Branching Out Blog

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Fifth Sunday in Lent

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

A reading from the Prophecy of Ezekiel

(Ezekiel 37:12-14)

The Babylonian Exile (597 BC to 538 BC) was a terrible period in the history of the Jewish people. After a war in which forces of the Neo-Babylonian Empire sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple of Solomon, a large number of Judeans were taken captive. Amid this tragedy, the prophet Ezekiel preached hope. Ezekiel lived in exile in Babylon which for thousands of Israelites was a grave. But Ezekiel has a message from God: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord…. “I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land…. I have promised, and I will do it.”

Ezekiel wasn’t preaching false hope. After the Persians conquered the Babylonians, King Cyrus freed the captive Israelites and sent them home to Jerusalem. In times of disaster, there are true prophets, sent from God, and false prophets. Sometimes, it is hard to tell the difference unless we listen to the Spirit dwelling within us and all around us.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 130:1-8)

“With the Lord there is mercy and the fullness of redemption.” Mercy is a key word for Pope Francis. He feels he experienced God’s mercy in a powerful way when he was a bishop in Argentina in a period of political strife and violence. It changed his life forever. He encourages us to seek God’s mercy throughout our lives.

A reading St. Paul's Letters to the Romans

(Romans 8:8-11)

Paul tells the Romans, “You are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you…. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”

As you know, Paul was not always a believer in Jesus, but once he “got it” he was all in. He experienced the Holy Spirit in him, and he knew the power it gave him to face adversity, torture, and even death. He believed that his mortal body would be given a new life after death. Jesus died and will live forever, a seeming contradiction but not for Jesus and not for us, because God’s Spirit lives in us.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 11:1-45)

Let us try to really get into this beautiful story: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Yes, Jesus loved everyone, but he was also fully human and had an especially deep friendship with this family. So, you would think that when Jesus heard that Lazarus had died, he would have rushed to comfort the family. No! “So, when he heard that (Lazarus) was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.” Then finally he said to his companions, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Of course, by then Lazarus was not only dead but already entombed. “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you…. Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will live forever. Do you believe this?’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord….’”

So, Jesus went to the tomb and “cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” John ends the story by telling us, “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what had been done began to believe in him.” Still, many more did not, just as many today who are Christians doubt that we will also be resurrected. Yet, there are only two choices: believe in resurrection or there is nothingness. I am going with Jesus and the promise of resurrection. How about you?

 ✝️

Painting: The Raising of Lazarus" by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Galleria Sabauda, Torino, Italy. This image is reproduced here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International .

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, raising of Lazarus, resurrection in our lives, Fifth Sunday of Lent

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Fourth Sunday in Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 18, 2023 6:30:00 AM

A reading from the First Book of Samuel

(Chapter 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a)

Saul was the king of Israel, but he had fallen out of favor with the Lord by not fully obeying instructions from the prophet Samuel. It was time for a new king who would be faithful and just. “The Lord said to Samuel: Fill your horn with oil and be on your way. I am sending you to Jesse of Jerusalem for I have chosen my king from among his sons.” Samuel knew that Jesse had seven sons, but which one would it be? Perhaps Eliab? The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him.” So, Jesse presented six of his sons, and the Lord rejected all of them. But Jesse had one more son, David, who was tending sheep. “The Lord said ‘There, anoint him, for this is the one.’” Why would God choose someone so seemingly inappropriate and so young? “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but God looks into the heart.”

Yes! That is the way God choosesnot by appearances but by looking into our hearts. Let us look into our own hearts, especially during Lent, a season of introspection. Do our hearts contain what God would hope to find there?

 Responsorial Psalm

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

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I should want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.” Whatever you are going through that is painful, stressful, or depressing, God will refresh your soul, even now. Call on him.

A reading St. Paul's Letters to the Ephesians

(Chapter 5:8-14)

“Brothers and sisters: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth…. Therefore, it says: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’’’

This theme of darkness and light has been used throughout history, because both elementsdarkness and lightare powerful and relate to our everyday experience. Entering a dark room, having the light go out suddenly, and having to read without good light can be challenging experiences. Light brings clarity, warmth, and comfort. So, as the author says, “Christ will give you light.”

