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A reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 7:10-14)
 
Ahaz was the ruler of the kingdom of Judah at a time when Judah and other small nations were allied against the Assyrian Empire which was more powerful and certainly brutal. But Ahaz refused to be true to the coalition, so some of the nations that should have been his partners turned against him. While Judah was under attack from two directions, “The Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…. But Ahaz answered “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord.” This was a phony excuse designed to mask Ahaz’s lack of faith. Isaiah told him, “Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel”—a promise that Judah, the nation of David, would endure—in spite of its enemies and in spite of Ahaz.
 
Isaiah never tells us who the virgin is nor who the child is, except to say that his name will be Emmanuel which means “God with us.” The prophesy was fulfilled, not in Ahaz’s time but more than six centuries later with the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6)
 
“Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.” Today, and every day, let us ask God to enter ever more deeply in our minds and hearts.
 
A reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans
(Chapter 1:1-7)
 
The Rome of Paul’s time was large for its time though not as large as it would become. That’s why it was necessary for him to introduce himself properly as an important apostle. That is why he referred to himself as “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” It is “the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” These are Paul’s credentials, and he wants to make sure everyone knows who he really is. This was especially important, because Christians were being arrested and martyred every day. If they were risking their lives, they needed to know that Paul and his message about God, Jesus was the real deal.
 
We do not risk our lives or suffer for the faith as the martyrs in Rome did, but we need to remember that our forebears in faith suffered and many do today.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 1:18-24)
 
This gospel passage focuses on Joseph, a troubled man with a critical decision to make. Mary had not yet lived with Joseph, but she was pregnant. How? By whom? What should he do?
 
Matthew is the only evangelist who tells this story: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” Then Joseph had a dream in which the angel of the Lord said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins…. “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
 
Each of us has difficult decisions to make throughout our lives, usually without the help of angels in our dreams. Praying and asking for counsel from family or friends can help, and then asking the Holy Spirit to guide us can lead us to the best decisions in troubling times.
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org.
 
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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Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Church:
The earth rejoices in hope of the Savior’s coming
and looks forward with longing
to his return at the end of time.
Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness
that hinders us from feeling the joy and the hope
that Christ’s presence will bring.
For he is Lord forever and ever.
Amen.

 
Adapted from Waiting With Joy: Weekly Reflections on the Sunday Readings, Advent, Year A, by Sr. Donna Ciangio, OP; © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 35:1-6a, 10)
 
This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday, a day of rejoicing because of the great promise that we hear from Isaiah. The prophet addressed this message to the Jewish people in a time of terrible crisis: exile from their homeland, the destruction of their homes and temple, and their enslavement by a foreign power. Yet, in the midst of all their suffering, Isaiah has this powerful message of hope: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God; he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”
 
We do not face the same kind of horror in our society, but what sufferings are you going through now that may seem hopeless or at least painful? Have any of your relationships caused you suffering? How can you bring healing rather than continuing the pain? Have you allowed relatively minor troubles to diminish your joy? How can you turn that around into thankfulness for all you have been given?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10)
 
“Lord, come and save us.” Those words resonate with us thousands of years after they were written. How and when have you asked God to save you or someone you love? Do you feel you were heard?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint James
(Chapter 5:7-10)
 
James is telling his hearers to be patient for the coming of the Lord. Of course, he is talking about the Second Coming which the Christians of that time thought would occur any day. Today, we are not impatient for the Second Coming. We hardly think about it, but we should always be thinking and praying for the continuous coming of Jesus into our minds and hearts. Let us think of Christmas not as the coming again of the baby Jesus. That only happened once, 2000-plus years ago. Rather, let us rejoice in the remembrance of that event that changed the world and our own lives so profoundly, and then enter into an even deeper bond with Jesus whose Spirit lives in us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 11:2-11)
 
Put yourself in John’s shoes, or rather sandals, for a minute. Here he is, a man with a mission from God to prepare the way for the long-awaited Messiah, and he is stuck in prison. He is giving it his all, but he wants to make sure Jesus is the real deal, so he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” John is risking his life, and he wants to be sure. Jesus answers, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”
 
How many times has Jesus healed you, not necessarily from a physical ailment but emotionally or mentally? How many times has Jesus brought you or someone you love back from the death of sin or addiction or some other deep darkness? This week is a good time to remember all the times when Jesus healed you or a loved one in any way.
 
Maybe it is right now that you feel powerless or deeply injured. Ask Jesus to be present to you to help heal you. And this Christmas, let us thank Jesus for all the times of healing and all the gifts he has given us.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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God of power and mercy,
open our hearts in welcome.
Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy
so that we may share his wisdom and become one with him in glory
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever.
Amen.

