Branching Out Blog

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: First Sunday of Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 17, 2024 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Genesis

(Chapter 9:8-15)

The term covenant is essential to understanding God’s relationship with Israel. It means a promise made by God to the people. This is the first covenant between God and his people—a promise to spare future generations from a devastating flood like the one that occurred in Noah’s time. This is all pre-history. There is no historical record, but it is a powerful story in which God makes a broad all-inclusive promise that includes protection of “every living creature.” A whole series of promises follow to Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah, each of which calls on the people to repent and be faithful to their promise. This leads to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ which you and I live today.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 24)

“Your ways O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.” If we keep our promise, our covenant with God we will live in truth and love. Of course none of us does that perfectly, but part of God’s promise to us is forgiveness, beyond any we can imagine.

A reading from the First Letter of Peter

(Chapter 3:18-22)

As we read about the persecution and martyrdom of Christians around the world, including priest seized in Nigeria and Ukraine, let us pray for them and all those throughout the world who die through hatred and violence. And let us remember the martyrdom of Jesus that Paul talks about here as he tells us, “Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.” May we continue to remember and honor all who have followed the New Covenant of Jesus and given their lives in his service. May they rejoice forever as they are brought to new life in the Spirit as Jesus was.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark

(Chapter 1:12-15)

The Jewish people wandered in the desert for 40 years after they were liberated from Egypt through God’s covenant. Jesus goes into the desert and is tempted for 40 days as he prays about his role in bringing a New Covenant of Good News to all people. He came to proclaim the reign of God, not in some future time but now. The Gospel, the Good News, is now, for us. We are loved now, as we are, not as perfect beings in another life. Now is the time to hear the Good News, but we need to take the time during Lent to hear it again, to relish it, to appreciate what it really means to us. Jesus went into the desert for 40 days to reflect on who he was and what he was called to do. What about us? Can we take a little time this Lent to consider the gifts we have been given, to be truly thankful for all God has given us, and consider our continuing role as people of the New Covenant? What is God calling us to do in our families, our work, our communities, and our parish? Our lives can go by so fast. There are so many obligations and tasks every day and so many distractions that keep us from reflecting on the Good News in which we live. How can we find our own desert place from time to time this Lent to awaken the power of the Good News in us and around us?

 ✝️

Image: Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness, William Hole (1908). Public domain.

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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC 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: Bill Ayres, first sunday of Lent

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 10, 2024 6:00:00 PM

A reading from the Book of Leviticus

(Chapter 13:1-2, 44-46)

This passage describes the remedy for leprosy while the Hebrew people were wandering in the desert after their liberation from Egypt: “If a man is leprous and unclean, the priest shall declare him unclean by reason of the sore on his head…. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” It was a prescription for a horrible death away from a person’s family and friends. Yet, it was written in the book that was to help the priests of the tribe of Levi govern the people. It seemed the lesser of two evils, because there was no way to cure leprosy and similar diseases, and isolation seemed like the only way to prevent the disease from spreading throughout the camp. As we will see in the gospel passage, Jesus had a different approach.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11)

“I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.” Do you turn to the Lord in time of trouble? Most of us do, and sometimes we feel better, a little relieved. Sometimes we even find an answer during our prayer, if we are listening. But there are times, perhaps many times, when it seems as if nothing is happening, no answers, no consolation. We are living in the immediacy of our pain or worry, and we want answers, healing of some sort, right now. We need to keep listening and to be open to answers and healing; that’s true even if they are not the answers we hoped for and even if the healing is not complete but only a step in the right direction that can be celebrated, not dismissed as lacking.

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

(Chapter 10:31-11:1)

“Brothers and sisters, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” I don’t think I have ever taken those words as seriously as Paul intended them, even though I have heard and read them numerous times. How about you? Do you think your working, sleeping, driving, playing, talking, give glory to God? They can. They are blessed. We are blessed. Always! Our lives give glory to God, not just when we are praying or celebrating the Eucharist but each day in so many ways that we take for granted. And our routines, which can seem boring even to ourselves, have a purpose and give glory to God. Let us rejoice that we are loved.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark

(Chapter 1:40-45)

“A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said ‘if you wish you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him ‘I do will it. Be made clean.” Now, remember the first reading from the Book of Leviticus which reported that someone suffering leprosy was to be banished, not healed, and if you touched a leper you too would be ostracized. Jesus broke the law about leprosy and then told the man, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” Of course, “The man went away and publicized the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter the town openly. He remained outside in deserted places.”

