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 6:3-4, 8-11)
 
Here is this deep and powerful reading from the letter to the Christian community in Rome:
 
“Brothers and sisters: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more, death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all, as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”
 
Paul wanted his readers to know that their baptism was not just one more event in their lives; it was a life-changing event. Of course, most of the people that he was talking to were baptized as adults. Today, almost all of us were baptized as babies, so it is harder for us to realize the power of our baptism, how it unites us with Christ even before we are conscious of who he is. What does it mean for you to be “living for God in Christ Jesus”? The Spirit of God lives in each one of us. Do you ever think about that?
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 10:37-42)
 
The apostles had families, and there were conflicts between the all-consuming ministry of following Jesus and family obligations. Jesus knew how hard it was for the apostles to leave their families. That is the context for what appear to be very harsh requirements for being an apostle: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
 
But then, listen to this powerful statement: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Jesus knows that his time on earth is short, so he wants to make sure that the apostles understand how hard their mission really is and how important it is.
 
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus today? What qualities and teachings of Jesus do we live every day? How should we bear witness to the teachings of Jesus in our everyday lives, especially facing many of the evils we experience that harm individuals and whole groups of people?
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. 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 20:10-13)
 
Being a prophet at any time is challenging, but Jeremiah had an especially difficult time fulfilling his calling. He said, “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail and take our vengeance on him.’” Jeremiah trusts in the Lord: “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” Then he says a prayer of thanksgiving. “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked.”
 
Jeremiah had amazing trust in God during horrible persecution and near death. Whatever our trials during this pandemic, let us maintain trust in our loving Father.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35)
 
“Lord, in your great love, answer me.” Have your prayers ever been answered? How did it happen? Did it take a long time, or was it a quick response? Did you think that God had forgotten about you? Later, did something else appear that was not what you asked for but turned out to be what you really needed?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 5:12-15)
 
Rome was the largest city in the world in the first century, and it was home to many different religions. Paul wanted the Roman Christians to know that their religion was new, and that Jesus was in a sense the new Adam.
 
“Through one man, sin entered the world.” By that, Paul meant Adam.
 
“For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”
 
Because of Jesus, sin no longer rules the world. Of course, the people all knew that evil did rule their world in the form of the Roman Empire, but there was now a more powerful force that can overcome even death because of Jesus Christ. Paul wanted to give the Romans hope even in the face of an oppressive regime, the hope of everlasting life.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 10:26-33)
 
Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one.” What? Many of the temple leaders hated them and even wanted to kill them. Shouldn’t they be afraid? “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light, what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”
 
This was good and necessary advice for people who had to face danger from the state and those who did not believe in Jesus.
 
Today, we have dangers from all sorts of “soul killers”: greed, selfishness, prejudice, dishonesty, materialism in subtle forms, and narrow mindedness that does not listen to the voices of others.
 
In the midst of all that may send us off course, especially in these challenging times, let us remember the words of Jesus here: “Fear no one.”
 
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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy
(Chapter 8:2-3, 14b-16a)
 
Moses was the leader of the Hebrews as they escaped from Egypt into the horrors of the Sinai Desert where they suffered for forty years from extreme thirst, hunger, and attacks from poisonous serpents and scorpions. Here, he explains that this was a test. “Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your attention to keep the commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to your fathers, in order to show that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.”
 
As they established their new homeland, the Hebrews had many battles with other tribes and nations, and the message was always that God was with them, even in their worst suffering and challenges.
 
It is most important to hear this message of “God With Us” now, as we suffer our own kind of exile, often separated from people we love and the work that sustains us in so many ways.
 
Do you take a little time each day to reconnect with the Spirit of God within you who will help you to get through the “desert” that we now travel?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20)
 
“Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.” This psalm celebrates the blessings that God has showered on Jerusalem and on all of Israel. It helps us to remember all the blessings that God has given to our community and our country, lest we forget or take them for granted.
 
A reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 10:16-17)
 
Paul wants his readers to know that the meal that they celebrate is not just any meal but rather the presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
 
“Brothers and sisters: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”
 
If we have ever taken the Eucharistic Meal for granted, we certainly do not now, when most of us have not been able to celebrate together for months. Hopefully, we will come back soon and do so with caution and joy, remembering all our sisters and brothers who have died from the virus or any other cause and all those who are still afflicted.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 6:51-58)
 
The following words must have seemed dangerous to many who did not believe, including the Roman rulers, but the followers of Jesus knew what the words really meant.
 
