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“Summoning them, [Jesus] began to speak to them in parables,’How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself,that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand;that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder the house.’
His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.’ But he said to them in reply, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother'” (Mark 3:23-27, 31-35).
 
There is no evidence that Jesus had anything but the deepest love and respect for his mother. His question “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” (Mark 3:33) is not a rejection of his earthly family, but rather a declaration that all who do the will of God are part of his family. By using the image of a family, Jesus provides an insight into the kind of relationship he expects among his followers. They are not to be like a kingdom or a house divided against itself, rather they are to carry out their mission as brothers and sisters. Jesus calls his followers to a collaborative ministry in which the unique, God-given gifts and talents of each person are respected and unselfishly put to the service of the whole.
 
The face of ministry in our Church continues to evolve. Pastors may not oversee numerous associate pastors as in the past, but especially in large parishes they do lead increasingly large and diverse staffs made up of deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and lay people. In addition to pastoral ministers trained in religious education, liturgy, music, and youth ministry, parish staffs often include business administrators,parish nurses, and a variety of support personnel. Staff members, in turn, work with a variety of volunteer ministers. The growth of these various ministries has often been called a sign of the Spirit’s work in the contemporary Church. When the ministers of a parish work collaboratively, the parish is usually full of life. When they don’t, the parish may be like the kingdom or the house divided against itself, which, Jesus says, “will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25). May our parishes be among those that stand and thrive!
 
Are there people doing the will of God whom I am unwilling to accept as brothers and sisters of Jesus?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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The Book of Exodus
(Chapter 24:3-8)
 
Animal sacrifice was common among ancient religions, including Judaism. As strange as it may seem to us today, this was a major step away from human sacrifice which some of Israel’s neighbors practiced. The sprinkling of the blood of an animal was a sign of Israel’s fidelity to the Covenant God made with the Hebrews through Moses. That is the origin of the expression “blood of the covenant.” Sprinkling blood was also seen as a cleansing ritual and an act of forgiveness from God to his people.
 
chalice
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18)
 
“I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” We certainly call upon the name of the Lord, usually in time of need, but how about calling on him in thanksgiving for all he gives us?
 
The letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 9:11-15)
 
The author makes the point to his Hebrew Christian readers that the blood Jesus shed in his crucifixion is much more powerful and meaningful than the blood of animals. Jesus is “mediator of a new covenant” that brings with it “the promised eternal inheritance.” It was a difficult challenge for Jews, who had lived their whole lives under the original covenant with God, to believe that there was something new and deeper through the sacrifice of Jesus. Most could not believe, but some did. They were courageous, facing the wrath of the Romans and exclusion from their synagogues. This letter was written to explain the new covenant to them and to give them hope in the midst of their conversion from a lifelong religious practice to something new and largely unknown.
 
The Holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 14:12-16, 22-26)
 
What Mark describes here is not just any Passover meal. Jesus sees it as the beginning of the new covenant, a powerful healing, and a promise of new life. The Eucharist that we celebrate together is not a reward for being part of the community or for doing the right thing. It is a healing, forgiving, peace-giving gathering that is meant to nourish us, to give us strength on our daily journey. If you know Catholics who have stopped coming to the Eucharist, please encourage them to return. This could be an important part of your ministry, helping people you know and love to come back to the banquet of unconditional 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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“The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover. While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God’” (Mark 14:16, 22-25).

Blood is mentioned in all of the readings for today and in each case it is used in connection with the idea of covenant. God marked his special relationships with people by establishing covenants with them. God’s covenant with the Israelite nation, for example, was celebrated with a special sacrifice of atonement. Each year, a high priest would liturgically put all the sins of the people on a single lamb, and that lamb would then be slain.

This gospel reading described Jesus sharing the great feast of Passover with his disciples and celebrating the liberation of the people of God from slavery. He pronounced the words, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

The next day, the disciples discovered the reality of that promise. The blood that sealed this new covenant was that of Jesus himself. God showed the greatness of his love in emptying himself to become human and shared in our humanity to the extent of death on a cross. Jesus, the Son of God, was now the lamb whose blood sealed the new covenant of love between God and all human beings.

