Branching Out Blog

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-Fifth Sunday of the Year

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

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 55:6-9)

“Seek the Lord where he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way. And the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

In this time of massive fires, floods, earthquakes, and wars, God can seem far away. In this time of so much death and suffering, Isaiah reminds us of the tragedy of the Babylonian Exile when many of those held captive in a foreign land may have thought that God had abandoned them. Isaiah tells them, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.”

This could be a time when tragedy can divide us and destroy us, but it need not be. We can “turn to the Lord for mercy” and see the good in one another and show respect for the natural world that nurtures us and yet now threatens us. We can “turn to the Lord for mercy” and show mercy for one another.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18)

Does the Lord seem near to you in these times of chaos? The Psalmist says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.” We each need to know our deepest truth and call upon the Lord from that truth. What is your deepest truth?

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

(Chapter 20c-24, 27a)

Paul was in prison and knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be killed. “Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death. For me life is Christ, and death is gain. …I am caught between the two. I long to depart from this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet, that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.”

Paul had a powerful purpose for living. What is your purpose in life? Has it given you the strength to carry on in hard times and joy in the good times?

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 20:1-16a)

It can be difficult to see what is fair about the situation described in this parable. A landowner goes out at dawn and hires some workers. After agreeing with them about their wages, he sends them to his vineyard. He goes out again at nine o’clock, then again at three, and finally at five o’clock to hire more workers at the same pay. “When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’” Naturally, when the latest laborers are given the same pay as those who have worked hard all day, the early workers protest. The landowner replies, “my friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Are you envious because I am generous?” And Jesus adds, “Thus, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

On one level, this parable is about the enormous generosity and mercy of God. What may seem like an injustice is really unbounded grace. But why did Jesus tell this story in this way if he wanted to simply say how generous his Father was? Some scholars say that he wanted to make sure that the first disciples would not look down on new disciples. All would be treated with the same unconditional love. That is the way God treats us today and forever: no discrimination, no hierarchy, only total love and mercy for all.

 ✝️

 

Painting: St. Paul in Prison, (1627) Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. 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.
 
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.

Read More

Topics: Bill Ayres, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, God's generosity

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-Fourth Sunday of the Year

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

A reading from the Book of Sirach

(Chapter 27:30-28:7)

“Forgive your neighbor’s injustices; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? Remember your last days and put enmity aside, remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.”

Please read that again and let it sink in.

It is so easy to focus on minor injustices done to us, a seeming neglect or inappropriate words. Wonderful relationships can be ruined, families torn apart. Why? Cannot justice and love be restored through patience and forgiveness? These are the same gifts we ask from God for ourselves. Without them, we are at a loss and isolated. With them, we are renewed and enlivened.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12)

“The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.” Is that the God you believe in? I hope so. It is the only God that exists.

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

(Chapter 14:7-9)

“Brothers and sisters: None of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, if we die we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be the Lord of the dead and of the living.”

Let’s think about that for a moment. Jesus is with us throughout our lives, every day of our lives and at the time of our deaths—especially then. Have you ever had the opportunity and privilege to be with someone who is dying? It is a sad time, a challenging time, but also a blessed time with Jesus and our loved one. It is a time when gifts are given. We can call forth those gifts for the dying person, and they will come to us as well in faith.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 18:21-35)

“Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy- seven times.’” Peter would know what Jesus meant. Seven was a powerful number in Jewish culture, and seven times seven would be heard to mean as many as needed.

But to make it clear, Jesus tells a parable of a king who forgives a servant who owed the king “a huge amount.” The servant had pleaded with the king: “Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full.” The master was moved with compassion, forgave the loan, and let the man go. However, then the servant found another man “who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt.”

Other servants saw what had happened and told their master. “His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

Jesus is using language and an example from his time, not ours, but the point is the same. We must forgive others if we want to ask God for forgiveness. Yes. Sometimes that is very hard, but it is what we are called to do.

Is there someone that you need to forgive? Ask the Holy Spirit who lives within you for the strength to forgive on whatever level you are able. Does it mean that you have to be best friends with the person? Sometimes it works out that way, but that is not always possible. What is possible for you? How can you take the first step or help a person you know to take that step toward reconciliation?

 ✝️

 

Photograph by Felix Koutchinski 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.

Read More

Topics: Bill Ayres, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, forgiveness, God's forgiveness

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 9, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Ezekiel

(Chapter 33:7-9)

God calls Ezekiel. “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.” In those days the “watchman” had a most important job. He stood on the top of the wall of the city and looked in all directions to determine if an enemy was approaching and then called out to warn the people. All the prophets were like moral watchmen, warning the people of dangers, not only those from foreign enemies but also those from within. Ezekiel had warned the people of the danger from the Babylonians, but they did not listen and now, when this prophesy is being recorded, they are in exile in Babylon. God tells Ezekiel not to give up trying: “But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, he shall die for his guilt but you shall be saved.”

