Fulfilling the Catholic Church's Call to Penance and Repentance

in the Modern World

The Confraternity of Penitents

"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind, (and) you shall love your neighbor as yourself."  (Jesus's words as recorded in Matthew 22:37-38)

Mass Homilies for Cycle A

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SUNDAY MASS HOMILIES FOR CYCLE A

BY DEACON JOSEPH PASQUELLA

Deacon Joseph Pasquella is an Affiliate of the Confraternity of Penitents

 

Click on the blue links to access the homilies.

 

Solemnity of Christ the King (November 23)

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 16)

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica (November 9)

November 2 (All Soul's Day)

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Twenty-seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Cycle A

Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Corpus Christi, Cycle A

Trinity Sunday, Cycle A

Pentecost, Cycle A

Short Homily for May 8, 2008

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

Divine Mercy Sunday, Cycle A

Easter Sunday, Cycle A

Palm Sunday, Cycle A

Fifth Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Third Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Second Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

First Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Baptism of the Lord, Cycle A

Epiphany, Cycle A

Feast of the Holy Family, Cycle A

Christmas, Cycle A

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

Third Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

Second Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

First Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

 

HOMILIES

 

Solemnity of Christ the King (“A”)
November 23, 2008

Sumitted by Deacon Joseph Pasquella

 The people condemned in today’s Gospel seem to be very surprised at the way they are condemned at the Last Judgment. Why is this?

Can we agree that it is very hard to misunderstand today’s lesson of Jesus about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and other works of mercy? I think that, like Mark Twain, we ought to be very concerned about our own behavior, relative to today’s lesson.

The “Goats” in the story, by implication, had done all the “pious” things that they thought would earn them their heavenly reward. They went to Mass every day. They said a daily Rosary. They never forgot to say their daily prayers. And they did their best to avoid contact with sin and sinners. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well, something very important is missing.

The “Goats” had neglected to do something that the “Sheep” had already done. The “Goats” had acted well in “avoiding” sin and sinners; but they had done nothing in the area of works of mercy. Jesus is crystal clear about our responsibilities as his disciples. We are to actively participate in the mission of Jesus, reaching out to those in need. This is particularly true regarding those we encounter; but it also applies to those we do not encounter. In other words, you can help the poor in other locations by giving to Catholic Charities, or some other worthy charitable group who has access to the “really” poor and needy.

The readings at the end of each Church cycle are all about the End Times. Let them send a warning shiver up your spine, It should cause us to seek conversion.  Don't get caught being unprepared! You know what is expected of you; do it!

33rd Sunday Ordinary Time (“A”)
November 16, 2008

 In today’s financial crisis, would not the third servant in the Gospel (Matt 25:14-15, 19-20) be the one to be rewarded for his prudence, because he preserved his bag of money from loss?

 Today’s Gospel is not about a person’s financial abilities in the stock market or foreign exchange markets. The story is a parable, pointing to something else. It blends in well with the message of the Second Reading (1 Thess 5:1-6), so I will treat them together.

First of all, St. Paul reminds us – in fact, he warns us – to always remain alert to the responsibilities of true discipleship, true Christianity. Every Christian knows that Jesus is returning, and that means we don’t want to be caught unprepared. So St. Paul uses vivid imagery, showing how we can never predict the arrival of a thief at night; also, a pregnant woman can never pinpoint the exact moment in the future when labor pains will begin. If it is important to be responsible and prepare for such unforeseen but significant moments of time, how much more responsible must we be in preparing to meet Jesus when he comes again?

The Gospel parable parallels that message. If we only realized what wonderful gifts, real treasures that the Lord has given to us at our Baptism and Confirmation, and in the Holy Eucharist! We are not called simply to “believe” that Jesus is Lord. We are also called to carry on his mission of love and forgiveness, using the physical and spiritual gifts we have received to make that happen. Did you bury your “treasure,” and thereby neutralize and render impotent the gifts you were given to build up our Christian community? Did you bury your “Faith” in laziness and non-involvement in the Christian mission? Have you ever asked another what their perception of your gifts are, and how you could use them for others?

 

The second coming of Christ in glory could be accomplished at any moment (CCC 673). Christ is coming “like a thief”; exactly how are you preparing your heart to be vigilant at all times (CCC #2849)?

 

Dedication of Lateran Basilica (“A”) --November 9, 2008

 

Do you think that Jesus lost his temper today in the Gospel reading? Don't you think he got a little carried away, chasing away the merchants, bankers and livestock?

 Perhaps a modern day example might help. Suppose you were deep into meditation and worship during a Sunday Eucharistic celebration at your parish. All of a sudden, a couple of men from the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus go up and down the aisles, selling tickets to their upcoming spaghetti dinner, while two other guys make change to help folks buy raffle tickets for a new shotgun to be given away that same day. Now, if Pope Benedict XVI were to walk into the church at that time, how do you think he would react? Do you think he might lose his “cool,” or would he just ignore them? (I won’t ask how your own pastor might react…)

That scenario isn’t too far off target regarding today’s gospel! The Jews had been called to be a “light to the nations,” with a mission of attracting pagans to believe in the One and only God of the Universe. God had spoken through the Prophet Isaiah, saying that “my house shall be called to be a house of prayer for All the nations” – however, the Jewish laws had insulated and isolated Israel and its Temple from being open to all worshippers.

Not only that, the Jewish leadership (Temple and Scribal) had permitted the temple grounds to become “secularized” with a merchandising prominence. Also, they were using coins with the image of Cesar, who was a self proclaimed god.  That was directly opposed to keeping the temple grounds as “holy space,” a place for undisturbed worship. This “cleansing” or purifying of the temple by Jesus had been prophesied by two other prophets, Malachi and Ezekiel as an end-time judgment of abuses.

Before we nod our heads knowingly about those “other” folks, let’s take a look within our own hearts. How do we use the worship space provided for us by our Catholic community? Does our manner of dress and our external behavior reflect our interior spirituality?

Like the Temple in its original purpose, our physical church is designed to be a privileged place of encounter with God, a house of prayer, not a place of commerce (CCC # 584). Jesus expressed the deepest respect for this special “place” of encounter with God; what is your lived attitude and behavior in your own house of prayer? (CCC #583)

 

Homily for November 2nd, All Souls Day.

 

One may say, " I am sort of afraid of pain, and even more terrified about Death. Am I in the majority or minority when it comes to thoughts like these?"

It doesn't really matter whether it is only a few or a vast number of people who feel the way that you do. The important thing is to understand what God wants you to know about those things, particularly “death.”

A chapter entitled “Death” in the 1990 book, “Wisdom of the Saints, an Anthology” has this quote: “Do you not know that only the thoughtless and insane consider the faithful departed to be dead?” Those were the words of St. John Eudes, the great French evangelist and preacher who was born at the dawn of the 17th century. He is voicing a basic principle about the death of those who are faithful Christians: you aren't really “dead” after all; you simply move into or are transformed into a new form of life. In today’s first reading (Wisdom 3:1-9), that author has the same insight: after death, you are in the hands of God and no torment can ever touch you again; also, he continues, you are in peace.

Our entire earthly life has but one goal: to accept God’s free gift of eternal salvation and become fully human, a fullness according to God’s image. It astonishes our mind when we approach the mystery of God’s unconditional love for us. We discover a love that wants us to share in His divine glory after we have completed our mission here on earth. Jesus is very reassuring today, when he promises us that he will raise us on the last day
– “us” referring to all who believe in him, trust in him, and are faithful to him in their behavior.

So with Jesus on our side, at the right hand of the Father, interceding for all who believe in him —
really, there is nothing whatsoever that we need to fear about that split second in time that we call “death.” It is simply a brief link to our goal, when we will be united once again with all the faithful departed who have gone before us! So do not live in fear; trust in Jesus’ promise, and live in peace and anticipation!

Jesus sanctified us (made us holy) by his sacrificial death (CCC #606) so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life with him (CCC #219).

 

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)

October 26, 2008

 

How can the Pharisees be planning a “trap,” when the topic is simply the Commandments?

 

Last Sunday (Matthew 22:15-21) we saw the Pharisees team up with the Herodians to try to “trap” Jesus regarding the issue of paying the hated Roman census tax. Of course, their plan failed. So once again in today’s Gospel (Matthew 22:34-40) the Pharisees launch another plan to “trap” Jesus. They believed that each one of the 613 commands (mitzot) in the Torah were equally important and necessary to obey. Therefore, they were trying to corner Jesus into showing either ignorance about the Law, or disrespect for parts of it by choosing one command over the others.

 

Instead, Jesus does what he always does: he goes to the root of the issue. All of the laws, and all of the words of the prophets, have their foundation in one thing: Love. They are designed to help humans do the most lovable thing in their relationships, both with God and with other humans. Accordingly, Jesus wisely advises the Pharisees that the greatest and first command is to love God totally, faithfully, and without reservation. Not even a Pharisee can disagree with that wisdom! But not only that, there is still another command “like it,” to love your neighbor as yourself. It is to this latter command that the first reading directs our attention (Exodus 22:20-26), which reminds us also to check our attitudes today towards immigrants and migrant workers: do we love them?

 

Jesus lived out those commandments, as a model example for us to follow. He was in frequent, daily communion with his father in heaven, and his prayer life was exemplary. He also was, and remains, the paradigm of compassionate love. His life was filled with healings for others, sharing table fellowship with outcasts, and finally even laying down his life for all humanity with an incredible gift of salvation. How do you show your love for him?

 

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Go over each of the “You Shall Not…” Commandments of the Decalogue, and see how they are all interpreted in the single command to “love,” the fullness of the Law (CCC #2055).

 

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)
October 19, 2008 

Is the gospel story today  (Matthew 22:15-21) speaking about the separation of church and state? No, this is not a story about politics. This story always reminds me of the old 1966 alert that the Surgeon General of the USA started placing on packs of cigarettes: “Caution: Smoking may be hazardous to your health.” Just so, whenever the Pharisees engage Jesus in dialogue, you see those flags go up immediately: “Danger – Pharisees hazardous to your health are approaching.” 

The Pharisees had long ago decided to trick or trap Jesus into either committing a blasphemy against God or voicing a protest against the Emperor. Either way would lead to death: the Jewish penalty for blaspheming was death by stoning; and the Roman penalty for revolutionaries who fought Rome tax issues was death by crucifixion. Jesus may have just entered the teenage ranks at the time when Judas the Galilean revolted against a Roman census. Sepphoris was his stronghold, only four miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. The historians say that hundreds of his group were crucified as an example and warning to Israelites who might be tempted to revolt (see Acts 5:36-37).

The Roman coin (called a “denarius”) bore the image of Emperor Tiberius, with an inscription that said “Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” Since the coin originated from Caesar, it was a simple matter for Jesus to say, “Give it back to him.” More importantly, Jesus told the Pharisees to “Give to God what belongs to God” - - that is, the real God, not the self-proclaimed god named Caesar. And what belongs to God? Everything! He is the Creator; therefore we owe him our gratitude, love, and unconditional loyalty, fulfilling the obligations that flow from a Creator-created relationship of love. It was a brilliant put-down of both the Pharisees, who ought not be saving objects that have “images” of “gods” inscribed, and also a put-down for the Emperor, since Jesus was subtly telling his listeners that Caesar was not really a god and not really a high priest.

As long as the laws of a civil authority are not contrary to the demands of the moral order, we are obliged to obey them (CCC #2242). Nevertheless, our first and perpetual obligation is always the “obedience of faith” that belongs only to our Creator and Redeemer (CCC #143).

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

October 12, 2008

 

Why was the king in Matthew’s story (Matt 22:1-14) unkind to a poorly dressed person? Were not his servants told to gather “whomever they find” in the road?

I suspect that the first comparison people might think of when they try to “imagine” this scene, is the way some folks dress for Mass on Sunday. There are indeed poor people who cannot afford the latest styles, or sometimes even new duds. But we do not make an issue out of that; the clothes are clean, and we are just happy that they are there with us to worship with us as one family in Christ.

But this parable isn’t really about the “kind” of clothes people are wearing. The “wedding garment” is just a metaphor for something else that is going on. Our real focus needs to be on two other things: first, the Invitation to the wedding celebration; and second, our Response to that appealing offer.

Jesus wants all people without exception to be saved and share in the glory of God. So the Invitation goes out – first to some specially “chosen” people, and later to everyone. It is an offer to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God; to believe in his Resurrection; and finally to believe in the Gospel message. Except for a small remnant, the specially “chosen” folks did not accept the generous Invitation. So the Invitation was then extended to everyone in the world!

But to receive the Invitation to believe does not guarantee admittance into the kingdom. This moves our focus to the second point – i.e., preparation is necessary. To pay “lip service” to our faith in Jesus, but not live out his Gospel message, is to miss what Discipleship is all about. There is indeed a demand placed on followers of Jesus. We are called to live the moral and ethical values that he embodied in his lifetime and in his teachings. The “wedding garment” in the parable refers to true discipleship rather than uncommitted membership.

 Words are not enough to gain the kingdom; deeds are also required (CCC #546). In the language of metaphor, Christ is the “bridegroom” and we are the “bride,” united in the Sacrament of Faith: the Sacrament of Baptism (CCC #796).

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)
October 5, 2008

This parable today isn’t just about fruit and grapes and a tough landlord. Is there some meaning hidden there for me to act on today?

