Branching-Out

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 16, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 1:4-6 )

This was written in the sixth century before the birth of Jesus, towards the end of the Babylonian Exile, when Cyrus, the ruler of Persia, conquered Babylon and allowed the people of Israel to return home. The author wants the people to know that it was through the power of God that Israel was saved.

“For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God beside me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that from the rising to the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, there is no other.”

Here we have the classic principle, “repetition aids comprehension.” “I am the Lord, there is no other…. There is none besides me…. There is no God besides me.” OK! you say. We get it. But that is the point. The people did not always get it. “You knew me not.” Why? How could that have been? Well, people worshiped several gods, and there was always a temptation to seek another that seemed to be more powerful.

You and I worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons, but sometimes we may be tempted or even seduced by the false gods of money, power, prestige, and empty pleasure. Temptations are always there, but during this time of COVID 19, emotional stress, isolation, financial worries, and boredom can challenge and sometimes overcome us, at least for a while. It is at these times that we need to reach out to someone we trust for strength and healing and take the time for prayer—often!

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 96: 1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10)

“Give the Lord glory and honor.” It is not that God needs it but that we need it. We need to stay in touch with God, in gratitude, and see what happens. Gifts will be given!

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians

(Chapter 1:1-5b)

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father…. For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”

Do you believe in the power of the Holy Spirit? Have you experienced it in your life? Did you ever think that something that went right for you, or something that seemed hopeless but worked out, or a gift that suddenly appeared, was through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within you every day of your life? It happens! Sometimes, we are “surprised in the Spirit.”

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Topics: Babylonian Exile, census tax, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Book of the Prophet Isaiah, catholic program renew, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Sunday readings, COVID, Power of the Holy Spirit, render unto caesar

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 9, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 26:6-10)

The mountain that Isaiah is describing is the mountain, Mount Zion in Jerusalem. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich foods and choice wines…. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face…. Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us.” There is an important progression here, from “Our God, to whom we looked to save us” to “he has saved us.” For thousands of years, the people of Israel have believed in a relationship with God that will bring salvation. That belief has a past, a present, and a future.

We, too, have a relationship with God, in Jesus, who, by his life and sacrifice, won for us our salvation. That relationship is based on his past time on earth, his presence now in our lives, in our Church, and in the sacramentsespecially the Eucharistand in our future life with him forever.

Responsorial Psalm

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

“I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” On one level, the “house of the Lord” is our Church. On another level, it is our own relationship with God. Has the COVID19 pandemic changed your relationship with God? Has it deepened it or damaged it? Do you pray for the victims every day and for those suffering in related ways? Can you do anything to help?

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians

(Chapter 4:12-14, 19-20)

Paul had a very exciting life, filled with hunger, poverty, abandonment, imprisonments, and also endless travels, celebrations, achievements beyond expectation, a growing wisdom, and deep faith. When he was in need, the people of Philippi reached out to him, and he responded, “Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I also know how to live with abundance…. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress…. My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

There is one line here that tells us who Paul was and how he lived: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Have you ever thought about that statement in terms of your own life? Have you ever done something that was extremely challenging and later wondered how you were able to do it? Try it. You might be surprised, and it might give you the strength to face something else that is seemingly beyond your abilities. You may be delighted at what you and Jesus can accomplish together.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 22:1-14)

This is a very complex parable and one of the most difficult to understand. Here is the first part: “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” He sent his servants “to summon the invited guests to the feast.” They refused to come. Jesus is probably talking about a whole series of prophets whose messages were rejected. The king tried again, sending other servants. “Some ignored the invitation and went away…. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them and killed them…. Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come…. The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they had found, good and bad alike, and the hall was filled with guests.” Jesus is talking about the new Christian community, to which all are invited, both Jews and pagans.

The parable ends with a strange addition. One man who came was “not dressed in a wedding garment” and the king ordered his servants to “cast him into the darkness outside.” What? The man is excluded because he did not have the right garment? No, the wedding garment is a symbol of something, but what? What could possibly exclude anyone from the kingdom of God? There are many possibilities, but none of them count if the person ultimately turns away from whatever sin caused the banishment. There is always another chance in God’s eternal mercy.

Image: ”The Wedding Feast” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube

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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: kingdom of God, parable, Wedding Feast, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Book of the Prophet Isaiah, catholic program renew, house of the Lord, Psalm 23, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Sunday readings, The kingdom of God is at hand, COVID, vineyard of the Lord, wedding garment

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Oct 2, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 5:1-7)

Vineyards were important in the ancient world because grapes were sweet to eat and wine was a favorite drink. Isaiah tells a story about a man who took very good care of his vineyard only to find that it did not bear sweet fruit but only wild, useless grapes. So, the owner destroyed the vineyard.

