Branching Out Blog

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 18, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Leviticus

(Chapter 19:1-2, 17-18)

“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” This is the beginning of a whole series of laws that Moses is proclaiming to the people, including how they are to treat one another. The reading ends with one of the most important: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus taught the same law many years later, and it is still most important today. Imagine how many millions of lives could have been saved and wars avoided if that “law above all laws” had been not only proclaimed but lived.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13)

“The Lord is kind and merciful…. He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion.” Do you know this God? This is the God of Moses and of Jesus. This is our God.

A reading from St. Paul's first Letter to the Corinthians

(Chapter 3:16-23)

Paul tells the Christian community in Corinth, “Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells within you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” Throughout the history of the Jewish people, they lived in awe of the temple in Jerusalem, and yet, their holy temple was destroyed. Paul is telling them that the true temple of God is within them, because the very Spirit of God lives in them.

This wisdom that the Spirit of God lives in us is a wisdom that is often neglected or not understood. In Paul’s day, there were many other wisdom teachers, Greek philosophers and so-called mystics, and he wants folks to know that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.”

In our own day, there are so many sources of information on the internet and in public media, but where is true wisdom? It is, as always, a gift from the Spirit, given in the spirit of Love.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 5:38-48)

Jesus said to his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes the sun shine on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.”

Moses told the people, “love your neighbors.” Jesus goes way beyond that to embrace enemies. He says that even tax collectors, who were universally hated, loved their neighbors. But imagine trying to love the Roman rulers who were killing Jesus’ followers and would continue to murder Christians for almost 300 years.

Unfortunately, the word “hate” has entered into our political and social discourse with increasing frequency. We hear it every day from all sorts of people and groups. Even when there is serious reason for disagreements, there is no excuse for hatred. It only breeds more hatred and division, not love. It is not the way of Jesus.            

 ✝️

Photograph by Dan Edge on Unsplash

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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Topics: Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Spirit of love, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Awaken to the Spirit, true wisdom

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 11, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Sirach

(Chapter 15:15-20)

This passage is in our liturgy because the author, a scribe named Yeshua ben Sira, writing about 200 years before the birth of Jesus, alludes to a thought from the wisdom of Moses: “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live.” Then later, he writes, “The eyes of God are on those who fear him.” The word “fear,” when related to God, has been often misunderstood. It means a sense of awe, not the cringing kind of fear that was often taught to children and adults to keep them subservient. True love of God “casts out fear.”

Have you grown up in the wrong kind of fear of God, one that has not allowed you to be close to the true God of unconditional love? I hope not, or, if you were taught that as a child, I hope you have learned the truth as an adult, that our Father has the kind of “crazy love” that Jesus taught us in the powerful parable of the Prodigal Son.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34)

“Blessed are those who follow the law of the Lord.” Jesus said that the whole Law was this: “Love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, your whole soul, and your whole mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Easy, right?

A reading from St. Paul's first Letter to the Corinthians

(Chapter 2:6-10)

“But as it is written: What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.” Paul tells us that the mystery of God is revealed to us through the Spirit who lives in us.

Do you tend to think of God as “up there” or “out there,” far away, not near to us? Yet here, Paul tells us that “God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” This is the same Spirit that lives within us.

So, that is the clue to prayer. It is not so much reaching out to God—who knows where?—but listening to the Spirit who is within us, and being aware of what is really happening in our lives every day. In our encounters with other people, in our daily routines, we can experience the mystery of God—momentarily or for a while. It need not be earth-shattering but rather a gentle presence. Rejoice in the Spirit!

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 5:17-37)

This long Gospel passage has some strong language from Jesus: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees interpreted the Law of Moses and how it was to be observed in people’s lives. Jesus challenged their hypocrisy and the control they exerted over the people. Jesus also looked beyond the letter of the Law: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgement. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement…. Therefore, if you bring your gifts to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Jesus follows with several other challenges, often using extreme language that was not meant to be taken literally, like throwing away an eye or cutting off a hand. The people at the time knew this to be what was called “Semitic exaggeration.” Jesus was calling people then as he calls us now to go beyond written law and live by the Law of Love.

 ✝️

Photograph: Statue of Yeshua ben Sira at Chatres Cathdral, Chartres, France.

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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Topics: Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Spirit of love, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Awaken to the Spirit

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 4, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 58:7-10)

“Thus says the Lord: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back against your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. You shall call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.”

This passage was written by a prophet in the tradition of Isaiah sometime after the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century B.C. Finally home after all those years, they needed to remember where they came from, be thankful for the end of their exile, and help those who were in great need. Taking care of the poor, the homeless, widows, and orphans has been a strong part of Jewish tradition through multiple centuries right up to today. It is also an important part of our Christian belief. Please ask in your parish how you can share your time, talent, or material resources.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 112: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9)

“The just man is a light in the darkness to the upright.” Are you now or have you ever been a “light in the darkness” to another person? Has anyone been that light for you? Do you ever think about who has given or received light from you and what that has meant for you?

A reading from the Letter to the Corinthians

(Chapter 2:1-5)

Paul is writing this letter or perhaps dictating it from prison. He does not know how long he will live, but he probably figures it will not be long. He knows that there are several teachers who are his competition, including people who have become Christians in name but who want to hedge their bets and expound on the teachings of Greek philosophers and other non- believers. Paul writes that he does not have the wisdom or eloquence of such teachers but offers something more valuable and true, the mystery of God.

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing when I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not of persuasive words of wisdom, but with the demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith may not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

Paul is no longer in town. He is in prison and is feeling threatened by those other preachers. His power is not in words but in “the demonstration of spirit.” He believes in the power of the Holy Spirit which dwells in all his converts. It is that same Holy Spirit that lives in all who are baptized. As I have said so often in these commentaries, that is the mystery of God in us—the Holy Spirit!

I never knew that as a child and teenager going to Catholic school, but when I finally “got it,” it made all the difference in my life. I hope it will in your life as well.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 5:13-16)

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. … Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

We Christians must not hide our light. That does not necessarily mean that we must constantly talk about our faith but rather that we must live it in our family lives, our neighborhoods, our places of business or school, and in our wider society, by standing up for the gift of life, social and economic justice, and peace, and by acting on behalf of those in need of our help, support, prayers, and most important, our loving presence.

 ✝️

Photograph by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

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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Topics: Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, care for those in poverty, Awaken to the Spirit

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