Bill Ayres continues to offer his reflections to help our prayer.
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
Most scripture scholars and our Christian tradition identify Luke, the disciple of Paul, as the author of the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke intended Acts to be a continuation of his Gospel to let people know what was going on in the first Christian communities. Today’s reading gives us a picture of what was important in the lives of our spiritual ancestors.
“They devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” It sounds wonderful, and so it was.
This was the very beginning of our Church, our faith. Most of these Christians were Jews, so they met for prayer “in the temple area,” but notice that they were “breaking bread in their homes.” They did not dare to break bread in the temple, because it would have caused a riot. They were trying to be good Jews and faithful followers of Jesus at the same time. All of this was during dark times in the shadow of the Roman rulers who had murdered Jesus and were already murdering the Christians. It was a fearful, challenging time, but it brought the believers together in a unique way to grow and protect one another in the face of continual danger.
Today, we too live in dangerous times and we are not able to “break bread together.” Let us stay together in prayer and help those who are in physical, emotional, and financial need.
(Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24)
“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.” How are you experiencing God’s love during this most treacherous time? How can you share God’s love with those who you are with every day and those whom you talk to only on the phone or online?
A reading from the first letter of Saint Peter
The author knows that his audience lives in constant danger, and he wants them to know that even though “you may have to suffer through various trials …. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth in a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
We know of no global pandemic that was threatening their lives, but they were threatened every day by an evil emperor. Over the years, many thousands of the early Christians died violently, including almost all of the twelve apostles, yet the community continued to believe and grow. May we learn from their bravery and their faith.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
This is the story of the man we call “Doubting Thomas,” but it is also a story about the Holy Spirit. “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you…. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”
Notice the progression of mission and power: from the Father to Jesus and then to the disciples and, of course, now to us. It all comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is in the power of the Holy Spirit that our sins are forgiven. The Holy Spirit is present in each of us. Amazing! We are never alone, never but especially in times of danger and stress as we are experiencing now.
But Thomas misses all of this, and when he is told he refuses to believe: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” So, there it is—a man who was with Jesus as a trusted disciple refuses to believe. Perhaps there were others who doubted, but here we have one true story of disbelief.
We know the rest of the story. Jesus invites Thomas to put his finger into his hand and his hand into his side “and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas doesn’t touch Jesus but simply says, “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus says something so powerful that it still reverberates to us today: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” We have not seen, but we do believe. How is that possible? Because we have the very Spirit of God living within us—always, every moment of every day.
We did not earn it. It is a pure gift from our all-loving, all-merciful God. It is an especially important gift now, in our time of crisis.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.