This is an extraordinary story, and it is only one of a dozen stories of healings in Mark’s Gospel. But here Jesus broke a religious law and, because he touched the leper, could be considered unclean himself. Imagine how threatening this was for the religious leaders. They had a law that in effect condemned innocent people to a horrible death, and this man, this nobody in their eyes, cured him.

One thing about Jesus that stands out throughout the gospels is his power to heal both body and spirit. In his death and resurrection, he healed us from sin and from death itself, gaining for us eternal life in the presence of God. Let us pray to Jesus the healer in our times of suffering and need and, at the same time recognize and use our own power, derived from his, to heal those around us of loneliness, despair, or material need.

 ✝️

Image: Jesus Cleansing a Leper, Melchior Doze (1864). Public domain.

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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC 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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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 3, 2024 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Job

(Chapter 7:1-4, 6-7)

Here is a cheery reading from Job, one of the most difficult characters in the Bible.

“Job spoke, saying: ‘Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings.? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages. So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. If in bed I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”

Ow! What is this doing in our liturgy? It is a part of Job’s dialogue with three of his so-called friends who try to dissuade him from believing in God. But throughout his seemingly undeserved sufferings, Job does not lose his faith in God, and in the end, he is rewarded.

Have you or anyone you know ever felt like Job? Suffering? Sadness? Tossing and turning at night? No help from supposed friends or family? I hope that has not happened to you or anyone you love.

What we can learn from Job and his life of woes is that he did not give in. He did not lose his faith in God, even when his friends did not comfort him. Now, not only does God care for us, but God is not far from us, as he seemed to be far from Job. No! God lives within us. His Spirit is with us always. We have only to listen, especially when we feel down, depressed, or deserted. The Spirit is God within us.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6)

“Praise the Lord who heals the brokenhearted.” Yes, sometimes our hearts do break for any number of reasons. But God is a healer. Ask Jesus, the healer of hearts, to help restore you to spiritual health.

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

(Chapter 9:16-19, 22-23)

Let us remember that the great Saint Paul that we meet in his letters was not always so great. He started off as a man who sought to murder Christians who he believed were following the wrong path. I have often wondered whether the Corinthians knew this when Paul came to preach to them. He seems to be trying to convince them that he is who he says he is, a true disciple of Jesus.

“Brothers and sisters: If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it…. Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.” Once he saw the light, Paul became filled with the calling to preach and live the gospel, the “Good News.”

You and I may not have the same passion to travel the world as Paul did to spread the “Good News,” but we can proclaim it in the way we live each day and witness to God’s love.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark

(Chapter 1:29-39)

This episode took place early in the ministry of Jesus, and right away we see that Jesus was a healer. “Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them. When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all that were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. Rising early before dawn, he left and went to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ He told them, ‘Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”

Jesus was a healer then, and he is now for us. Have you been healed by Jesus? No? Maybe not in the dramatic way that he healed when he walked the earth, but he does heal now in many ways. It is not as though we pray, and a prescription comes back to us to follow. It is rarely instantaneous. It is more like a lifelong relationship. Sometimes you may feel the power of Jesus working in some dramatic way, but more often it is an abiding presence. “I am with you!”

Jesus is with each of us in different ways at different times, even when he may seem far away. We need to abide with him. He always abides with us.

 ✝️

Image: Job Restored to Prosperity, Laurent de La Hyre (1648). Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC 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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"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jan 27, 2024 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy

(Chapter 18:15-20)

God has always sent prophets to guide his people, so Moses said, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among his own kin; to him you shall listen.” But Moses knew that there would also be false prophets, so he warned the people, “But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.”