I find today’s Gospel story (Matthew 21:33-43) to be both sad and a forewarning. First comes the sadly distressing part. Even though so many of us (who call ourselves ‘Christian’) have “found the treasure” – the Messiah--many more who were the originally ‘chosen’ people have rejected him because he did not meet their political expectations. These latter folks recognize that Jesus was a Jew, but despite the evidence they deny his Resurrection from the dead; deny that he is the Messiah; and deny that he is the Son of God, the only faithful and true Israelite who could represent his people and save them.

The second part or “forewarning” is implicit in the story. Since so many Israelites did not bear fruit (i.e., respond appropriately to their Call to be the light to the Gentiles), the “vineyard” was turned over to others, to Gentiles who would indeed “bear fruit” and harvest the kingdom of God. However, the responsibility to bear fruit, to bring others to the Truth by acting as the light of Christ to the world, will always remain a significant challenge for Christians. If we become lax and our light goes out, then we will be in no better position that the first group who did not believe. In fact, we will be in a worse dilemma, because we believed but stopped acting on that belief.

The Call of the Israelites was to be a Light to All the Nations. It was not a gift to be hoarded by them, producing a sense of superiority over others. Instead, it was a call to be a Servant for others. Now that same Call falls upon you and me, to be a beacon for Christ. Are you helping to build up the Body of Christ by your thoughts, words, deeds and prayers? Can you see how inactivity on your part might lead to your own personal loss of the vineyard and, consequently, the same awesome judgment from the owner?

The vineyard was “planted” by God, and the True Vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the “branches” (those who believe in Him). Without the life from the True Vine, we can do nothing (CCC #755). Pray that God’s light and truth find its way into every heart in the world!

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time  (“A”)
September 28, 2008

It seems to me that both sons (in the  Gospel) are images of the behavior
that each one of us has engaged in.  True, but there is a third, unspoken but
better image – the son who would have  immediately said “Yes” to his Father and acted on his “Yes.”  Today, both  the First Reading (Ezekiel 18:25-28) and
the Gospel (Matthew 21:28-32) are very  short, which permit us to zero in
rapidly on the essence of the teachings.  It is really quite simple: there are
indeed two conditions for entering the  Kingdom of God.  One of these is giving
up sinful ways.  The second  condition is believing the words of Jesus, and
then acting  accordingly.

In both cases, or conditions, the emphasis is on the reaction of the listener to the word of God.  We cannot simply listen, and  then only comment that “it was a nice teaching.”  We are called to do more  that “talk” about it.  We are called to follow the advice of Jesus fully  and with a happy attitude of heart.

Jesus appointed successors to  carry on his message.  These Apostles, in
turn, appointed Bishops to  continue the Tradition of teaching the truth.  If we
stubbornly refuse to  follow these teachings of these successors to the
apostles, then we become like  the scribes and Pharisees – hard of heart, stubborn, unwilling to act on the  truth passed on by the Church.

We need to remember that there is  something “special” at stake here – the
prize is eternal life.  If we do  not believe the teachings of the Church AND
act on that truth, then we are not  doing the Father’s will; and that will
block our entrance into heaven.  The  readings are short, simple, and easy to
understand.  If you find yourself  choosing to disobey a teaching of the Church,
please reflect on what it will  cost you, based on today’s readings. KNOW YOUR
CATECHISM!  Once again,  thanks to God’s generosity, we are today given another chance to respond to  God’s invitation to enter his kingdom.  It requires a radical choice, and  also may require radical action in our way of living (CCC
#546).  But we  must not test God’s patience, nor presume on his mercy –
hoping to obtain  forgiveness without conversion (CCC #2092).  Not everyone who cries “Lord,  Lord” will enter the kingdom.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)
September 21, 2008

What is so bad about objecting to an unfair wage distribution? Is the Gospel (Matthew 20:1-16a) saying that such wage discrimination is okay?

We have been hearing a lot of “grumbling” lately. Last week the grumbling was by the Israelites in the desert, complaining about food and water. Today the complaints are about some seemingly undeserving folks getting paid exactly the same as those who had worked about nine times as many hours.

But remember, this is a parable, and the listeners would have known that there was a hidden special lesson, a “catch” or “twist” intended to shock a person or group of people until they realize it is a criticism aimed at them, calling them to conversion of heart. This is not a story about social justice in wages; that is at the surface level. At a deeper level is the spiritual significance – what is the reward for following Jesus?

The “vineyard” is almost always a symbol for Israel in the
Old Testament, and this parable is being told to the disciples who will be working in that vineyard. In the all-important context, Peter had just asked Jesus what the kingdom of heaven offered to those who had left everything to follow him (Matthew 19:27). This parable tells him the answer. In the kingdom of heaven, all is gift, and that gift cannot be “earned” by working harder than someone else. Be grateful that we have a God who rewards all who accept his invitation to come to work in his vineyard, no matter what the hour. The Gentiles are as welcome as the Jews. You and I do not “deserve” heaven. It is simply pure gift to those who believe, repent, and try faithfully to live out the values and teachings of Jesus Christ. We will be treated equally and rewarded equally. God’s generous ways are not our jealous ways, says Isaiah (Isaiah 55:8).

In Matthew’s community, the extended lesson would be that membership in God’s kingdom did not depend on meticulous observance of the Torah and all of its purity laws and dietary laws. Rather, it depended only on faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (CCC #458). Grace is God’s free gift given to us to respond to his call to eternal life, and demands our free response (CCC #2
002).

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

September 14, 2008

 

Dearly beloved of God:

 

Today we celebrate the Exaltation of the Blessed Cross of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

In the fourth century after Christ, the Great Roman Emperor Constantine, liberated Christians from Physical , mental , emotional, and sexual abuse; he outlawed all forms of persecution of Christians including the execution of Christians. Eventually, he made Christianity the official Religion of the Empire.

 

The Holy Emperor's mother, St. Helene, inspired by the Holy Spirit, found the true Cross upon which hung our Savior. And this feast was inspired by that event.

 

Why would we have such a feast? Because of the great love that God has for all of mankind! As St. Paul tells us, "we were dead in trespasses and sins, without God and without Hope, because the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is Eternal Life Through Jesus Christ out Lord.”

 

Jesus did not deserve to be whipped and beaten so badly beyond human recognition, nor did he deserve to have a crown a thorns put upon his holy brow, and then have a sack cover his head and eyes to block his vision, so that they guards could mock him, strike  him and say, "If you're a prophet, say who of us hit you"!  He did not deserve to carry the weight of the cross upon his already beaten body. And finally, he did not deserve to be nailed to a Cross. He did this because of his immensurable Love.

 

“God so loved the World that he gave us his only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe in him should not perish but have ever lasting Life; God did not send his son into the world to condemn it, but that the world through him might be saved!".

 

Are you suffering? Have you been betrayed? Are you in pain? Have you been picked on for unjust reasons, by others? Jesus can truly relate to your suffering, because he suffered all we can suffer and more. The Cross that Jesus carried and bore was not only of wood, but upon his shoulders was placed all the sins, sufferings, and sickness of the world...and as St. Peter tells us, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and punishment for our peace was upon him, and by his strips we are healed".

 

Jesus taught us by his example to live and die for others, to put others first in our lives. He showed us how to bear our burdens  in humility and dignity. He gave us the example of total selfless love to bring us back to the Father, because we were separated from God by the sin of Adam, Jesus, the new Adam, makes all things new.

 

When during the Holy Mass, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is  elevated, remember you are at the foot of the Cross...we mystically are present with Jesus at the Last Supper and at the Cross. Translating time and space  we are surrounded by the Saints and Angels in heaven and on earth. From the pierced side of Jesus flowed Blood and Water, the fountain of mercy for all who wish eternal life.

 

Taste and see that the Lord is good! Hold high the Cross in your hearts and in your lives; let your faith change your life, with aid of the grace of God especially via the Sacrament of the Church, into the likeness of Him who gave his life to redeem us from eternal death, from the suffering awaiting the faithless, and from demons in the lake of fire.

 

God bless!

Deacon Joseph Pasquella

 

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)
September 7, 2008

 The gospel tells us (Matthew 18:15) to set your brother straight when he sins against you. Why isn't  it better just to keep quiet and “absorb” the wrong?

 St. Augustine wrote an excellent homily on 1 John 4 (you can read it at newadvent.org/fathers/170207.htm) in which he puts a choice before you: would you rather be treated very affectionately by someone, or would you rather be severely punished by your father? Of course, I propose that to you as a “trick question” because there is one element missing you have not been told about: which of the two actions is done out of true charity? Augustine says if the father is offering you correction so that you will not repeat a serious and deadly mistake, it is done out of deep love for you. But the other action, being “treated very affectionately” – suppose that caress was coming from a twisted pedophile? All of a sudden, the right choice for you to make becomes very clear!

Your private action in informing your brother about an injury or distress that he has caused you stems partly from a good sense of justice. We want things put right, in proper order. But there is a deeper element at work, and that is concern for your brother’s soul: if he does not make amends and change his behavior, then his eternal life could be at stake. That situation almost demands that you offer private fraternal correction to your brother.

St. Paul said it best (2nd reading: Romans 13:8-10): our only obligation is to love. First, we love our self-sacrificing Creator God; and then we love every other human being unconditionally, just like Jesus taught us. If charity is at the root of all of our actions, we know that our actions conform to the will of God.

It is no accident that Jesus called unconditional love for God and for man the two greatest commandments, and the basis for all good human actions (CCC #2055). So before “correcting” someone, do a quick internal check: is charity at the root of the words you plan to speak? Remember: the Eucharist strengthens our charity, and this living charity wipes away venial sins (CCC #1394).

 

22nd. Sunday of Ordinary Time

Why did Jesus get so angry with Peter in today’s gospel (Matt 16:21-27)?

Let us look at this Gospel message from a different perspective.   Say  your father is at a very advanced stage of an incurable disease. He might not make it through the night, let alone a day or two.  As you  visit him, you wag your finger at him, and tell him that everyone is wrong about that terminal diagnosis; he surely will not die  so he'd better stop thinking about death. I know if it were my dad, he would ask me to get my head examined, and then tell me to shut up or leave him alone.

Now look at today’s Gospel story.  Jesus has just told the apostles that he would be murdered when they got to Jerusalem , but would be raised from the dead.  Picture the apostle Peter taking Jesus aside, wagging his finger in his face in a very scolding, reprimanding way [that is what the word “rebuke” means], and telling him that he has to stop talking such nonsense.  After all, it doesn't fit the “victorious warrior” image that befits the Messiah.  Jesus didn't lose a heartbeat.  He immediately told Peter to get out of his way; Peter was acting like a “Satan,” an obstacle in his path.

Peter just didn't “get it.”  To be Messiah did not mean to receive power and glory in the human political or military sense.  Rather, Jesus came to teach us that Messiahship means self-sacrifice and self-giving.  If that is true for the Messiah, then it is also true for his followers.  Peter, and you, and I have to rethink what it means to be a true disciple.  There is no room for seeking honor and glory; there is only room for self-sacrificing love.  Your home and your workplace are the testing grounds to prove your ability to use these weapons effectively.

Peter’s scorn for Jesus’ prediction (CCC #554) would soon change to recognition of the need to “deny self” and follow Jesus, even with our crosses (CCC #2029).  This actually makes us “partners” in this redemptive mystery (CCC #618).

21st  Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)
August 24, 2008

By Rev. Deacon Joseph A. Pasquella

Want to know why or how Catholics can  claim that the Pope has more “authority” than anyone else in the Church, using today’s Gospel?

To really understand the “flavor” and beauty of today’s Gospel (Matthew 16:13-20), in which Jesus gives Peter primacy over all the other disciples (then and now), we have to see what St. Matthew has done with the story. He has placed it right in between two other stories which are not complimentary to Peter.

First of all, a couple of weeks ago we heard about Peter trying to respond to Jesus by “walking on water,” and his weak faith was not up to the event. Next Sunday we will hear Jesus call Peter a “Satan” to show how Peter was interfering with God’s work (Peter was trusting in his own personal opinions). And right in between those two wonderful stories, he inserts today’s gospel story where Jesus says, “I will give YOU [Peter only, because the word is in the singular] the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Wow! Talk about God’s choices! God always seems to pick the most insignificant person, and elevate him to greatness.

This reminds me of St. Paul’s own writings where he says: not many wise, nor many noble are called, but God's chose the foolishness of the world to confound the wise! In the book of the Acts of the Apostles it is written, ". . . and when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived they were unlearnt and ignorant men, they marveled and took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.”

Catholics believe that this authority given to Peter alone was not meant to “die” with him. Instead, it was passed on to the subsequent patriarchs/popes of Rome. That is why we have complete trust in the Teaching Office of the Church: it has the official recognition of Jesus Christ himself, the One who started it all!

It is only through Jesus, and through his chosen “holder of the keys” that humanity will find true Unity. The popes may have personal and sinful faults. But in teachings on faith and morals, they cannot lead us astray, since they have the Holy Spirit to guide them to the end of time. What an awesome promise! For years I searched for such clarity regarding what to believe; I needed and wanted surety in what I should believe regarding truth, faith, and morals. Now I rest with utter peace because my journey to find this gift was fulfilled when I was accepted by a profession of faith into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

If you have trouble with Rome, with the official teachings of the popes, then it is time to “rethink” your position. If you continue your opposition, in the face of the evidence, you will find yourself fighting against the Holy Spirit. Good luck!

The Lord made Peter alone the “rock” of his Church, and gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock (CCC #881). This pastoral office is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope (ibid.)

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When reading today's Gospel, one could get the impression that Jesus was trying to offend or insult the women he is speaking to. Do you think this was deliberate?  Did you ever wonder why there are only two stories in Scripture where Jesus complimented individuals for their “great” faith?