Have you ever tried to warn someone about an impending danger only to have your warning fall on deaf ears? You tried to be the “watchman” or the “watchwoman,” but you were not heard. Sometimes, you can try again using different words or a friendlier attitude. If you are still not heard, ask yourself why you missed the mark. Were you wrong in voicing your concern, or did the problem lie with the person who has ears yet could not hear?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9)

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Maybe our problem is not that we have hardened our hearts but that we do not hear God’s voice—or, perhaps, do not listen for it. Try to take some time each day, when you pray, to just listen. This is not a one-off experience. Build silence into your daily prayer life and listen for that still, small voice that God is known for.

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

(Chapter 13:8-10)

Jesus said that the two great commandments were to love God and to love our neighbors. Paul makes that clear to the Christians in Rome: “Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Then he writes, “Whatever other Commandments there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Imagine if all of us Christians really believed that and practiced it, no matter who our neighbor is, whatever his race, whatever her religion or politics. As Paul concludes this reading, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfilment of the law.”

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 18:15-20)

The last paragraphs of this reading are extraordinary: “Again, amen, I say to you’ if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”

So, every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is there in our midst. And every time we pray as a family or with friends, or even when we are not praying but celebrating with each other in love, Jesus is there as well.

I don’t know about you, but I do not think of that presence often enough; and yet, it does not take much to deepen the experience by shutting out other distractions and concentrating on Jesus’ presence. He is here.

 ✝️

 

Al fresco painting of the prophet Ezekiel, Michelangelo Buonarotti, Sistine Chapel, Rome.

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.

Read More

Topics: Bill Ayres, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, God's presence

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 2, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah

(Chapter 20:7-9)

Being a prophet of God has never been easy for anyone, but for Jeremiah it was excruciating: “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” Wow! Talk about suffering and unhappiness, and this is only one of Jeremiah’s lamentations. Jeremiah had much to be unhappy about. God asked him to deliver a powerful message of repentance to the people in a time of crisis. Jeremiah did, and the people hated him for it and tortured him, imprisoned him, and tried to murder him. No wonder he was so angry with God and vowed to stop speaking about him; and yet, he stayed on message, faithful to his call.

Have you ever had a difficult call from God? Maybe it did not entail such a dangerous undertaking, but it had a painful effect on you. Perhaps it was the loss of someone you loved, a long illness, another kind of tragedy. Or perhaps it was having to stand up for truth and love in the face of rejection and condemnation. Whatever it was, you need not be alone in your suffering. A willing listener may not heal your pain but may lighten your load.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9)

“My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” This is the prayer of a man who lived in the desert and knew what it meant to be thirsty every day. Equating physical thirst with longing to feel God’s presence in our lives makes a powerful metaphor. If we thirst for God’s presence, especially in a secular world that tries hard to replace him in our lives, we have only to find a quiet time and place and open our hearts to him. He will be there.

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

(Chapter 12:1-2)

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may discern what is the will of God.” Rome, in Paul’s time, was a very sophisticated, cosmopolitan city. The Romans had brought clean water through a series of aqueducts as well as the best roads and architecture of the time, but they had also brought many false gods, a violent tyranny, and repression of Jews and other minorities. However, since the overall material standard of living was better than it was in most places in the ancient world, Christians could easily fall away from the deeper truth.

I think Paul would see a parallel in our society today with all its modern wonders but also with the over-the-top graphic violence, extreme injustice, distortions of sexuality, and worship of the false god of greed. He would ask us again to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 16:21-27)

In gospel passage read at last Sunday’s Masses, Peter gets it right. He identifies Jesus as the Son of God, and Jesus calls him the rock upon which Jesus will build his Church. Here, Peter gets it wrong. He can’t believe that Jesus will be killed: “Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. God forbid, Lord! No such thing should ever happen to you.” But Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” So now Peter is not being called a rock, but rather an obstacle, a “stumbling stone.” Why? “Because you are thinking not as God does but as human beings do.” That is certainly a great deal to ask of Peter—to think as God does—but it is necessary if Peter is to lead the Church. Be steadfast, like a rock not a stumbling stone.