In these times with their many shadows, ask Christ to give us, give you, light.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 9:1-41)

This is one of the longest gospel stories, and it has one self-evident meaning and one deeper meaning. Jesus meets a man born blind. In this culture at this time, someone is to be blamed for the blindnessusually, the blind person’s parents. That is why the disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answers, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” Jesus, on that Sabbath day, rubs the man’s eyes with clay and tells him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man does that, and when people ask him how he can now see, he tells them about Jesus healing him. Then the Pharisees ask him, and he tells them the same story. Some of them condemn Jesus: “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.” Others ask the formerly blind man, “What do you have to say about him since he opened your eyes.” He says, “He is a prophet.”

The Pharisees, who are supposed to be the truly religious people, condemn Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath and therefore did not follow the letter of the Law. For Jesus, the Law of Love that came from his Father was the true Law. The Pharisees remain in darkness, but the man has come into the light and can see because of his faith in Jesus.

Do you ever feel a sense of darkness in your life or in your very soul? It can come from within for any number of reasons: illness, disappointment, the loss of mental or physical abilities, or a loss of faith. It can also originate from outside events, threats, or broken relationshipsor a combination of such things. It may even be just one thing in an otherwise happy life. Where can you find the light amid the darkness? Is there an action you can take? Can you ask for someone’s help? The one source of healing and light that is always there is your Spirit, your lifelong partner who lives within you. Keep saying hello to the Holy Spirit.

   

 ✝️

Painting: Healing of the Blind Man, by Carl Bloch (1871). Frederiksborg Museum, Hillerod, Denmark.  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: healing of the blind man, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Fourth Sunday in Lent

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Third Sunday in Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 11, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Exodus

(Chapter 17:3-7)

In the scene described in this reading, the Israelites have been wandering in the dessert for years since their escape from Egypt; they are hungry and thirsty. They complain to Moses,“Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die of thirst with our children and our livestock?” In Egypt, they had led a horrible existence of slavery and violence; yet, that seems better compared to their present suffering. “So, Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people?’” The Lord instructs Moses to go to the rock of Horeb: “Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.”

So goes the continuing story of God’s relationship with the Israelites. With each crisis they face, their faith is tested, often beyond their ability to be faithful. No matter! God is always with them.

Thousands of years later, we face our own crises on personal and societal levels. A family member dies painfully, tragically, or unexpectedly. Sickness strikes. A relationship shatters. Addiction takes over a family. And then there are the crises of our society: the pandemic, hunger, poverty, homelessness, injustice, racism, sexism, climate change. Our relationship with God is tested in all these crises.

The key to our relationship with God and our spiritual, emotional, and physical health is what God has said to us in the Hebrew Scriptures and what Jesus said in the Gospels: “I am with you always.”

 Responsorial Psalm

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

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Do you know someone who has a hardened heart, someone who can no longer hear God’s voice? Maybe your prayer for that person will reach his or her. It may take a while, maybe a long while, but do not give up. “I am with you.”

A reading St. Paul's Letters to the Romans

(Chapter 5:1-2, 5-8)

Paul tells his brothers and sisters in Rome, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope for the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Let’s read that last line again: “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is not as though the love of God is something outside of us. No, it is within us, because the very Spirit of God is in us. Do you believe that God’s Spirit is alive in you?

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 4:5-42)

This is the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, and it links with our first reading about water flowing from a rock through the power of God.

“Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well…. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her ‘Give me a drink.’” The woman then asked, “‘How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman for a drink? For Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans….’ Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’”

The woman was skeptical and asked him, “Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I will give will never thirst; the water I will give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

This woman had a hard life, with five husbands, but Jesus did not condemn her. She believed in him and told everyone in town about him. Jesus wound up staying there two days, and, “Many more began to believe in him because of his word.”

The fact that Jesus spoke in public to a woman who was not his wifeand a Samaritan at thatshocked his disciples at first, but Jesus did not care. He wanted to reach out to someone whose neighbors might have seen her as a great sinner, so he said, “the Father seeks such people to worship him.” She did, and so did the other Samaritans who were considered by Jewish people to be heretics. We can declare with them: “We know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

   

 ✝️

Painting: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guernico), 1640-1641. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid. 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: woman at the well, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Third Sunday of Lent

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 4, 2023 6:30:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Genesis

(Chapter 12:1-4a)

“The Lord said to Abram: ‘Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those that curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.’ Abram went as the Lord directed him.”