Here is the surprise element: neither one was a Jewish person! One was a man (a Roman centurion) and the other was a pagan woman (a Canaanite). In today’s story from Matthew 15:21-28, a Canaanite mother is described as pleading with Jesus to cure her daughter who seems to be possessed by a demon. Since Jesus’ primary ministry was to the House of Israel, he slips into one of the idioms of the day – really a negative stereotype – to point out that fact to the woman. “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

Today we might think that is terribly harsh; but we forget our own use of stereotypes or clichés that sound harsh to other cultures. For example: Catholics are often called “mackerel snappers”; northerners were called “damn Yankees” or “carpetbaggers” by those in the deep South; Jewish merchants were stereotyped as greedy (e.g., Shakespeare’s character “Shylock”); and the list goes on. Some name-calling was very rude; at other times it was simply cultural banter. The culture that Jesus lived in was no exception.

However, Jesus recognizes the woman’s quickness to reply “in kind.” Picking up on the food metaphor, she uses it herself to prove a point: there is plenty of food to go around, even for dogs. However, she was not referring to nutrition. She was referring metaphorically to the power that Jesus possessed to heal. Jesus perceived her correct insight, and granted her request because of her “great” faith.

We can draw an excellent lesson from this exchange between Jesus and the woman. It is this: don’t put Jesus in a box about what he can't or won't do. If you have a need, take it to him. He alone is worthy, but he reads our hearts and responds accordingly. Have faith!

The woman in today’s gospel recognized in Jesus the messianic power attributed to the awaited “Son of David” (CCC #439). If you truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, then trust him and fashion your prayer requests accordingly (CCC #2610).
 

 

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)
August 10, 2008


Can we  increase our Faith, so that we don't “sink” into the sea like Peter in today’s gospel (Matthew 14:22-33)? Perhaps we have our eyes on the wrong person in this story.  Our eyes need to be on Jesus, not on Peter. After all, it was when Peter took his eyes off Jesus and became concerned with his environment, that he began to sink.


Last week during Sunday's Mass, we learned in the  preceding gospel story how Jesus had miraculously fed 5,000 men – and perhaps several thousand more women and children – all from five loaves of bread and two fish; and everyone was content and satisfied.  That in itself spoke volumes about “who” Jesus really was and is.
 
Now, only a few hours after that great miracle, the disciples – sent ahead by Jesus to cross the Sea – are caught on the Sea by an unexpected great storm..  It is  perhaps 5:00 a.m., just before dawn, and the wind-driven waves are tossing the boat around like a cork.  Then they spot Jesus walking towards them on top of the water.  Interestingly, rather than being delighted, it is this very sight that terrifies them, not the chaos of the waves.  They doubt. They are thinking “ghost,” and they cry out in fear.  Jesus immediately tells them, “Do not fear.”  Peter then responds with doubt, “IF it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus invites him, Peter tries, Peter loses his Jesus-focus, and Peter sinks.  After his cry for help, Jesus saves him, and calms the chaos.
 
Peter’s story is the same for every Christian.  We sometimes forget Who the main character in our life story is: Jesus, the Savior of the world.  If we change our focus, and permit the chaos and evil around us to distract and influence us, then we will sink into the very chaos that we fear!  On the other hand, if we keep our focus on the Source of our safety, our salvation, the One to Whom we call out to save us, then the winds die down, and we are once again content in the Presence of the Lord.  This is the way we increase or sustain our faith: by never doubting that the Presence of the Lord is with us every single moment of our lives!

When we cry out “Lord,” it expresses our recognition of the divine mystery of Jesus.  It also shows our respect and trust in the One we approach for help and healing (CCC #448).
 

 

 

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)
August 3, 2008

Do you think that Jesus had his disciples “ration” the bread that they distributed to 5,000 men and their families, to make sure there was enough for all?

If you are old enough, you will remember (if not, then surely you were told) stories by your parents or uncles and aunts about “rationing” during World War II. Many items became “scarce” goods, such as sugar, leather shoes, gasoline and tires, coffee, butter, and meat. Meat substitutes became popular, such as macaroni and cheese (which took fewer ration stamps), oleo margarine, and cottage cheese. And even if you had your monthly ration book of stamps, it was no guarantee that the product you wanted would be on the store shelves.

Wouldn't it be great to have a cupboard that is always full? Today’s readings hold out that promise. There is indeed a cupboard that never goes empty. All you have to do is find it. We could call this cupboard “faith.” Once you find it, you can open its door to enjoy the food that truly satisfies. It is always there, just waiting for you.

In our First Reading (Isaiah 55:1-3) the prophet speaks of the “free meal” awaiting us. The Lord is the host of this meal. He invites us to “come” and “listen” to his Word, a rich fare that satisfies our deepest needs. The Gospel (Matthew 14:13-21) shows a compassionate Jesus, who recognizes both the physical and the spiritual hungers of a huge crowd of people who came to hear his word and seek healing. So with just a tiny bit of food, he feeds and satisfies thousands of people! There was no rationing, and there was an abundance of bread fragments left over!

There is the cupboard that never goes empty! Jesus himself is our food and our drink! Both his word in scripture and his Real Presence in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist nourish and sustain us on our journey back to him. Come, listen, eat, that you might have life!

The action of Jesus in blessing, breaking, and distributing the loaves to feed thousands prefigures the superabundance of the bread of his Eucharist (CCC #1335). God’s gifts are free; seek and accept them with a grateful heart (CCC #2121).

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)
July 27, 2008

 Buried treasure, costly pearls, nets full of fish - - are these parables (Matt 13:44-52) about becoming wealthy?

Yes, but not as one could think.  Jesus tells his disciples about the man who found a buried treasure. It is really all about Discipleship, and when you have the opportunity, you have to do everything that is necessary to possess it. It’s a very subtle point, but notice that the owner of that field isn't aware that he has a Great Treasure within his grasp! Matthew’s community needed to hear this parable because they were being ostracized by the Jewish community, and had to give up family and friends to be a disciple of Jesus. But if you want the treasure, you have to be willing to pay the price!

The pearl of great price story sounds like it is the same thing as the buried treasure, but again Matthew has introduced another subtle difference. The man who found the buried treasure was surprised when he accidentally found it, and gave up all he had to buy the field where the treasure was located. But in the case of the pearl of great price, the merchant had been seeking that pearl for a long time; his was a deliberate search. Nevertheless, his response was the same: he gave up all he had to possess it. The message to the hearers of Jesus, and to Matthew’s community fifty years later, was the same. Discipleship will cost you! Following Jesus will cost you! But the rewards are incredible!

And finally, there is the parable of the net. The message to the disciples is encouraging, one they needed to hear. “Don’t worry about the opposition to your discipleship. Jesus will do the sorting out come judgment day.” And you will notice, when you read that parable, that the bad fish are not returned to the sea; they are “thrown away,” which means they will die.

If you have ears to hear, then hear!

Jesus’ parables ask us to make a radical choice: give up everything to gain the kingdom (CCC #546). The Holy Spirit has guided the Catholic Church to recognize the “treasure” we have in our salvation redemption justification, sanctification, eternal life, , our kingship as heirs of the kingdom and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, the seven sacraments (CCC #1117), and much more! 

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)

July 20, 2008 

 

What can I do to counter the “enemy” sowing “weeds” in my own field? (Matthew 13:24-30)


Many in the Church have tried to sugarcoat the toughness of the Gospel; the demands that the Gospel makes for our lives. We seldom hear of the justice of God that sends the evils doers to the just reward in Hell. Jesus, and likewise the Apostle Paul, were straight forward in  teaching the mercy of God, His forgiveness, the hope of eternal life with the Holy God full of joy forever; but, on the other hand, they were not timid in reminding the world of what awaits those that reject the only way to God, Jesus Christ. Did not our Lord himself tell us that many on the Day of Judgment that cry, “Lord, Lord,” will not enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those that “do the works of My Father.”

 

 These are difficult times for ourselves and our children; our Christian values are under serious attack every single day – not just in secret at night, but in broad daylight!  The “weeds” are trying to choke out the “wheat” and convert everything to a weed patch.  Our society is clearly slipping farther and farther away from “the Way” of the Lord; in fact, we permit our politicians to ignore God completely.  We are permitting our political system to attack the family structure (God’s “domestic family” consists of man, woman, and children, not homosexual relationships).  Many are returning to pagan Epicurean principles, by killing unborn babies to preserve their alleged “right” to have unlimited sensual pleasures.  Some people even think they are still “Christian” by fighting for abortion rights, mercy killing, and other heinous crimes against humanity and against God.
 

Make no mistake, this is a war for souls, not just a little skirmish!  It calls for an all out effort by you to pass on and defend God-given standards of morality.  Jesus has shown us “the Way” to live, and empowered his mission to the Apostles, who passed on the same mission to the Bishops.  By our baptism and confirmation, we too are called to participate in this same mission, remaining faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church.  Without this core faithfulness to God – our recognition that we depend upon Him – no progress can be made.  Not only the voting booth is involved; it really begins with frequent prayer every single day.

 

 If you are making a serious effort to do something, then you can also draw on the strength mentioned in the Second Reading today (Romans 8:26-27): our God will not let us down!  We can be patient, even when surrounded with weeds, because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us exactly as God Himself wills!  Consider this: if you remain silent, and misuse not only the voting booth but daily opportunities in the workplace and family, you have indeed become a “weed.”  Today’s Gospel tells you the destiny of weeds.
 

Each one of us has the weeds of sin mixed with our good wheat; because of that, the Church constantly calls us to the path of penance and renewal (CCC #827).  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Church has the power to free us from the prison of the weed-patch, if we ask humbly. 

 

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)
July 13, 2008

 

How can I tell if I am “hard hearted” like certain Pharisee leaders that Jesus had to deal with regularly?

 Some folks just do not want to hear truth. Jesus called them “hard-hearted.” But he also had a way to make them listen. If he spelled out clearly just how dumb and stupid they were, and how they were working against God’s plan by placing obstacles in the way of people’s spiritual journey, then they would ignore him or attack him. So instead he would tell Stories. He had a special kind of story, called a Parable. It had a moral point to make, but did not attack anyone explicitly. Instead, you had to reflect on the story, and find the underlying truth – as well as the identity of the real-life culprits being criticized (which just might be you and me).

For example, how do you tell the Pharisees that they are “hard-hearted” because they will neither listen to nor accept his teachings about the kingdom of God? Well, “There was a sower who went out to sow some seed…some fell on rocky ground…and it withered for lack of roots.” And later, Jesus explains his parable, saying in part, “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it.” The Pharisees probably knew that he was talking about them; but there was nothing they could do about it, because it was all “hidden” within the parable; no direct accusations had been made, no names had been dropped. So all they could do was burn and seethe with anger.

Resistance to God’s call to change our ways is “hardness of heart.” A modern example would be resistance to the Church’s teachings on faith and morals (such as contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment). Sometimes the seeds of the Church’s teachings just fall on rocky ground, or on the barren path of our hearts. The Evil One is very active today!

 

You and I are called to “sow” God’s word in our children, and to live out the values that Jesus “sowed” in us through his Church; but first we must open our hardened hearts and become true disciples (CCC #546). Consider “telling stories” to illustrate the truth in the message you are trying to convey.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (“A”)
July 6, 2008 

Our media can and does confuse us with their own “Hollywood images” that distort truth. For example, when we think of Moses in the Old Testament, do we think of a muscular, handsome and powerful Charlton  Heston – the Hollywood portrayal of Moses in the movie, “The Ten Commandments”? Yet Scripture tells us that Moses was the meekest man on the face of the earth (Num 12:3), probably had a speech defect (Ex 4:10), and was perhaps shy and fearful (Ex 3-4). That seems to be the type of person that God can and does use so often as his instrument of redemption!

So is it any surprise that “one like Moses” (Dt 18:15) would be “meek and humble of heart”? This is the way that Jesus, who cannot lie, describes himself. In fact, he says that only if we come to him will we find peace and rest. He adds that only if we come to him will we learn the most important truths of all time. This is not book-learning; this is heart-learning!

Some people miss the message by scorning the messenger! God would “never” become human, so Jesus is maybe “just” a nice holy man, albeit a heretic, and the Christian Bible is wrong (says Islam). Jesus would “never” object if I killed my unborn and inconvenient baby, because if Jesus did object he would not be a loving God; therefore the Bishops are wrong (say the pro-choice folks). How I interpret Scripture is up to me, not some Bishops somewhere (say the dissenters and relativists).

It is frightening to see so many of our neighbors and fellow-Americans fall prey to the “father of lies,” Satan. St. John’s gospel reminds us that Jesus had a strong warning for those who carry out the desires of “their father the devil,” rather than accept the truth from Jesus, the meek and humble one (Jn 8:44).

 In his prayer to his Father, Jesus expresses delight that the meek, the poor in spirit have had the truth revealed to them (CCC #2603). To impose our ideas upon God is to fabricate idols (CCC #2779).

The Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.

29-June-2008

 

Submitted by Rev.Deacon Joseph A. Pasquella

 

Simon Peter, was called  Kephas – Peter the Rock – by Jesus, upon whom, through his profession of faith that Jesus is the Lord, the Church is founded.  Saul, renamed Paul after his conversion, fell in love with the very Jesus he’d once persecuted through those who confessed that Jesus is the Lord. From the earliest times of Christianity these two men were always linked together as the bedrock of the Church in Rome because they gave their lives for Christ in that city.