Have you ever tried to think as God does? Suppose someone treats you unjustly and tries to make it feel as if it is your fault. You’re furious, and rightfully so, but what do you do? Do you focus your righteous anger on the offender and go after him or her? Or do you step back, ask someone you trust for advice, and then move forward, not seeking revenge but rather truth and justice? Suppose someone betrays your trust on a very important matter in such a way that your reputation is at risk? Or think of something that has actually happened to you. Did you respond in God’s way or in your way?

Jesus never asked Peter to be perfect. He knew all too well that Peter was an impetuous, imperfect man, but he challenged Peter to think “as God does.” It did not always work for Peter, and it won’t for us either, but we can try, one step at a time, one decision at a time, one move, one word that is more loving, more compassionate than before.

 ✝️

 

Statue of St. Peter by Pierre Etienne Monnot, Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome. Photograph © by Marie Lan-Nguyen/Wikipedia 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.
 
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.

Read More

Topics: Bill Ayres, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Saint Peter, Prediction of the Passion

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Twenty-first Sunday of the Year

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 26, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 22:19-23)

This is the sad story of two men who, in turn, held a powerful position in the royal house, being master of the palace. “Thus says the Lord to Shebna, master of the palace: ‘I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority.”

That seems to be it. God choses a new man who will be faithful and do the right thing. Shebna has been a bad, self-absorbed leader, so God chooses Eliakim who will do better. But that is not the end of the story, because Eliakim turns out no better and abuses his power to enrich his relatives.

This passage prepares us for the gospel reading in today’s Mass in which Jesus promises the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” to Peter, who will faithfully carry out his responsibilities. Does God ask less of us?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 138:1-2, 2. 3. 6-8)

“Lord, your love is eternal: do not forsake the work of your hands.” Another verse follows: “When I called, you answered me; you built up strength within me.” This is certainly a time when we need to call out to the Lord. He does not forsake us nor the millions of people who are in far worse condition than most of us and for whom we pray.

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

(Chapter 11:33-36)

This is the way Paul ends his Letter to the Romans:

“Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgements and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever.”

Paul was always aware that all that we have and all that we are is all gift. We do not have a “deal” with God: “You do this for me God, and I will do this for you.” Our very lives and all that we have are gifts. Let us give thanks today and every day. Even on, no—especially on the days when we do not feel especially gifted.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 16:13-20)

This reading has a question from Jesus, an answer from Peter, and a calling from Jesus to Peter. Here is the question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples tell Jesus what people are saying: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Good guesses, but no. Finally, “Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ … Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.’”

Then comes Peter’s calling from Jesus: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Peter is the one chosen by God, but Peter is far from perfect. At a crucial time, he denies Jesus, and after Jesus dies Peter is on the wrong side of one of the first major decisions for the early Church—whether non-Jewish converts must be circumcised. Peter says yes, but Paul says no. Peter eventually agrees. He is not perfect, but he is always faithful.

 ✝️

 

Painting: Peter the Apostle holding the keys to heaven and the pallium, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1610-1612. Museo del Prado. 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.
 
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.

Read More

Topics: Bill Ayres, Jesus walks on water

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Twentieth Sunday of the Year

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 19, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 56:1, 6-7)

The context for this passage is the return of the Jewish people from exile in Babylon in the sixth century before the birth of Jesus. Isaiah starts off with a call and a promise: “Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.” There were many foreigners who wanted to convert to Judaism. “Them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer…. For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” Isaiah is proclaiming a much more inclusive religion, one that welcomes foreigners.

Our Catholic Church in the United States has always welcomed immigrants and foreigners, including our own ancestors. Today, immigrants are still a growing part of our Church, and we welcome them.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8)

“O God, let all the nations praise you.” Imagine, if that really happened!

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

(Chapter 11:13-15, 29-32)

Paul refers to himself as “the apostle to the gentiles,” and he is saying that both Jews and gentiles have a history of rejecting Jesus. Yet, from their disobedience has come reconciliation. “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? … For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.”

God made a promise to the Jewish people and, even though many of them rejected Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, the promise remains. “Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that , by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. … For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all,”

Have you thought very much about God’s mercy? Pope Francis has and has written about mercy because he experienced it many years after he made a decision that harmed some of his fellow Jesuits in Argentina.

Whatever you or I may have done, the loving mercy of God is always there for us. We need only ask for it and express genuine sorrow.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 15:21-28)

Matthew wrote his Gospel especially for his fellow Jews. So, at first, he has Jesus being reluctant to deal with a Canaanite woman because she was not a Jew. “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” The disciples were annoyed at her. “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” But the woman did not give up. “Lord, help me.” Then, Jesus said something that seemed to be a rejection: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The woman was desperate and not deterred. “‘Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.’ … Jesus said to her in reply, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ … And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.”