Isaiah then tells the people, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgement, but see, bloodshed; for justice, but hark, the outcry!” The outcry is from the people who are oppressed, and God’s judgement is upon them.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20)

“The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” But our Psalm ends with a plea: “O Lord of hosts, restore us; if your face shines upon us, then we shall be saved.” What a beautiful image! Have you ever thought that the face of God shines upon you? No? You are not worthy? No! The all-powerful love of God can overcome any faults we may have.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians

(Chapter 4:6-9)

“Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is telling the Philippians to “have no anxiety at all.” Of course, they had much to be anxious about. Their neighbors could turn them in to the Roman authorities, and they might have been tortured and or killed. That did happen to thousands of Christians, but many more were spared. Paul assures them that, amid all this danger, they will have “the peace of God … in Christ Jesus.”

Until this year, it was hard to relate the terrifying experience of the first Christians to our lives today. Not now, thanks to the COVID 19 virus. Paul tells us today, “The God of peace will be with you.” In our crazy world, is the “God of peace” with you? Where have you found some peace in your life, some joy amidst sadness, deep inner love amidst division and the violence of words if not actions? The peace of God is always there. We have only to ask and believe.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 21:33-43)

This long parable is the story of a landowner who planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants to harvest it and then share the produce. He sent his servants twice “to obtain his harvest,” but the tenants killed them. “Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’” But they killed the son too. “Jesus said to them, ‘Did you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

Jesus is saying this to “the chief priests and elders.” They and their predecessors have persecuted the prophets and they will kill Jesus, just as the tenants in the parable killed the landowner’s son. The kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to his disciples and their followers. We do not use the word “kingdom” very much today, but that is where we live and where we are headed.

Image:”The Wicked Tenants” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube

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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: kingdom of God, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, RENEW International, Sunday readings, COVID, the stone the builders rejected, parable of the wicked tenants, vineyard of the Lord

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 25, 2020 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 18:25-28)

“Thus says the Lord: You say, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair.’” Many of the Israelites felt that the Babylonian Exile was not fair. God had not protected them. Ezekiel wanted them to know the truth: “Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is not fair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”

Before, during, and after the Babylonian Exile, numerous prophets tried to warn the people to turn away from their sinfulness and lack of faith. This is one of those numerous warnings. Here, Ezekiel wanted to make sure that the people knew they had another choice, to turn away from wickedness. We have the same choice many times throughout our lives. We always have another choice, another chance, no matter how far off the path we may have wandered.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14)

“Remember your mercies, O Lord.” Pope Francis has spoken and written repeatedly about God’s unbounded mercy for each of us. In the midst of our several societal challenges, have you sought God’s mercy, for yourself and your family but also for our country and our world? We all need God’s merciful healing power.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians

(Chapter 2:1-11)

This passage is one of the most beautiful and powerful passages in the Christian Bible.
 
“Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selflessness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out for his own interests, but also for those of others.
 
“Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
 
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 21:28-32)

Jesus is talking to the “chief priests and elders.” These were the leaders, the supposedly wise and holiest people. He tells them a parable of two sons whose father asks them to go out and work in their vineyard. The first says, “I will not,” but afterwards changed his mind and went. The other son said, “Yes sir,” but didn’t go. Jesus asks: “Which of the two did his father’s will?” The priests and elders answer, “The first.” “Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.’”

The chief priests and elders were among the enemies of Jesus because he threatened their power and prestige. Tax collectors and prostitutes were at the bottom of society and yet, they “got” Jesus. They saw their own sinfulness and turned instead to Jesus. Throughout history, many, if not most of the rich and powerful did not truly “get” Jesus and follow him. Often, the people we might think of as unworthy because of their position in society are those who will enter the kingdom of God first. We should never “look down” on them but rather “look up” with them.

Image:”Two Sons” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube

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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: every knee shall bend, a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, RENEW International, Sunday readings, tax collectors, parable of the two sons, prostitutes

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted by Bill Ayres on Sep 18, 2020 9:13:00 AM

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah

(Chapter 55:6-9)

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

In this time of massive fires and floods and a virus that has killed more than 200,000 of our brothers and sisters in our country, and nearly million throughout the world, God can seem far away. In this time of so much death and suffering, Isaiah reminds us of the tragedy of the Babylonian Exile when many of those held captive in a foreign land may have thought that God had abandoned them. Isaiah tells them to “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.”

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

Responsorial Psalm

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

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

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians

(Chapter 20c-24, 27a)

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

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

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

(Chapter 20:1-16a)

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

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

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. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, catholic program renew, God's mercy, Gospel According to Matthew, RENEW International, Sunday readings, workers in the vineyard

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