 
Adapted from Waiting With Joy: Weekly Reflections on the Sunday Readings, Advent, Year A, by Sr. Donna Ciangio, OP; © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 11:1-10)
 
The prophets of Israel preached several massages, some hopeful and some judgmental, but all to awaken the people of Israel during hard times and give them courage. Here, Isaiah talks about a new leader, a future king. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord…. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. Justice shall be the band upon his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”
 
The kings that followed the greatest king, David, were far from the image Isaiah presents. They led their country poorly, so Isaiah wants to give the people some hope. We believe that this promised new ruler is Jesus, the Christ, and we place our hope in him.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17)
 
The psalmist gives us the qualities of a true leader: “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.” The psalmist gives us the qualities of a true leader. Would that that were always the case.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 15:4-9)
 
Paul is writing for both Jews and gentiles who followed Jesus, knowing that these groups did not always get along. “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
 
Throughout history, there have been differences of opinion among us Christians even to the point that large groups broke away from the Church and formed new denominations. We live in a time of divisions between the old order and emerging challenges in which, not doctrine but rather rules and traditions are being questioned. In this atmosphere, we need to keep focused on what Jesus himself preached and practiced, loving God and one another. That has not changed in two thousand years, nor will it ever.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 3:1-12)
 
“John the Baptist appeared preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…. It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said, ‘A voice crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
John must have been a sight to behold. He “wore clothing made of camel hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.”
 
But John was not fooled by the hypocrisy of many of the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming for baptism. He said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? And do not presume to say to yourselves ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones…. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
 
John knew his role in life. As popular as he was, he knew that he was to prepare the way for Jesus, not be the message himself. His mission, his very life, was short but absolutely essential for the mission of Jesus. Each of us also has a role to play in the living and sharing of our faith. We too are not the message, but we are the messengers.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Loving God,
You desire that we grow ever more deeply
in our relationship with you.
As we begin our Advent journey waiting eagerly
for the coming of your Son, Jesus,
Bless our prayer, our contemplation, our sharing,
and our service to others.
Amen.

 
Adapted from Waiting With Joy: Weekly Reflections on the Sunday Readings, Advent, Year A, by Sr. Donna Ciangio, OP; © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah
(Chapter Chapter 2:1-5)
 
“In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills….For from Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples.”
 
The two important points here are that God will “judge between the nations” and that God’s word comes “from Jerusalem.” What is God’s word to the nations? “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” If they do these things, they will “walk in the light of the Lord.”
 
If only nations had obeyed this command, millions of innocent people would not have been killed right up to today. Jesus himself preached and lived non-violence as should we in our own lives.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9)
 
“Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” Have you come to the house of the Lord today rejoicing? Or, is it simply a matter of habit or obligation?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 13:11-14)
 
Paul tells the Romans, “For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
Paul knows that he will be killed and so he wants to let the Romans to know how important it is for them to stay the course and not fall into bad habits that were rampant throughout the city. Of course, the same holds true for we who live in an age that is all too prone to excuse these same excesses.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 24:37-44)
 
After Jesus died there was a belief that he would come back again on the last day. But when? Matthew wants to tell people to “Stay awake! For you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
 
This belief that Jesus would come back, perhaps in their lifetime and that the world would then end was very popular among Christians in the decades after the death of Jesus. It was intensified by the constant threat of prison and execution at the hands of the Romans. Even today, there are sects of Christianity that believe that the world will end soon, and Jesus will return. They go up to a mountain or some other remote place and wait, and wait until it becomes apparent that the time is not now.
 
We have no idea when the world as we know it will end, but we do know that our lives here on earth will end at our death. We know not the day or the hour, but we pray for a long and healthy life and then, even more important, a new resurrected life forever with Jesus.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Lord Jesus,
let your presence in my life
and the power of your Spirit
transform me and enable me
to choose living your kingdom
in my day and age,
and help me to remember
that I live in that presence
and with that Spirit.
Amen.

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

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A reading from the Book of the Second Book of Samuel
(Chapter Chapter 5:1-3)
 
David was the greatest king of Israel, chosen by God and “all the tribes of Israel.”
 
“And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel and be commander of Israel.’” So, David had two responsibilities—shepherd, or spirit leader, and military commander. Despite his personal flaws, he was seen as successful in meeting both responsibilities.
 
