Homily for the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day), Year A 2014

April 13, 2014

Homily for the  Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day), Year A  2014

I would like to begin today with the short reading from St Paul about yeast.  My family used to make sourdough bread, just as the Jews would do.  They would break off a lump of the sourdough, mix it with flour and it would ferment and create a new batch of bread.  While this could go on for years, and did in my family, Jews were asked to start a new batch of leaven every year at Passover time, probably signifying symbolically a new start after they celebrated being released from slavery in Egypt. So, at the Passover, having destroyed or gotten rid of the leaven, they ate only unleavened bread, what we would call flatbread today.

Paul starts with this image which would have been familiar to all his readers, and he asks them to start over and clean out the old yeast and start afresh. He says that they and we  are like unleavened bread now. Jesus has purified them and taken out the leaven that was old and tainted,  and before being leavened we all must start again, having thrown out the old world order of malice and evil, like they did the old yeast,  and begin again with sincerity and truth. If leaven causes bread ( and us) to rise, it is Jesus who will also cause us to rise… with him!

Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a homily of Peter in which Peter summarizes for the crowd the elements of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He first speaks of John the Baptist’s baptism and how God anointed Jesus through the Holy Spirit to do good and heal. Despite this, Peter says they put him to death on a tree. But God would not let him die and raised him up on the third day. It is clear in the homily that Peter believe in the Resurrection simply because he was a witness to Jesus and ate and drank with him after his death. Finally he states that the resurrected Jesus commanded them to spread the news about him by preaching, especially by using the Scriptures and especially using the prophecies. What Jesus brought, Peter says, is forgiveness to all who believe in him.

Finally, today, St. John combines the supernatural with the ordinary in his Gospel account of the Resurrection event. It is quite a delightful narrative really. Mary goes in the dark to the tomb. We are not told why she went, simply perhaps to mourn. She couldn’t have gotten inside the tomb by herself because there was a large stone closing off the entrance. But when she arrives she realizes that the stone has been moved. She doesn’t go into the tomb, but races to Peter and to one other apostle – simply called “the one whom Jesus loved.” This unknown person is referred to as this six times in John’s Gospel. 

As a side note to the story itself, it has been debated for centuries who the beloved disciple really was.  Most seem to think it was John the apostle -supposedly John the Evangelist himself. Others say that John the apostle would have been much too old when the Gospel was actually written. Other commentators favor Lazarus as the disciple, since when before Lazarus died his sister talked about how he whom you loved is sick.

Lastly, among many others suggested through the centuries is the rather recent theory that Mary Magdelene herself was the beloved disciple, though how that can be reconciled with the text that Mary ran to Peter and the other disciple, I have no idea.

Let us continue wight he story, however. The beloved disciple, being apparently younger and more agile got to the tomb first, but in deference to peter, waited till peter got there before entering after him. You may have noticed the details that the writer mentions – the linen wrappings on the ground where they had fallen off, the cloth that covered the corpse’s head in another location and rolled up. What do these details indicate? They are both ordinary and yet strange. Would not have someone who carried out the body have kept these coverings to hide the body? The body moved around because the coverings were in two different locations, and while the sheets had just fallen off, someone took the time to roll the linen facial cover. 

In any case, the younger disciple seemed to figure it our and believed what had just happened. Peter may not yet have understood because of John’s statement that they didn’t understand how the Hebrew scriptures indicated he would rise from the dead.

Mary had come with them to the tomb but did not go in.  After Peter and the disciple left to go back home, Mary was left crying at the tomb, and she looked into the cave and saw to figures in white sitting at either end of the tomb itself. They speak to her and ask why she is crying and her reply is simply that somebody must have taken the body and she doesn’t know where it has gotten to. Imagine what you would feel if you went to a grave of a loved one the next day and saw that someone had stolen the body!

As she turned away she saw someone she took to be the gardener of the cemetery. I love this image because if Jesus is seen as the new Adam, isn’t it appropriate Jesus be seen as a gardener because really that’s what Adam was in Paradise – the groundskeeper of Eden. Now here is where it could get eerily supernatural. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus!  Instead she almost blames the gardener for carrying away the body and demands to know what he did with it.

