Branching Out Blog

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jun 3, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Exodus

(Chapter 34:4b-6, 8, 9)

“Early in the morning Moses went up Mount Sinai as the Lord had commanded him, taking along the two stone tablets. Having come down in a cloud, the Lord stood with Moses there and proclaimed his name, ‘Lord.’ Thus the Lord passed before him and cried out, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.’ Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.”

This is one of the critical moments in the history of Israel, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God and pleading with God, “O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins and receive us as your own.”

The false gods that Moses knew of at that time did not have the wonderful qualities that Moses attributes to the one true God: merciful, gracious, slow to anger, full of kindness and fidelity. That is the God that we believe in today.

Responsorial Psalm

(Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56)

“Glory and praise forever.” Yes, especially today, amid the horrors that we face in our society and in our world: warfare, millions of refugees, intractable poverty, climate change, and senseless deaths by gunfire. In these times, it may be harder for some to believe in this one true God, but it is ever more important.

A reading from St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians

(Chapter 13:11-13)

Here is a beautiful blessing from Paul to a people in crisis and great danger. “Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the love of God and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Here we have a trinitarian blessing has been used from the beginning of Christianity.

I remember being taught as a child in Catholic school that we are all created “in the image and likeness of God” and that God was not an isolated being but a community of personsFather, Son, and Holy Spirit. That being true, then we are all communal beings, starting with our families and moving out from there to friendships, various community groups, and the community of our Church. Of course, each of us is an individual, and we can and should pray to God in solitude, but praying in community is also something in our very nature. We don’t attend Mass only because it is an “obligation,” but because we want to worship in the assembly, the Body of Christ.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 3:16-18)

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Many people think of God as “up there” or “out there somewhere,” but God, the Father, shared his life with us in his Son, Jesus, whose body and blood we receive in the Eucharist. The Holy Spirit of God lives within every one of us. God is not “there” or “there.” God is here, now, and we can experience his presence as the Holy Trinity in the privacy of our prayer and in the celebration of the Paschal Mystery with the assembled church.

 ✝️

 

Photograph by Sharon Sentima on Unsplash.

Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Pentecost

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 27, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 2:1-11)

If you wonder why there were so many people from so many countries visiting Jerusalem on the occasion St. Luke describes in this passage, it was because Pentecost was a Jewish feast when pilgrims from all over the near world would come to the Temple to worship. But Luke tells us of strange happenings: “a noise like a strong wind” and “tongues of fire” images that recall the time God established the original covenant with the Jewish people. Luke wanted his audience to understanding that this was God confirming a new covenant with a new, diverse peoplehence the people of many languages understanding the apostles from Galilee. Of course, Luke wrote this a few decades after the actual events, and he wanted people to know that this was the beginning of something new that had its roots in a previous tradition and fulfilled that tradition. Today, we say that Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, was the birthday of the Church.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34)

“Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” Here is a common thread between Judaism and Christianity, the Spirit of God. The difference for us Christians is that we believe that the Spirit of God is not just “out there” somewhere but rather lives in each one of us. That is one of the major breakthroughs of Christianity. God is not some distant being but absolutely close to each of us, even when we might not feel that presence. We are never alone.

A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians

(Chapter 12:3b-7, 12-13)

St. Paul tells us that we may each have different gifts and forms of service, but what unites us is the one Spirit. And, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

You and I each have different gifts from the Spirit. Do you believe that? What are your spiritual gifts? How do you use them, share them? Can you appreciate the gifts of someone else, even though you might disagree with that person on one or more issues? That is particularly important today when our country and even our Church are often divided in many ways.

As we read the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St. Paul, it becomes clear that there were major differences within the early Church with so many groups coming in and out of focus, each believing that their version of the truth about Jesus was the right one. This has continued for some two thousand years and been the cause of wars and numerous unjust actions. It is only when we listen to the Spirit and act in the loving power of the Spirit that we have peace and true communion.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 20: 19-23)

Jesus says to the apostles, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so also I send you.” Then, “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”

These few sentences written at the end of the first century, long after the events described, are meant by John to validate the connection between the Church after Jesus with the powerful words of Jesus before he ascended into heaven. He conferred gifts, starting with the Holy Spirit and then the power to forgive sins. Remember, John is writing his Gospel during a time of persecution, and he wants to make sure that his readers know how blessed they are and how they are strengthened amid endless trials and dangers. The Holy Spirit is with them, just as it is with us today.