Jesus called himself “the Good Shepherd” but was never considered to be a king. He himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” However, throughout history, kings were among the most powerful people on earth, and so the Church chose to refer to Jesus as a king, but expanded the title to “King of the Universe.” The point is that the power of Jesus goes way beyond that of earthly kings, whose use of power has often been corrupt and unjust. Jesus’ power, righteous and just, reaches to the ends of the universe.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 18:33B-17)
 
“Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” That is exactly what we are doing here today, coming to the house of the Lord and rejoicing. What are you rejoicing about today?
 
A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Colossians
(Chapter 1:12-20)
 
This reading focuses on a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving and what was undoubtedly a hymn sung at early church liturgies. It deserves a full reading.
 
“Brothers and sisters: Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the powers of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins …. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace through the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.”
 
Wow! What does all of that mean? It was written at a time when the people of Colossae were being bombarded by other teachers who were talking about other powers in the universe and other obligations that they must fulfill. Paul soars in this language to keep the Colossians on the right path, and the Church believes that this hymn was sung at liturgies throughout the early church to focus on the true power of Christ, “the firstborn of all creation …. in him all things hold together.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 23:35-43)
 
The setting for this reading is the crucifixion of Jesus. “The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God …. Even the soldiers jeered at him. ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself …. Above him there was an inscription that read, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’” Jesus gave no response that was recorded, but one of the criminals who were also being crucified with him “reviled Jesus, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.’” But the other man said, “This man has done nothing criminal.” Then the dying man said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “Amen, I say to you, today, you will be with me in paradise.” So, at a moment of excruciating pain, Jesus offers total forgiveness to this man, the same forgiveness he offers us today.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Let us pray,
For peace in the world,
For those who are in prison for the sake of justice,
For those who suffer because of natural disasters,
For those who are sick because of pollution,
For those who are upset because of their fear for the future,
For children who are abused,
For those who forget us,
For those who love and hate us,
Lord, have mercy.
Amen.

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

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi
(Chapter Chapter 3:19-20a)
 
This book was probably written about five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, at a time when there was much dishonesty and disrespect for the temple and for the poor and oppressed. “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and evildoers will be stubble.” Strong warning! “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” Fear in the Hebrew Scriptures was not the harrowing kind of fear that paralyzes, but rather the fear that admonishes and heals. We are still far away here from the unconditional love that Jesus taught but a far cry from the destructive fear of pagan gods.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 98:5-6, 7-8, 9)
 
“The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.” Justice, one of the most important and yet elusive virtues throughout history, even until now. Most of us try to act justly in our own lives, yet we often ignore the injustices that may be all around us—economic injustice, racial or gender injustice that may permeate the very structures of our society. How can we be more aware of these injustices and challenge them?
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians
(Chapter 3:7-12)
 
Paul and the other apostles were workers who did not take their livelihood for granted. “Brothers and sisters: You know how one must imitate us. For we did not act in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat food free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you.” Disciples should be self-reliant, not lazy. “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” Of course, Paul did not mean widows and orphans but able-bodied folks who “are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.” Living in communities amidst hostile and dangerous forces meant that everyone needed to look out for one another, but not be busybodies, “work quietly” and not be dependent.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 21:5-19)
 
Let’s start with some history of the temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. It was the Second Temple, built after the disastrous Babylonian Exile in the seventh century B.C., then refurbished and dramatically expanded by King Herod at the time Jesus was growing up. It was the heart of Judaism and was central in the life and death of Jesus.
 
“While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.’ Then they asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this happen?’ He answered, ‘See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them. Nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. … Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.’”
 
Yes, the temple that was the focus of their faith would be destroyed, and they would be persecuted, but they would be saved. Of course, many did die from persecution, but they were saved from final death because of their faith. These are painful words written 2000 years ago but still important for us today, because we too will be saved by our faith in Jesus despite our many sufferings and disappointments.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Loving Father,
in death, our lives are changed not ended.
Let us remember in word and deed
that you are calling us by name
that our lives on earth
relate to our lives in heaven.
We make our prayer
through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from PrayerTime, Cycle C, © RENEW International.

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A reading from the second Book of Maccabees
(Chapter 7:1-2, 9-14)
 
We Christians believe not only in the resurrection of Jesus but also in our own resurrection. At the time of Jesus, the Jews were divided about the resurrection of the body on the last day. The Sadducees did not believe in it, but the Pharisees did. This story about the brave Maccabee brothers is one of only two places in which the Hebrew Scriptures
allude to resurrection.
 
As the first brother is being tortured, just before his death, he says, “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the king of this world will raise us up to live again forever.” When the last brother is near death, he says, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.”
 
