Branching Out Blog

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

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

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7)

It has finally happened. The Jewish people have been freed from the long Babylonian Exile in the sixth century B.C., and they can go home to Israel. But the Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, and their land has been devastated. Worse! The people themselves are in terrible shape. They interpret the ravaging of their city and their long captivity as punishment their sins, particularly for idolatry.

“Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry and we are sinful; all of us have become as unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; you have hidden your face from us and delivered us up to our guilt.”

Yet, all is not lost. “You, Lord, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever…. Return for the sake of your servants the tribes of your heritage.” It was the faith of so many of the Israelites that helped them through their painful captivity.

We should not interpret misfortune or illness as punishment from God, but we might, perhaps should, feel as though we are in exile if we neglect to give God the praise and gratitude that is due to him and if we do not live by his commandments. That feeling of exile is self-imposed, but, like the Israelites of long ago, we can return home. And for us, going home doesn’t require a long journey, only penance and a renewed commitment to the God who loves us.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19)
“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” Where do you see God’s face? In your loved ones! In those that you have not been able to see but remain in your heart and perhaps on the telephone? In the 54 million hungry people right here in America, 18 million of whom are children? In the hundreds of millions of poor and hungry people in our world, including the many millions of those struggling just to survive? We can’t help them all, but we can reach out to some and keep all in our hearts and prayers.

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

(Chapter 1:3-9)

“Brothers and sisters: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Do you believe that Jesus “will keep you firm to the end”? We do live in shaky times. Have you felt shaken by what is going on in your life or in our world? Have you tried to find time each day to pray to Jesus for that firmness that seems to be hard to come by these days? What have you been especially thankful?

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come…. What I say to you, I say to all. Watch!’” This is a major theme in Mark’s Gospel—Watch!

The early Christians were often focused on the end time when Christ would come again. We do not think in those terms today, but we do need to watch, to watch what is going on around us, in our families, our workplaces, our communities, and our world. How is Jesus present in each of these aspects of our lives, and how is he calling us to bring love and kindness and mercy and justice to all?

 ✝️

Photo by Waldemar 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. 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, Christ the King, Jesus Christ the King

"Hear the Word!" by Bill Ayres: Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King

Posted by Bill Ayres on Nov 25, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Ezekiel

(Chapter 34: 11-12,15-17)

Here we are at the end of another liturgical year. Next Sunday, December 3, Advent begins.

Ancient Israel was a pastoral country with numerous herds of sheep and many shepherds to protect them from predators and bad weather. David, who became Israel’s greatest king, was a shepherd who took good care of his people. Every king was required to, in a sense, be a good shepherd, but not all did. In this passage, Ezekiel has God saying that he will take care of the people in every way. In one of the truly moving passages in the scriptures, God says he will rescue them, give them land and rest, seek out the strays, and bring them back, bind up the injured, and heal the sick.

That and more is what our God does for us every day. God lives within us and all around us. That is true even when God seems far away, and we may feel unworthy or lost in depression, addiction, loss of a loved one, or some combination of painful situations. As we seek God, God is already there. We need only to be open and not think of God’s love as having magical powers. We ask for something, and there it is. No! What we have with God is never magic but rather mystery in the best and deepest sense—the mystery of unconditional love, a true ongoing relationship beyond our deepest longings.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 23:2-3, 3-4, 5-6)

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” We truly want for nothing, at least not what we truly need, because Jesus, our shepherd, is always there for us. We have only to ask and wait patiently, something that is most difficult for us to do.

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

(Chapter 15:20-26, 28)

A paradox is not the same as a contradiction. Our faith is full of paradoxes that are not contradictions. Saint Paul is talking about the paradox of the Resurrection. Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we share in new life. It is happening now, but the paradox is that it is not yet complete. As we have mentioned several times in these commentaries, Paul and most of the early Christians thought that the completion, the Second Coming of Christ, was coming in their lifetime. That did not happen, and so, over the centuries, we have learned to live in the paradox—the life of the Resurrection has already begun but is not complete. Let us focus on what already is and rejoice in it.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 25:31-46)

Many people call themselves “Matthew 25 Christians” because they hear this part of the Gospel as a call from Jesus for social justice. The words are powerful and challenging.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” Jesus says that then the righteous will ask when did they do all of these things for him, and Jesus replies, “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The next section has Jesus being harsh with those who did not do any of these things to help “one of the least ones.” So, where do you and I stand in our generosity and justice for those on the bottom of society? What is our responsibility? Can we actually do all those things for all those in need?

The key in this is to remember that we are not only individuals but part of communities. We can help through our parish outreach, by contributing to the Catholic Campaign collection, one of the most effective anti-poverty programs in America. We can also let our leaders know that we want them to provide services for those truly in need, through federal, state, and local programs. There are so many ways that we can fulfill our responsibilities to “these least ones.” It is one of the strongest commands of Jesus.

 ✝️

Image: Stained glass window at the Melkite Catholic Annunciation Cathedral in Roslindale depicting Christ the King with the regalia of a Byzantine emperor. January Detail from photo by John Stephen Dwyer.  Boston at English Wikipedia. This file is licensed under the This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported 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, Christ the King, Jesus Christ the King

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