By being the lamb, Jesus also inaugurated a new healing covenant. Every time we share his body and blood in the Eucharist, we are involved in that sacrifice that has the power to transcend time and space and meet us where we are.

There may come decisive moments, or even whole chapters of our lives, that require us to empty ourselves as Jesus did. People rarely receive awards or recognition for feeding the poor, tutoring the struggling, or “being the lamb” in countless of other ways. But, in doing these things, we build up the love that exists between ourselves and those we serve and between ourselves and God.

What are some sacrifices you have seen others make for you? How have those sacrifices impacted your life?

Adapted from “Word on the Go”, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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The Book of Deuteronomy
(Chapter 4:32-34,39-40)
Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah, written around the time of the Babylonian Exile (600 BC). It begins with the story of the Hebrew people wandering in the desert for 40 years, and this chapter focuses on the reality and power of God.
Trinity
It is important for us to remember that monotheism was not widely practiced at the time. People believed in numerous gods, so Moses wanted to be certain that the Hebrews knew what distinguished the one and only true God. “Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god ever venture to go and take a nation for himself, from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which the Lord, your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God.” This is not just any god. This is THE GOD, and this God is your God. How great is that?
 
Up until this time, people believed in numerous gods that protected them from all sorts of evils. Now, for the first time, the Hebrews recognized ONE GOD who was their God and personally cared for them. This was one of the great breakthroughs in human history.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 33:4-5,6,9,18-19,20,22)
 
“Bless the people the Lord has chosen to be his own (verse 12b).” This Lord would “deliver them from death,” and now he does that for us as well.
 
St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans
(Chapter 8:14-17)
 
Paul wrote in an age filled with fear, especially for followers of Jesus. So Paul writes to assure them. “Those who were led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ ” Abba is an Aramaic word that is the equivalent of “daddy.” It was the word that Jesus used in talking to his Father, and it denotes a deep intimacy with God, an unheard of way of speaking to God, yet it is the very same term for us now almost 2,000 years later. We too can cry out “Abba” to our Father.
 
The Holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 28:16-20)
 
In this reading, Jesus is approaching his last moments on earth, and he wants to make sure that his disciples will follow his teachings and bring them to “all nations.” Otherwise, his mission would not be fulfilled. “Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.’ ” All of the disciples, not just the apostles, were crucial for the continuance of the Gospel and the Church “until the end of the age.”
 
We are the present-day disciples. Have you ever thought of that? We are not simply a bunch of people who come to church on Sundays. We are a community of disciples, and Jesus calls us to spread the Good News of his love for all people, “all nations.” Sometimes, we think of that as the calling of missionaries, and theirs certainly is a distinct and holy calling. However, in our times we do not have to leave our country to encounter “all nations.” They are right here in our communities, and Jesus calls us to show our love to them as part of God’s people, whether or not they know or believe in the same God as we do. That is what the original disciples did. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they went way beyond their fellow Jews, eventually to the whole world that was known in their time. We need not go far to be the disciples of Jesus. We can start in our own families, our own communities, our own schools and workplaces, not with the power of our persuasive words but with the power of the love that lives in us every day. And we know that Jesus is still with us: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” That means FOREVER.
 
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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“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).

In event described in this Gospel reading, the disciples were invited to a special encounter with Christ, and, through them, the whole world was invited as well.

Imagine the fear and doubt the disciples must have experienced as they made their way toward the meeting place in Galilee. They must have hoped that the words the women spoke were true, that Jesus was no longer in the tomb and had risen from the dead, yet they probably tried not to get their hopes up too high. They may also have been afraid of what Jesus would say to them. They had, after all, abandoned him after his arrest.

Jesus did not only appear to them. He told them some of the greatest news in the Gospel, that he would be with them (and us) always! He commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This encounter helped the disciples move from hiding in fear to being courageous evangelizers.

Like the disciples, we may at times be hesitant to believe that God will meet us where we are, and to allow our encounters with God to make a difference in our lives. However, having faith and responding to our encounters with the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – will open up new horizons for us and may help us to find needed direction in our lives.

What encounters have changed the direction of your life? How did you see God in those encounters?

Adapted from “Word on the Go”, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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