This was one of the first answers to the eternal question, “What happens to us when we die?” Today, there are only two choices: nothingness, obliteration, or resurrection, new life forever with Christ. I know what I believe. How about you?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15)
 
“Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.” This wish of the Psalmist was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus. But, that is only the first step. The final step will be our own resurrection to live forever in the presence of God.
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians
(Chapter 2:16-3:5)
 
Paul wrote this letter at a time of severe persecution of the young Church, and he wanted to reassure the faithful. “Brothers and sisters: may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word….But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.”
 
Imagine yourself as a new Christian living in fear that you might be caught, tortured, and murdered like the Maccabee brothers. There are no local officers or army to protect you. In fact, they are the very people who will arrest you. You have only your loving community and your faith to protect you. We have these same persecuted people to thank for passing on their faith to us over thousands of years.
 
Let us pray for the millions of our brothers and sisters in the faith who suffer and die every day all over the world for this same faith.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 20:27-38)
 
In this gospel reading, “some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a Resurrection” try to trap Jesus with a complicated question about marriage in the resurrected state. Jesus responds with a strong statement about the dead. “They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones that will arise….He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
 
The message of Jesus to us today is simple yet amazing. Yes, we will all die, but we will also rise and live forever in unity with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Do you believe this? Have you even thought much about it? Here is a clue. Our life with God has already started, because the very Spirit of God lives within us. Yes, the Holy Spirit lives in you and is your constant companion in your journey into the Mystery of God’s unconditional and everlasting love.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Lord Jesus,
you called Zacchaeus by his name
and you helped him to grow.
Enter our lives in that way today,
calling us by our names,
so that we may grow
and be the persons you call us to be.
Amen.

 
Adapted from PrayerTime, Cycle C, © RENEW International.

Image courtesy of Freebibleimages.org.

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A reading from the Book of Wisdom
(Chapter 11:22-12:2)
 
This book was written in Alexandria, only about one hundred years before the birth of Jesus, by a man who at times assumes the voice of King Solomon to make sure his readers pay attention to its important messages. It is one of the few places in which Jewish scriptures refer to an after-life. The main truth that the author wants to covey to his readers is how good and powerful is their God who cares for them dearly.
 
“Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain of sand….And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? …But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are….But you spare all things, because they are yours; O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”
 
Wow! In a few short sentences the author gives us a picture of who God really is: all powerful, all loving, all merciful, and forgiving.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14)
 
“I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.” The Jewish people had many kings in their ancient history, a few good and others weak or corrupt. Fortunately, we have a democracy with no king, but we can still praise God forever. What do you most want to praise God for?
 
A reading from second Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians
(Chapter 1:11-2:2)
 
“Brothers and sisters: We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accordance with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
This is the beginning of a follow-up letter to the Thessalonians and was probably written from prison with the help of Paul’s friends and disciples, Timothy and Silvanus. Paul wants to clear up what was one of the first great controversies in the early Church: When would Jesus would come again at the end time? Many, including Paul at first, thought that Jesus would come back very soon, but now, some twenty years after the resurrection, there was still no Jesus, no second coming. Remember, this was during a time of severe persecution of Christians and many felt reassured by believing that Jesus would come again soon. So, Paul warns them about “a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.” He wants them to know that there is no such letter. What a disappointment! Did it cause some followers to leave and give up hope? We don’t know, but since Paul too had believed it, he wants to set the record straight before he dies.
 
We live in a time of turmoil in our Church that can affect our own faith. It is hard to stay faithful in the midst of reoccurring scandals and many proposed changes in Church practice. But no one is threatening our lives as the Roman Empire threatened Christians two thousand years ago. No one is persecuting us for our beliefs. We are not expecting the second coming of Christ to be anytime soon. Still, the faith of many has been shattered or at least weakened. Let us reach out to our brothers and sisters who live in growing doubt and help them and ourselves to focus on what is most important: our faith in Jesus and the presence of the very Spirit of God living in us—yes, in our very persons—and the abiding love of the Father.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 19:1-10)
 
This is an important parable, because it turns the tables on the people who thought that only they were good and this hated tax collector was not worthy to have Jesus dine at his house. Zacchaeus was indeed an unjust, greedy man, a dreaded tax collector who was an important part of an evil oppressive empire. Yet, he repented and was forgiven by Jesus. We should not take this story lightly. This was a “big deal,” because Jesus was saying “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” It is never too late for a change of heart that is accompanied by a change of behavior.
Have you ever witnessed that kind of radical forgiveness extended to anyone you know? Or, more important, do you know anyone who needs that forgiveness now? Maybe you can tell that person the good news of God’s mercy.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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