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The Jewish audience were shocked by these words. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They knew from Moses about the manna that God sent from heaven when the people were starving in the desert, but this was very different. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day. … “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
 
That is the same promise the Lord makes to us today. We will live forever! Amen!
 
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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

A reading from the Book of Exodus
(Chapter 34:4b-6, 8, 9)
 
“Early in the morning Moses went up Mount Sinai as the Lord had commanded him, taking along the. two stone tablets. Having come down in a cloud, the Lord stood with Moses there and proclaimed his name, ‘Lord.’ Thus the Lord passed before him and cried out, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.’ Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.”
 
This is one of the truly monumental moments in the history of Israel, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God and pleading with God, “O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins and receive us as your own.”
 
The false gods that Moses knew of at that time did not have the wonderful qualities that Moses attributes to the one true God: merciful, gracious, slow to anger, full of kindness and fidelity. That is the God that we believe in today.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56)
 
“Glory and praise forever.” Yes, especially today, amid the horrors that we face in our society and in our world. In these times, it may be harder for some to believe in this one true God, but it is ever more important.
 
A reading from the Second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 13:11-13)
 
Here is a beautiful blessing from Paul to a people in crisis and great danger. “Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the love of God and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
 
Here we have a trinitarian blessing has been used from the beginning of Christianity.
 
I remember being taught as a child in Catholic school that we are all created “in the image and likeness of God” and that God was not an isolated being but a community of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That being true, then we are all communal beings, starting with our families and moving out from there to friendships, various communal groups, and the community of our church. Of course, each of us is an individual, and we can and should pray to God in our own solitude, but praying in community is also something in our very nature. So, we miss our communal celebrations of the Eucharist. Let us pray for one another while apart and hope for our coming together again soon.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 3:16-18)
 
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
 
Many people think of God as “up there” or “out there somewhere,” but the true God, shared his life with us in Jesus, and his Holy Spirit lives within every one of us. Sadly, right now we cannot experience that presence in community. We may have become separated from several other communities that give us joy. Let us do our best through the various electronic means to stay in touch with so many people who make up our community until we can see them in person and rejoice in the love and presence we share with them.
 
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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 2:1-11)
 
If you wonder why there were so many people from so many countries in Jerusalem on the occasion St. Luke describes in this passage, it was because Pentecost was a Jewish feast when pilgrims from all over the near world would come to Jerusalem to worship. But Luke tells us of strange happenings: “a noise like a strong wind” and “tongues of fire” images that recall the time God established the original covenant with the Jewish people. Luke wanted his audience to understanding that this was God confirming a new covenant with a new, diverse people—hence the people of many languages understanding the apostles from Galilee. Of course, Luke wrote this a few decades after the actual events, and he wanted people to know that this was the beginning of something new that had its roots in a previous tradition—and fulfilled that tradition. Today, we say that Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, was the birthday of the Church.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34)
 
“Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” Here is a common thread between Judaism and Christianity, the Spirit of God. The difference for us Christians is that we believe that the Spirit of God is not just “out there” somewhere but rather lives in each one of us. That is one of the major breakthroughs of Christianity. God is not some distant being but absolutely close to each of us, even when we might not feel that presence. We are never alone.
 
A reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 12:3b-7, 12-13)
 
St. Paul tells us that we may each have different gifts and forms of service, but what unites us all together is the one Spirit. And, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”
 
You and I each have different gifts from the Spirit. Do you believe that? What are your spiritual gifts? How do you use them, share them? Can you appreciate the gifts of someone else, even though you might disagree with that person on one or more issues? That is particularly important today when our country and even our Church are often divided in many ways.
 
As we read the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St. Paul, it becomes clear that there were a series of major differences within the early Church with so many groups coming in and out of focus, each believing that their version of the truth about Jesus was the right one. This has continued for some two thousand years and been the cause of wars and numerous unjust actions. It is only when we listen to the Spirit and act in the loving power of the Spirit that we have peace and true communion.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 20: 19-23)
 
Jesus says to the apostles, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so also I send you.” Then, “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”
 
These few sentences written at the end of the first century, long after the events described, are meant by John to validate the connection between the Church after Jesus with the powerful words of Jesus before he ascended into heaven. He conferred gifts, starting with the Holy Spirit and then the power to forgive sins. Remember, John is writing his Gospel during a time of persecution, and he wants to make sure that his readers know how blessed they are and how they are strengthened amid endless trials and dangers. The Holy Spirit is with them, just as it is with us today.
 
What are the special gifts that you have received in your life? How have you used them, especially the gifts of forgiveness and healing?
 
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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.
 

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 1:1-11)
 
Saint Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, tells us here that Jesus “presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” So, is this the actual historical day when Jesus ascended to heaven? Maybe, but this same Luke writes in his Gospel, and John writes in his Gospel, that Jesus ascended on the day of the Resurrection. We do not know the exact day. What is much more important for us is that Jesus told his disciples that “John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you.”
 
With respect to his bodily presence, Jesus is leaving, but he is sending his Holy Spirit to be with the Church and with each one of us. We all have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, but we need to accept this most precious gift, the very presence of God in us. It is possible to turn away from the gift or even turn against the gift of the Holy Spirit. What is more likely, it is possible to simply forget about the gift of the Spirit or believe that it does not apply to us, or to give up on the Spirit when we fall into hard times, as we have now, and the Spirit seems absent or at least silent. Yet, the Holy Spirit of God never leaves us and becomes present to us in sometimes unexpected and amazing ways. Let this be our prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit.”
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9)
 
“God mounts his throne of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.” This is ancient imagery from a far distant place and time. However, notice that it is the image of a “throne of joy”, not a grumpy and punitive God.
 
A reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 1:17-23)
 
This is a beautifully poetic description of the power of the resurrected Christ. “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”
 
Remember, Paul is speaking to a people who knew power, a fierce, often unjust and unloving power, the most powerful force in the world, the Roman Empire. They lived in constant fear and with few real rights, a poor beaten people. In the face of this, Paul talks of “the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.” Take that, Roman emperor! We have a different kind of power that you can find only in Jesus Christ. It is an eternal power from the man you killed but who defied death, rose again, and lives forever in the presence of God and in his Mystical Body on earth, the Church, which survives your empire.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 28:16-20)
 
Jesus said to his disciples, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. … Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.”
 
That was the end but also the beginning of the life that unites us with him 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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 8:5-8, 14-17)
 
Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a continuation of his Gospel. He wanted to show the growth and struggles of the first Christian communities. In today’s passage, we have Phillip reaching out to the people of Samaria who were considered heretics but who also believed in the coming of the Messiah. They were converted because they saw signs. “For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed or crippled people were cured.” So then, “the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
 
There seems to be some confusion in the early Church about when the gift of the Holy Spirit is given—at baptism or later, as here. Today, we believe that the Holy Spirit is given to us when we receive the sacrament of baptism and then strengthened with the sacrament of confirmation. Unfortunately, many of us were never really taught about this amazing gift of the Holy Spirit being present in us at all times, whether we realize it or not. Especially during this time of crisis, let us remember that the Spirit of God is always with us.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20)
 
“Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.” I suspect that most people are not now crying out to God with joy, but rather in pain, anger, and frustration. Where is there joy in your life now? How are you thanking God for whatever or whoever is giving you joy amidst sorrow and frustration?
 
A reading from the first Letter of Saint Peter
(Chapter 3:15-18)
 
The first Christians suffered greatly in several ways. Many of their Jewish brethren thought they were crazy or had lost their faith. The Roman rulers thought they were dangerous and disloyal to Rome. Peter tells the Christians, “Beloved: Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is the will of God, than for doing evil.”
 
That is so hard—suffering for doing good, being misunderstood, losing family or friends when you should not be blamed. Don’t give up. Try to work it out. But also, do not allow it to deeply harm you. Continue to pray but also move on as best you can to the more positive dimensions of your life.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 14:15-21)
 
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask my Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.’”
 
When John wrote this, he was an old man who had decades to collect his memories and try to convey the deepest meanings that he could. Many have called this a “Love Gospel,” and so it is. As an old man, John was still enflamed with the love he experienced long ago from a man who John knew was more than than that—the Presence of God. That is the basis of our faith in the all loving, ever present God who lives in us and among 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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 6:1-7)
 
The early Christian community was often torn between the Hebrews and the Hellenists—the Greeks. Here we have a complaint from the Hellenists “because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (of food). So, the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’” This appointment of what we now call deacons is the first record of an ordination, and it made it possible to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the whole community.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19)
 
“Lord, let your mercy be upon us, as we place our trust in you.” Pope Francis has certainly become our “Mercy Pope.” He often talks about God’s mercy as a powerful force in his life and ours. When he was a young priest in Argentina, he failed to stand up for two of his fellow priests during a time of political terror. Afterward, he regretted this, but he experienced God’s mercy in a powerful way, and ever since he has tried to share this message with all.
 
A reading from the first Letter of Saint Peter
(Chapter 2:4-9)
 
You are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
 
The Jewish people always understood themselves as a “chosen people,” and now Peter is saying that Christians, too, will be ”a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 14:1-12)
 
John, writing many years after the death of Jesus, wants to let everyone know who Jesus really was. The disciples certainly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and now John is saying much more.
 
In this account, Jesus said to Thomas, “’I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said to him, ‘Master, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in my Father and the Father is in me? … Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?’”
 
Later, John writes that Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” That’s it. There is a unity between the Father and the Son that is so close that seeing one is seeing the other, and “seeing” either is seeing the Holy Spirit. This is something so hard to comprehend that people still have trouble grasping it after two thousand years. But that is the point: we do not grasp it; we live in it. We live in and are nourished by living in the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
 
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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 3:14a, 36-41)
 
“Then Peter stood up with the eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: ‘Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you have crucified. … Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and asked Peter and the other apostles, ‘What are we to do, my brothers?’” Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
 
Imagine how excited the apostles are. They are actually with Jesus. They know that this remarkable series of events really happened, and as witnesses they have both the power and the responsibility to share this “good news.” And, they have received the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit which they are offering to share with all who believe.
 
That is the same Holy Spirit that you and I have received and that lives within us every day of our lives. Think of the Holy Spirit as your life-long partner who is there every day, even when you are not aware of this powerful Presence and especially during hard times now that seem to never end.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6)
 
“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” This is Psalm 23, perhaps the most popular and beautiful of all the psalms. Jesus himself said that he was the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for us, and he did just that. Then, of course, we have that assurance that has such great power for us now: “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.” Today, we do live and walk in a dark valley, but we are not alone. The Spirit of God is with us.
 
A reading from the first letter of Saint Peter
(Chapter 2:20b-25)
 
“Beloved: If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.”
 
How much suffering is there in your life right now? Is it physical, emotional, spiritual, economic, or some combination that may change day to day? Do you ever think of the suffering of Jesus? Certainly, there was extreme physical suffering, but there was also the suffering of rejection and betrayal, as well as the suffering that he knew would come, because of him, to so many people that he loved. That is not suffering that we read or talk about very often but it must have been there deep in his heart, especially regarding his mother, Mary, whose heart was certainly broken and slowly healed through her great faith and the love of his extended family.
 
Let us link our suffering to the suffering Jesus and look forward to the day when we, like him, will live in the presence of the Father who heals our deepest wounds.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 10:1-10)
 
I have never met a shepherd, and I doubt that many of us have. But shepherds were an everyday part of life in the Israel of Jesus’ time and for many centuries before. In this gospel story, Jesus uses the image of the shepherd to make two important points. Throughout the history of Israel there were many charlatans who were not what they pretended to be, not true shepherds of the people. To make this point, Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep…. The sheep hear his voice as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…. He walks ahead of them and the sheep follow him.”
 
Of course, today we don’t think of sheep as especially smart animals and we do not think of ourselves as sheep to be led, but for Jesus this was an appropriate image. The Pharisees claimed to be good shepherds, leading the people of Israel, but they were not. They were “thieves and robbers.”
 
Today, we do think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and even name many of our churches after him in that role. We follow Jesus as one who takes care of us far beyond the limitations of a title given two thousand years ago. He is our caretaker, our healer, our brother, and our Spirit Giver, leading us to 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.
 
Image courtesy of www.LumoProject.com and is available at freebibleimages.org.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 2:14, 22-33)
 
Let’s start with a little background for this reading. The Acts of the Apostles, written by Saint Luke is an extension of his Gospel and was written some sixty years after the death of Jesus. Luke was a Gentile convert, so he has Saint Peter especially addressing Jews who were potential converts. He wants them to see the connection between Jesus and King David. Just as God was on David’s side, so “Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God” and “God raised him up.” Finally, “he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured him forth, as you see and hear.”
 
The point here is that David was loved by God in a special way but with Jesus the connection is so powerful and intimate that the Father gives him the Holy Spirit which Jesus then gives to his followers. Each of us today shares this gift of the Holy Spirit who lives within us. Have you ever thought of the Holy Spirit as your life partner? I never learned that through all my years of Catholic school, but later, when I finally “got it,” it changed my life forever. In this frightening time, it is both comforting and empowering to know that the Spirit of God lives within each of us. Many of us now have more “downtime” than before. It can now be a special “Spirit time.”
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11)
 
“Lord, you will show us the path of life.” Do you know what your path of life is? Is it something you have consciously chosen, or is it a path that you stumbled onto? In either case, do you feel that you are on the right path, God’s path for you? If so, stay faithful to the journey. If not, ask the Holy Spirit to show you the way.
 
A reading from the first letter of Saint Peter
(Chapter 1:17-21)
 
The author says clearly “you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors.” This is a powerful sentence. Jews believed that salvation came from obedience to the Law of Moses. Peter and all the apostles believed that salvation came from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what we believe as well. Our salvation does not come primarily from observance of the commandments and the laws of the Church, as important as they are. It is a gift given to us by Jesus. We need only to accept the gift and live in the gift of God’s grace and mercy.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 24:13-35)
 
The Roman Empire was the most powerful force in the history of the world up to that time. Luke is writing to potential converts to this new faith and he wants them to see that faith in the resurrected Christ is now the most powerful force on earth—but a different kind of power, the power of the Holy Spirit given to all during the experience of Pentecost
 
This is the famous story of the two disciples who meet a stranger on the road to a small town called Emmaus. We know the name of one of the disciples, Cleopas, who tells the story of the risen Christ. It has always been interesting to me that the first people to experience the empty tomb were women and that the men did not believe them. These men are also confused about what really happened, and they do not recognize Jesus until he breaks bread with them. For the early Christians, meeting Jesus in the breaking of the bread was essential. It certainly was a Jewish tradition to break bread together and of course, the most important occasion was when all the apostles were together at the Last Supper.
 
You and I can come to know Jesus a little more deeply every week in the breaking of the bread at the Eucharist. That does not happen automatically. It is easy to get caught up in the routine of the Mass, but the gift is there every time for us if we can open our hearts and minds to Jesus. It is also a time when we can come to know ourselves on a whole other level and open our hearts to those with whom we share life.
 
Like the two disciples, we are on a lifelong journey that I believe is a journey into the mystery of God’s all-powerful and all-encompassing love. They had come from Jerusalem and heard the resurrection stories, yet they still could not recognize Jesus until “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
 
Let us see our weekly Eucharistic experience as a stop on the journey as it was for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, a stop that brings us closer to Jesus and to our truest, most authentic selves. Of course, we have temporarily lost our weekly Eucharist. In the meantime, let us reflect on what, at times perhaps, we have taken for granted. We have met the resurrected Jesus at our celebration of the Eucharist in the breaking of the bread. Let us pray that we will soon have that experience once again.
 
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 www.LumoProject.com and is available at freebibleimages.org.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 2:42-47)
 
Most scripture scholars and our Christian tradition identify Luke, the disciple of Paul, as the author of the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke intended Acts to be a continuation of his Gospel to let people know what was going on in the first Christian communities. Today’s reading gives us a picture of what was important in the lives of our spiritual ancestors.
 
“They devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” It sounds wonderful, and so it was.
 
This was the very beginning of our Church, our faith. Most of these Christians were Jews, so they met for prayer “in the temple area,” but notice that they were “breaking bread in their homes.” They did not dare to break bread in the temple, because it would have caused a riot. They were trying to be good Jews and faithful followers of Jesus at the same time. All of this was during dark times in the shadow of the Roman rulers who had murdered Jesus and were already murdering the Christians. It was a fearful, challenging time, but it brought the believers together in a unique way to grow and protect one another in the face of continual danger.
 
Today, we too live in dangerous times and we are not able to “break bread together.” Let us stay together in prayer and help those who are in physical, emotional, and financial need.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24)
 
“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.” How are you experiencing God’s love during this most treacherous time? How can you share God’s love with those who you are with every day and those whom you talk to only on the phone or online?
 
A reading from the first letter of Saint Peter
(Chapter 1:3-9)
 
The author knows that his audience lives in constant danger, and he wants them to know that even though “you may have to suffer through various trials …. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth in a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
 
We know of no global pandemic that was threatening their lives, but they were threatened every day by an evil emperor. Over the years, many thousands of the early Christians died violently, including almost all of the twelve apostles, yet the community continued to believe and grow. May we learn from their bravery and their faith.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 20:19-31)
 
This is the story of the man we call “Doubting Thomas,” but it is also a story about the Holy Spirit. “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you…. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”
 
Notice the progression of mission and power: from the Father to Jesus and then to the disciples and, of course, now to us. It all comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is in the power of the Holy Spirit that our sins are forgiven. The Holy Spirit is present in each of us. Amazing! We are never alone, never but especially in times of danger and stress as we are experiencing now.
 
But Thomas misses all of this, and when he is told he refuses to believe: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” So, there it is—a man who was with Jesus as a trusted disciple refuses to believe. Perhaps there were others who doubted, but here we have one true story of disbelief.
 
We know the rest of the story. Jesus invites Thomas to put his finger into his hand and his hand into his side “and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas doesn’t touch Jesus but simply says, “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus says something so powerful that it still reverberates to us today: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” We have not seen, but we do believe. How is that possible? Because we have the very Spirit of God living within us—always, every moment of every day.
 
We did not earn it. It is a pure gift from our all-loving, all-merciful God. It is an especially important gift now, in our time of crisis.
 
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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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We cannot attend Easter Sunday Mass this year, but we still can celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ by reading, reflecting on, and praying with scripture. Read and reflect on the passages for today’s Mass and the commentaries by Bill Ayres. If you in a household with others, take turns reading the passages aloud, pausing after each to consider what word, phrase, or idea in the passage struck you. After the gospel reading, contemplate your response to the question or invite those in your household who wish to respond aloud. If you are able to share a meal with others today, join in the table prayer that follows the readings.


 
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 10:34a,37-43)
 
The Acts of the Apostles is a continuation of Saint Luke’s Gospel—an account of the birth and earliest life of the Church after the resurrection of Jesus. In the passage read today, Peter speaks for the community and recounts the major events in the life of Jesus: his anointing with the Holy Spirit; his ministry of healing; his passion, death, and resurrection; and his reappearance, eating and drinking with the disciples. Peter wants everyone to know that he and the other apostles have been “commissioned” by Jesus to preach the good news and that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
 
Imagine how difficult all this had been for Peter and the other apostles. They lost the friend and leader in whom they had placed all their hope. They gave up everything to follow him, and then they lost him to a horrible death. They could have called it quits and returned to their former lives. There were probably many who encouraged them to do so, but they persisted. Why? Because somehow, in ways we cannot understand, they still experienced the presence of Jesus, and they continued to answer his call. Because of those relatively few courageous people, we have a community, a Church today. Let us be thankful for them and let their courage strengthen us during this pandemic which has changed our lives dramatically.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23)
 
“This is the day the Lord has made: let us be glad and rejoice.” What do you rejoice in every day, even in the midst of this crisis?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians
(Chapter 3:1-4)
 
The Resurrection is not only something that happened to Jesus two thousand years ago; it is something that we live every day. We were raised with Christ. There is new life for us, not only in eternity but starting now. We can live in the Spirit because the Spirit has been given to each of us. We do not live alone. We live in the Spirit and the Spirit connects us to one another. We are brothers and sisters in the Spirit. Let us rejoice in that, even on this day—especially on this day.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 20:1-9)
 
It is remarkable that, in the deeply patriarchal society of the time, the Gospel reports that a woman was the first person to discover the empty tomb and alert the apostles. It is Mary Magdalene that tells the shocking news to Peter. When Peter and John enter the tomb, they get it. His body was not stolen. Something else has happened. They see and believe. Now, their challenge is to convince the others that they are not out of their minds, that something else had happened that they could not yet explain.
 
There is no historical account of the resurrection itself. We know that it was not a resuscitation. The physical body of Jesus did die. The risen Jesus was different, but so real that the apostles and many others placed their faith in him, and he in turn gave them—and now gives us—the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our Church, even in the dark moments we share today. It is a matter of faith. It is, in fact, the basis of our faith. Happy Easter! Happy resurrection! Happy new life!
 
Question for personal reflection or sharing
 
How does your faith in Jesus Christ, who died but rose to new life, influence your response to the pandemic?
 


