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A reading from the second Book of Sirach
(Chapter 35:12-14, 16-18)
 
“The Lord is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial to the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. … The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal.”
 
The Hebrew Scriptures express the Jewish people’s historic sense of responsibility to the poor and oppressed, especially orphans and widows. Jesus shared that passion, as do we who are his followers. We recognize that food is a human right and that hunger anywhere is unjust, including our country, the richest in the world. That is why we in our parish help to feed the hungry. But we must also realize that the root cause of hunger is poverty and the root cause of poverty is powerlessness, so we also support programs that help people to get out of powerless situations through counseling and help in finding a job that pays a living wage. At the same time, we understand that powerlessness also comes from sexism, ageism, racism, and economic injustice which we must not have in our own lives.
 
How can you and I try to “hear the cry of the oppressed” and work for true charity and justice?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23)
 
“The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” When have you heard the “cry of the poor?” Have you really listened? How have you responded? Is there anything more that you can do to help one person or family that is poor? Support your parish’s efforts to reach out to the poor or support another organization that is doing good work to help poor people? Learn about how various government anti-poverty programs work?
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 4:6-8, 16-18)
 
Paul is in prison, suffering deeply and nearing execution: “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Let’s hope that you and I remember those powerful words and can say something like that at the time of our deaths. And let us also remember, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 18:9-14)
 
Here we have another parable that is both shocking and right on target: “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. … Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.” So, one would have been considered the “good guy” and the other—the tax collector—was definitely the “bad guy.”
 
The Pharisee says, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and I pay tithes on my whole income.” Of course, he may also be taxing the poor and oppressed without justice or mercy. “But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’” Jesus gets the picture and responds: “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
 
What does it mean for us to be truly humble? It is not about poor self-esteem or putting ourselves down. It is rather about being thankful for all the gifts we have been given, not only material gifts but the gifts of health, loving friends, and family, the ability to make a living.
 
Do you often think about all the gifts you have been given by God, and give thanks? There, that’s true humility.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Almighty God,
we remember before you
all those among us who are treated unjustly.
Bless and guide us,
that your love may be shown
in our concern for them.
In the name of Jesus we pray!
Amen.

 
Adapted from PrayerTime, Cycle C, © RENEW International.

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A reading from the second Book of Exodus
(Chapter 17:8-13)
 
The Amalekites were a tribal desert people who did not like these new people, the Israelites, entering their land sometime after the exodus from Egypt. And so, the Amalekites attacked. Moses told Joshua to resist: “‘Tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ … As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight. Moses’ hands, however, grew tired, so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” The key here is that the “staff of God,” is the sign of God’s power and protection. But Moses could not do it all by himself, he needed the help of Aaron and Hur.
 
So often, God’s power and protection for us comes through the help of others. Have you experienced that in your life when someone was there for you or you for someone? The power of God is not some kind of magic. It often comes through the support and kindness of others.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8)
 
“Our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” When does this happen? Later in this Psalm, the author tells us. “The Lord will guard your coming and going, both now and forever.” Let us remember a time when God helped us, and give thanks. Actually, the presence of God is not far away. God lives in each of us, but all too often we forget and feel disconnected. Prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist help us to reconnect.
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 2:8-13)
 
“Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed.” That is great advice, but suppose you learned some of the wrong teachings. Suppose you were taught that God was a judgmental, disconnected force somewhere “up there” in heaven. Suppose you were taught that “You’d better be good, or God will punish you.” Then your basic relationship with God would be founded on fear. Where do you find the true God? Paul tells Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction and for training and righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
 
I was not taught very much from Scripture as a child but as an adult I have found reading from Scripture to be enlightening and faith filled. I hope that your experience of the Scriptures, listening and reading, has been life-giving. A whole world of wonder and grace is to be found there.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 18:1-8)
 
“Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she might finally come and strike me.’” Then Jesus makes his point: “Then will not God secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.”
 
The point of this parable is persistence. The widow was on the bottom of the social scale in Israel, and yet, even she received an answer because she was such a persistent pest. Of course, God does not think of us as pests when we pray, but Jesus is suggesting that we need to be persistent in prayer. You might ask how we can actually change God’s mind with our persistence. That is not the point. Our persistence can help us to change our own minds and hearts to be able to listen to and follow God’s help.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleimages.org.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Almighty God,
I am grateful to you for my existence.
I am sorry for the complaints
you often hear from me.
In fact, “my cup runneth over.”
Help me to live your gift of life
to the fullest
each day of my life.
Amen.