What are the special gifts that you have received in your life? How have you used them, especially the gifts of forgiveness and healing?

 ✝️

Painting: Fresco of the Pentecostal dove (representing the Holy Spirit) at the Karlskirche in Vienna, Austria.  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.

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Topics: feast of pentecost, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Seventh Sunday of Easter - The Ascension

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 20, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 1:1-11)

Saint Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, tells us here that Jesus “presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” So, is this the actual historical day when Jesus ascended to heaven? Maybe, but this same Luke writes in his Gospel, and John writes in his Gospel, that Jesus ascended on the day of the Resurrection. We do not know the exact day. What is much more important for us is that Jesus told his disciples that “John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you.”

With respect to his bodily presence, Jesus is leaving, but he is sending his Holy Spirit to be with the Church and with each one of us. We all have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, but we need to accept this most precious gift, the very presence of God in us. It is possible to turn away from the gift or even turn against the gift of the Holy Spirit. What is more likely, it is possible to simply forget about the gift of the Spirit or believe that it does not apply to us, or to give up on the Spirit when we fall into hard times and the Spirit seems absent or at least silent. Yet, the Holy Spirit of God never leaves us and becomes present to us in sometimes unexpected and amazing ways. Let this be our prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit.”

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20)

“Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.” Where is there joy in your life now? How are you thanking God for whatever or whoever is giving you joy, even amidst sorrow and frustration?

A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians

(Chapter 1:17-23)

This is a beautifully poetic description of the power of the resurrected Christ. “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”

Remember, Paul is speaking to a people who knew power, a fierce, often unjust and unloving power, the most powerful force in the world, the Roman Empire. They lived in constant fear and with few real rights, a poor beaten people. In the face of this, Paul talks of “the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.” Take that, Roman emperor! We have a different kind of power that you can find only in Jesus Christ. It is an eternal power from the man you killed but who defied death, rose again, and lives forever in the presence of God and in his Mystical Body on earth, the Church, which survives your empire.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 28:16-20)

The author of the Gospel makes a stunning remark, that even after seeing Jesus alive, knowing that he had been crucified and buried, the eleven apostles “doubted.” Did Jesus rebuke them or reject them for their doubt. No. According to the author, Jesus told them to go out and preach the gospel to all nations, and they overcame their doubt and did as he had asked. Doubt is a nearly universal experience for Christians. Exemplars of our faith, including St. Teresa of Calcutta and Thomas Merton have experienced it. But Jesus understands our limitations, embraces us as his followers and friends, and encourages us to carry on his mission on earth. When we doubt, we must remember his promise: “I will be with you always.”

 ✝️

Painting: Part of Rembrandt van Rijn's Passion Cycle for Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange (1636). 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.

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Topics: Ascension, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Seventh Sunday of Easter

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 13, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 8:5-8, 14-17)

Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a continuation of his Gospel. He wanted to show the growth and struggles of the first Christian communities. In today’s passage, we read about Phillip reaching out to the people of Samaria whom Jews considered heretics but who also looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. The Samaritans were converted because they saw signs. “For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed or crippled people were cured.” So when “the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

There seems to be some confusion in the early Church about when the gift of the Holy Spirit is givenat baptism or later, as here. Today, we believe that the Holy Spirit is given to us when we receive the sacrament of baptism and then strengthened with the sacrament of confirmation. Unfortunately, many of us were never really taught about this amazing gift of the Holy Spirit being present in us at all times, whether we realize it or not. Whatever befalls us or the world around us, let us remember that the Spirit of God is always with us.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20)

“Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.” Where is there joy in your life now? How are you thanking God for whatever or whoever is giving you joy, even amidst sorrow and frustration?

A reading from the First Letter of Peter

(Chapter 3:15-18)

The first Christians suffered greatly in several ways. Many of their Jewish brethren thought they were crazy or had lost their faith. The Roman rulers thought they were dangerous and disloyal to Rome. Peter tells the Christians, “Beloved: Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is the will of God, than for doing evil.”

That is so hard, suffering for doing good, being misunderstood, losing family or friends when you should not be blamed. Don’t give up. Try to work it out. But also, do not allow it to deeply harm you. Continue to pray but also move on as best you can to the more positive dimensions of your life.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 14:15-21)

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask my Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come too you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.’”

