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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 55:10-11)
 
Most of Israel at this time—the sixth century before the birth of Jesus—was a desert or close to it. The people were dependent on the spring rains to grow food. This last part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah was written as the people came back from the Babylonian Exile. At last they are home, but home is a desert. Isaiah assures them that “the rain and snow come down and do not return till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed for the one who sows and bread for the one who eats.” Then, he connects it with something even more important. “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I send it.” The Israelites understood this, that God’s word is powerful and accomplishes what God intends.
 
As we suffer through another week of deaths and illnesses in the pandemic, we may wonder, in our darkest moments, where the word of God is taking root. It’s taking root in the free will and goodness and bravery of so many people who are doing the right thing and saving lives.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14)
 
“The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” Our hope is that the “good ground” of the world’s best scientists will yield the fruit that will heal the world. Let us pray for them.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 8:18-23)
 
Here is a statement by Saint Paul that we need to hear and understand: “Brothers and sisters: I consider that the sufferings of the present time are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed for us.” The sufferings that Paul was talking about included the oppression imposed by the Roman Empire and the grinding poverty that affected most people. But there is a great hope:
 
“We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, who also groans within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” I never thought of it what way, but maybe that groaning that we feel inside of us from time to time, especially now, is the Spirit inside of us, letting us know that we are not alone.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 13:1-23)
 
Most of the Israelites were farmers, so Jesus often used examples that they could understand. Here he tells them, “A sower went out to sow.” This was an important job. If you did not do it correctly, nothing would grow. “And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and withered for lack of roots. Some fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and chocked it. But some fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
 
“The disciples approached him and said, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’” And Jesus answered, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted…. But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
 
Then, Jesus explained the parable to the disciples: “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among the thorns is the one who hears the word but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
 
Now, let’s move away from agriculture to our lives today. Have you ever had the Word stolen from your heart? Was it because of personal tragedy or our present societal tragedies? Did you grow up with joy in your heart as a child, only to have it lose its power as you grew older? Have the “thorns of anxiety” chocked the Word in your heart? Do you worry about things that you cannot control and shouldn’t try to, but you do, over and over? Are you a one who hears the Word and understands it, and has it borne great fruit in your life? Or, have you had several of those experiences going on at different times in your life? Join the club! Or should I say, come to the community of us believers who do not always find it easy to believe but persevere in faith.
 
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.

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One day when I was around nine or ten years old, I was walking to the corner convenience store to buy a Popsicle to cool me off on a summer day. On the way, I noticed a bunch of buttons lying in the street. Hmm! I walked on by, but when they were still there the next Popsicle day, I decided to get a bag, take them home, and foster them. Why not? A little serendipitous treasure!
 
I got the buttons home and inspected them. They numbered around 50 and were quite interesting. The buttons had patterns on them: some green gingham check, some floral pattern, some raised butterfly, anchor, or beetle patterns. The buttons were small—-only about one-half inch diameter.
 
Those buttons sat in my button box for decades, like old friends-in-waiting. One day, I got creative and decided to use some of the floral buttons to decorate a plain yellow shirt I had purchased. I sewed the buttons on the bodice and sleeves. I now call this shirt my “blessings blouse” because those little buttons remind me of the plentiful, surprising, small blessings from the Lord that I have experienced in my lifetime—-like fancy buttons in the road.
 
And my gratitude grows the more I am moved to prayers and reflection. I recall other small things that lead to big and wonderful surprises. Look at Micah 5:2:
 

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is
from of old, from ancient days.

 
Or how about the conversion of Zacchaeus, who was a man of diminutive stature? He climbed a tree to see Jesus and grew, himself, from a sinful tax collector to a generous, repentant helper of the poor. (Luke 19:1-10).
 
Although we can find many examples in the Bible of big outcomes from small beginnings, in this season of tending gardens and watching vegetation grow, I point out two more which, I am sure, are timely familiar.
 

He put before them another parable: ”The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard
seed that someone took and sewed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds,
but when it has grown, it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that
the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32.)

 
Jesus tells us in Matthew 17:20b
 

“…if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain
‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

 
Finally, consider what Jesus did with just five barley loaves and two fish….a very small food supply for lunch for five thousand listeners! (John 6:1-14). Jesus fed all the people, and there were leftovers! What an example for us! I know we cannot work miracles like that, but sometimes our small gestures of kindness, our brief, fervent prayers, or our little gentle words of encouragement can feed the needs of others in our lives in big ways that are truly satisfying.
 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.
 
The scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Dear God, we praise and thank you
for Jesus who is your Word, your revelation.
Please help us to open our hearts,
our minds, and our lives
to your truth and your way.
Help us to accept our own burdens
and to be willing to work toward
easing the burdens of others.
We believe our lives will be easy
and our burdens light
if we are joined to your Son,
who is gentle and humble of heart.
Thank you for this great Incarnation of your love!
In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

 
Adapted from PrayerTime, Cycle A: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah
(Chapter 9:9-10)
 
Israel was surrounded geographically on all sides by larger, more powerful nations and was often conquered as war-like kings came riding into town in horse-drawn chariots. But the prophet Zechariah presents a quite different picture of the true king:
 
“Thus says the Lord: Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”
 
Zechariah is talking about the hoped-for messiah who we believe was Jesus who did not enter Jerusalem on a horse and chariot as a conqueror but on an ass, a beast of burden, as a servant. He did that intentionally, to make an important point about who he really was.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14)
 
“I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.” This king is not like any other. He is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.”
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 8:9, 11-13)
 
“You are in the Spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
 
Paul uses the word Spirit four times in this short saying because he wants to make sure that his readers know this most important truth, that the very Spirit of God, which we call the Holy Spirit, lives in each one of us. Do you believe that for you? Do you call upon the Holy Spirit, pray to the Holy Spirit?
 
I must say that as a young man attending Catholic high school and college, I did not “get it.” I prayed to Jesus and to our Father, who were apart from me, but not the Holy Spirit who I later learned lived within me. Coming to know the presence of the Holy Spirit within my soul has been a wonderful gift. Think about it. You and I are never really alone. We have the presence of God’s own Spirit within us—always, even in our darkest, most painful moments. Please take a little time to say hello and open your heart to the Spirit.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 11:25-30)
 
Jesus said to the apostles, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
 
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
 
The Jewish people were monotheists. They believed in one God who they thought of as their Father. Jesus is saying that he is the Son of that same Father and that he and the Father are one. So, Jesus is saying only that he is the Messiah but much more. He shares the very life of God. Many in his time could not get it, but Jesus wants those who do to know a different way of living—not under the yoke of an enslaver but in companionship with one who shares a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.
 
Sometimes, especially in these hard days, it might seem that our burdens are not so light but rather heavy: the constant threat of possible illness from the pandemic, economic hardships, disruptions in our worship, isolation from so many we love, and limitations on where we can travel and what we can do.
 
What are you doing to lighten your burdens and those of people around you? What are the main sources of life for you? Do you seek them out and rejoice in them? Let us remember to be in touch with the very Spirit of God who lives in each of 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. 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.

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I enjoy writing and am very conscious of words and letters. I enjoy word play, poetry, and the study of words. It is not a surprise, therefore, that I noticed the repetition of the letter P in recent news reports. For example, lately I see the words and initialisms: pandemic, protesters, protocol, politics, prejudice, PPE (personal protection equipment), and PPP (payroll protection plan). I don’t make light of the sad challenges our world is experiencing at the moment, but my brain started thinking of other uses of the letter P

for more positive words.

 
P is the first letter in prayer, and prayer is our personal and sometimes communal communication with our loving God. It should not be our last resort when all our other means of control come up short. Prayer should be our first and ongoing conversation with God, whether it is to express our love and gratitude or our cries for help.
 
P is the first letter in a title of Jesus: Prince of Peace. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah (9:6) declares that a child to be born—now understood to be the Messiah—would be called the Prince of Peace. While this verse is often repeated around Christmas, we know Jesus is our Prince of Peace all of the time. In fact, now is a perfect time to pray to Jesus and invoke him by that special name as we ask for peace in our hearts and in our societies.
 
P is the first letter in psalms The Book of Psalms in the Old Testament is a collection of songs of praise, thanksgiving, history, and supplication. The psalms can be great springboards for prayer: helpful starts to personal prayer time. A favorite of mine is Psalm 111 from which I take this quote:
 

Great are the works of the Lord,
    studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
(v. 2-3)

 
The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, begins with p, and the Spirit came with many gifts for us at Pentecost. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord are very positive, holy tools with which to carry out our evangelical mission of sharing God’s kingdom.
 
One more use of p that comes to my lettered mind is in the word praise. Every day we have so many opportunities to praise the Lord. Despite our difficulties, there is so much of God’s created beauty in nature, in our personal families, in our church families, in our own great potential, and in our hopeful hearts for which to praise him. For Jesus’ saving sacrifice for us, for giving us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, for His guidance, patience, and mercy—the list is endless, we rightly give praise!
 
Pray, praise, and prepare the way daily for the Prince of Peace….please!
 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.
 
The passage from Psalm 111 is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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