Unlike Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of pagan Rome who were suckled by a she-wolf, Peter and Paul fed on Jesus Christ, the true Bread of Life: “The food that remains for eternal life.” Jn. 6: 27

 

Peter and Paul were both very different people with different personalities, and sometimes had the knack of rubbing each other up the wrong way, as Paul tells us in his Letter to the Galatians. It just shows that Christians aren’t clones made from a mould that conforms to a particular model.


Indeed, as Paul writes in the Letter to the Ephesians. All of us are: “God’s Masterpiece, a work of art, created in Christ Jesus.” Eph. 2: 10

 

What bound Peter and Paul together was their love for Christ, which led them to give up their lives for Him rather than give up their Christian faith. An ancient tradition in the Roman Church says that on 29 June AD64, Peter and Paul were taken from the Mamertine Prison, and said farewell for the last time. Peter was taken to the west of the city, where he was crucified upside down in the Circus Vaticanus, which was on the site where St. Peter’s and the Vatican stand today. He was then buried in the pagan cemetery that was just outside the Circus. His bones now lay in the spot where he was buried, above which was built the Papal High Altar in St. Peter's. Paul was taken to the east, and martyred just outside Rome at a place called Tre Fontane, which is still there to this day.


As Paul was a Roman citizen he was allowed a rather more dignified death than Peter. He was beheaded, and that’s why, in art, he’s always shown holding a sword in his hand. A Roman Christian woman called Lucina buried Paul in a small vineyard on her estate. Above his grave the Basilica of St. Paul was built in 384 AD when the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire had finally ended.


I've visited the Basilica of St. Paul's a couple of times and looked down into the burial site of Paul under the High Altar. I’ve been privileged to be able to go right under the Papal High Altar in St. Peter's, and see the bones of Peter. To stand a foot or two away from the mortal remains of Peter and Paul forges an unbreakable, tangible link with the Lord, whom they followed, and we follow today.

 

The Basilicas of Peter & Paul, which house their mortal remains, are wonderful works of art and architecture, but that isn't where their true beauty lies. If they were ever destroyed, would it matter? As works of art, yes, but ultimately, no. They're spaces, which point to something much more lasting. These stone and marble buildings are not what matters in the end. They should direct us beyond themselves, and even beyond the mortal remains of Peter & Paul, to something eternal. To: “Christ, the Living Stone” 1 Peter 2: 4 If Christ, the Living Stone, is securely keyed into our lives then we: “Like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 2: 5

 

We can learn from Peter & Paul that what really matters is to be faithful to Christ as they were, and to love Him as He first loved us. And, like Peter and Paul, we have to take the love, life, and message of Jesus into an alien culture just as they did when they went to Rome.

 

Paul, writing to the Philippines whilst under house arrest in Rome, said: “Rejoice at all times in the Lord; again I shall say: rejoice!” Phil. 4: 4 Two years or so later, in a dungeon in the Marmertine prison next to the Roman Forum awaiting his death, he wrote to his friend Timothy: “The time for my death has come. I have kept the faith. To [the Lord] be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” 2 Tim. 4: 6, 7 & 18


Joy and hope in the Lord shining through in impossible circumstances. In this era of the history of the Church we see lots of people falling away from the Christian faith, and lukewarmness in others. There are many reasons for this: but, whatever those reasons are, it makes us unhappy, fearful for the future of Christianity. We feel as the Disciples did when they were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was asleep in the boat, seemingly unaware and uncaring, about what might happen to the Disciples. But when the storm was at its height, He awoke and stilled the storm. See Lk. 8: 22 – 25


When the Church, the Ark of Christ, seems to be in the midst of storms, Jesus is still in control. Maybe, through the storms, He’s trying to teach us to hold fast to Him.

 

In the Scripture readings today we can hear the voice of Jesus telling us to listen to Him through the storms. To keep: “Earnestly praying” Acts 12: 5 for each other as the Church did for Peter and Paul during their imprisonment in their death cells. Prayer opens our hearts to enable us to say to Jesus as Peter did: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Mt. 16: 16 so that Jesus can become the rock on which we build our lives. The chains holding us in fear fall off, and we can go into the world with the security of having Jesus as our friend.

Then, at our life’s end, we receive the crown of righteousness from that same friend. And it’s not just reserved for the great saints like Paul, because he said so: “[It’s] not just for me [he wrote] but all those who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Tim. 4: 8


May this Feast of Peter & Paul be a moment for each of us to reflect on our faith, and to renew our own personal commitment to Jesus Christ, and His Church. To give thanks for the Lord’s “appearing” in the Eucharist under the form of bread and wine; and to look forwards, with hope, to His “appearing” when He takes us to Himself to give us the gift of eternal life.
 

 

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle “A”)
June 22, 2008
Is it hazardous for me to live a truly Christian life in its fullness?

The all-important context for today’s gospel (Matt 10:26-33) is the missionary instruction that Jesus is giving to the twelve apostles. Jesus is firm in his assertion that persecution and division will be their lot. This will come from “outsiders” who do not accept Jesus, and even “insiders” within their own families (as well as those who claim to be followers of Jesus but still believe and live like pagans). Not once does Jesus even hint that being his disciple will be an easy task.

Three times Jesus tells the apostles not to be afraid. Fear is sand in the machinery of life. It is False Evidence Appearing Real Wherein we have fear we are not trusting God.  

Jesus wants them to focus on their soul, not their body. You can't be an instrument of God if you are constantly living in fear of danger to your body. And only God can kill the soul. Then he turns to simple images, so that they will get the point. God knows exactly how many hairs you have on your head, whether many or few. Not only that, he knows what is happening even before a dying sparrow hits the ground. The point? God cares about everything, and especially he cares about you! The incarnation is proof of that! This is why Jesus can say three times, “fear not”!

This  same message God gave the Old Testament prophets, so that they could be his instruments. For example, to Jeremiah he said “Have no fear…I am with you…” (Jer 1:8). In many places in the gospel Jesus reminds his listeners that the prophets had been persecuted (an illustration is in the First Reading, Jer 20:10-13). Now he tells the apostles that they can expect the same thing. The message continues to be true for any disciple thereafter: to be a follower of the way, the truth, and the life means that you can expect to be treated just as Jesus and the prophets were treated. It may not be an easy job, but you have Jesus with you at all times.

Once again Jesus asks for childlike abandonment to the providence of God, undoubtedly more difficult in the face of persecution (CCC #305). There will never be a period in history when the Church doesn't undergo some form of persecution somewhere in the world; we must be prepared to witness to and about Christ in every circumstance (CCC #1816).

Eleventh  Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle “A”)
June 16, 2008

Who, Why, and Therefore are three words we use in our everyday language.  These are three words that could guide us in every meditation on every day’s readings from the Bible. “Who” are the people? “Why” is Jesus speaking to them? “Therefore,” what has it got to do with me?

Who? Today Jesus is addressing his disciples, and is observing an approaching crowd.

Why is he speaking to the apostles? He is commenting on both the lack of true leadership (the crowd was troubled, abandoned, without a true shepherd), and the need for more disciples or “harvest workers.”
He responds to his own observation by preparing the apostles to continue his own mission of healing and preaching. Notice that the apostles are sent to the people that society marginalizes. That process of exclusion gives society “permission” to ignore their very existence. For example, anyone who was sick or had a disease of any kind was probably “ritually unclean” and therefore avoided. Lepers? “Don’t even think about it” would be the reaction of the more fortunate. Contact with the “dead” would also make one “ritually unclean,” and therefore another category to avoid. Yes, these folks had indeed been “abandoned” by the religious leaders and their religious rules (i.e., those that came from the “tradition of the elders” – regulations not in the Torah but imposed as “oral Torah” by the rabbis without regard for the dignity of the person).

Therefore, what has that to do with me? Jesus was moved with compassion for the people of God. He perceived that they were like sheep without a shepherd and immediately enlisted the help of his apostles to spread the “good news” about the kingdom. He asked all of his disciples to “pray for more laborers for the harvest.” That is my cue. As a baptized Catholic, my role is to participate in Jesus’ mission by using the gifts he gave me to help the marginalized in my own society, starting with the people in my own parish, or people I meet that are struggling and abandoned by their own families, or have no family to help them.  These gifts will be my time, talent, and treasure — I am to give back freely what I have received. All of us share in the common priesthood of Christ; only some are given the gift of ministerial priesthood. But all work toward the same goal: proclaiming the kingdom by words and acts of love.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Church believes in the healing, life-giving presence of Christ, especially active through the sacraments (CCC #1509). God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor (CCC #2443).

10th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle “A”)
June 8, 2008

 

Are there such people today, as in Jesus time, that are pious hypocrites?


The Pharisees were outwardly pious Jews. They were very concerned to keep all the ritual laws of God, and went even beyond those laws, interpreting them way out of context.

 

Notice how the “cultural setting” influences our understanding of today’s text. 

 

 First, the Pharisees would have been very rigid when it came to ritual purity and other rabbinical regulations.  So the “ritually impure” would have been on the receiving end of their sarcasm and even hatred.  Included in that “rejected” group would be the tax collectors, peasant farmers, Samaritans, and anyone else who could not adhere to their rigid human regulations, either because of their state of life (even alcoholics and prostitutes), or their place of origin (Samaritans, pagans).  The Pharisaic approach was strictly exclusive – do it “our way” or become an outsider. They thought nothing of the spirit of the Law of God. So badmouthing others, gossiping, commenting on how righteous they were as opposed to the poor sinners etc., was well within their daily practice.  But they didn't keep the more important aspects  of God’s laws, such as mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love. They had a form of godliness which was no true godliness at all.

 

 In the Gospel today (Matt 9:9-13), Jesus brings to the forefront two key themes addressing this exclusivity.  These are unconditional Love and unconditional Mercy.  The behavior of Jesus was against many “accepted” religious norms, meaning many regulations added by the Pharisees.  Jesus became an “outsider” because he did not ask the people he healed about their religious beliefs, Nor did it matter to him if they were “ritually clean.”  His mercy was unconditional.  All the potential recipient had to do was “ask.”


 Jesus quoted a Greek proverb (“you won’t find a physician around the healthy”), cited a Scriptural prophecy (Hosea 6 about God desiring Love), and identified his own vocation (“I came to call sinners”). 

 

 Nothing could be more clear: God’s love is universal, not exclusive.  The lesson for all of us is to imitate Jesus: be unconditional in our own love and mercy.  We cannot be a vehicle to bring others to Jesus if we exclude them from all contact or conversation with us.  Our challenge is to carry on the Mission of Jesus – to “follow” Jesus (like Matthew did) and bring the presence of Jesus to the sick and the sinner.


Jesus offended the Jewish teachers of the Law, because he “taught as one who had authority,” not like the Scribes; he even disavowed certain human traditions of the Pharisees (CCC #581).  The “blind” teachers were scandalized when Jesus showed mercy to sinners (CCC #589).

Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle “A”)
June 1, 2008

Is God just like a Dictator, standing there and telling me what I must do and think? 

On the contrary, God in his love is giving you absolutely total freedom in making your own free will choices! From the depths of that love he also lets you know what will happen, based on either choice. But the choice is still yours! He will never, ever force you to choose the way that he already knows is the only morally good way. Remember, God is omniscient and already knows the consequences of all choices.

Take the first reading, for example (Deuteronomy 11:18, 26-28, 32). It is really a simple matter. There are always two choices for everything – one is morally good, one is morally bad. As God knows, one involves the path to eternal life, one involves the path to eternal death. So not only does Moses relay God’s word about these two choices; he also urges the Israelites to freely “choose life” (Dt 30:19).

In the Gospel today (Matt 7:21-27), Jesus confronts his listeners with a similar choice. He is in the middle of his “Sermon on the Mount,” and he is challenging the people with the true meaning of discipleship. You can just “listen” to his words, and stop there. Or, you can “listen” to his words AND “act” upon those words of wisdom. The latter is the choice of true discipleship, and is the way that leads to eternal life. Those who simply “listen” without living out the gospel message will discover that they have not been doing the will of the Father. All of their actions will come to nothing, as fleeting as sand castles that disappear with the tide.

Regarding the message of preachers — they are simply passing on this same wisdom of God. No preacher would force a choice upon you; in fact, it is impossible to do so. But the responsibility of that preacher is to pass on to you the challenge of Jesus’ words, and the scriptural warnings about the consequences if you make immoral choices.

The “law of the gospel” requires us to make the decisive choice between the “two ways” and to put into practice the words of the Lord (CCC #1970). You discern God’s will through prayer (CCC #2826).

 

MOST HOLY BODY and BLOOD OF CHRIST (Cycle “A”)
May 25, 2008

 

By: Deacon Joseph A. Pasquella

 

When I was a Protestant Minister, I officiated many times at communion services. In our particular denomination, we only celebrated this "memorial" on Good Friday" and sometimes on New Years Eve.

 

Although we usually maintained that the Bible should be understood literally, there were exceptions, such as this memorial of the Lord's Supper. We believed and taught that what Jesus meant by eating his flesh and drinking his blood referred to accepting, and symbolically eating, His Words, the Word of God. We knew that Jesus was considered the Logos, the Word from John Chapter One in the Bible. "In the beginning was the ‘Logos’ the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...".  Elsewhere in the Scriptures there were verses such as, "we did find His Word and did eat them". So in my former ecclesial community, we only shared a bit of the truth of the Eucharist Meal.

 

While having only a part of the truth of the Lord’s supper, it seems most Christian ecclesial communities almost instinctively endeavor to obey the Lord's wish that we "do this in memory of me".  The Catholic Church, along with our Sister Churches from the East, knows the fullness of what Christ meant when he shared the Last Supper with his Apostles. 