When John wrote this, he was an old man who had decades to collect his memories and try to convey the deepest meaning that he could. Many have called this a “Love Gospel,” and so it is. As an old man, John was still enflamed with the love he experienced long ago from a man who John knew was more than that, in fact, that Jesus was the Presence of God. That is the basis of our faith in the all-loving, ever present God who lives in us and among us.

 ✝️

Painting: The Apostle St. John Evangelista (circa 1611), Peter Paul Rubens. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain. 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.

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Topics: Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Sixth Sunday of Easter

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Posted by Bill Ayres on May 6, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 6:1-7)

In the early Christian community, there was often tension between the Hebrews and the Helleniststhe Greeks. In this reading, we hear a complaint from the Hellenists “because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (of food). So, the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’” This appointment of what we now call deacons is the first record of an ordination, and it made it possible to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the whole community.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19)

“Lord, let your mercy be upon us, as we place our trust in you.” Pope Francis has certainly become our “Mercy Pope.” He often talks about God’s mercy as a powerful force in his life and ours. When he was a young priest in Argentina, he failed to stand up for two of his fellow priests during a time of political terror. Afterward, he regretted this, but he experienced God’s mercy in a powerful way, and ever since he has tried to share this message with all.

A reading from the First Letter of Peter

(Chapter 2:4-9)

You are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

The Jewish people always understood themselves as a “chosen people,” and now Peter is saying that Christians, too, will be ”a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 14:1-12)

John, writing many years after the death of Jesus, wants to let everyone know who Jesus really was. The disciples certainly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and now John is saying much more.

In this account, Jesus says to Thomas, “’I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said to him, ‘Master, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in my Father and the Father is in me? … Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?’”

Later, John writes that Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” That’s it. There is a unity between the Father and the Son that is so close that seeing one is seeing the other, and “seeing” either is seeing the Holy Spirit. This is something so hard to comprehend that people still have trouble grasping it after two thousand years. But that is the point: we do not grasp it; we live in it. We live in and are nourished by living in the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

 ✝️

Painting: The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities (1681-81) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. National Gallery, London. 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.

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Topics: Father Son and Holy Spirit, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Holy Trinity

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

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

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 2:14a, 36-41)

“Then Peter stood up with the eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: ‘Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you have crucified. … Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and asked Peter and the other apostles, ‘What are we to do, my brothers?’” Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

Imagine how excited the apostles are. They are actually with Jesus. They know that this remarkable series of events really happened, and as witnesses they have both the power and the responsibility to share this “good news.” And, they have received the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit which they are offering to share with all who believe.

That is the same Holy Spirit that you and I have received and that lives within us every day of our lives. Think of the Holy Spirit as your life-long partner who is there every day, even when you are not aware of this powerful Presence.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6)

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” This is Psalm 23, perhaps the most popular and beautiful of all the psalms. Jesus himself said that he was the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for us, and he did just that. Then, of course, we have that assurance that has such great power for us now: “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.” Our journeys through life often lead us through dark valleys, but we are not alone. The Spirit of God is with us.

A reading from the First Letter of Peter

“Beloved: If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.”

How much suffering is there in your life right now? Is it physical, emotional, spiritual, economic, or some combination that may change day to day? Do you ever think of the suffering of Jesus? Certainly, there was extreme physical suffering, but there was also the suffering of rejection and betrayal, as well as the suffering that he knew would come, because of him, to so many people that he loved. That is not suffering that we read or talk about very often but it must have been there deep in his heart, especially regarding his mother, Mary, whose heart was certainly broken and slowly healed through her great faith and the love of his extended family.

Let us link our suffering to the suffering Jesus and look forward to the day when we, like him, will live in the presence of the Father who heals our deepest wounds.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 10:1-10)

I have never met a shepherd, and I doubt that many of us have. But shepherds were an everyday part of life in the Israel of Jesus’ time and for many centuries before. In this gospel story, Jesus uses the image of the shepherd to make two important points. Throughout the history of Israel there were many charlatans who were not what they pretended to be, not true shepherds of the people. To make this point, Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep…. The sheep hear his voice as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…. He walks ahead of them and the sheep follow him.”

Of course, today we don’t think of sheep as especially smart animals and we do not think of ourselves as sheep to be led, but for Jesus this was an appropriate image. The Pharisees claimed to be good shepherds, leading the people of Israel, but they were not. They were “thieves and robbers.”