When Jesus speaks to her, though, and calls her by name, she immediately recognizes the voice, calls out “Teacher!” and holds on to him. Some translations give a wrong sense of the resurrected Jesus being breakable or fragile, saying “Don’t touch me!”. But when Jesus says literally – “don’t hold on to me” – he is probably more referring to having work to do because he hasn’t ascended to the Father and that he can’t be so detained. So Mary hurries back yet again to tell them the news – she has seen Jesus!

To me it is significant again that it is to a woman that Jesus first shows himself, just as we saw a few weeks ago, it was to a Samaritan woman that he first revealed who he was. How unlike what would ordinarily be done in Jesus’ time! God’s ways are not ours as i so often remind you.

The Resurrection is a supernatural event, hard to believe especially in our era when we do not believe it can happen according to the laws of science. And yet, i am sure that none in Jesus’ time could believe it either. Our own experience tells us not to believe. But for the early church belief came very quickly and was widespread. The simple telling of the story and the every day details show that it was part of the fabric of their lives when they wrote it down.

St. Paul tells us that it is central to our faith, that the cross was not enough. Without the resurrection Jesus turns into an ordinary man, a great prophet and healer perhaps, but could hardly be the impetus of faith for so many people for 2000 years. Yes, it is hard to believe, but I do believe it. And I do, precisely because I don’t understand God’s ways. And the more i read, the more I learn, the more I debate in my mind with all the naysayers, I keep coming to the same conclusion that I hope you do as well. Jesus is God, and it is by looking at the physical manifestation of God in his human form that we know how to create the kingdom of God on earth with him. That is the Good News. That is it in a nutshell. And as i always end my homily with the same statement about the goodness of the Good News, let me pray today that this Good News of the Resurrection bring you to a knowledge of God and his kingdom on earth and heaven so that like the yeast, you may rise with him and be the yeast for the rest of the world to feed on in days to come. Truly Good News. Happy Easter to you all.

Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for Holy Saturday, Resurrection of the Lord – the Vigil, Year A 2014

April 13, 2014

Homily for Holy Saturday Vigil, Year A  2014

Rather than offer the usual homily this evening, I have decided to punctuate the many readings this evening with short little reflections to help you through the readings. We will not be reading all the nine readings, but I hope the ones chosen will show us the pattern that the church wants us to observe this evening.

Our first reading is the creation story from Genesis. This created world is a world of movement, unfolding in constant change, and is very good.  The words “very good” imply it  is not yet perfect with a lot of space for improvement and reproduction. There is still room for the first humans to create as God does – music, science, art, theology and human reproduction itself. 

Our second reading is the story of Abraham and Isaac from Genesis. What followed the creation story was the story of the first humans’ loss of innocence. There was human rebelliousness, but it showed God’s faithfulness and wish to reconcile. Humans create evil, but the story of our redemption is the story of God overcoming evil with goodness again. In the next story we get one step closer to God’s plan to overcome evil as God makes an agreement, a covenant with Abraham in which God blesses one nation in order to bring goodness to all nations. Notice that Abraham’s test end with God saying that by Abraham’s offspring “shall all nations of the earth gain blessings for themselves” because of Abraham’s obedience.

Our third reading is from Exodus and what happened after the Hebrews leave Egypt and Pharaoh changes his mind about their leaving. The Hebrews have been in captivity, and because of the covenant with Abraham, God doesn’t abandon them but takes an active part in their becoming free. God always gets involved with the poor and downtrodden in society.  God has been quite patient with Pharaoh but shows that he will not put up with injustice, and with ever increasing intensity things happen that change Pharaoh’s mind, however briefly.  When he last changes his mind and chases after the Hebrews, God intervenes through Moses and his staff, and destroys the oppressor.

Our fourth reading is from the Prophets – specifically from Ezekiel. Immediately after the Hebrews are set free, they constantly forget God, however, and the liberation that God wants changes to personal liberations. The prophets come about as spokespersons for God who is trying to bring about this human, spiritual liberation. The prophets warn people that they are on the wrong track, the challenge the people to do better, the predict an age to come that will be God-centered. It is a dream of a kingdom of peace brought about by a descendant of Abraham, a savior, a messiah. As we read Ezekiel notice the progression of his vision from the Hebrew’s defiling the covenant, to God’s wanting to show that God’s name is about the true nature of reconciliation and love, and God gives a vision of what the new peaceful world will be like – clean, pure, caring (hearts of flesh, he calls that!) and full of the spirit. In his plan, all of this will be accomplished by his Son.

