Thursday, June 29, 2017

John 3:16


16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3"16)


I’ve watched too many football games with “John 3:16” cards held aloft — so often that the passage is beginning to lose meaning .  



To bring it 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.



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?



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The most precious gift that God could give to us is his only Son.  Jesus came so that the world might know God’s love for us.


--Rev. Deacon Joseph Pasquella

The Missionary Discourse

1Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim this message: 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. 9"Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts- 10no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24"The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! 26"So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 32"Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. 34"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn "'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law- 36a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' 37"Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. 40"Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. 42And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward." (Matthew 10:1-32)

This, the second major discourse of Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 10:1–42), is often referred to as the “Missionary Discourse.” It contains instructions from Jesus to his Twelve Apostles. The special focus of the current passage sets forth some of the difficulties the apostles can expect to encounter in their missionary endeavors.


 1) Divisions and sufferings. Jesus warns his apostles that the kind of commitment required for a person to follow him can easily lead to divisions that reach even into one’s family members. Suffering is also part of the life of an apostle. Thus, an apostle of Jesus must be willing to “take up the cross” and follow him. This reference to “taking up the cross” implies embracing cruel and often unjust suffering. Crucifixion was a harsh punishment that was in existence at least 300 years before the time of Jesus. Of course, there is also a connection here to the way Jesus himself suffered and died. Real life is following Jesus authentically. This might cost one his or her physical life, but it will lead to a greater life than the one lost. 


2) The grace of receiving. Many Theologians think that the reference to receiving Jesus as being equal to receiving God who sent him is the key point of this whole passage. Certainly, it is the Christological high point. An apostle, by being commissioned by Jesus, carries with him a presence of Jesus. Jesus is the earthly revelation of God. Therefore, to receive an apostle is, in effect, receiving God made manifest in and through Jesus. This interrelationship between apostle, Jesus, and God is sometimes referred to as “divine mutuality.” It is a favorite theme in John’s Gospel. 


3) Rewards. Matthew clearly believes that God bestows rewards on those who believe the Gospel message and put it into practice. The final section of today’s Gospel combines receiving with rewards. There is no logical connection between a prophet, a righteous person, and one in need of a cup of cold water. These describe activities carried out by the apostles. The cost of being called by Jesus, and of being sent by him to engage in apostolic activity, is high. While it will involve suffering and divisions, it will also reap great rewards for the apostles.


We are called by the Lord to do great things in our lives. Let us resolve to follow Jesus no matter the personal cost. While we will have sufferings and persecutions Jesus will always be with us to loving guide us. Let us build our faith by studying Holy Scriptures, prayer and receiving the Eucharist most of all. If we remain faithful, we will become like the master of our souls and spread the gospel.

By Rev. Dcn. Joe Pasquella

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Called to Imitate God's Mercy

The apostles faced some probing questions, just like we all do. Peter and Paul grapple with the question: what must we believe? The apostles grapple with how they were to pray. We know that God loved the world enough to sacrifice His beloved Son. We also know that in the Son, we have been made sons and daughters of the Eternal Father. There seems to be an on-going tension between faith content and devotional expression. I am reminded of a statement attributed to Saint Augustine: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” The immediacy of these words were underscored by Pope Francis during his meeting with Patriarch Ilia II in Georgia: “Notwithstanding our limitations, we are called to be “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28) and to avoid putting first disharmony and divisions between the baptized”. It is impossible to proclaim the mercy of God if we cannot show mercy to one another.

We need to stop justifying the great divide keeping the members of the Body of Christ separated one from another. God is not glorified by our rejection of one another. It is sad to say, but true, that we give lip service to the Lord of Mercy and the Mercy of the Lord, but we keep beating-up and condemning others. I was brought to tears as I read a comment made by Pope Francis: “Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God's patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are willing to return to Him with a contrite heart" (Angelus on March 17, 2013).

The challenge of Christianity is to present and defend the Truth in love, or perhaps mercy is a better word, for our purposes. It is mercy that allows us to look beyond division and disharmony. It is mercy that can change the world. Cardinal Kasper, in his book of mercy wrote: “[Mercy] is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just” (The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life). Mercy means that we do not have to remain in exile. We can come home again and share the banquet of life. Mercy is the infinite love of God revealed to us in concrete deeds – the death and resurrection of the Son. So mercy becomes not only the central attribute of God, but also the central attribute of Christian life. We are called to imitate God’s mercy towards us.