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

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A reading from the second Book of Kings
(Chapter 5:14-17)
 
In ancient times, lepers were considered unclean. They were avoided and were almost never in positions of power. Naaman was a leper but also was a commander in the army of the king of Aram. The king had such high regard for Naaman that he told him to ask the prophet Elisha to cure the leprosy. Elisha told Naaman to plunge into the Jordan River seven times. At first, Naaman refused, but his servants talked him into it, and he was cured of leprosy. He then told Elisha, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.” But Elisha would not accept the gift. So, Naaman said, “If you will not accept, please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth, for I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other God except to the Lord.”
 
This was a big deal. A high-ranking pagan had converted to the God of Israel, and he asked for a bit of Israel (“two mule-loads of earth”) to take with him so that he could worship in Israel no matter where he is. The author wants his readers to know that even a powerful pagan army commander came to believe because of the power of the true God.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4)
 
“The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.” Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, we read that God did reveal his saving power over and over. Have you ever asked yourself how God has gifted you in all sorts of ways? Perhaps it was a surprise gift in the form of a new and important love in your life or a healing for you or someone you love. Or perhaps it is the all-abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in your life every day.
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 2:8-13)
 
Paul is in prison once again, but this time it is very serious. “I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory. … If we have died with him we shall also live with him; If we persevere we shall also reign with him.”
 
We’re thankful that none of us suffers for our faith in the way that Paul did, but there are times when we do experience intense suffering. When has that kind of deep suffering hit you, surrounded you, gotten inside you? How did you get through it? Are you still going through it? Maybe a certain cause of suffering has passed, only to be replaced by a newer and more intense form of pain. Have you asked for help from someone close to you or a counselor or therapist? Maybe there is someone who can help ease your suffering even if that person can’t take it away entirely. Or, maybe you can learn to live with it and go on with the more loving and positive aspects of your life. Often, we can become overwhelmed by one painful part of life and lose sight of all the gifts we continue to receive amid the suffering. A suffering time might be a good time to recall the gifts you continue to experience and the times in your life when God did help you through your pain.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 17:11-19)
 
In the first reading, we heard about a leper being healed. Here, we have ten lepers. “They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!’ And when he saw them, he said ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’ As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God with a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, ‘Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?’ Then he said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
 
Jesus was a healer. Even scholars who do not believe he was the Son of God agree, and there are examples of Jesus healing many people and sometimes only one. This time, he tells the lepers to “show yourselves to the priests.” But it is not the priests who heal them. “As they were going they were cleansed.” Jesus was the one who healed all ten, but only one, a Samaritan, came back to thank him. Jesus asks, “Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” So now, Jesus takes the healing one step further. “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” The man who had been considered a heretic because he was a Samaritan is not only healed but he is saved for all eternity.
 
You and I may ask Jesus for healing at many times in our lives, but he gives us much more, the gift of eternal life.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Loving God and Father,
my life and support,
let me grow in faith,
and let me realize that my faith in you
is nothing in comparison
to your faith in me.
I ask this in the name of Jesus, my Brother,
who lives with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
Amen.

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

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

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Holy triune God, you dwell within each of us.
Help us to know that the light of your Presence
is truly realized in each of us.
Help us to become your light for the world,
and to see beyond the false divisions
that separate us from one another
so that we may truly live as reflections of your love,
as we await the fulfillment of your reign here on earth,
O God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Amen.

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

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

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Compassionate and merciful God,
you adorn the earth with lush treasures
and clothe it in royal attire.
You provide human beings with every good gift
and you feed us with spiritual food.
Your compassion is endless;
your mercy flows freely like a river.
Gift us, your faithful servants,
with your wisdom and creativity,
so we may be good stewards
of the wealth you have entrusted to our care.
Strengthen us as we go forth
to share your truth with the rest of the world.
Grant this through your Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

Amen.

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

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

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God of the lost,
through the incarnation of your Son,
you free human beings from the ravages of sin,
and you pour out your abundant mercy
on the lost and the broken.
Sinners find refuge in the shadow of your wings
and you provide your people with an abundant harvest.
Send workers into the world to seek out the lost
and offer life to sinners.
Direct my efforts and purify my heart,
as I go out seeking the lost sheep of this world.
May your Spirit empower me to become
a more effective ambassador
of your compassion.
I ask this in the name of Jesus, the Lord.
Amen.

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

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

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God of the living,
all the earth bows down before you.
All creation groans in praise of you.
You alone are the Lord of lords.
You alone are the God of all creation.
You invite all human beings
into deep and personal relationship.
You insist that we shall have no other gods before you.
Help me as I seek to place you first in my life.
Send your Spirit to strengthen me
as I strive to embrace the cross,
and fill me with the wisdom I need
to resist the attachments of this world.
Alone I can do nothing;
with God all things are possible.
I ask this prayer through the power of Jesus’ name.
Amen.

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

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

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