Throughout the history of Israel, there were many false prophets but also many genuine prophets who spoke the word of the Lord and helped the people in their times of great need. Who are the true prophets and who are the false prophets in our world today? Who speaks the truth and who spews lies? Who calls for healing and reconciliation and who calls for violence and destruction? Whom can we trust in all the dimensions of our lives? To decide, we should begin by asking whether any message is consistent with the Commandments and with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 95:1-2. 6-7, 7-9)

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Where and how does the voice of God speak to you? In prayer and in times of quiet, in spiritual reading, or in conversations with people you trust? The voice of God may come to us from many sources. Let us pray to discern which voices deserve to be heard.

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

(Chapter 7:32-35)

“Brothers and sisters: I should like you to be free of anxieties.” Paul seems to be talking against marriage: “An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.” Then Paul says something similar to unmarried and married women.

All of this sounds as if Paul is disparaging marriage, and yet in other writings he is very positive about married love. What is going on here? We need to remember that Paul was not married, and so he was looking at marriage from the outside. More importantly, he believed that Jesus was coming again soon and that the world as he knew it would be gone. It is true that many thousands of Christians, including Paul, were martyred by the Romans, but the world went on and gradually people stopped regarding the end as imminent. They had enough to worry about under the harsh Roman authoritarian rule. What was important was living, whether married or single, as Christ would have them live.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark

(Chapter 1:21-28)

This episode takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. There are two important dimensions to his visit to Capernaum. The first is the evidence that he is the real deal, he has authority: “On the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

Jesus words were powerful, and so were his actions. “In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the holy one of God!’ Jesus rebuked him and said, ‘Quiet! Come out of him!’ The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.’ His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”

In ancient times, physical, mental, and emotional illnesses that were not understood might be attributed to “an unclean spirit.” What is clear is that the people saw in Jesus a healer and because of that could at least begin to believe in something deeper in him.

Throughout your life, have you sought some kind of healing or blessing from Jesus? Did it happen? Perhaps it did. Great! Give thanks! Or perhaps not, or so it seemed. But often, healing and other gifts are given, and we miss them. They might appear but not necessarily in the form or manner that we sought. You did not get the job you wanted or the life partner you believed was the right one. But that need not be the end of the story. There are new even more precious gifts in store for you if you stay in the Spirit.

 ✝️

Image: Statue of Moses by Carol M. Highsmith in the Library of Congress. Public domain.

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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC 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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"Hear the Word!" by Deacon Charles Paolino: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jan 20, 2024 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Jonah

(Chapter 3:1-5, 10)

The events described in the first reading today take place after the famous episode in which God instructs Jonah to call on the people of Ninevah to repent their sins, and Jonah tries his best to avoid the assignment. After being thrown overboard by the crew of a ship, Jonah is swallowed by a “big fish” which spits him out—conveniently enough, on the shore of Nineveh. In today’s reading, we hear that Jonah took the hint and delivered God’s message, the people of Ninevah repented, and God spared them the punishment he had threatened. The story urges us to submit to God’s will and to spread his message of justice, mercy, and righteousness, even when it difficult for us.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9)

“Good and upright is the LORD; thus he shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice and teaches the humble his way.” These verses from the psalm follow nicely the passage from the Book of Jonah, because they reassure us that God welcomes repentant sinners and forgives our transgressions.

A reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians

(Chapter 7:29-31)

“I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out…. For the world in its present form is passing away.” Today’s excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth reflects the belief among Christians at that time that the end of the world and the second coming of Christ were imminent. But we shouldn’t dismiss Paul’s advice on this and other occasions that folks should prepare for those events. We shouldn’t try to live at peace with God because we don’t want to get caught short when the end comes, as though we were playing musical chairs, but rather because we want to live at peace with God all the time. God has given us existence, life, the world that sustains us, loving relationships, and—most important of all—his love so great that he gave the life of his only Son so that we might live forever. Every aspect of our lives should reflect our gratitude for God’s generosity whether the end is near or a billion years away.