Abram’s conversation with God marks the origin of the Jewish people. God tells Abram, whom he soon will call Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation.” These words often have often been a comfort and source of hope to the Jewish people during their historic suffering and their frequent dispersion.

The same is true for us today amid turmoil throughout the world and in our own country. Let us ask in hope for God’s blessing for our country and our world. And let us ask for that blessing in the name of our brother and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22)

“Lord, let your mercy be upon us, as we place our trust in you…. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you.” Let us remember that our hope, in God, is ever present and eternal. Do you believe that?

A reading St. Paul's Second Letter to Timothy

(Chapter 1:8b-10)

Paul is writing to his disciple Timothy at a time of persecution and death for the early Christians, and Paul wants to encourage them. “Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” How does your strength come from God? Do you ask for strength? How do you respond when it seems that no strength comes?

Paul writes that God “saved us and called us to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” The word “gospel” means good news, and the good news, as we know it, is that Christ Jesus destroyed the finality of death “and brought life and immortality.”

Do you believe the amazing promise that death is not the end, that we will live another life, that we are immortal? That is the teaching of Jesus, and it has been the teaching of the Church for more than two thousand years. It is the gospel, the good news, of our salvation.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 17:1-9)

“Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.”

The Book of Exodus tells of God making himself known to Moses. Matthew, who is writing for a mostly Jewish audience, wants his readers to know that Jesus too had such an experience and that Moses himself and Elijah were there. Of course, Peter is overwhelmed, especially when he hears a voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” Peter does not want to come down from the mountain. He is ready to build three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’’’

Have you ever had moments when you were, in a sense, “on the mountain with Jesus”? Maybe it was at Mass or in prayer or at a time of healing with someone you were present with in a deep way. Or perhaps it was simply being in nature or anywhere that you felt the presence of Jesus. Did you feel as Peter did and not want to “come down from the mountain”? These special moments with Jesus or with the Spirit or with our Father occur to help us deal with our everyday challenges, hurts, disappointments, failures. The key is being open to the mystery of God being with you.

  

 ✝️

Painting: Transfiguration of Jesus by Carl Bloch, 1865. Frederiksborg Palace, Hillerød, Denmark. 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, Second Sunday of Lent

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

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

A reading from the Book of Genesis

(Chapter 2:7-9, 3:1-7)

No one knows when the Book of Genesis was written, but biblical scholars calculate that it was sometime after the Jewish people came back from the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century B.C. and people questioned why God had allowed them to experience such prolonged misery.

This story of Adam and Eve is obviously an allegory, but it provides answers to two of life’s most important questions. Why are we not immortal; why do we all have to die? And, is there not some super wisdom that can protect us from making wrong decisions that might lead to death or ruin?

The authors answer these questions by telling a two-part story. First, “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” The authors wanted their listeners or readers to know that God is the creator of all that exists, and that everything God has created is good. It was important to begin the story in a positive vein for a people who had just been through the hell of the Babylonian Exile and for people who might experience similar horrors.

The story then turns dark. “The serpent asked the woman, ‘Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’” The woman answers, “It is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat or even touch it, lest you die’ …. But the serpent said to the woman: ‘You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” Of course, we know that the woman gives in to the serpent, eats some fruit, and then gives some to the man, Adam.

The authors answer both those seminal questions. We do not have immortality, because the woman and man disobeyed God, and there is no super wisdom to prevent us from wrong decisions and sin. Like Adam and Eve, we enjoy free will, and also like them, we are responsible for the choices we make.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17)

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” Let us ask for God’s forgiveness for any time we may have discriminated against another person, at any time, for any reason.

A reading St. Paul's Letter to the Romans

(Chapter 5:12-19)

Paul traces the root of sin to Adam and forgiveness of sin to Jesus Christ. “But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam…. But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” Notice the word “gift.” It is one of the most important words in our faith. Our life itself is a gift. Our faith is a gift. God’s unconditional love is a gift. We did not earn any of it.