 

What is the Body and Blood of Christ? John’s Gospel tells us what it is and what the Church that Christ established on earth is to believe. It is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.   Jesus was not speaking “symbolically” when he called himself the “living bread” (John 6:51). 

 

Bread was perhaps the most significant part of one’s diet in ancient times, especially for those experiencing poverty.  As a dietary staple, it was truly life-giving and life-sustaining.  Still, the consumption of bread doesn't slow down the aging process.  It doesn't prevent death, which approaches surely and relentlessly as we mature in body and spirit.
 
How do you think you would have reacted to those startling words of Jesus: “If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever”?  Not only that, he identified this “bread of life” as himself, his own flesh and blood.  Some folks found that to be a “hard saying,” especially when he said that he was the bread that came down from heaven.  It caused many of his disciples to walk away and no longer follow him.
 
We are blessed with the gift of Faith, believing that Jesus meant exactly what he said.  So we belong to that group of disciples who did not walk away.  We recognize – as did Simon Peter – that Jesus has the words of eternal life, and that he is the Holy One of God.

 

However, we learn from St. Paul's teaching to the Corinthian Church that many were partaking unworthily of the Lord’s Body and Blood at the Holy Mass. The Great Apostle Paul warns us that to do so brings sickness and death, and damnation if unrepented  Damnation is spending eternity in hell, eternal separation from God. Yet God in his mercy offers us forgiveness of all venial sin by partaking in this life-giving Sacrament of the Altar. His mercy also gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation wherein we confess all our sins to Christ -- to the priest who as in the person of Christ -- to give us absolution from our sins. Then we may worthily partake of this wondrous gift.
 
This wondrous gift of the Body and Blood of Christ continues to be present to us now in Sacramental form.  When we come forward to receive Holy Communion, we need to recognize that the very act of “coming forward” itself is an expression of our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus.  We believe that Jesus is truly present under the appearance of the consecrated bread and wine – not just as a symbol, but as a reality.
 
Therein lies the promise of Jesus.  This food for our journey back to God is also the food that strengthens us to continue the mission of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Believe! Live out your belief! Receive eternal life!


KNOW YOUR CATECHISM!   Jesus links faith in the resurrection to his own person, promising to raise up on the last day all those who believe, eat his Body, and drink his Blood (CCC #994).  Christ makes himself wholly and entirely present under the sacramental forms or appearances of bread and wine (CCC #1374).

 

MOST HOLY TRINITY (Cycle “A”)
May 18, 2008

All Theology is centered around the Most Holy Trinity. I have taken many classes during my seminary training regarding the Holy Trinity. Stacks of papers I had to read besides many books of dogmatic theology. At the very end of the class on "Trinitarian Theology of the Church", after all of us had passed the class the professor said, "In the end, the Holy Trinity cannot truly be explained. It is a mystery of the Church of Christ, and must be taken by faith in Him.” The Scriptures were written for people of faith, people who believe, and the Holy Spirit speaks to the hearts of those that seek God and wish to know Him more fully. He reveals Himself to the Church and personally to the individual seeker.  

God reveals himself as Creator, One True God, Shepherd, Healer, Protector, Defender, and Father in the Old Testament and New...but the Fullness of Who God is, was reveled in Jesus the Christ. Jesus taught that He was God. Jesus taught that the Spirit is God, the Holy Spirit, "Penuma Hagion"(in Greek). We baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit--one God, three Persons. Jesus is the key to entering into Mystery of the Holy Trinity.
 
Have you seen football games with “John 3:16” cards held aloft — so often that the passage is losing meaning for you? That can happen to us many times when we take things like this verse for granted. It is a temptation for us, when we see and hear the same messages, to pay no attention to them; some may even get bored by the message because, in our modern culture, we are exposed to so many stimuli. How many times do we pray one of the most ancient prayers of the Church--the blessing of ourselves in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Do we always give due attention to this prayer? It is our theology of God in a nut shell.
 
To bring the message of John 3:16 back to life, today try focusing on just one “key” word:
gave. God loved the world so much that He didn't just “send” His Son; He gave His Son! He was given as a gift to us. This gift is so incredible and wonderful that all we need to do is accept the gift, which means to believe in Him.
 
There is more. That precious gift of Jesus Christ has a purpose. If we truly believe in Him, then the consequence of that gift is our salvation. If we refuse to believe in Him, we have chosen to reject this gift. Such a choice, to reject Jesus, is to condemn ourselves.
 
How can this possibly be, you ask? How can we condemn ourselves? Again, we need to look at the consequences of our choices. To ‘believe’ in Jesus is to follow Him, to become his disciple, and to live the moral life of unselfish love that He exemplified. Our good deeds flow from our discipleship, which in turn flows from “believing.” The Most Holy Trinity comes to dwell within us and strengthen us through the Sacraments instituted by Christ; most especially by Baptism and Confirmation.
 
One who chooses to ‘reject’ Jesus, on the other hand, will not have the benefit of the indwelling Spirit to help him and may not be challenged to live a morally sound life. Thus, by choosing independence from Jesus, he has chosen a path strewn with obstacles that might become insurmountable. A life that begins with sanctifying grace (baptism) is not an option for such an individual because of his fundamental choice to be a disciple of some thing or someone other than Jesus.
 
God gave; will you accept the gift and follow the example of Jesus?
 
The most precious gift that God could give to us is his only Son (CCC #219). Jesus came so that the world might know God’s love for us (CCC #458).
 

PENTECOST SUNDAY (Cycle “A”)
May 11, 2008

 How can we learn to appreciate the overwhelming Pentecost event and apply it to our daily lives?

This is one of those Sundays where a person tends to hear the readings and look “out there,” not realizing that the message is also meant to be “in here” for us today. We can’t seem to get our arms around such awesome happenings, things like “tongues of fire” on everyone present, Jesus’ surprise appearance through locked doors, and then a “now it’s your turn” mandate to carry on His mission.

Anytime we are reading about or experiencing supernatural events, we find ourselves in the presence of “mystery.” It is not for us to understand the “how”; rather, it is for us to believe that all of this fits into God’s plan of salvation. That means that we simply trust him, listen to him, and follow his commands.

John’s gospel (Jn 20:19-23) packs a powerful punch in only a few words. We could paraphrase them like this: “I give you Peace; I give you the Holy Spirit; I send you to do my work; You will be forgiving and compassionate like me.” All of that sounds like a “graduation” speech for a small bunch of folks behind locked doors, probably scared out of their wits that they might receive the same treatment as Jesus and not knowing what to do next.

The beauty of Pentecost is the reminder that we have the Holy Spirit within us, as a very precious gift of God. Baptism and Confirmation empowers us with a fullness of the Spirit that is sufficient to carry out our part in God’s plan of salvation. That is all we need to know; trusting in that fact, we can avoid the paralysis of fear when confronting our sick culture. Jesus confronted his sick culture also, in a teachable, non-threatening way. He dwells within us by the power of the Holy Spirit; all we need do is try to imitate his gentleness and courage, challenging and encouraging those we meet to reach for higher values.

Apostolic succession began when the Risen Jesus imparted his power of sanctifying to the Apostles, who in turn entrusted that power to their successors, the bishops (CCC #1087). The Sacrament of Confirmation in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church (CCC #1288).

 

Short Homily for May 8, 2008

 

Wishing to determine the truth
about why Paul was being accused by the Jews,
the commander freed him
and ordered the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin to convene.
Then he brought Paul down and made him stand before them.

Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees,
so he called out before the Sanhedrin,
“My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees;
I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.”
When he said this,
a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees,
and the group became divided.
For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection or angels or spirits,
while the Pharisees acknowledge all three.
A great uproar occurred,
and some scribes belonging to the Pharisee party
stood up and sharply argued,
“We find nothing wrong with this man.
Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
The dispute was so serious that the commander,
afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them,
ordered his troops to go down and rescue Paul from their midst
and take him into the compound.
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage.
For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem,
so you must also bear witness in Rome.” (Acts 22:30, 23: 6-11)

 

“Divide and Conquer”

 

St. Paul was a really brilliant evangelist.  When he found himself in the middle of an antagonistic and hostile group, he would get them to fight each other, rather than take them on all at once.  It’s called “Divide and Conquer” — a well-known strategy to break down opposition into manageable pieces.  Politicians learn that quickly.  Armies have strategies designed for that specific goal.

 

On the home front, every kid learns, sooner or later, that one of the easiest ways to get what you want — or at least a “sometimes” successful way — is to get your parents on oOpposite sides of an issue.  “Mom, can I go to the movies?” – “NO.”  So you go to Dad privately, “Hey, Dad, I hope you like the wash and polish job I did on your car. By the way, can I go to the movies?” – “YES, sounds okay, son…”  So you go back to Mom, and the debate is on, most likely ending in your favor.

 

This is exactly what St. Paul was doing in today’s first reading – pitting the Sadducees against the Pharisees over the issue of Resurrection of the Dead.  It got him out of a hot spot, temporarily at least. But it also gave Paul an opportunity to preach about the core of Christian belief: that Jesus rose from the dead. Only God can do that.  So our entire faith hangs on that Truth, and we proclaim it as the center of our Gospel. As we respond to our call to holiness, we need to be alert for subtle attacks from others who try to divide and conquer Catholics by under-mining our beliefs.  If they can make even one inroad and weaken our values, or our courage to stand up for those values, then they are on their way to winning a victory for the Evil One.  You will find these little attacks quite common during an election year, as candidates try to get you to “water down” the Gospel truth.  So, pray that the Spirit of Truth protect you, and give you courage to stand up for truth at all times!

 

 

Seventh Sunday of Easter (Cycle “A”)
May 4, 2008

We might imagine that the time immediately after the Ascension must have been a fearful time for the disciples, knowing that Jesus was no longer going to be with them.

The answer is undoubtedly “yes and no.” Being a true disciple requires at least three things. The first two are transparent: courage and using one’s gifts. However, the third and most important ingredient is the power and action of the Holy Spirit. So far the Spirit had not yet fallen on the disciples gathered in the Upper Room. The crucial day of Pentecost was just around the corner. Initially, then, the disciples must have been fearful, because they were behind locked doors when Jesus first appeared to them (John 20:19). Without the Holy Spirit, and in the absence of Jesus (his ascension), it is quite probable that this fear of the Jewish leaders continued.

Nevertheless, there must also have been a sense of peace because they were in the midst of a novena of prayer, with the Blessed Virgin Mary at the center. They would have recalled Jesus’ words at the Last Supper just a few nights earlier, when he spoke of the glory he desired and the glory he gave to his Father (John 17:1-11a). When the evangelist John speaks of “glory,” he is talking about revelation. Jesus had given his Father glory – that is, he had revealed to his disciples the Father’s love and plan of salvation. On the night before he died, he had also revealed his own desire to be glorified – that is, for his true identity to be revealed to the world, his identity as the Son of God!

But without the Holy Spirit, that is a lot of revelation for the disciples to absorb and understand! So we also hear the consolation that comes from Jesus’ prayer in today’s gospel – somehow, Jesus has been “glorified” in them! Yes, very soon the Holy Spirit will make it clear that when you see the disciples acting in the power of the Holy Spirit, you are seeing Jesus at work in them. Jesus has indeed been revealed or “glorified”!

The event of the Cross and Resurrection transcends time and constantly draws everything toward life (CCC #1085). Jesus prays for us. Our High Priest who prays for us is both the one who prays in us and the one who hears our prayer (CCC #2749).

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Cycle “A”)

What does Jesus mean, “I will not leave you orphans”?

April 27 2008

 

What consoling and comforting words we hear in the Gospel today (John 14:15-21)!  Jesus is about to ascend back to his Father in heaven.  So Jesus tells his friends – and therefore you and me – “Don’t worry. You won’t be orphans.  I will be back in a little while.  Trust in that.  In the ‘between time,’ the Father will send you another Advocate who will be with you always.” 

 

What do you think occasioned those words from Jesus?  Well, obviously the Apostles were a bit on the scared side!  They probably were feeling exactly like teenagers going off to college – scared to death, going off on their own for the first time, and fearing the unknown.  So they receive the consolation and affirmation and support of their parents.  Jesus is saying that, as long as you have the Holy Spirit with you, you will have absolutely nothing to fear.  So get out there and spread the Good News.

 

Deacon Philip worked mighty wonders (First Reading : Acts 8), but only because he was filled with the same Holy Spirit.  In fact, his work of evangelization and healing was with the hated Samaritans, and the power of the Holy Spirit produced its results.  Nevertheless, the bishops (the Apostles) had to come and “lay hands” upon these new Christians so that they could also receive the Holy Spirit.

 

That is the message for us today.  Never forget that the Holy Spirit dwells within you, not far away in some cosmic location!  Baptism and Confirmation bring the fullness of the Holy Spirit into your life – the same effect as if Jesus were walking with you and living in your house!  That is a tremendous consolation, knowing we can call upon the Spirit of God within us in our time of need – which is every day of our lives.

 

The Father sends us the Holy Spirit because Jesus asks Him to do so; this Spirit is the Advocate – “he who is called to one’s side” – always there to lead us to all Truth (CCC #692).  The gift of the Spirit imparted by the Sacrament of Confirmation perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church (CCC #1288).

 

 

 

 Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cycle “A”)

April 20, 2008

How does one, like Philip or me, “see Jesus” and thereby “see the Father”?  How can one do “greater” works that Jesus? (Jn 14:1-12)

These verses mark the beginning of Jesus’ “farewell discourse” in John’s Gospel.  He is going away, but he will “come back.”  It is this time “in-between,” as scholars call it, that Jesus is talking about.