 

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark

(Mark 1:14-20)

Today’s gospel passage includes the episode in which Jesus offers to make Simon Peter and Andrew “fishers of men.” Jesus didn’t mean to confine that invitation to those brothers, nor did he intend to confine the target of their ministry to “men.” Jesus calls us to the same discipleship to which he summoned Peter and Andrew. That means that Jesus calls us to attract men and women to him by the way we live. That means showing that we are both grateful and proud to be Christians. It also means how others see us treating family members, friends, and strangers; helping people who are in material or spiritual need; caring for the earth; and worshipping God. How does that make us fishers of anyone? As the song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

 ✝️

Image: The Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew, Bernardo Strozzi (1581-1644). Public domain.

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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC 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: Bill Ayres, Christian discipleship, third sunday in ordinary time

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jan 13, 2024 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the First Book of Samuel

(Chapter 3:3b-10, 19)

“Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was. The Lord called to Samuel , who answered ‘Here I am, you called me.’ ‘I did not call you,’ Eli said. ‘Go back to sleep.’ So, he went back to sleep.”

This happened again and then again, but eventually Eli, a priest of the Temple, understood what was happening, that it was God calling Samuel. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”

Samuel went to sleep again and “the Lord came and revealed his presence.” “Samuel answered, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” Indeed, he was one of the most important leaders in the history of ancient Israel.

Each of us must make decisions in life—some minor, some life-changing, such as choosing a new school and a direction in life or deciding to marry and have children. How do you approach your callings and opportunities? Do you pray? And, most of all, do you listen to the Spirit who lives within you?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10)

“Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” Sometimes, it is certain what your path should be, but often, it is not clear. Is the voice of God coming directly to you in consciousness or dreams? How or through whom does the voice of God come to you? Can you say as Samuel said, “Speak, your servant is listening”?

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

(Chapter 6:13c-15a, 17-20)

Some of Paul’s converts thought that they could harm their bodies without harming their souls. Paul is very clear. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” Sometimes, we forget that the Spirit of God lives within us. There are so many ways that we can fail to take care of our bodies. That neglect will affect our souls as well.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 1:35-42)

This story is about the calling of Peter, but it does not start with Peter: “John (the Baptist) was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi,’—which translated means Teacher—where are you staying?’ He said to them ‘Come, and you will see.’ So they went and saw where Jesus was staying and stayed with him that day…. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah’—which is translated Christ. Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon, the son of John; you will be called Cephas’—which is translated Peter.’”

Peter, whom Jesus would make head of the Church, was not the first to meet Jesus. Andrew met him first and saw immediately that Jesus was the one, the Messiah. So, Peter came to know Jesus through Andrew who met Jesus through John the Baptist. On one level, it seems to be a coincidence. Andrew just happened to meet John the Baptist, listened to him, and was so moved by his time with Jesus that he told brother Peter. That is where it all started. But there are no coincidences. There is a call and a response.

We never know when we might be called to do something that may seem small but could have major consequences on our path to follow Jesus. I have never thought to pray to Andrew. Reading this passage now, after many years of reading and hearing it, I think I will have a conversation with Andrew who knew Jesus first.

May this year be blessed with peace, collaboration, and better health for all of us and our country and our world.

 ✝️

Image: The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio), circa 1603-1606, Royal Collection, Hampton Court Palace, London..

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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC 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: Bill Ayres, need prayer and reflection, second sunday in ordinary time

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: The Epiphany of the Lord

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jan 6, 2024 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Isaiah

(Chapter 60:1-6)

Most Jewish and Christian scholars believe that the prophecy of Isaiah was written by three different people at three different times. Today’s reading is from the last section of the prophecy, written at the end of the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century before the birth of Jesus. It is a time of great joy as the Jewish people who had been held in Babylon are allowed to return to their home. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you…. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”

The reason the Church reads this passage today is that in the birth of Jesus all this and more has come. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophesies and all the promises from God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13

“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” The psalmist knew when he wrote this, thousands of years ago, that it was not true, but he prayed that it would be some day.