I will close with a few words from Pope Francis: “Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish” (Easter Urbi et Orbi message on March 31, 2013).

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

God of Risks

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. 

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth. 

But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here!’ And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them. 
(Revelation 11: 4-12)

Today let's ponder the words of the Book of Revelation. If we are to be the “Light of the World”, we must expect to be persecuted. Ours is a God of risks. Remember, the Author of Life Himself was crucified. However, death could not hold Him captive. Similarly, the witnesses of Revelation were raised up and taken into their Heavenly Homeland.

The two olive trees and two lampstands brings to mind how Jesus sent out the disciples “two by two and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits” (Mk. 6:7). Living a gospel life requires the help and support of a brother, of a sister. We cannot live the Gospel in isolation. We need one another. That being said, while we are called to be one in Christ, we are not called to look nor to act identically. The strength of the Church is in its diversity of gifts. The two witnesses testified to the paschal victory of Christ, sealing their testimony with their deaths.

If we listen to Pope Francis, we hear him saying that Christians are called to bear witness to the work of God in the world. As witnesses of Christ, we are raised up to speak against the neglect of human dignity and to defend the truth. As witnesses of Christ we are commissioned to speak against indifference to the poor and abuse of the earth, our common Mother. As witnesses of Christ, we are challenged to be burning and shining lights in a world that is wrapped in darkness. In Christ’s faithful witnesses is found the manifestation of God’s love and mercy for the world. God’s witnesses must not grow weary of giving service nor should they flee suffering. In their weakness, they manifest God’s strength. In their apparent defeat, they testify to God’s ultimate victory.

God has not given us the spirit of timidity or fear. Rather, He has poured into our hearts the Spirit of power, courage and endurance so as to meet the challenges that confront us. With the help of the Spirit we will be able to bear afflictions so as to proclaim the Glory of Grace. It is in Him that we live, and move and have our being. When He comes to reveal Himself as the One Who conquered death, may He bring us all together into everlasting life.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Pile of Rubble or Seedbed of a New Creation?

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
   and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
   or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
   and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
   and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
   the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
   and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
   their young shall lie down together;
   and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
   and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
   on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
   as the waters cover the sea.

 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

(Isaiah 11: 1-10)

This passage from the Prophet Isaiah is among the better known texts of the Old Testament. It speaks of hope and newness of life that flows from the loving kindness and tender mercy of God. Remember, God knows disaster and loss. The glory of Israel had been reduced to ruins. The Tree of Jesse had been cut down and only a stump remained of that noble house. To passersby, the glory of Israel was just a pile of rubble. To God, it was the seedbed of a new creation. To the passerby, the once mighty tree was a lifeless stump. To God, the stump was guardian of ancient roots that would again put forth a tender shoot. No matter how bad things have become in the world, they are the stuff from which God creates a new beginning.

The hope of the world sprang from rubble and destruction. The hope of the world comes in meekness and humility -- a tender shoot sprouting from the lifeless stump. The hope of the world is the firstborn of the new creation. Although the old is passing away, the hope of the world comes to make all things new. The hope of the world took flesh of the Ever-Virgin Mary. He Who created mankind Himself became a man in order to restore mankind to its former glory. He in Whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells Himself came to dwell among us so that we might have a resting place in Him for all eternity. In the Word Made Flesh, our sinful human nature is transformed and in our flesh we are enabled to radiate the grandeur of God the Creator and the Sustainer of our lives.

Looking at the remnant of Israel, God sees the beginnings of a new kingdom. All that has been shattered finds restoration in the hands of God. The stump is all that is left of a magnificent tree. By the grace of God it puts for a fresh shoot, a new growth that will one day shelter the People of God. For a time, the Son of God pitched His tent in our midst so that we might have an eternal dwelling place in heaven. Through Christ, we who were dead in our sins have been brought to the newness of life. How blessed are those who see and acknowledge this gift. May we be awake and watching when He returns in Glory.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Be Not Afraid of Questions and Doubts

Our world is longing for a Savior. We long for the coming of the Kingdom with weak hands and wobbly knees. Can we see ourselves as the ones who need the help of a divine physician? If there was one take-away from the year of mercy, it is was that God is not ashamed of our feeble and fainthearted efforts. Throughout the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis kept reminding us that God never tires of lifting us up by His saving grace. It is this boundless mercy that manifests the power of God working through our weakness. We have reason to rejoice.