Matthew clearly sees the mission of Jesus as the savior of Israel and yet, he adds this story that expands the mission of Jesus to all people. The lesson for us is perseverance, even when we too are desperate, frustrated, and almost without hope. God hears us but not necessarily on our time.

 ✝️

 

Statue of St. Paul by Pierre-Etienne Monnot, Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome. Photo © by Marie-Lan Nguyen/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.
 
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.

Read More

Topics: Bill Ayres, Jesus walks on water

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Nineteenth Sunday of the Year

Posted by Bill Ayres on Aug 12, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the first Book of Kings

(Chapter 9:9a, 11-13a)

How and when do we experience God in our everyday lives? I have written a book about that experience. It is called

“At the mountain of God, Horeb, Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter. The Lord then said to him, ‘Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.’”

So, Elijah stood outside and along came a heavy wind that crushed rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. Then, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not there either. Next came fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. “After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

That’s right, God was not in any of the powerful forces of nature, but rather in a tiny whisper. Of course, God does communicate to us in extreme or troubled times, but what about the quiet whispers that might come at any time, in any place—in prayer, and also during the everyday, ordinary times when we may least expect it. Has that ever happened to you? God is full of surprises if we have open hearts.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14)

“Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” When have you experienced the Lord’s kindness recently? Was it through the kindness of another person toward you or someone you love? Was it a physical or emotional or spiritual healing? How have you expressed your gratitude?

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

(Chapter 9:1-5)

Paul was a devout Jew before his conversion and had a deep sorrow in his heart for his fellow Jews. “Brothers and sisters: I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises: theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

Paul expresses a powerful, heartfelt emotion. He would give up everything for the conversion of his people. Of course, many Jews did follow Christ. They were among the first who did. Yet, others did not, and that was heartbreaking for Paul.

Many of us have also had heartbreaking moments when our children or grandchildren seem to have lost their faith or moved to a different faith. But we continue to love them and pray for them, believing that the Spirit of God continues to live in each of them, whatever we may think and however we may feel.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 14:22-33)

Have you ever been out in a boat in very bad weather? Jesus has just fed the multitudes, and now he is with the apostles who are going to fish. Jesus goes off by himself to pray.

“Meanwhile, the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came towards them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said and they cried out in fear. At once, Jesus spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’”

The impetuous Peter starts off okay, but then he becomes frightened by the waves and starts to sink. “He cried out, “‘Lord, save me.’ Immediately, Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”

This is not the only time that Peter lost his courage. As we know, he denied Jesus three times the night that Jesus was arrested. Yet, Jesus forgave him again and made him the leader of the apostles. Imagine that—a man with a big heart and a deep faith in Jesus, who was trusted by Jesus, failed him, and still Jesus called him to be the leader of the early Church.

Throughout the history of the Church, many of its leaders, including popes, have failed to live up to the trust given them; and yet, others have come forward in true leadership and the Spirit has guided them and us. We must have faith in the Spirit, especially in these challenging times.

 ✝️

 

Painting: Walking on Water by Ivan Ayvazovsky (1817-1900). 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.
 
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.

Read More

Topics: Bill Ayres, Jesus walks on water

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Seventeenth Sunday of the Year

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jul 29, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the first Book of Kings

(Chapter 3:5, 7-12)

Have you ever heard the phrase “the Wisdom of King Solomon”? This is where it originated.

“The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, ‘Ask something of me and I will give it to you.’ Solomon answered, ‘Give your servant … an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?’ The Lord was pleased that Solomon made this request. So God said to him: ‘Because you have asked for this—not for a long life for yourself, not for riches, not for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right—I do what you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.’”

Solomon could have asked for anything, but he asked for the one really important quality that would make him a great ruler, the wisdom to serve the people.

When you pray, what do you ask of God? Is it a series of things that seem important at the time, or is it what is truly important in your life and in the lives of those around you?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130)

“Lord, I love your commands.” Really? Do we always love God’s commands—not only the Ten Commandments but personal callings from God at different points in our lives?

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

(Chapter 8:28-30)

There is a provocative statement in this reading: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.” Do you believe that? Always? Sometimes, the “good” is hard to see in the moment, but eventually, you get it or at least accept it. But there are other things, other occurrences that you never seem to understand. Why did this person that you loved die at such a young age? Why were you treated so unjustly at work? Why did a person that you loved leave you? How can a horrible disease like cancer be a part of God’s plan? What good can come out of it?