A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

(Chapter 3:2-3a, 5-6)

Paul says, “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” The mystery he is talking about is God’s plan for salvation through Jesus. However, salvation was not only for Jews. “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body”

Most of the early Christians were Jews, and many of them thought that Jesus came only for them. He certainly did come to proclaim the reign of God to Israel, but Paul makes it clear that salvation is for all people. We are all called to be a part of “the same body.” Paul dedicated his ministry to all people and traveled far and wide to reach the Gentiles. The Church of the apostles that you and I live in and believe in is inclusive and not only in terms of ethnicity or nationality. Pope Francis refers to himself as a sinner. We are all sinners—a Church of sinners forgiven and saved by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to always reach out our arms and our hearts to those who have felt excluded or alienated from our Church.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 2:1-12)

There has always been speculation about who the magi were. The best answer is that we do not know, but the important clue Matthew gives is that they came from the East, meaning they were Gentiles. Matthew wants his predominately Jewish audience to know that their Messiah had come to accomplish the salvation of the whole world. He is a universal savior. Our Church is universal, “catholic,” more than a billion people scattered across the earth. Do you feel connected to any of these far-flung communities? Many of them live in poverty and are persecuted in places such as Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Pakistan. Let us pray in solidarity with them.

In the last century, we prayed for the conversion of communist Russia and freedom for what were called the Iron Curtain countries. Let us pray now for the freedom from hunger and poverty and persecution that m millions of our brothers and sisters suffer today.

May you have a happy and healthy New Year!

 ✝️

Image: Adoration of the Magi, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, seventeenth century, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio.

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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC 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: Bill Ayres, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 30, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Sirach

(Chapter 3:2-6, 12-14)

The Book of Sirach was written about two hundred years before the birth of Jesus when patriarchy was much more common than it is today when we are moving—though too slowly—towards equality between the sexes. Thus, the author of this book writes mainly about honoring the father and hardly at all about honoring the mother in the family. Here are some of the main points which, in themselves we should take to heart:

“God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. …Whoever honors his father atones for sins…. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children and, when he prays, is heard…. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life.” Then, the writer offers advice on how to care for an aging father: “My son, take care of your father when he is old…. Even if his mind fails, be considerate of him, revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten.” Sirach does mention mothers once more: “He who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.”

Most of us have heard this reading many times and perhaps have not thought much about gender inequality, because that is the way it was when this book was written. But we should remember that many women, around the world and in our own society, have still not achieved equality with men. Jesus, in his public ministry, publicly respected and acknowledged women in ways that were not common in that time and place. It is one of the many ways in which he was a model for men today.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5)

“Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.” The expression “fear the Lord” in the Bible does not mean a haunting, dominating, cringing fear of God’s punishment. It means respect, honor, recognition of God’s power, and openness to hearing God’s word.

A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians

(Chapter 16:25-27)

(Chapter 3:12-21)

Paul has some beautiful words for these people whom he loves dearly: “Brothers and sisters, put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love that is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts.” May those words guide our family lives and all of our relationships.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke

(Chapter 2:22-40)

Biblical scholars tell us that Luke was probably a Gentile convert who had studied the Jewish scriptures. He also wrote the Acts of the Apostles and was a companion of Saint Paul on some of his journeys. Luke’s Gospel was written sometime after those of Mark and Matthew but well before that of John, which is believed to have been written around 90 AD. That is important, because it means that Luke wrote well after the death of Jesus, when the Church had spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Luke wrote as dozens of churches had sprung up, and many people had died as martyrs for their faith.

Luke’s Gospel is often referred to as the Gospel of the Spirit, because he uses that term, “Spirit,” more than any other gospel writer, and he sees Jesus as the fulfilment of a long line of Jewish prophets, but as much more. Simeon, described in this passage, has been waiting all his life for the Messiah: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Sprit into the temple; and when the parents had brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God saying: ‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.’” As always, Luke makes the connection between his gentile roots and his Jewish faith fulfilled in Jesus.

 ✝️

Image: Presentation at the Temple, Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1232). Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Public domain.

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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC 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: Bill Ayres, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 23, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Second Book of Samuel

(Chapter 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16)

God made a series of promises to his people, recorded throughout the Old Testament, that are called covenants. The one described in the Second Book of Samuel is the Davidic covenant with King David and the whole Jewish people. God says that covenant will endure forever, an important thing to remember as we celebrate the birth of the Messiah.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29)

This psalm refers to the previous reading about the promise to David. The response that we sing is “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” Saint Augustine said that when we sing our prayers it is like praying twice. That is something to be aware of when we sing hymns or psalms.