Today, we do think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and even name many of our churches after him in that role. We follow Jesus as one who takes care of us far beyond the limitations of a title given two thousand years ago. He is our caretaker, our healer, our brother, and our Spirit Giver, leading us to our Father.

 ✝️

Statue of the Good Shepherd, circa 300-350 AD, Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome. Source: Wikimedia Commons. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: Good Shepherd, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Fourth Sunday of Easter

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

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

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 2:14, 22-33)

The Acts of the Apostles, written by St. Luke is an extension of his Gospel and was written perhaps 60 to 70 years after the death of Jesus. Luke was a gentile convert, so he has the apostle Peter especially addressing Jews who were potential converts. Luke wants his readers to see the connection between Jesus and King David. Just as God was on David’s side, so “Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God” and “God raised him up.” Finally, “he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured him forth, as you see and hear.”

The point is that David was loved by God in a special way, but with Jesus the connection is so powerful and intimate that the Father gives him the Holy Spirit which Jesus then gives to his followers. Each of us today shares this gift of the Holy Spirit who lives within us. Have you ever thought of the Holy Spirit as your life partner? I did not learn that through all my years of Catholic education, but later, when I finally “got it,” it changed my life forever. In a world beset by climate change, war, poverty, homelessness, and disease, it is comforting and empowering to know that the Spirit of God lives within each of us and accompanies us as we navigate life’s challenges.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11)

“Lord, you will show us the path of life.” Do you know what your path of life is? Is it something you have consciously chosen, or is it a path that you stumbled onto? In either case, do you feel that you are on the right path, God’s path for you? If so, stay faithful to the journey. If not, ask the Holy Spirit to show you the way.

A reading from the First Letter of Peter

(Chapter 1:17-21)

The author says clearly, “you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors.” This is a powerful sentence. Jews believed that salvation came from obedience to the Law of Moses. Peter and all the apostles believed that salvation came from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what we believe as well. Our salvation does not come primarily from observance of the commandments and the laws of the Church, as important as they are. It is a gift given to us by Jesus. We need only to accept the gift and live in the gift of God’s grace and mercy.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke

(Chapter 20:19-31)

This is the famous story of two disciples who meet a stranger on the road to a small town called Emmaus. We know the name of one of the disciples, Cleopas, who tells the story of the risen Christ. It has always interested me that the first people to experience the empty tomb were women and that the men did not believe them. These men are also confused about what really happened, and they do not recognize Jesus until he breaks bread with them. For the early Christians, meeting Jesus in the breaking of the bread was essential. It certainly was a Jewish tradition to break bread together and, of course, the most important occasion was when all the apostles were together at the Last Supper.

You and I can come to know Jesus a little more deeply every week in the breaking of the bread at the Eucharist. That does not happen automatically. It is easy to get caught up in the routine of the Mass, but the gift is there every time for us if we can open our hearts and minds to Jesus. It is also a time when we can come to know ourselves on a whole other level and open our hearts to those with whom we share life.

Like the two disciples, we are on a lifelong journey that I believe is a journey into the mystery of God’s all-powerful and all-encompassing love. The two travelers in this story had come from Jerusalem and heard the resurrection stories, yet they still could not recognize Jesus until, “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”

Let us see our weekly Eucharistic experience as a stop on the journey as it was for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, a stop that brings us closer to Jesus and to our truest, most authentic selves.

 ✝️

Painting: "Supper at Emmaus," 1606, by Michelangelo Merisi (Caravagio). Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan. 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.

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Topics: Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, road to Emmaus, Third Sunday of Easter

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Second Sunday of Easter

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

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 2:42-47)

Our Christian tradition identifies Luke, the disciple of Paul, as the author of the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke intended Acts to be a continuation of his Gospel to let people know what was going on in the first Christian communities. Today’s reading gives us a picture of what was important in the lives of our spiritual ancestors.

“They devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” It sounds wonderful, and so it was.

This was the very beginning of our Church, our faith. Most of these Christians were Jews, so they met for prayer “in the temple area,” but notice that they were “breaking bread in their homes.” They did not dare to break bread in the temple, because it would have caused a riot. They were trying to be good Jews and faithful followers of Jesus at the same time. All of this was during dark times in the shadow of the Roman rulers who had murdered Jesus and were already murdering the Christians. It was a fearful, challenging time, but it brought the believers together in a unique way to grow and protect one another in the face of continual danger.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24)

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.” How are you experiencing God’s love during this most treacherous time? How can you share God’s love with those who you are with every day and those whom you talk to only on the phone or online?