For centuries, people have asked the question, “How can I get to heaven?” The answer is that we can’t do it ourselves. We need to accept the gift of life, of God’s unconditional love, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, our life partner, within our souls. It is all gift from our merciful Father who never stops loving us. Please share the gift with those you love and especially those you may find hard to love.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 4:1-11)

This is the story of one man’s battle with evil temptations. Notice who leads him and stays with him throughout: “At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus fasts 40 days and 40 nights, and he is hungry and vulnerable. “The tempter approached and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” That was the first temptation, physical hunger.

Most of us have not experienced that kind of extreme hunger, but think of the millions of our brothers and sisters all over the world who live with hunger every day. Jesus responds, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Then the devil ups the ante to life itself and tells Jesus that he should throw himself down from the parapet of the temple. Then, finally, he shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of this world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you.’ … Jesus said to him, ‘Go away Satan.’”

That covers all the temptations that you and I might experienceall sorts of hungers, lack of trust in God, and desire for power. Jesus faced them all, and he is with us in all of our temptations. We live in the mystery of God’s mercy and our life partner, the Holy Spirit, lives within us.

  

 ✝️

Painting: Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum. 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: first sunday of Lent, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, The Holy Spirit accompanies us

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 18, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Leviticus

(Chapter 19:1-2, 17-18)

“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” This is the beginning of a whole series of laws that Moses is proclaiming to the people, including how they are to treat one another. The reading ends with one of the most important: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus taught the same law many years later, and it is still most important today. Imagine how many millions of lives could have been saved and wars avoided if that “law above all laws” had been not only proclaimed but lived.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13)

“The Lord is kind and merciful…. He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion.” Do you know this God? This is the God of Moses and of Jesus. This is our God.

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

(Chapter 3:16-23)

Paul tells the Christian community in Corinth, “Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells within you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” Throughout the history of the Jewish people, they lived in awe of the temple in Jerusalem, and yet, their holy temple was destroyed. Paul is telling them that the true temple of God is within them, because the very Spirit of God lives in them.

This wisdom that the Spirit of God lives in us is a wisdom that is often neglected or not understood. In Paul’s day, there were many other wisdom teachers, Greek philosophers and so-called mystics, and he wants folks to know that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.”

In our own day, there are so many sources of information on the internet and in public media, but where is true wisdom? It is, as always, a gift from the Spirit, given in the spirit of Love.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 5:38-48)

Jesus said to his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes the sun shine on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.”

Moses told the people, “love your neighbors.” Jesus goes way beyond that to embrace enemies. He says that even tax collectors, who were universally hated, loved their neighbors. But imagine trying to love the Roman rulers who were killing Jesus’ followers and would continue to murder Christians for almost 300 years.

Unfortunately, the word “hate” has entered into our political and social discourse with increasing frequency. We hear it every day from all sorts of people and groups. Even when there is serious reason for disagreements, there is no excuse for hatred. It only breeds more hatred and division, not love. It is not the way of Jesus.            

 ✝️

Photograph by Dan Edge 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, Spirit of love, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Awaken to the Spirit, true wisdom

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 11, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Sirach

(Chapter 15:15-20)

This passage is in our liturgy because the author, a scribe named Yeshua ben Sira, writing about 200 years before the birth of Jesus, alludes to a thought from the wisdom of Moses: “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live.” Then later, he writes, “The eyes of God are on those who fear him.” The word “fear,” when related to God, has been often misunderstood. It means a sense of awe, not the cringing kind of fear that was often taught to children and adults to keep them subservient. True love of God “casts out fear.”

Have you grown up in the wrong kind of fear of God, one that has not allowed you to be close to the true God of unconditional love? I hope not, or, if you were taught that as a child, I hope you have learned the truth as an adult, that our Father has the kind of “crazy love” that Jesus taught us in the powerful parable of the Prodigal Son.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34)

“Blessed are those who follow the law of the Lord.” Jesus said that the whole Law was this: “Love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, your whole soul, and your whole mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Easy, right?

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

(Chapter 2:6-10)

“But as it is written: What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.” Paul tells us that the mystery of God is revealed to us through the Spirit who lives in us.

