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servant_leaderA reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 50:5-9a)
Here are three powerful sentences from this reading: “The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” “The Lord is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” “See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?”
Have you ever had the experience of God opening your ear or even your heart? Perhaps you had closed your heart to someone or to some truth, and you would not budge. But then, something happened, and you had a change of heart that helped you to see another side of the person or the issue that had closed you, and you moved on.
Did you ever feel rejected or even disgraced, but then someone came to your aid or your defense? Maybe God sent that person to you, because God is your help.
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9)
“I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” The line before this reads, “For he has freed my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” This amazing insight was written hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus Christ, who truly saves our souls from the ultimate death.
A reading from the Letter of Saint James
(Chapter 2:14-18)
Here is Saint James with a strong statement about the age-old question about whether we are saved by faith or by good works. His answer is clear. We need BOTH.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says that he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister says he has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well” but you do not give him the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also, faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Our parish has many excellent spiritual ministries, but we also have our social ministries to help those who have material needs. But that does not let us “off the hook.” Each of us needs to respond to those we know who are in material need by providing them help or connecting them with a person or an organization that has more resources. There are dozens of community-based organizations in our town and county that exist to help those who have problems. We need to become familiar with them or ask our parish social ministries director to connect us.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 8:27-35)
For many centuries, the Jewish people believed in the coming of a Messiah who would save his people and restore Jerusalem to its rightful place in the world. When the apostles first became followers of this remarkable man who healed so many people in so many ways, they naturally saw him as that Messiah. But Jesus was a very different kind of Messiah, a suffering servant.
In this reading, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They answer, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” But then Peter really gets it. “You are the Christ.” Jesus replies in a seemingly strange way: “He warned them not to tell anyone about him. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” Obviously, this is not the kind of Messiah that people had hoped for. What a disappointment! What a scandal! Jesus wants to keep all this a secret for the time being. He knows it is too much for his close followers and certainly for the people to accept.
Even Peter, who gets that Jesus is the Messiah, does not get what kind of Messiah he really is. “Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” Then Jesus says something even more shocking: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
That’s it! The so-called Secret of Mark is out. Jesus is a very different kind of Messiah, not the person that people had been expecting. This Messiah will suffer and die horribly, but he will rise after three days! No wonder so many people did not believe. It was not what they had expected. But really, it was so much better, because it came with a promise of everlasting life, not just for Jesus but for all. That means for all of us, now and forever. That is the greatest gift from Jesus: Life forever with our all-loving God.
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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I put my trust in your healing touch.
Unstop my ears and open my heart
to your message of justice, love, and compassion,
even when those words challenge me.
Remove the impediments from my speech—
fear, intimidation, apathy, or doubt.
Help me to proclaim my faith loudly
and my love for you with gladness.

I pray all of this in your holy name.