It seems safe to say that, for many of us, the walk in faith has not been marked with joy and singing. More often than not, we can identify with John the Baptist: “Are you really the One?” Sitting in his prison cell, John must have been wracked with the question: “Is this all there is?” While he did not doubt the fidelity of God, you might say, his faith needed a boost. The mercy of God reached out to him and the light of grace shined on his darkness, giving him reason to rejoice. Under the loving gaze of God, the wilderness of his captivity began to blossom abundantly. In the life and ministry of Christ, his feeble and faint heart was encouraged.

I hope you found reassurance in John the Baptist’s question. Think of it this way, if the forerunner of Christ struggled with doubt, we are in good company. There is nothing to be ashamed of when we see our faith getting shaky. Like John the Baptist, we need to utter the questions that trouble our hearts, not avoid them. This theme was taken up by Pope Francis during a recent audience with young people: “We do not need to be afraid of questions and doubts because they are the beginning of a path of knowledge and going deeper; one who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith.”

It might be good to admit our doubts and try to sit with the ambiguity of faith. Ponder the Shoot that sprouted from the root of Jesse. Ponder the Bread that came down from Heaven. Ponder the Gift that was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. In the midst of darkness and gloom, it is good to ponder the star that led men of old to the Light of the World. The birth of Christ takes faith out of the realms of theory and moves us to perform acts of loving-kindness for others. Using our weak hands and wobbly knees we come into the presence of God and find Him in the faces of those we encounter.

As we deal with our weak hands and wobbly knees of faith, we need to look around and see the signs that the Kingdom is erupting in our midst. Jesus’ words to the disciples of John underscore this. If you look around, you will see the signs of God’s loving-kindness: ´The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mat. 11:5). Though our hands be weak and our knees wobbly, we can lean on Christ.

He will accompany us. The journey may not be elegant, but the destination is sure – our heavenly homeland. All that God requires from us is that we depend on Him and place our weak hands and wobbly knees at His service. Into a world enveloped in darkness and uncertainty, a light shall shine, the Light of Christ, the Light of the World.

In that light we shall look at each other’s face and see the Face of Christ. In that light, we can lift up our hands and make a joyful noise. In that Light we shall stand up on our wobbly knees and dance. In that Light we can show forth the goodness of our God by showing love and compassion for one another. Let us standup on our wobbly knees and raise our weak hands and prepare the way for our God. We need only ask the Lord to use us as we are, to open the door for His coming. I hope you find this prayer of Thomas Merton an appropriate ending to these reflections.


“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

God So Loved the World That He Did Not Leave It to Its Own Destructive Designs.

“O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.”

Daily headlines report the tumult and chaos all around us. Out of fear, we tend to strike out violently even before we have all the facts. Thanks to instant communication, events are reported before people can verify that they actually happened. We prefer to think the worst. Undoubtedly, we need someone to make us sane again. Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary and the Beloved Son of God is the One Whose coming we await.

The Advent season reminds us that God so loved the world that He did not leave it to its own destructive designs. He promised that He would be the Light for the People dwelling in darkness and chaos. If only the people who are trapped in darkness and gloom would look to the East, they would see the dawning of a New Day. God has already looked at them and has been moved with compassion for them because they are so confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Cf. Matt. 9: 36).

The peace we long for cannot be bought neither can it be gift-wrapped. The peace we most long for is not a thing to be horded. The peace we desire is a relationship reestablished by Christ and confirmed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Advent calls us to focus on the fact that Jesus, the Son of Mary and the Only-begotten of the Father is the anchor of our soul. If we truly follow the longing of our heart, God who is faithful will come to our aid and raise us up. It is God’s goodness, and not ours; it is God’s mercy, and not our merit, that is the basis for our joy.

Responding to the longing of our heart, we cry out: “Come Lord Jesus, Come and save us!” We join our voices to that of the Psalmist: “O Shepherd of Israel, listen to our cry!” (Ps. 80:1) There is no salvation without God’s saving grace. Only when we acknowledge our total dependence on God, can we hope to find peace. Trusting God to stretch out His steady and guiding hand, let us make the plea of the Spirit and the Bride our own: “Come, Lord Jesus” (CF. Rev. 22: 17, 20).

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO