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God, Father of us all,
your servant John the Baptist
proclaimed you in the wilderness.
May we listen to that call and hear you as well
in those who call to us now.
Make us more attentive to your Word:
forgive us for when we have not listened to you,
and help us to prepare for your coming
We ask this in the name of Jesus,
who was proclaimed by John.
Amen.

 
From Advent Awakenings, Year C: Say Yes to God, published by RENEW International

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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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God of our journeys,
as we begin this season of Advent,
calm our hearts and minds
that we may focus
on what is truly important.
We ask this through Christ, Our Lord.
Amen.
 
From Advent Awakenings, Year C: Say Yes to God, published by RENEW International

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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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John Adams, one of the great patriots of the American Revolution and one of the architects of our government, led a complex religious life.
 
He was a practicing Protestant Christian, born a Congregationalist, but his religious views evolved over time until, at last, he became a Unitarian, meaning that he did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, although he did regard Jesus as the Savior.
 
Adams, the first vice-president and second president of the United States, was a regular churchgoer and an advocate of public worship. In the course of his career, he even attended Catholic Masses in far-flung places such as Philadelphia, Brussels, and Corunna, Spain, although he was generally critical of the Catholic Church.
 
His accounts of his experiences at Mass, preserved in his letters to his redoubtable wife, Abigail, sent a mixed message.
 
Adams seemed attracted to some of the external aspects of Catholic worship—for example, the vestments and tapestries and the music.
 
On one occasion, he described the homily as a “good, short, moral Essay upon the Duty of Parents to their Children, founded in justice and Charity, to take care of their Interests temporal and spiritual.”
 
However, he was repulsed by much of the ritual and personal piety—Latin prayer, rosaries, genuflections—he witnessed in Catholic Churches.
 
Ever the smart aleck, he summed up his observations in one church by writing, “Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination. Everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and the ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.”
 
What caught my attention in particular in one of Adams’ letters was his description of Catholic worshipers “bowing to the name of Jesus wherever they hear it.”
 
This is a practice that was instilled in me when I was a child, about 130 years after Adams had passed from the scene.
 
My contemporaries and I were taught that the name of Jesus was holy and that we were to slightly incline our heads when we pronounced it or heard it. That practice was so deeply ingrained in me that I still do it, almost as a reflex.
 
This little devotion is not the result of being simple and ignorant. It is the result always being conscious of who Jesus is—the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God among us.
 
This devotion that seemed superstitious to Adams and that might seem quaint now, strikes me as more appropriate than ever, considering how casually the name and image of Jesus is used in our culture.
 
The Jewish people famously consider the name of God too holy to speak or write; that is a healthy attitude for people who value their covenant relationship with the Father who has made them his own.
 
We Christians have a new covenant relationship with God that is founded on our belief that Jesus is who he says he is.
 
And if Jesus is who he says he is, then, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
 
This post was initially published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen. Charles Paolino is a permanent deacon of that diocese.

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Let us collect our hopes, fears,
wishes, and dreams
for the fulfillment
of the Kingship of Jesus Christ,
and lift them in prayer to our God
who hears and answers us.
For the coming of a time of justice,
For the coming of a time of peace,
For the coming of a time of mercy,
we lift these prayers to you,
in confident faith that you will hear
and answer them.
We pray this in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you,
forever and ever.
Amen.

 
Adapted from PrayerTime, Cycle B: Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, published by RENEW International.

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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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Creator of the wind and sea,
storms and distractions abound
as we move through our daily lives.
When all around us is crashing and shifting,
we often lose our ability
to keep our eyes and hearts trained on you.
We forget who you are
and our faith becomes fragile.
During these times, bring to mind
the many ways you have been present to us in the past,
and help us to experience your presence.
Forgive us when we doubt you,
and deepen our ability to trust.
I offer this prayer through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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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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Lord, God of heaven and earth,
the gift of life that you have shared with us
is sustained and nurtured by the world
in which we live.
If we, as your human family,
cherish our world and learn to share its goods,
there will be enough for us all,
not just to survive but to thrive.
Purify us, O Lord,
of the greed and selfishness
that anxiously drive us to acquire
that which we really don’t need,
and misuse or deplete,
that which others may require to survive.
Teach us, O Lord,
that we are valued for who we are in your sight,
and not for what we have in the eyes of others.
Bless us with a generous spirit and
a servant’s heart,
that you may rejoice in having entrusted
this world, our home, to our safekeeping.
May you be praised by how we treat the earth
and one another.
Hear us, through Jesus, your Son,
who walked our land,
lived in our world,
and gave his life that all may be transformed
and given as gift to you, now and forever.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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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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Gracious God and Father,
we are your people embraced by your love.
We thank you for your presence with us throughout all time.
Create us anew through Jesus Christ your Son.
Liberate us from all that keeps us from you.
Send your Holy Spirit, enabling us
to share in your work of recreating our world
and restoring justice.
Heal us from every form of sin and violence.
Transform us to live your Word more profoundly.
Reconcile us so enemies become friends.
Awaken us to the sacred;
nurture our relationships.
Enliven our parishes; reunite our families.
Fill us with joy to celebrate the fullness of life.
Empower us to be a community of love
growing in your likeness
by the grace of Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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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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Loving and generous Father,
You alone know the workings of the human heart.
Show us how to listen to the yearnings
we have deep within ourselves.
Remove from our midst any impediments or distractions
that block us from turning to you in our need.
Open us up to your healing touch
and your bounteous goodness.
Then we shall be free to rejoice,
along with those faithful ones of ages past,
in your generosity
and in your power to heal and console.
We offer this prayer and all of our deepest needs
in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah
(Chapter 31:7-9)
 
“The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng.”
 
Jeremiah is talking about the return of the Israelites from exile. But how are we to think of exiles returning today? There are almost 20 million exiles in the world now, and the number is growing each year. Most are from Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Niger, the Central African Republic, and several countries in Central and South America. Many of them are women and children fleeing violence, hunger, and abject poverty. Some western countries have opened their doors to the refugees; others have not. It is a very complex issue, but we need to hold these people in our hearts and do what we can to change hostility to refugees, knowing that many of us have ancestors who once were refugees.
 
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 great things has the Lord done for you? Have you been thankful? Has it brought you joy? How do you express your joy and thanksgiving?
 
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 5:1-6)
 
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is writing about the role of high priest in the Jewish religion: “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God as Aaron was.” The role of high priest was an enormously important part of the Jewish tradition of the time, and the author makes it clear that the priest was “beset by weakness.” He was to be a servant, not someone to lord it over the people. Of course—precisely because of human weakness—it did not always work out that way and has not throughout history.
 
The main point of the reading, though, is that even Jesus was called by the Father: “In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who sent him. … ‘You are my son: this day I have begotten you.’” Jesus was called by the Father and responded as our “suffering servant.” It is the same today in our Church. People are called to priesthood by our Father to serve all of us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 10:46-52)
 
As Jesus left Jericho, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was on the side of the road. “On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’ … Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.’ He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.’” When Jesus asked what Bartimaeus wanted, the blind man answered, “Master, I want to see,” and Jesus answered, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus immediately received his sight and followed Jesus.
 
Notice that Bartimaeus called Jesus “Son of David.” He knew that Jesus was not just any man, any healer; Bartimaeus was healed by his faith in Jesus who, he recognized, was in the tradition of the great King David. And then, Bartimaeus did not go away but “followed him on the way.” We never hear of this man again, but we know from this story that once his eyes were opened, he followed Jesus.
 
Have you ever experienced a healing, either of some part of your physical or spiritual person or of a relationship, and thought that, although there were human agents involved, it came through the grace of Jesus? If your answer is yes, give thanks. If not, think again. Maybe you missed the most important dimension of your 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. 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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