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John Adams, one of the great patriots of the American Revolution and one of the architects of our government, led a complex religious life.
He was a practicing Protestant Christian, born a Congregationalist, but his religious views evolved over time until, at last, he became a Unitarian, meaning that he did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, although he did regard Jesus as the Savior.
Adams, the first vice-president and second president of the United States, was a regular churchgoer and an advocate of public worship. In the course of his career, he even attended Catholic Masses in far-flung places such as Philadelphia, Brussels, and Corunna, Spain, although he was generally critical of the Catholic Church.
His accounts of his experiences at Mass, preserved in his letters to his redoubtable wife, Abigail, sent a mixed message.
Adams seemed attracted to some of the external aspects of Catholic worship—for example, the vestments and tapestries and the music.
On one occasion, he described the homily as a “good, short, moral Essay upon the Duty of Parents to their Children, founded in justice and Charity, to take care of their Interests temporal and spiritual.”
However, he was repulsed by much of the ritual and personal piety—Latin prayer, rosaries, genuflections—he witnessed in Catholic Churches.
Ever the smart aleck, he summed up his observations in one church by writing, “Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination. Everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and the ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.”
What caught my attention in particular in one of Adams’ letters was his description of Catholic worshipers “bowing to the name of Jesus wherever they hear it.”
This is a practice that was instilled in me when I was a child, about 130 years after Adams had passed from the scene.
My contemporaries and I were taught that the name of Jesus was holy and that we were to slightly incline our heads when we pronounced it or heard it. That practice was so deeply ingrained in me that I still do it, almost as a reflex.
This little devotion is not the result of being simple and ignorant. It is the result always being conscious of who Jesus is—the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God among us.
This devotion that seemed superstitious to Adams and that might seem quaint now, strikes me as more appropriate than ever, considering how casually the name and image of Jesus is used in our culture.
The Jewish people famously consider the name of God too holy to speak or write; that is a healthy attitude for people who value their covenant relationship with the Father who has made them his own.
We Christians have a new covenant relationship with God that is founded on our belief that Jesus is who he says he is.
And if Jesus is who he says he is, then, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This post was initially published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen. Charles Paolino is a permanent deacon of that diocese.

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Let us collect our hopes, fears,
wishes, and dreams
for the fulfillment
of the Kingship of Jesus Christ,
and lift them in prayer to our God
who hears and answers us.
For the coming of a time of justice,
For the coming of a time of peace,
For the coming of a time of mercy,
we lift these prayers to you,
in confident faith that you will hear
and answer them.
We pray this in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you,
forever and ever.

Adapted from PrayerTime, Cycle B: Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, published by RENEW International.

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universeA reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel
(Chapter 7:13-14)
This is one of the last books of the Hebrew Scriptures, written about 165 years before the birth of Jesus. It was a time of persecution by the Greeks and it is written in the form of an Apocalypse, a popular form of writing at the time. The main character, Daniel, describes a vision of the of the end of the world. He sees “one like a Son of Man received dominion, glory and kingship; all peoples, nations and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”
The title Son of Man appears many times in the Gospels, and it is related to the idea of Christ as king. The notion of kingship is somewhat foreign to us in the United States since we fought a war of independence to free ourselves from a tyrannical king. But the meaning in Scripture is simply that Jesus is all powerful but in a beneficent way. Throughout the history of Israel, the people yearned for such a king and were almost always disappointed. We are never disappointed in Jesus.
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 5)
“The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.” Later in the Psalm, we read, “Holiness befits your house, O Lord, for length of days.” That means forever. Our God is forever.
A reading from the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 1:5-8)
This last book of the Bible is the most difficult to read and understand. It is attributed to someone named John, but probably not the same John that wrote the fourth Gospel. It was written during a time of persecution by several Roman emperors and was a polemic against them. The author pictures Jesus as the Son of Man who is “the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. … who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood. … Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All peoples of the earth will lament him.”
The author is writing to give his fellow Christians faith and courage in the face of persecution at the hands of unjust and cruel emperors. Today, we are fortunate to live in a land of freedom and justice, at least for most. We must cherish our freedom and work to bring freedom and justice for all.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 18:33b-37)
This is the famous scene in which Jesus has to defend himself before Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator in Judea: “Pilate said to Jesus, ‘Are you King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?’” They have a dialogue about whether Jesus is claiming to be a king and what that could mean. Finally we read, “So Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’”
Pilate is a very interesting and troubling character. We read in all four Gospels that he does not believe that Jesus is guilty of anything, but he does not have the courage to stand up for this belief. Why? It could cause trouble and cost him his job. Historians tell us that some years later Pilate did lose his job, because he massacred many Samaritans, thereby causing trouble that Rome did not need. Some scholars say that he committed suicide soon after at the order of the emperor.
The point of this Gospel passage is that Jesus is using a title that was very important in his time and place, “king,” but giving it a new meaning, going beyond anything that people could imagine—a king of souls. In that sense, we can call Jesus King, not of any one place of but the whole universe.
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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Creator of the wind and sea,
storms and distractions abound
as we move through our daily lives.
When all around us is crashing and shifting,
we often lose our ability
to keep our eyes and hearts trained on you.
We forget who you are
and our faith becomes fragile.
During these times, bring to mind
the many ways you have been present to us in the past,
and help us to experience your presence.
Forgive us when we doubt you,
and deepen our ability to trust.
I offer this prayer through Christ our Lord.

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

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel
(Chapter 17:10-16)
When you were a child were you ever taught that you had a guardian angel? Well, the archangel Michael was considered to be the guardian of Israel. Here, the prophet Daniel associates the appearance of Michael with these words from God: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall lie forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”
This is one of the few places in which the Hebrew Scriptures talks about life after death. At the time of Jesus, the scribes did not believe in an afterlife, but the Pharisees did. Jesus took the idea much further, promising resurrection and everlasting life to all who believed and followed him—a promise he made to us as well as to people of his own time.
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11)
“You are my inheritance, O Lord.” Did you inherit anything from your family? Was it significant? Did it make a difference in your life? Whether you did or did not inherit wealth, you have a priceless inheritance from Jesus—the presence of the Spirit of God within you every day of your life and the assurance of everlasting life with God. Let us remember this and rejoice in it.
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 10:11-14, 18)
Every day, the high priest went into the temple to offer sacrifices for sins. The author says here that these are “those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.” With Jesus, it is different: “But this one offered one sacrifice for sins. … For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.” Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, the ancient sacrifice is no longer necessary. Our path to forgiveness is through Jesus, and it is assured.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 13:24-32)
For centuries, the Jewish people wondered what the “last days” would be like and when they would come. This is understandable considering all they had been through—exiles, endless wars and subjugation, famines, droughts, betrayals, and numerous false prophets and bad kings.
The disciples of Jesus also wanted to know about the last days. So Jesus told them, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day and hour, no one knows, neither angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So, today, amid threats of nuclear war, global warming, massive fires, droughts, and floods, we need not think or worry about a scary end of the world as people have for thousands of years, but rather focus on the present. Our Father wants us to protect our beautiful earth in all the ways we are able but also to live life to its fullest, sharing the gifts we have been given with those we love and with those who may not be loved by anyone.
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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