 
Celebrate!
Share this table prayer with those you will eat with today. Pray together:
 
Christ has risen! Alleluia!
Loving God, you who create all things
and generously give us all we need,
we praise you and thank you for being present with us now
as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Son.
Thank you for accompanying us on our Lenten journey;
please be with us during this Easter season, and always,
as we strive to live as disciples of your Son.
May the breaking of bread, today and every day,
remind us of the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ,
who died to atone for our sins
and rose again so that we, too, may rise
and live in your presence forever.
O God, bless this food and we who share it,
and be with those who cannot share it with us.
We ask this in the name of the same Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
 
Alleluia! Christ has risen!
 
Prayer from Live Lent!-Year A copyright © 2016 RENEW International. All rights reserved.
 
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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Note: We can pray with the Sunday readings even if Sunday liturgies have been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.

 
Gospel at the Procession:
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 21:1-11)
 
This is Matthew, a Jew writing especially for Jewish converts to Christ. He wants to make sure he conveys that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise for the Messiah. That is why he has Jesus “riding on a donkey” as the prophet Zechariah foretold and has the crowd cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” from Psalm 118.
 
There are supporters who believe Jesus to be the Messiah, and yet not long after, in this same city, another crowd yells, “Crucify him.” Have you ever wondered why the people of Jerusalem changed sides so quickly? As we hear later in the story, it was the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were threatened by Jesus that wanted him dead and roused up many of the people to turn against him even though it was not in their best interest. It is a pattern that has continued throughout history.
 
A reading from the the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 50:4-7)
 
This is one of the four poems called “Suffering Servant Songs” that depict a messenger sent to convince the people to be true to the covenant they had with God. The Servant suffers rejection and even death while being faithful to his mission. The early Church saw Jesus as the embodiment of the Suffering Servant, as do we today.
 
Have you ever suffered for doing the right thing, for standing up for the truth, for helping someone in need? At times, we all may be called to be suffering servants but not people without hope. Our hope is in Jesus, especially in times of suffering.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 2:6-11)
 
This passage was probably a hymn sung at early Christian liturgies that incorporates the image of the Suffering Servant that was familiar to the Jews of the time. But it goes beyond this image to one obedient to the point of death: “Because of this, God greatly exalted him” … “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”
 
This was a radical statement for any Jew to make. For Judaism, God is totally other, not embodied in some aspect of nature. God is God. That’s it. But here, the early Christians boldly sing of their belief “that Jesus Christ is Lord.” That may be easy for us to say now, but it was a dangerous song back then.
 
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew
(Chapters 26:14-27:66)
 
This is the most important part of the Gospels, and so we read the whole passage reverently. It is impossible to get all the many parts of the story all at once. Please try to read all four of the gospel Passion stories, or at least one of them, sometime this week if possible and talk about it with someone who shares your faith.
 
There are so many interesting characters and stories within stories. Let’s look more closely at Judas and Peter. Both betray Jesus but in different ways and for different reasons. Peter is afraid, afraid for his life. He knew how hideous the Roman crucifixions were. So, here he is the one chosen by Jesus to be the leader, the “rock,” and he crumbles. We do not know why Judas betrayed Jesus to the Romans. Was it just for money or were there other motives? In any case, Judas becomes so wrapped in guilt that he kills himself. He does not believe that he can be forgiven. That means that he did not really understand who Jesus was, the healer, full of compassionate forgiveness, and so he cut himself off from the gift that Jesus offered him. Peter recognized his tragic mistake and turned himself around, had a change of heart, and asked for forgiveness. Later, of course, he gave his life for Jesus and for the message of forgiveness. And what of Judas? Did his suicide mean that he was forever condemned for his lack of faith in forgiveness? No! Who are we to judge?
 
As we celebrate this Palm Sunday in the midst of a global pandemic and remember all the horrible suffering that Jesus endured, let us pray to the suffering Jesus who bore the suffering of his people and the risen Jesus who overcame suffering and death and is now with all who suffer throughout the world.
 
Let us also ask ourselves what we can do to help those who are in danger and who may be hungry.
 
As you may know, I co-founded WhyHunger with the late Harry Chapin. We started the first hunger hotline in America, the New York Hunger Hotline. Some years later, we started the National Hunger Hotline which still operates at 1-800-548-6479. Over the years, we have helped millions of hungry people find food in their neighborhoods. During the past two weeks our calls have gone up 300 percent. If you know people who are hungry, please tell them to call that hotline. And if you can do anything to help hungry people near you or far away, please do.
 
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 www.LumoProject.com and can be found at FreeBibleImages.org
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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