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

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healingA reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 35:4-7a)
“Thus says the Lord: 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.” This is a promise from the Lord that becomes very specific and includes assurances that “the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared,” “the tongue of the mute will sing.” Then, to top it off for people struggling in a parched desert, “the burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.”
This is God giving new life to the people of Israel who have suffered so much. It is a messianic prophesy of a new kingdom, a new relationship between God and his people. However, there is untold new suffering, new trials to come for thousands of years. Yet, people have returned to Isaiah, and this passage in particular, to give them hope. We Christians believe that this promise has been fulfilled in Jesus and we live in that promise.
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10)
“Praise the Lord, my soul.” How often do you say a prayer of praise to God? Most of our prayers are asking God for something or for forgiveness. Of course, those are necessary and often heartfelt prayers. But what about saying a prayer of praise that can be added to our prayer of thanksgiving or just stand alone in our moments of awe before our loving God?
A reading from the Letter of Saint James
(Chapter 2:1-5)
Most of the early Christians were not rich, but a few were and apparently there were situations in which the relatively rich person was given the choice seat at the celebration, and the poor man was treated shabbily. James wanted to put an end to that.
“For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say ‘Sit here, please,’ while you say to the poor one, ‘Stand there,’ or ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs? … “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who loved him?”
There was a time in many Christian churches when rich people “bought” the best seats in the church and had them reserved each Sunday. I have never known that in any parish I have been in, but I suspect it still exists in some places. You never know if someone sitting next to you may be “poor in the world” but is rich in faith.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 7:31-37)
People at the time of Jesus suffered many afflictions for which there was no medical cure. They also lived in continual political and economic chaos, feeling powerless in the face of oppression from the Romans and from their own countrymen who had power over them in so many ways.
So you can imagine how popular Jesus was because of his many cures. “They were exceedingly astonished and they said, ‘He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” But this is only one instance of Jesus healing. We know of many occasions when he healed someone of illness or infirmity, raised the dead to life, and—most important—forgave people for their sins.
Jesus was a healer, unlike any before him, and he wants all of us his followers to be healers as well. What opportunities do you see in your life for healing someone? Perhaps it is an emotional or spiritual healing or maybe the healing of a relationship. How about the healing of your marriage or your family? That does not necessarily mean that something is badly broken but rather that there are wounds of one kind or another that need the healing mercy of Jesus.
And, what about you? Where and how do you need healing in your life? Is it the loss of a loved one, the loss of some part of yourself that does not work the way it used to, the loss of memory, or simply the loss of a joy that used to be there every day of your life but now comes and goes. What steps can you take to restore your joy? How can you pray to Jesus to be with you on your journey to healing and wholeness? Jesus offers us healing gifts every day of our lives, but sometimes we are too busy or tired or wounded to experience them. His healing touch doesn’t work like magic. He wasn’t a magician; he was a healer.
Let us pray for whatever healing we may need and be aware of the healing gifts we are offered—in prayer, in the sacraments, in the empathy of others.
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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Life Begins at Forty was a 1932 bestselling self-help book by Walter B. Pitkin. It was very popular and influential. Although Pitkin did not coin the phrase “life begins at forty,” the success of his book put it into general circulation, so much so that after 1932 it became an American catchphrase for the remainder of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. There have been movies, songs, and two television series and several books that bear the same title.
I would like to claim that phrase for RENEW—the life of RENEW is beginning anew on this, our 40th anniversary. RENEW International is entering its fifth decade on mission for the Church and the world. And we believe life has just begun. During this year, we certainly are celebrating our founding and the many blessings God has poured forth on the Church through the work of RENEW, but we believe the best is yet to come. God is always doing something new.
For RENEW this milestone is about more than history; it is the impetus for us to look “Forward at Forty,” and that has been the motto of our observances. Our anniversary coincides with a critical period for the Catholic Church. A recent Pew Research Center study shows that a high percentage of millennials (ages 22-37) describe themselves as religious “nones” (atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular”). Today, more than 50 percent of those raised in Catholic households no longer identify as Catholics when they reach adulthood. Many factors have contributed to this reality, and the recent eruption in the sexual-abuse scandals has only contributed to people’s disengagement with the Church. We are poised to address these issues and, through our resources and programs, invite people of all ages to a renewed faith and energy to transform the Church for the sake of the world.
We began our anniversary celebration at the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. We continued in April with a Symposium on Pastoral Renewal that drew more than 200 lay men and women, clergy, and religious to Seton Hall University to hear presentations by national leaders in the field. The symposium was named to honor our co-founders—Monsignors Thomas A. Kleissler and Thomas Ivory, both of whom attended.
In September, we will mark the anniversary with a pilgrimage to important religious sites in Italy. And on November 4, we will conclude our celebration with a Mass of Thanksgiving at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Park Ridge, New Jersey, where Monsignor Thomas A. Kleissler, our longtime director, began his priestly ministry. Bishop Mark Bartchak of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnston will be the principal celebrant.
We invite you to come to this Mass of Thanksgiving and to join us at the reception that will immediately follow. With you at our side, we know that as we move “Forward at Forty” we will have even more to celebrate in the years ahead.
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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ToolsLoving God,
For the opportunity to find
work meaningful,
We thank you, God.
For those with whom we work,
We ask your blessing, God.
For the times we were not conscious
of our partnership with you,
We ask forgiveness, O God.

For those who have taught us skills
and wisdom and patience,
We praise you, O God.

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

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