The foundational point is whether or not one believes in Jesus, believes in his “name,” in who he truly is – the divine Son of God.  Such a belief opens one’s eyes to see that the Father and the Son are One.  Jesus even uses “imperative” verbs to make his point – and an imperative verb means it is a command.  “Don’t be troubled”; “believe”; “have faith in me”; etc.

Once that belief becomes a reality in one’s heart, a true relationship is established between the believer and Jesus.  Now one can approach Jesus in faith, and not demand a sign.  Now all that remains is to carry on the work of Jesus, but in the power of the Holy Spirit, not our own power.  Precisely what is it that makes a believer’s works “greater” than those of Jesus?  As Fr. Francis Mooney says, the greatness comes from the very fact of his absence!  Jesus is still present – in his absence!  And as the number of members of the believing Body of Christ increase, the works of Jesus increase proportionately, because now he can spread his word and works of love through millions of believers!

Once again that puts the burden of responsibility on the believer.  Are you in fact carrying on the mission of Jesus, by spreading his words and actions of love?  Your answer determines whether or not you are in the proper relationship with Jesus.  Because our journey is a pilgrim’s progress, we can always make improvements in our relationships, can we not?

For a Christian, believing in God cannot be separated from believing in the One he sent, his “beloved Son” – the One to whom we are commanded to “listen” (CCC #151).  Jesus is our model of holiness; he is the Way, the Truth and the Life (CCC #459). 

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Cycle “A”)

April 13, 2008

 

3,000 new members in one day (Acts 2:36-41)?  Why don’t we see that happening in our Church now? There is not enough space to respond adequately!  However, let me ask you: how often do you hear a preacher give a homily that calls you to repent?  I suspect that most people overlook that last line in Peter’s message today: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  Yes, this is indeed a corrupt generation today, in the year 2008 – probably worse than in Peter’s time, because we have no excuse.  Immorality, violence, baby-killing, political and commercial chicanery at its worst, total disregard for both the natural law of God as well as the scriptural revelations about right living - - the list of corruption is endless!

 

 You know, the clergy need to hear more than “that was a nice homily, Father/Deacon.”  They need to be held accountable for proclaiming the Good News; but that proclamation also needs to include the challenge that the Gospel message always places in front of us.  The challenge is to change, or using Peter’s language, to “repent,” and then to actively respond to our environment.  We need to confront this “corrupt generation” with the truth, and help each other in waging that deadly combat that determines the final resting place of our soul and the souls of our brothers and sisters.

 

It is not just the person in the pew who must change and engage in spiritual warfare.  Your help is needed in reminding the preachers about our nation’s apparent loss of a sense of sin, and the dangers that poses to our families.  We need to hear about “sin” as well as God’s grace, to help people recognize and cope with it since they encounter it every day.  Remind your priests and deacons about that!  I suspect that if we returned to meaningful preaching (including paranesis or moral exhortation) in today’s environment, then perhaps the pews would fill up again as the Truth is recognized…to say nothing about the confession lines…

 

Sin is present in human history – and that includes today; any attempt to ignore it or joke about that dark reality is both futile and deadly (see CCC #386).  God’s grace is freely given to us to overcome all evil, and also to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church (CCC #2003).

 

 

Third Sunday of Easter (Cycle “A”)

April 6, 2008

 

This is an admonishing Gospel story today!  It is confrontational because it might lead you to discover that your faith is missing two terribly important elements.  Those two elements are a real encounter with Christ, and secondly, the demands which that encounter makes upon our daily lives.

            Did you notice that it was not until the “breaking of the bread” that the two disciples from Emmaus were able to recognize Jesus?  The scriptures were a help; they provided intellectual support from God’s inspired word for the truth that Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant scriptures.  In fact, in hindsight the two disciples remembered that their “hearts were burning” as the scriptures were unfolded for them by Jesus on that long walk.

            Nevertheless, the real encounter took place only at the breaking, blessing and distribution of the bread.  At that precise point, they recognized Jesus.  Even when he “vanished” they knew beyond any doubt that he had been present to them in that Eucharistic action.  Their “blindness” was removed; now they could “see,” even though Jesus was no longer present to their human eyes!

            The second element is the demand that such an encounter makes on us.  The Gospel is not just a “nice” story to remember.  It is also a call to participate in the mission of Jesus.

 

Also, Jesus is present with us in the Holy Scriptures, in the preaching of the Homily by the deacon, priest or bishop. Such preaching of the Gospel makes known to us the written Word of God, which in turn makes known the Risen Living Word, Jesus Christ.

 

But who is it that interprets the Words of God…is it the priest or deacon or bishop? No. Not individually. It is our Mother the Church through the Official Magisterial Authority given her. Jesus did not leave us forsaken. Jesus still guides the Church. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost with the promise that He would lead and guide the Church into all truth. Jesus established the Apostles to be the first Bishops and High Priests and Peter as the first Vicar of Christ. The Pope is the Vicar of St. Peter, and therefore of Christ. He is the Living Representative and rules the Church with the bishops in Communion with him. Peter and the Church can not err in matters of faith and Morals.  So we are safe if we follow the teachings of the Church, and I exhort all to have and study the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the writings of the Holy Father and of Pope John Paul II the Great ( of blessed memory).

 

  Now Christ our God wants you to continue to spread the Good News of God’s love, and to invite your friends to “come home” to the Church that Jesus established.  It is only in the “breaking of the bread” that blindness is removed, and people can truly “see.” 

            So unless you are ready for “danger” – i.e., getting involved in the mission of Jesus, having some successes and many rejections – then you want to avoid the truth of this Gospel!  This is a story of true faith in the Risen Jesus and his sacramental presence in the Eucharist!  Tell others what your Eucharistic faith means to you.

 

Read your CATECHISM!  The breaking of the bread at the Last Supper was an action which the disciples would soon recognize again after his Resurrection (CCC #1329).  The Eucharistic table is the table both of the Word of God and of the Body of the Lord, so admirably illustrated in the Emmaus story (CCC #1346-47).  Jesus explained the meaning of his life and death in the light of God’s suffering Servant (as prophesied by Isaiah), and this was his specific interpretation of the Scriptures to the disciples at Emmaus, and later to the Apostles (CCC #601).

 

 

Gospel Reflection

Second Sunday of Easter (Cycle “C”) – “Divine Mercy” Sunday

April 30, 2008

 

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. This special day following Easter Sunday, was requested by the Lord to honor His Divine Mercy. Mercy includes the true notion of some sin or wrong doing having taken place, and the one offended forgives and does not deal out the just retribution for the sins / wrongdoings. Because mankind could not and cannot on his own merits or good works earn God's forgiveness, and make things right before God's Justice, Mercy is needed for all of mankind. God is Mercy personified. And while teaching on earth, Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, they shall obtain mercy".

 

This is a powerful gospel reading today, full of Good News (John 20:19-31).  It speaks of being “sent” to spread the Good News; of the transferred power to forgive sins; of the difficulty some have in believing other witnesses without “proof” (e.g., Thomas); and the centrality of “faith” in this post-resurrection era.  All four things are closely related.

 

One can approach this Gospel in several ways.  The easiest is to think of it in “common sense” terms from a 21st century viewpoint.  We are Catholics who truly believe that Jesus is risen and is the Son of God (God the Son).  We do not need to see this with our own eyes; we simply accept the witness of the apostles and believe – thanks to the gift of faith!  It is this very belief that automatically transforms us into a forgiving people – we are called to imitate the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  As a believing and forgiving people, we are then sent to spread this Good News of the risen Christ and the divine mercy of our God.  Some are called to do this vocally; everyone is called to do this by the way we live our lives.

 

Jesus can transform all of our doubts into true belief, if we will let him.  We must invite him into our lives, and ask him to “increase our faith.”   The desire itself is the first step to being open to receive the gift of faith.  The next step is to make that “leap” of trust, giving up our habit of trying to control the way things happen and simply depending on Jesus alone.  Faith is an adventure which unfolds before us for the rest of our life – but now a life in his name!

 

The risen Lord told Saint Faustina, “When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you.  I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul.  Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy.  Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust.  If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity."  Pope John Paul II designated today ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’ on the occasion of Faustina’s canonization on April 30, 2000.  Through the Sacrament of Confession, we are reconciled with God and the Body of Christ (CCC #1444). Christ still bears the traces of his passion (nail marks), even though it is now a glorious body (CCC #645).  Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily, for the Lord promised us (through St. Faustina) everything we ask that is compatible with His will (her Diary #1731; see also #1541).

 

Your servant in Christ,
Deacon Joseph Pasquella
St. Lawrence Church
Diocese
of Buffalo, NY, USA

 

EASTER SUNDAY (Cycle “A”)

March 23, 2008

"Let the Heavens rejoice and the earth be glad..for the Lord had done a mighty act with His Own Arm..He has trampled down death by death, and hath become the first born of the dead, He has delivered us from depths of Hades,  granting to the world His great mercy. (Troparion of the Resurrection tone 5 of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom )

Christ is truly risen from the dead, my brother and sisters in Christ. But we have not seen with our own eyes this historic and spiritual Truth. It comes to us by faith, believing what has been handed down to us from Jesus and His Apostles by the Church.

Faith is a gift from God; and the Gospel tells us that one person saw the empty tomb and believed (John 20:8); this was “the disciple that Jesus loved.”  But it isn’t the disappearance of the body – the empty tomb – that moved the other disciples to believe in Jesus’ resurrection.  I’m sure that Mary Magdalene and Peter had more questions than ever before, when they saw that empty tomb.  It was only when they and many other disciples actually saw the Risen Christ that they were moved to true belief.

So initially their earliest preaching was in the form of “kerygma,” a simple proclamation of the essential elements of their belief.  Those elements were the fact that they were indeed witnesses – they had actually seen Jesus die, and also had seen the Risen Jesus; he is the long-awaited Messiah; in fact, this Messiah fulfilled the words of the prophets; and he calls us all to believe, repent, and receive forgiveness of our sins.  One of the earliest examples of this early kerygma or basic preaching is found in the First Reading today (Acts 10:34a, 37-43).  All of these elements of kerygma are found in that proclamation.

Christian faith in the resurrection has always been a stumbling block for non-believers.  Greek and Roman philosophy (and other oriental religions) accepted some form of spirit life after death, but never did they expect to hear lots of people claiming to have witnessed a resurrected body (for an example of this, remember St. Paul’s experiences in Athens, Acts 17:32).  To believe in the resurrection of Jesus means that we also believe in our own resurrection – just as Jesus promised us.

In death, which is the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body (CCC #997).  “How” this comes about exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith (CCC #1000). 

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Cycle A)

March 16, 2008

 

The suffering servant in the First Reading (Isaiah 50:4-9) gets beat up and spit upon, and just sits there and takes it without retaliation.  How can that relate to me today?

 

The key to reading this passage is found in the opening verses.  The first priority of this Servant is to listen to the Lord every morning.  How can we know what the Lord wants to say to us today unless we read and meditate (listen) to his inspired word in Holy Scripture? 

 

The second thing we learn from the Servant is that meditating on God’s inspired word every morning will empower us to offer a word of hope to others who need to hear good news!  This is always the mission of every baptized Catholic--to participate in the mission of Jesus by spreading the good news of his presence, compassion, and unconditional love.

 

Now comes the hard part.  A lot of people don’t want to hear the truth, the good news that Jesus Christ brought to us.  So when you attempt to pass on the gospel truth, you may encounter strong resistance.  Perhaps you will suffer no physical abuse; but you will certainly be persecuted in other ways for your stand against the evils of our culture of death--evils such as abortion, contraception, indifference to the poor, attacks on marriage and family, pick-and-choose Christianity, and so on.  Are you willing to be shunned, banned, ignored, slandered, and misrepresented--all because you choose to stand up for the Truth?  If you say yes, then you are truly following in the footsteps of Jesus, exactly what a disciple is expected to do, all with the Lord God as your help.

 

Holy Scripture has always been the source of nourishment and the guiding light of our Christian life (CCC #141).  Non-violent resistance is more powerful than violence, demonstrated by the Suffering Servant Jesus Christ (CCC #601). 

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Cycle “A”)
March 9, 2008 

What a powerful miracle, the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11)! But how does it possibly relate to me today?

Let me suggest three things for you to look for in this wonderful story. First, Jesus was in command at all times. He knew Lazarus was about to die, when the sisters sent word to him that he was ill. He also knew what he intended to do, as we see from the text itself.

Secondly, although he had the power to do so, Jesus did not remove the stone from the grave, nor did he remove the body wrappings. Instead, he asks those present to do these things. Jesus always asks for our cooperation in his works of mercy – both before and after. In fact, it is our participation (or lack thereof) that determines whether mercy will be manifested or not.

Finally, and most important of all, Jesus gives us the promise of eternal life with him, if we only believe that he is the Christ, the Son of God. Such belief will gain us eternal life and will enable us to “see the glory of God.” He provides a glimpse of that glory, as he raises Lazarus from the dead and restores him to life.

It is a great and wonderful paradox: “even if we die, we will live”! Only one who holds power over death can make such a promise! But clearly, part of the equation is our participation in the mission of Christ. He wants to use our hands and our hearts to transform the world, with his own divine power working in us through our love and compassion. We cannot stop with simple “belief”; our faith must lead us to action – works of charity and actions to achieve justice in the world and restore dignity to every single person from the womb to the tomb.