Do you tend to think of God as “up there” or “out there,” far away, not near to us? Yet here, Paul tells us that “God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” This is the same Spirit that lives within us.

So, that is the clue to prayer. It is not so much reaching out to God—who knows where?—but listening to the Spirit who is within us, and being aware of what is really happening in our lives every day. In our encounters with other people, in our daily routines, we can experience the mystery of God—momentarily or for a while. It need not be earth-shattering but rather a gentle presence. Rejoice in the Spirit!

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 5:17-37)

This long Gospel passage has some strong language from Jesus: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees interpreted the Law of Moses and how it was to be observed in people’s lives. Jesus challenged their hypocrisy and the control they exerted over the people. Jesus also looked beyond the letter of the Law: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgement. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement…. Therefore, if you bring your gifts to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Jesus follows with several other challenges, often using extreme language that was not meant to be taken literally, like throwing away an eye or cutting off a hand. The people at the time knew this to be what was called “Semitic exaggeration.” Jesus was calling people then as he calls us now to go beyond written law and live by the Law of Love.

 ✝️

Photograph: Statue of Yeshua ben Sira at Chatres Cathdral, Chartres, France.

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, Spirit of love, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Awaken to the Spirit

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Feb 4, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 58:7-10)

“Thus says the Lord: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back against your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. You shall call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.”

This passage was written by a prophet in the tradition of Isaiah sometime after the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century B.C. Finally home after all those years, they needed to remember where they came from, be thankful for the end of their exile, and help those who were in great need. Taking care of the poor, the homeless, widows, and orphans has been a strong part of Jewish tradition through multiple centuries right up to today. It is also an important part of our Christian belief. Please ask in your parish how you can share your time, talent, or material resources.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 112: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9)

“The just man is a light in the darkness to the upright.” Are you now or have you ever been a “light in the darkness” to another person? Has anyone been that light for you? Do you ever think about who has given or received light from you and what that has meant for you?

A reading from the Letter to the Corinthians

(Chapter 2:1-5)

Paul is writing this letter or perhaps dictating it from prison. He does not know how long he will live, but he probably figures it will not be long. He knows that there are several teachers who are his competition, including people who have become Christians in name but who want to hedge their bets and expound on the teachings of Greek philosophers and other non- believers. Paul writes that he does not have the wisdom or eloquence of such teachers but offers something more valuable and true, the mystery of God.

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing when I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not of persuasive words of wisdom, but with the demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith may not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

Paul is no longer in town. He is in prison and is feeling threatened by those other preachers. His power is not in words but in “the demonstration of spirit.” He believes in the power of the Holy Spirit which dwells in all his converts. It is that same Holy Spirit that lives in all who are baptized. As I have said so often in these commentaries, that is the mystery of God in us—the Holy Spirit!

I never knew that as a child and teenager going to Catholic school, but when I finally “got it,” it made all the difference in my life. I hope it will in your life as well.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 5:13-16)

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. … Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

We Christians must not hide our light. That does not necessarily mean that we must constantly talk about our faith but rather that we must live it in our family lives, our neighborhoods, our places of business or school, and in our wider society, by standing up for the gift of life, social and economic justice, and peace, and by acting on behalf of those in need of our help, support, prayers, and most important, our loving presence.

 ✝️

Photograph by Rohan Makhecha 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, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, care for those in poverty, Awaken to the Spirit

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jan 21, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 8:23-9:3)

We are in the eighth century B.C., and the Assyrian army has taken over the two lands of Zebulun and Naphtali—the northern Israeli homelands of tribes associated with two of Jacob’s sons. Isaiah says that darkness covers the land, but now, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed.” The Assyrians were terrible rulers, but now God has spared his people from their domination.

Today, countless millions of the poorest people on earth are under the rule of despotic powers, and millions more in more developed countries such as Russia, Iran, and China live under stifling dictatorships. Let us be thankful for our democracy and the Constitution that protects us, and not take these gifts for granted.

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14)

“The Lord is my light and my salvation.” There are times in our lives when the darkness seems to surround us, but the light of the Lord is always there to guide and protect us. Let us seek the light of the Lord when darkness tries to drag us down.