A reading from the First Letter of Peter

(Chapter 3:1-4)

The Resurrection is not only something that happened to Jesus two thousand years ago; it is something that we live every day. We were raised with Christ. There is new life for us, not only in eternity but starting now. We can live in the Spirit because the Spirit has been given to each of us. We do not live alone. We live in the Spirit and the Spirit connects us to one another. We are brothers and sisters in the Spirit. Let us rejoice in that, even on this dayespecially on this day.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 20:19-31)

This is the story of the man we call “Doubting Thomas,” but it is also a story about the Holy Spirit. “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you…. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”

Notice the progression of mission and power: from the Father to Jesus and then to the disciples and, of course, now to us. It all comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is in the power of the Holy Spirit that our sins are forgiven. The Holy Spirit is present in each of us. Amazing! We are never alone but especially not in times of danger and stress.

But Thomas misses all of this, and when he is told, he refuses to believe: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” So, there it isa man who was with Jesus as a trusted disciple refuses to believe. Perhaps there were others who doubted, but here we have one true story of disbelief.

We know the rest of the story. Jesus invites Thomas to put his finger into his hand and his hand into his side “and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas doesn’t touch Jesus but simply says, “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus says something so powerful that it reverberates to us today: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” We have not seen, but we do believe. How is that possible? Because we have the very Spirit of God living within usalways, every moment of every day. We did not earn it. It is a pure gift from our all-loving, all-merciful God.

 

 ✝️

Painting: "The Incredulity of St. Thomas" by Michelangelo Merisi (Caravagio). Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam, Germany. 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.

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Topics: doubting Thomas, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, St. Thomas, Second Sunday of Easter

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Easter Sunday

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 8, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

(Chapter 10:34a,37-43)

The Acts of the Apostles is a continuation of Saint Luke’s Gospelan account of the birth and earliest life of the Church after the resurrection of Jesus. In the passage read today, Peter speaks for the community and recounts the major events in the life of Jesus: his anointing with the Holy Spirit; his ministry of healing; his passion, death, and resurrection; and his reappearance, eating and drinking with the disciples. Peter wants everyone to know that he and the other apostles have been “commissioned” by Jesus to preach the good news and that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Imagine how difficult all this had been for Peter and the other apostles. They lost the friend and leader in whom they had placed all their hope. They gave up everything to follow him, and then they lost him to a horrible death. They could have called it quits and returned to their former lives. There were probably many who encouraged them to do so, but they persisted. Why? Because somehow, in ways we cannot understand, they still experienced the presence of Jesus, and they continued to answer his call. Because of those relatively few courageous people, we have a community, a Church, today. Let us be thankful for them and let their courage strengthen us as we continue our baptismal journey.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23)

“This is the day the Lord has made: let us be glad and rejoice.” What do you rejoice in every day?

A reading St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians

(Chapter 3:1-4)

The Resurrection is not only something that happened to Jesus two thousand years ago; it is something that we live every day. We were raised with Christ. There is new life for us, not only in eternity but starting now. We can live in the Spirit because the Spirit has been given to each of us. We do not live alone. We live in the Spirit and the Spirit connects us to one another. We are brothers and sisters in the Spirit. Let us rejoice in that, even on this dayespecially on this day.

A reading from the Gospel according to John

(Chapter 20:1-9)

It is remarkable that the Gospel reports that, in the deeply patriarchal society of the time, a woman was the first person to discover the empty tomb and alert the apostles. It is Mary Magdalene that tells the shocking news to Peter. When Peter and John enter the tomb, they get it. His body was not stolen. Something else has happened. They see and believe. Now, their challenge is to convince the others that they are not out of their minds, that something else had happened that they could not yet explain.

There is no historical account of the resurrection itself. We know that it was not a resuscitation. The physical body of Jesus did die. The risen Jesus was different, but so real that the apostles and many others placed their faith in him, and he in turn gave themand now gives usthe presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our Church. It is a matter of faith. It is, in fact, the basis of our faith. Happy Easter! Happy Resurrection! Happy new life!

Celebrate!

Share this table prayer with those you will eat with today. Pray together:

Christ has risen! Alleluia!

Loving God, you who create all things
and generously give us all we need,
we praise you and thank you for being present with us now
as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Son.