A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans

(Chapter 16:25-27)

Paul talks about “the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages.” This is a mystery in the deepest sense of the word, not like a mystery story in which there is an answer, even though it may take a while for the detective to find out “who done it.” No! This mystery is the continual unfolding of God’s love for us in Jesus, and it is this mystery that you and I live every day. Imagine that! The true mystery of life is the unfolding of God’s love for us in and through our brother Jesus Christ. We live in mystery. Although we may not think about it often, it is always there.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke

(Chapter 1:26-38)

This reading is preceded by Luke’s account of the birth of John the Baptist. John is seen as the end of a whole series of Old Testament prophets through whom God visits his people. Jesus is someone entirely different: “The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” He is descended from the line of David through his foster father, Joseph, but he is born of his mother, Mary, a poor young woman, by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is all we know. A unique person is born in a unique way through the power of God. It is just the beginning of a unique life that has a unique conclusion. CNN or The New York Times were not there to record it. For us, it is part of our journey into the mystery of God’s agape, his unconditional love.

May you have a joyous Christmas and know that the Spirit of God is always within you.

 ✝️

Painting: St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, Guido Reni (1620s). Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. Public domain.

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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC 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: Bill Ayres, Jesus Christ is born, John the Baptist, Nativity

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Third Sunday of Advent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Dec 16, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 61:1-2, 10-11)

Have you noticed the continuity between the Hebrew scriptures, especially the prophets, and the gospels? That is because Jesus was a practicing Jew, a respected teacher and preacher who had studied and often referred to the scriptures of his people. Jesus quoted the first two lines of this passage, as we read in the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus is telling the people who he is and what his mission is. He uses these words of Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.” He is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel, and his mission is to heal, to bring freedom and justice to the people, and to proclaim God’s favor, God’s reign.

Isaiah is saying these words at the end of the long Babylonian Exile. Jesus will say them many centuries later to assure people that he has come to free them from their present captivity and proclaim the reign of God.

Responsorial Psalm

(Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54)

This week’s “psalm” is not from the Book of Psalms but rather the beautiful Magnificat prayer of Mary that has its roots in the song of Hannah in the First Book of Samuel. “My soul proclaims the greatness of God,” Mary sings. Her soul and her whole life certainly did just that. It is a powerful prayer to say at any time, but especially now.

A reading from St. Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians

(Chapter 5:16-24)

Here we have St. Paul dealing once again with one of the major questions in the early Church. The question for the early Christians, which may not seem urgent to us, was when the Lord would come again at the end of time. People in the early Christian community thought Jesus was coming in their lifetime. Of course, he did not, but Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians was on target nevertheless. “Rejoice always…. Do not quench the Spirit…. Refrain from every kind of evil.” It was good advice then, and it is now for us. This is a time for rejoicing, not just giving and receiving gifts. It is also a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus into our lives on a deeper level. How are you preparing the way for Jesus coming to you?

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 1:6-8, 19-28)

John the Baptist knows who he is. He does not have an identity crisis or a crisis over his vocation. He never thinks he is more than he has been called to be. It would be a wonderful gift if we all knew our true identities and calling. For most of us, learning that is a lifelong process. As we go on our journey into the mystery of God’s love, we are given many gifts, challenges, hardships, and healings. Numerous people appear in our lives. Some pass almost unnoticed, but others make their mark, sometimes happily and other times not. Can we humbly accept the gifts and use them well, treat the people with respect, whoever they may be, and keep our hearts open to wonder and joy even in the hard times of rejection, failure, or loss? John the Baptist was murdered, but his mission was not a failure. He died for Jesus. We are called to live for Jesus.

 ✝️

Image: Limestone panel with relief image of John the Baptist. From the Timlos Prodromos Monastery, Zakynthos, Greece.. Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, Greece. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC 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: Bill Ayres, John the Baptist, third sunday of advent

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