Branching Out Blog

"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

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