A reading from the Letter to the Corinthians

(Chapter 1:10-13, 17)

There are real divisions within our Church throughout the world and here in our country. As we hear from St. Paul today, this is nothing new. He beseeches the Corinthians, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you are saying, ‘I belong to Paul’ or ‘I belong to Cephas’ (Peter) or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? … For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”

As we know, there were real differences among the apostles and the various Christian communities, and yet, they stayed together. They worked out their differences. That is our challenge today, as it has been for Christians throughout the past 20 centuries—to work out our differences without bad mouthing the other side, and to focus on the great truths we all believe in that bind us together.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 4:12-23)

Matthew tells us that when Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested, he moves to the same land that we read about in the prophesy of Isaiah, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And Matthew reports that as Jesus “was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once, they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them and immediately they left their boats and their father and followed him.”

So, that is how it all started—poor, uneducated fishermen were somehow moved to make a radical change in their lives. Obviously, Matthew gives us only the short version of these conversations. There must have been much more said, but Matthew wants us to feel the immediacy and power of the call from Jesus.

You and I have a “call” from Jesus, not just once, but throughout our lives. We refer to it as a vocation, but not long ago that word, “vocation,” applied in popular use only to people who were called to priesthood or religious life. Now, we know that it is a call to each of us, perhaps several different and related calls. In any case, it is a call to serve others—as wife, husband, father, mother, sister, brother, friend, partner. Do you see your life as a response to a call from God, perhaps several calls at different times? Ask yourself if you feel called, if your life is a response to calls from God. Your calls are gifts as well as challenges. Have you said yes? It is never too late.

 

 

✝️

Painting: The Call of Saints Peter and Andrew, (circa 1603-1606) Michelangelo Merici da Caravaggio, Hampton Court Palace, 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: Christian unity, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, third sunday in ordinary time

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

Posted by Bill Ayres on Jan 14, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah

(Chapter 49:3, 5-6)

“The Lord said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.” Then later, the Lord continues, “It is too little … for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation shall reach to the ends of the earth.”

First, God is establishing Israel’s relationship to him, that of “servant,” But then God says that he will make Israel a “light to the nations.” Jesus also saw himself as a servant of his Father, eventually, a “suffering servant.” The word “servant” has a negative connotation in our society which proclaims equality for all, but what Jesus means by “servant” is quite different. It is a call to serve God and one another. It is a call to mission. It is a calling of strength and power, not weakness.

In what ways do you see yourself, in a positive light, as a servant of others? How do you feel about your service? Do you rejoice in it, feel put upon, or is it just something you take for granted? How do others serve you? Are you thankful for their service? How do you express your thanks?

 Responsorial Psalm

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

“Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” Have you ever said anything like that to God? Do you try to determine what the will of God is for you in a difficult situation, or in a very happy time?

A reading from the Letter to the Corinthians

(Chapter 1:1-3)

Paul starts out his letter with a greeting: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Christ Jesus, their Lord and ours.” Paul is writing to the people of one city, Corinth, but he wants the Corinthians to know that they are related spiritually to all who have been “called to be holy.” That means all the new churches throughout the part of the world that Paul and the other apostles have visited. Even then, Paul and the other apostles saw the Church as one, not as a series of individual churches but a community of churches. That is what we have today, except that our Church now is worldwide, universal.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 1:29-34)

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he may be made known to Israel. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

At every Mass, we have a prayer that refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” Here, the author tells us of the origin of this title that connects Jesus with the lamb offered at the Passoverthe animal whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts to let the angel of death know that the inhabitants were part of God’s chosen people and were not to be harmed. Jesus, as the Lamb, is also seen as the “Suffering Servant” who gives his life for the people.

The author of this Gospel is telling us that Jesus has always had the Spirit of God living within him. When we are baptized, we share in that Spirit. That is truly amazing, that God’s Holy Spirit lives within each one of us. I did not know that as a child, but I believe it now as an adult. I hope you also not only believe it but remember that the presence of the Spirit in you is dynamic, guiding you and being your life partner. Imagine that! God’s very Spirit lives in you. I hope you share that Good News with your children and all whom you know and that you talk to your Spirit partner often.

 

✝️

Photo: Image of the Holy Spirit, window in the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican.

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, second sunday in ordinary time

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