Thank you for accompanying us on our Lenten journey;
please be with us during this Easter season, and always,
as we strive to live as disciples of your Son.

May the breaking of bread, today and every day,
remind us of the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ,
who died to atone for our sins
and rose again so that we, too, may rise
and live in your presence forever.

O God, bless this food and we who share it,
and be with those who cannot share it with us.

We ask this in the name of the same Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

 ✝️

Photograph by Jonny Gios on Unsplash.

Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: Easter, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 1, 2023 6:00:00 AM

Procession: A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 21:1-11)

This is Matthew, a Jew writing especially for Jewish converts to Christ. Matthew wants to make sure he conveys that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah. That is why he has Jesus “riding on a donkey” as the prophet Zechariah foretold and describes the crowd crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”—words from Psalm 118.

There are supporters who believe Jesus to be the Messiah, and yet not long after, in this same city, another crowd yells, “Crucify him.” Have you ever wondered why the people of Jerusalem changed sides so quickly? As we hear later in the story, it was the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were threatened by Jesus that wanted him dead and roused many to turn against him even though it was not in the people’s best interest. It is a pattern that has continued throughout history.

A reading from the Prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 50:4-7)

This is one of the four poems called “Suffering Servant Songs” that depict a messenger sent to convince the people to be true to the covenant God had made with them. The Servant suffers rejection and even death while being faithful to his mission. The early Church saw Jesus as the embodiment of the Suffering Servant, as do we today.

Have you ever suffered for doing the right thing, for standing up for the truth, for helping someone in need? At times, we all may be called to be suffering servants but not people without hope. Our hope is in Jesus, especially in times of suffering.

A reading St. Paul's Letters to the Philippians

This passage was probably a hymn sung at early Christian liturgies that incorporates the image of the Suffering Servant that was familiar to the Jews of the time. But it goes beyond this image to one obedient to the point of death: “Because of this, God greatly exalted him” … “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”

This was a radical statement for any Jew to make. For Judaism, God is totally other, not embodied in some aspect of nature. God is God. That’s it. But here, the early Christians boldly sing of their belief “that Jesus Christ is Lord.” That may be easy for us to say now, but it was a dangerous song back then.

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew

(Chapters 26:14-27:66)

This is the most important part of the Gospels, and so we read the whole passage reverently. It is impossible to get the many parts of the story all at once. Please try to read all four of the gospel Passion stories, or at least one of them, sometime this week and talk about it with someone who shares your faith.

There are so many interesting characters and stories within stories. Let’s look more closely at Judas and Peter. Both betray Jesus but in different ways and for different reasons. Peter is afraid, afraid for his life. He knows how hideous the Roman crucifixions were. So, here he is the one chosen by Jesus to be the leader, the “rock,” and he crumbles. We do not know why Judas betrayed Jesus to the Romans. Was it just for money or were there other motives? In any case, Judas becomes so wrapped in guilt that he kills himself. He does not believe that he can be forgiven. That means that he did not really understand who Jesus was, the healer, full of compassionate forgiveness, and so he cut himself off from the gift that Jesus offered him. Peter recognized his tragic mistake and turned himself around, had a change of heart, and asked for forgiveness. Later, of course, he gave his life for Jesus and for the message of forgiveness. And what of Judas? Did his suicide mean that he was forever condemned for his lack of faith in forgiveness? We might be inclined to answer quickly, but remembering the dimensions of God’s mercy, we leave that judgment to him.

As we celebrate this Palm Sunday conscious of the millions of refugees living in poverty, the thousands killed or displaced by war and natural disaster, the hundreds of innocents killed by firearms, let us pray that the risen Jesus who overcame suffering and death will be with those who suffer throughout the world. Let us also ask ourselves what we can do to help our vulnerable sisters and brothers.

As you may know, I co-founded WhyHunger with the late Harry Chapin. We started the first hunger hotline in America, the New York Hunger Hotline. Some years later, we started the National Hunger Hotline which still operates at 1-800-548-6479. Over the years, we have helped millions of hungry people find food in their neighborhoods. During the past two weeks our calls have gone up 300 percent. If you know people who are hungry, please tell them to call that hotline. And if you can do anything to help hungry people near you or far away, please do.

 ✝️

Painting: Entry into Jerusalem by Giotto di Bondone (1303). Scrovegni Chapel, Veneto, Italy. 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.

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Topics: Palm Sunday, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres

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