Jesus’ prayer to his Father teaches us how to ask: with thanksgiving before the gift is given (CCC #2604), an attitude of confident trust that our Father hears all of our prayers. All of the dead will be raised on the last day, to either the resurrection of life or judgment (CCC #998).

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

March 2, 2008 

These readings are great lessons about who can really “see,” and how each one of us must trust in the light of Christ as we make our pilgrim’s progress back to our heavenly Father. We tend to judge others based on exterior qualities; but God looks into the heart of every person and knows the “real” identity of everyone.

The Prophet Samuel (1st Reading: 1 Samuel 16) makes that lesson explicit when he points to David, the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, and identifies him as God’s choice to be king of Israel. “Primogeniture” was a legal concept in Old Testament law that gave privileged inheritance rights to the eldest son. But God is not bound by man’s way of looking at things. One might be the strongest, or the smartest, or the oldest, or the richest sibling. But those things don’t matter to God; he looks into our hearts, and “sees” our basic disposition and attitude towards both God and others. Only those qualities of love and justice matter in the eyes of God.

In the Gospel (John 9), it is the man who was blind from birth who is able to “see.” The leaders of the Pharisees, on the other hand, who knew the man had been blind but could now see, were unable to “see” the power of God at work in Jesus. So it was really those leaders who were “blind” all the time. But the formerly-blind man is now brought to belief in Jesus by stages, as he opens his heart to permit God to work his transforming power in his life. Is this not the story of our own lives?

There are two levels of “seeing” – the physical level and the spiritual level. Only the person whose heart is open to God can see the deeper meaning of his miracles and parables.

Jesus was very clear: those who pretend not to need salvation are blind to their own sinfulness (CCC #588). Jesus worked this miracle on the Sabbath, the “day of the Lord of mercies” (CCC #2173). Jesus is God’s “anointed” in a way quite unique from that of David, since Jesus was anointed to be “Messiah” – God’s anointed (CCC #695).

 Third Sunday of Lent (Cycle “A”)
February 24, 2008

 “Thirst” is a basic dynamic of every human life. We need water to survive, to replace the water that we lose through normal physical processes. Chemists tell us that our muscle tissues contain 75% water; our blood contains 83% water; body fat and bones are almost ¼ water. But there is  another “water” that we need even more to survive. This is the “living water” that is Jesus Christ, the Son of God – the source of living water for eternal life.

Israel failed their test in the desert and grumbled about God’s apparent absence. The Israelites, on their desert journey away from slavery in Egypt, had their physical thirst satisfied by God, who provided water for them to survive. This was a “type” of the living water that would be provided later by the Messiah. We must learn from their mistakes; recognize our dependence on Jesus, on his indwelling Spirit; and live by the truth that he is indeed the Savior of the world and is always present to us.

Today’s gospel (John 4:5-42) is a magnificent mirror of the spiritual journey that each of us makes – and, to the benefit of our RCIA catechumens and candidates, it illustrates the stages of that journey. We come to enlightenment slowly, as God reveals himself to us in response to our search for Him. Only gradually did the woman at the well come to understand that Jesus was the promised Messiah; and at that point she became a disciple and led many other Samaritans to share in her “discovery.” Clearly, only Jesus can satisfy our hunger and thirst for happiness. This calls for humble trust, surrender and transformation on our part. He is the “living water” that wells up to eternal life.

 The Book of Revelation at the end of the Bible presents “the river of the water of life…flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb,” one of the most beautiful symbols of the Holy Spirit (CCC #1137). Water signifies the Holy Spirit’s action in Baptism, welling up in us to eternal life (CCC #694).

Second Sunday of Lent (Cycle “A”)
February 17, 2008

The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9). How can that awesome event apply to me?

There is one thing about God: the Holy Trinity is indeed a profound mystery! Our human minds simply cannot comprehend the divine essence. So just like Abraham, we simply trust in God and step out in faith (Gen. 12:1-4a). Abraham did not even know where his journey would end; he was simply told to “head out that-a-way” and he would be led to the land where God’s promises would be fulfilled.

When it comes to great mysteries like the Transfiguration, we really have only one response – and that is the response of Abraham. We are given a little “glimpse” of what the divine glory could be like – a radiant brilliance of pure light where darkness cannot exist. But there is only one way to have that mountaintop experience. You must first let Jesus lead you up the mountain! The message will always be the same, from his Father: “Listen to him!” It is in these moments of silent or communal prayer and Scripture reflection that we realize that Jesus is not only human but also has a divine nature.

Like Abraham, when our God talks, we listen – and we believe. Jesus said, “This is my body… this is my blood…do this in memory of me.” We are given a glimpse of the divine, now in sacramental form, when we celebrate Eucharist every Sunday. We believe in the divine promises: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” We rest in the mystery; we listen to him; we believe; we are nourished by this living bread; we are transformed; and we are thereby enabled (and called) to become a light for the world.

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the Transfiguration points to our own resurrection and Christ’s glorious coming (CCC #556). He also says that the certainty provided by faith is greater than what we receive from natural reason (CCC #157). Pray for an increase in faith!

 First Sunday of Lent (Cycle “A”)
February 10, 2008

 The “temptations” that Jesus experienced (Matt 4:1-11) seem to parallel those of the Israelites when they were journeying in the desert. How does that affect “me”?

It’s the age-old story: we always encounter temptation in its three major forms. Those are the “three P’s” - the categories of power, prestige, and prosperity (one can also come up with different ‘labels’). You might even substitute two qualifying terms: “more” and “control.” The selfish person is never satisfied; he always wants “more” of everything. Above all, he wants to “control” his destiny, feeling that only he knows what is best for himself. There is no room for unselfishness in that picture. But now Jesus shows us the way out of that self-destructive behavior. He turns to prayer, fasting and Scripture to sustain him, showing that he represents the “true Israel” who is always faithful to the covenant.

A friend of mine, also a deacon, finished a presentation to a Bible study class in which he stressed the importance of “grace” in our lives. All is grace. The foundation, the center, and the direction of our lives must always be focused on our dependence upon God. It is our loving relationship with God that needs the most attention, because it will always lead us to a loving relationship with others. The Evil One, of course, will try to lead us away from that; and in our pride we sometimes don’t even need his help in leading ourselves away from that loving relationship.

Jesus fasted and prayed in our Gospel story. In fasting we sacrifice our love of “Self” so that we can become free to love God and others. In prayer we sacrifice our love of “time” to make time for the love of God. In almsgiving we sacrifice our love of “stuff” to make room for the love of others. With these three, we fulfill the Great Commandment. More importantly, without these three penitential actions operative in our lives, we will not be able to resist temptation. Think about that!

The evil one is a lying seducer who tries to lead humanity into disobeying God (CCC #394). God will never let you be tested beyond your strength, and will show you a way out (CCC #2848). Pray for the gift of discernment, which unmasks the lie of temptation
(CCC #2847).

 

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle “A”)
February 3, 2008

 

Our first reading (Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13) speaks of both anger and peace as situations that will befall the Israelites.  The prophets had been silent for 70 years before Zephaniah spoke. During that time, immoral leadership on the part of Judah’s kings and temple priesthood led the country back into apostasy, superstition, idolatry, and even child sacrifice. Then good King Josiah began to reign, and the prophets began to speak again. This time they spoke of impending doom. Even Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, because God’s judgment, “the Day of the Lord,” would soon be experienced. It came to happen: in 587 BC, Jerusalem was leveled and burned, and the Israelites were taken into captivity to Babylon.

The prophet Zephaniah held out God’s promise, a ray of hope to cling to. A “remnant” would be left. These would be the people who remained faithful to the covenant, especially the humble and those seeking justice at all levels. Restoration would indeed take place through this remnant; peace would be the ultimate conclusion to the journey of salvation history.

It is very dangerous to your eternal health to pretend that God’s word applied “only to them” several centuries ago. Many self-proclaimed “Christians” contribute to the immoral leadership in our country. They do this by voting for public officials who approve the child sacrifice called “abortion”; who see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage; who see nothing wrong with sexual relations outside of marriage; who do not seek justice for the poor and migratory workers; who perpetuate racial tensions through loose talk; and so on. The danger is in ignoring the “Day of the Lord” – you cannot mock the Lord’s will and escape judgment.

The “remnant” will escape the “Day of the Lord” by acting humbly and seeking justice in all things. In this way we become a people prepared for the Lord by the Holy Spirit (CCC #716), whose transforming grace is manifested through our actions that promote morality.

 

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Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle “A”)
January 27, 2008

 

Both the first reading (Is 8:23-9:3) and Gospel (Matt 4:12-23) make a point of referring to the old tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. What is going on here?

 Assyrian, Babylonian, and Roman invaders always came from “the north” – meaning they followed the trade routes and river routes. Two of Jacob’s sons, Zebulun and Naphtali, were apportioned territory west and north of the Sea of Galilee. Therefore, they would be the first to feel the brunt of an attack from an invading force. In fact, when Assyria destroyed the kingdom of Northern Israel around 720 BC, Zebulun and Naphtali were the first tribal lands to fall into the hands of the enemy. Later the Roman army would occupy the territory. Note that this area would include the towns of Nazareth and Capernaum.

But Isaiah prophesies that the “darkness” of oppression would be dispelled by a new “light”; God would deliver his people and remove the “yoke” of the taskmaster from them. Once again there would be joy and rejoicing.

Matthew’s Gospel shows that this prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus Christ. The evangelist makes a deliberate connection between the ministry of Jesus and the old prophecy of Isaiah. Jesus shows that he is the “light” of hope, evident to all through his deeds of power (healing), preaching the Good News (about the arrival of the kingdom of heaven), and calling his first disciples (the apostles). His message is very clear and has two main elements: Repent because the kingdom is at hand, and Follow him to learn how to spread the Good News and live this new life of love and service. That is the same message for us today, a timeless message that calls for immediate action. The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, which is in accordance with Jesus’ first proclamation of the Good News (CCC #1989). Each one of us is called personally to follow him (CCC #878) and share in his mission.

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Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle “A”)

January 20, 2008

Isaiah is talking about Jesus, the Suffering Servant, in today’s first reading (Is 49:3,5-6); how does it impact on my own life?

 The first thing that jumps to mind is that we are true disciples--therefore we are called to imitate Jesus. So what do we find to imitate in these verses?

As usual, a wonderful verse is “skipped” in our first reading, verse 4. That verse notes that all of the Servant’s efforts seemed to be useless, since he could see no results; nevertheless, he trusts in the Lord. What happens when you trust like that? The Lord will use you even more! The Servant in this Isaiah passage was working within his own family and religious group. The Lord says that isn’t enough! Even though you see no results, and are discouraged because of that, he’s going to expand your ministry, and send you to those outside of your closed circle!

But the message remains the same: we are called to spread the reality of Jesus the Messiah, and his message of love and mercy. Not just within our family circle, but in every forum that presents itself to us. Like John the Baptist in today’s Gospel (Jn 1:29-34), we “testify” to what we have seen and experienced. We become “God’s flashlights,” reflecting his light to every dark corner we encounter in life. We become “a light to the nations,” pointing the way to Jesus the Savior. This is how his salvation reaches every nook and cranny of our world. This is how disciples “imitate” Jesus – even in his suffering if that happens – by continuing to trust in the Lord, even though we see no results from our labors. Perhaps a loved one is not responding to the Lord’s call. Here is where you really learn to trust the Lord. Continue being that “reflected light” of Christ’s love and forgiveness, and trust that the Lord will bring good out of your efforts – on his own timetable, not yours.

 

It is God’s strength, communicated to us by his Spirit of life, that enables us to “shine his light” to others (CCC #713). He needs each one of us to spread his truth about the “radical redemption” offered to all who believe and hope in him (CCC #64).

 

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Cycle “A”)
January 13, 2008

 Since Jesus was sinless and John’s baptism was for ‘repentance, why would Jesus submit to baptism by John?

We always have to keep in mind that Jesus was fully human, like us in all things except sin. Therefore, as a fully human being, he experienced everything that you and I experience, other than sin. Jesus himself tells us that his baptism was not for the forgiveness of sin, but “to fulfill all righteousness” – in other words, to fulfill the Father’s plan. For this reason, he told John to “allow it for now.”

By submitting to John’s baptism, the humanity of Jesus is being proclaimed, his identification with all humankind – even though he is sinless. Then his divinity is proclaimed by the voice from heaven which identifies him clearly: “This is my Beloved Son. My favor rests on him.” For the first time, we see both the divinity and humanity of Jesus proclaimed to the world. The Incarnation remains a “mystery” – but now the true identity of Jesus is revealed, and we proclaim our belief in that identity every Sunday when we profess our faith in the Creed: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.”

Jesus was empowered for his public ministry, after this baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended upon him “like a dove.” It is important to note that Jesus waited for this “commissioning” from his Father in heaven, before he embarked upon his ministry of teaching, preaching and healing. There is also a strong message for us in his “waiting.” Each of us must go through the process of discernment (regarding a vocation or a ministry), seeking the Father’s will and blessing, rather than arrogating unto ourselves that which can only be received as Gift from God.

The prophets had announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for his saving mission; the descent of the Spirit on Jesus at his baptism was the sign of fulfillment of those prophecies (CCC #1286). The “yes” of Jesus to this “baptism of death” commenced his public ministry of salvation for all (CCC #536).

 

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Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord (Cycle “A”)
January 6, 2008
When we think about the Epiphany we must remember it is a Theophany of God; God revealing Himself to mankind as God. In the Eastern Churches, this Feast is what we call the Feast of The Baptism of the Lord, in the River Jordan. At one time in Church history both the Visiting by the Wise men and the Baptism of the Lord were both celebrated together. Then they became separated. Both show a manifestation, or Theophany. 

The people of Israel had suffered a lot because of their selfish government “leaders,” and after a military defeat and the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC, they were taken into exile to Babylon. After many years in exile, the prophet Isaiah shares with the people his revelation of a renewal of old blessings, and above all a renewal in spirit. Israel will once again be restored, if its people learn their lessons from the failures of the past. If they really rededicate themselves to serving God, then the potential that is available to them can become a reality.

Spiritual darkness once was a reality for Israel, when they relied on leaders who were immoral and unjust, rather than relying on God. Peace and security is only fleeting, as we discover, whenever we ignore the parent-child relationship of dependence that always exists between us and God.

Isaiah foresaw the restoration of Jerusalem as the center of worship for all the nations, not just Israel. His prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. HE is the light that guides all nations to the Truth. HE is the hope of not only Israel, but the entire world. The Gospel (Matthew 2) shows us the first Gentiles coming to Jesus, who is the guiding light. They bring gifts fit for such a king, and worship him as the prophets foresaw. Evil, immoral, and unjust government leadership continued, in the person of King Herod back in the days of the three wise men, and today it continues under different names. But the guiding light that Isaiah prophesied now lives among us forever, always present to us in the Sacraments and always dwelling within us as a result of our Baptism.

 The Blessed Virgin Mary makes the Son of God manifest to the first representatives of the Gentiles (CCC #724). This Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by these Gentiles from the East, who are the first-fruits of “the nations”
(CCC #528).

Feast of the Holy Family (Cycle “A”)
December 30, 2007 

What do all the stories about St. Joseph and his many dreams (Matt. 2:13-15, 19-23) have to do with me today?

Here we are, just five days after the birth of Jesus, and already his parents are worried about his safety. They had their own “early warning system” – Joseph was now an expert in listening and responding to his special dreams. He had been warned by God several months earlier not to abandon a pregnant Mary. Now in three additional dreams he receives more divine directions.

First he hears, “Save the child; flee to Egypt.” Matthew is always taking pains to show that Jesus is the new Moses who “saves,” and also that Joseph has his own archetype in the Patriarch Jacob’s son Joseph, who “saved” Israel in its time of need. Next comes “Go back to Israel.” Matthew even reinterprets the prophet Hosea’s message to accommodate his purpose of showing fulfillment of a “new Exodus” (Hosea 11). Finally, Joseph hears the message “Avoid Judea,” because there is another “pharaoh” there (King Archelaus) who is as deadly as his father, the deceased King Herod.

There are many lessons from today’s readings, but very prominent among them is the lesson we learn from St. Joseph about “listening.” There are many competing voices “out there” that are persistent in getting our attention. Some voices insistently urge us to violate God’s natural law and join them in supporting abortion, contraception, euthanasia, same-sex relationships, sex before marriage, and other similar vices. Other voices, such as the Roman Catholic Church, teach us the Truth and oppose those vices, identifying them as crimes against God and the dignity of the human person. You are being called today to identify with St. Joseph and, like him, listen to the voice of Truth – it will always uphold virtue and faithfully adhere to the teachings of the apostles and their successors, the Catholic bishops.

Many stories in Holy Scripture show us the opposition of Darkness to Truth, including our gospel stories today (CCC # 530). That opposition will culminate at the Cross on Calvary. Infidelity to God and his Truth lead to death (CCC #710). You have been given free will to choose either good or evil – and their consequences.

Christmas 2007.

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

      Greetings to you in the Name of the God-Child, Jesus, Emmanuel! Christ is born! Glorify Him!

 

What is the True Spirit of Christmas? Why did God become man?

 

Throughout the world on this holy day, Christians and some non-Christians alike celebrate or in some way honor this day every year. Hopefully for the Christians, they do so with full understanding. 

 

The true meaning of Christmas, and why did God become man, are really one in the same. St. Augustine said, "God became man so that man could become God."  This is the true meaning and reason for the Season. It is for sure a great Mystery. During every Divine Liturgy, during the offertory, the deacon (or priest if there is no deacon present), adds some water to the cup of wine which will become the Blood of Christ and says, "through the mingling of  this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, Who humbled Himself to share in our humanity" Wow!

 

Jesus, Whose name means “God Saves,” Jesus Who was announced to be born of the Virgin Mary, Whom the Angel said, "His name shall be Emmanuel- meaning God is with us, among us"--this Jesus was born, but not in a pristine castle surrounded by midwifes and servants to wait upon His Mother and Himself as would befit His Royal Self and Godhead. No, He was born in the poorest of conditions. He emptied Himself of His former manifested Eternal Glory and became a man, yet didn't give up His divinity.

 

Jesus was born to save us from our sins. Jesus was born to manifest God to the People of God and to the whole world. Jesus, who is the Logos, the Eternal Word that is God, that is the Father’s Eternally Only Begotten Son, became man not only to teach us the Way to God, but also to die upon a Cross.

 

How wonderful is our God! Jesus came with a mission! He is the agent of our salvation sent by the Father to suffer upon the Cross for our Salvation, to reunite lost mankind to God by dying a most awful and ignominious death.

 

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means "House of Bread". He was laid in a feeding troth filled with hay, and it was made of wood. The Bread of Life lay upon the first paten, not of gold, but of wood, like the wood upon the Cross.

 

For God so loved the World (the greatest number), that He gave His only Begotten Son  sacrifice), that whosoever believes in Him (the greatest invitation) shall not perish (the greatest deliverance), but have everlasting life (the greatest gift). Man was dead in trespasses and sins, without God and without hope. Jesus came to give us life and hope and to teach us about God and how to live our lives. By his death He destroyed death and opened for all the way to God and to life eternal. 

 

This is the true meaning of Christmas. This is why we give thanks to God and celebrate his birth above all others, because, through Him, we came have a new birth by faith and baptism. By sharing in our humanity, He makes a way for us to share in His divinity. God became man so that man could become God (to share in God's own nature, His divinity)! 

 

May the Lord Jesus be praised and his name magnified! Christ is born! Glorify Him!

 

Love always in Christ,

Deacon Joseph Pasquella

Fourth Sunday of Advent (Cycle “A”)
December 23, 2007

If St. Joseph was ready to divorce his fiancee, then it would seem that divorce must be permissible? Is that on of the messages in today’s gospel (Matthew 1:18-24)?

 We need to remember not to confuse the separate issues of “legality” and “morality.” Not all biblical teachings in the Old Testament, such as the permission given by Moses for men to divorce their wives, are meant to be binding forever; several were abolished by Jesus. For example, the practice of divorce in St. Joseph’s day, an accommodation that had slipped into the old Law, was later flatly prohibited by Jesus (e.g., Mark 10:2-12; see CCC #2382). His new ban was an entirely new idea not found in the Old Testament or even the rabbinical literature. Just like the crime of abortion, divorce from a sacramental marriage has come to be “accepted” by non-Catholics in our culture simply because it is “legal” – even though it is “immoral.” Divorce is a civil matter, not a religious event. If the Church investigates and concludes that a marriage was, in fact, not sacramental, then an annulment can be granted – which simply states that no sacramental marriage existed in the first place.

That most awesome event that we celebrate each year, the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, is only two days away! Just think about what is going on here. For centuries the Jewish people had been expecting a Messiah, the One the prophets had announced would be coming to save them. And then the Messiah came! He became incarnate – our divine God took on our human flesh! That is the “awesome” part (human words fail to describe this great mystery) – so overwhelming that every Sunday when we pray our Creed, each of us bows our head as we say, “by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man!” That is all a human believer can do: simply bow our heads in awe and adoration and such a remarkable event in history!

So today let’s focus on God’s intervention in our human history, the mystery of the Incarnation. Also, let’s remember to trust in God’s word, as St. Joseph trusted in God’s word given to him by an angel.

Today’s scripture stories about divine intervention – the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of Mary and Joseph – is seen as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy to King Ahab in the First Reading (CCC #497). On the cultural scene, if civil divorce is the only way of ensuring certain legal rights, it can be tolerated, and for that reason does not constitute a moral offense (CCC #2383).

Third Sunday of Advent (Cycle “A”)
December 16, 2007 

Today we hear a lot about “expectations.” How can we translate that into an active participation in life today?

Today’s readings remind me of that old hit song from the 1956 musical, Carousel: “June is busting out all over!’ All is the occasion for joy; all is total exuberance and excitement, as the actors celebrate all that is good in life. In the First Reading (Is 35:1-6a,10), that is exactly what the prophet Isaiah is prophesying: God is coming in visible form to save his people! Even the dry desert will rejoice, as it blooms with flowers. But there is more, Isaiah says: when God comes in this special way, impossible healings will take place. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, and those with voice impediments will sing! All of those things are clear signs that anyone can see and recognize, behind the signs, the divine power of God intervening in life.

In our Second Reading (James 5:7-10), St. James encourages everyone to be patient; in a little while the harvest will come and yield its bounty. Then in the Gospel (Matt 11:2-11), St. John the Baptist – perhaps a wee bit impatient – just has to find out if it is harvest time. He sends word to Jesus, asking if he is “the One who is to come.” Jesus tells him to “look at the signs.” What is happening to the blind, the cripples, the lepers, and the deaf? What signs do you see? No one could mistake the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in the actions and person of Jesus Christ.

What about us? Can we see the obvious signs of God’s presence in our daily lives? Can we see the “reflection” of God in his creation? Can we see Christ in every person we meet? Do we hear Christ in the official pronouncements of our Magisterium? If not, what do we need to change, in order to see the God that is really here, and wants us to live accordingly?

Despite the obvious “signs” and miracles, some people still rejected Jesus (CCC #548). Each of us must strive to interpret the “signs of the times,” and accept the help of the Church and the Holy Spirit (CCC #1788).

Second Sunday of Advent (Cycle “A”)
December 9, 2007

Would you  want to listen to a preacher who is a bug-eater, and dressed in the clothes of a caveman (Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12)? Wouldn't he “turn off” his listeners?

One must be careful not to mistake the messenger for the message. We must never judge a message by the appearance of the messenger; let the message speak for itself.

The message of John the Baptist is two-fold. First, repent! That message is for all times, for all generations – it is aimed at you and me. We are all sinners; we all need to repent, confess our sins, and then change our life patterns that led to those habitual sins. Secondly, we need to hope! John reminds us that someone else will very soon follow him. That someone, Jesus Christ will bring the promised love and justice. Love, because he showed us how to love and even gave us a wonderful present: his Holy Spirit to dwell within us! Justice, because he cannot overlook an obstinate refusal to repent and change our ways.

God has provided a sacramental way for us to receive his mercy. However, an “unused” Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) is like a Christmas present that for many people sits “unopened” on the shelf. God’s mercy and love is given freely, and is waiting for each and every person to receive freely. All they need to do is recognize and admit their sinfulness, confess their sins, and promise to amend their lives. This is done in God’s chosen way: through the confessional method in the presence of an ordained Catholic priest.

Either way, we must accept the consequences. If we confess our sins, we are set free from the bondage of Satan and our consequences become the heavenly kingdom. If we do not confess our sins, then our consequences become the eternal kingdom of darkness. To quote Pope Benedict XVI: “Jesus came to tell us…that hell is eternal for those who close their hearts to his love” (March 26, 2007 homily).

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) was the first gift given to the Apostles after the Resurrection: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…” (John 20:23; see CCC #1441, 1087). John’s warning to repent is the “prologue” or “inaugural address” to the entire Gospel (CCC #523). We must act on God’s message.

First Sunday of Advent (Cycle “A”)
December 2, 2007

 

When will the Second Coming really take place? The Gospel (Matt. 24:37-44) indicates that no one knows; then how can one prepare for that great event?

The “American” Christmas shopping season seems to start around Halloween these days, as merchants appeal to our consumer desires. The sales always start early, and continue for at least sixty days or more. We are bombarded daily with brainwashing advertisements, designed to get us to open our pocketbooks now, to buy more than we need. We rightly enjoy the excitement of the extended holiday season, its joy and celebrations, and its promises. But as Catholics we also try very hard to preserve a sense of spiritual awareness of what Christmas is really all about. If we are distracted even once from this daily goal of Christ-awareness, then the scorecard goes up: Pitchforks 1, Halos 0.

I have a friend whose son-in-law is a manager within a firm of a unit with multi-state responsibilities. They make themselves available to help others “24x7”. His unit never knows when the “call for help” will come, but it is always prepared to respond to every client’s computer-related problems or needs at any time of day or night. This is the kind of attitude, on a spiritual level, that Jesus was talking about in the gospel. He told us to be prepared at all times for his Second Coming. No one knows when that will happen, but it will be very sudden and unannounced. If we have focused on spiritual awareness while still living “in” the world, then we have attended to the basics of discipleship.

Always have your bags packed! That is the key to living in an age that ought to be faithfully expecting the return of Jesus in glory. We need to live as if “today” is the day that He will return! That simply means going about our day in quiet and humble confidence, filled with hope that we are living the life of an authentic follower of Jesus. Measures of that hope include the quality of our daily prayer life, our love for neighbor, and our acceptance and adherence to all of the teachings of the Church. That is what Jesus means about being “prepared” and not allowing “thieves” to enter our “house.”

The Holy Spirit constantly seeks to awaken us to keep watch over our hearts and souls (CCC #2849). Vigilance is required (CCC #672), because the Second Coming is imminent (CCC #673).

 

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