Where is God amid so many disappointments and tragedies? God is always there, somehow, somewhere, in the love of supportive people, in the wisdom and care of people who somehow appear in our lives at crucial times, in our conversations with the Holy Spirit who lives within us. Yes! “All things work for good for those who love God.” The road is often bumpy and the journey painful, and still we travel on our everlasting journey into the mystery of God’s everlasting love.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 13:44-52)

Jesus preached a Kingdom but not of this world. To explain it, he used parables that the people could understand. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and then hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” Jesus also talks, in this discourse, about fisherman separating the good fish from the bad.

The point of all these parables is that the kingdom of heaven is a gift to each of us, not something we have earned. We need to accept the gift and experience it as what is most important in our lives. Let us behold the gift of new life, eternal life, that we have been given and live and share it joyfully, especially in our times of greatest challenge and need.

 ✝️

 

Image: The parable of the hidden treasure (left) paired with the parable of the pearl on a stained-glass window in Scots' Church, Melbourne 

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.

Read More

Topics: Bill Ayres, parables, parable of the pearl, parable of the hidden treasure

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Sixteenth Sunday of the Year

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jul 22, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Wisdom

(Chapter 12:13, 16-19)

This reading is praise for the all-powerful, just, and merciful God. “For your might is the source of justice: for your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all…. And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind.” There it is. The God of the Judeo-Christian tradition is powerful, just, and kind, and that is what we, too, should be.

I wonder how Jews who suffered through the Holocaust or Christians who lived through three years of terror in Mosul under ISIS brutality would have heard those words. What about people who live in our own country who are victims of violence or families in our own community who live with addictions that have taken or might take the lives of their loved ones?

Why doesn’t the all- powerful, just, and merciful God swoop down to fight these injustices and heal all this suffering? Of course, we know very well that fighting for justice and healing suffering is our job in partnership with God, though sometimes it may seem that God is too silent a partner. But maybe God is not really silent. Maybe we are not tuned into the powerful healing presence that is always there. Maybe we want healing and understanding only on our terms, not God’s. “I am with you always.” That is the promise of Jesus. Can we tune in? Can we be open? Can we get past what we think God should be doing and become aware of what God is already doing in our lives?

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16)

“Lord, you are good and forgiving.” Are you good at asking God for forgiveness and at giving forgiveness to others?

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

(Chapter 8:26-27)

Saint Paul has an answer to the questions we have been asking so far in this commentary. “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” If you and I ever feel as if we can’t really pray, as if we are not connected to God, that’s all right because the Spirit of God, the very person of the Holy Spirit, lives within us. It is the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us. It may not happen in the time that we want or in the manner we choose, but if we stay present, healing will happen.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 13:24-43)

In the gospel reading in today’s Mass, we have a series of parables about agriculture, the sowing of seeds and harvesting of grain. Jesus uses these stories because everyone in his society would know what he was talking about. They were almost all poor farmers who had to deal with dry rocky soil to grow the crops. What was worse, because of the power of the Roman Empire, most of them had lost their land and were forced to work as day laborers for unjust wages.

Jesus was talking about hope in the kingdom of heaven, not something in the far distant future but something that was growing silently right before their eyes and that continues to grow in our own age. He was calling a new Israel together as a powerful force for justice and mercy, just as he calls us now to be a presence of the kingdom of God in our society.

The kingdom of God is not a political reality but rather a way of living and believing that has the power to affect all of the reality that we live in.

 ✝️

 

Illustration, by Helen Gould Harmon White (circa 1900) in Christ's Object Lessons. 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.
 
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.

Read More

Topics: Bill Ayres, God's healing, Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Fifteenth Sunday of the Year

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jul 15, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 55:10-11)

Much of Israel when the prophet Isaiah was active—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 part of the prophecy of Isaiah read in today’s Mass was written as the people came back from the Babylonian Exile. At last they were home, but home was a desert. Isaiah assured 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 connected 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 witness the refugee crisis, conflicts in various parts of the world, seemingly intractable poverty in our own country and abroad, and the effects of climate change, we may wonder 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 not giving up, who are doing the right things in all these circumstances 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 St. Paul's Letter to the Romans

(Chapter 8:18-23)

The second reading in today’s Mass includes a statement by St. 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 in that time and place. 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 first fruits 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 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)

Many of Jesus’ contemporaries were farmers, so he often used examples from agrarian life. In the gospel passage read in today’s Mass, 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 choked 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 more widespread tragedy? Did you grow up with joy in your heart only to have it lose its power as you grew older? Have the “thorns of anxiety” choked 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 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 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.

 ✝️

 

Painting, The Sower by Jean-François Millet, 1850. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 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.
 
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.

Read More

Topics: Bill Ayres, Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

Subscribe Here!

Recent Posts

Posts by Tag

See all