Our fifth reading is from St. Paul to the Romans. In the progression we have been following tonight, we see that Paul wants to show Jesus as the conclusion of this movement to reconciliation with God and to this new kingdom of peace, the kingdom of heaven. The event is the death and resurrection of Jesus of which we are all a part of through our baptism. We have now received the promise of the covenant with Abraham and we have been liberated. We are free to live for God through Christ, dead only to sin, and inheritors of the promised kingdom.

Our Gospel reading is from Matthew. It is the story of the women who first find out about the resurrection – again, interesting, that it is first made known to a woman, just as in John a few weeks ago, a Samaritan woman was the first to find out from Jesus that he was the Messiah. The short scene ends with  he words: “Do not be afraid”. Indeed we have no longer to be afraid for we are in the new Eden and it is all “very good”.

Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, Good Friday, Year A 2014

April 13, 2014

Homily for the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, Good Friday, Year A  2014

Last evening we celebrated the Last Supper of Jesus and the Apostles where Jesus gave us the Eucharist in memory of him, foreshadowing the events of today. We saw how John’s description focused on the washing of the feet and how Jesus became a servant to his disciples and asked them to do the same. I wonder what sense it must have made to the apostles at the time. Could they really understand what was going on, what Judas would do, what would happen to Jesus?

The readings from the liturgy today pick up and follow through on the two main themes from last night, particularly the “servant’ theme. The reading from Isaiah is particularly appropriate especially when when read backward. Knowing what we know happened let’s us look at Isaiah’s prophecy in a very different light, and what was not understood fully becomes so clear.

Take, for example, the opening of Isaiah today: “See , my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high.” Taken in its context, but without what we know of Jesus’ death, it would seem that this person who was a servant or slave, very low on the social scale, would be lifted up, raised to a position of high authority. This man that Isaiah prophesies would not be an attractive man when he was a servant – no-one would even look at him. he was “despised and rejected” in fact. Not only was he rather ugly, he was infirm, having had many of the sicknesses of the day. Yet, Isaiah says, this is the one that God will raise up, after he has experienced all the infirmities of people. God allowed him to suffer, to be crushed with pain – a scapegoat for the “transgressions” of God’s people, bearing on himself the sins of the Hebrew nation. God laid all this on one servant who was totally undeserving of all that happened to him.

In Isaiah’s terms, he was describing a person who has done no wrong, but because he was serving others, would take on the results of the sins of the nation and suffer for it. In so doing, he would be like the animal that is sacrificed, an innocent creature whose death atones for the sins of the nation – perhaps a difficult concept for us to understand today, but quite a common understanding in Isaiah’s time. By the sacrifice of this servant, Israel would be made clean again, and the servant will make many righteous because of this sacrifice. The spotless person, taking on the sins of the nation, is thus able to intercede the Hebrew case to God.

This made some sense in Isaiah’s time, though clearly it was a prophecy that seemed to refer to some sort of savior or messiah that was unlike the typical idea of the time of a warrior messiah who would sweep down and conquer the Israeli enemies.

But when we look backward, when we look at it with eyes that know what eventually happened, we see how accurate the portrait is of Jesus, how he was the sacrificial lamb, the unblemished servant who bore the sins of the world, how he was ‘despised ‘by the Jewish authorities and ’rejected’ even by his own followers’, put to death on a cross that did indeed raise him up high, but not in the way most would have interpreted Isaiah, and finally, through his death and resurrection, he has been “exalted”. There isn’t a word of the Isaiah reading that we can’t apply to Jesus, as we see how in God’s inimitable way, he acted out the suffering servant of Isaiah and in so doing was able to make many righteous again.

Jesus acceptance of this, his great giving of himself to the Father, is played out when we read our psalm today backwards.  Imagine Jesus as the speaker of today’s psalm, and the psalm takes on such meaning. “Into your righteousness deliver me” and “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” The psalmist’s description of himself is the description of Jesus the servant as well – a “horror”, “scorned”, a “broken vessel”. And then the redeeming words – words that redeem all of us – “But I trust in you, O Lord: I say, ‘You are my God.’”

When we get to the reading from Hebrew’s we need to look forward from Jesus. Jesus has already died and been resurrected, and Paul now tries to understand that death and resurrection, to piece together the puzzle parts from Hebrew scripture and from the events of jesus’ life and try to understand what was really going on. He notes Jesus’ obedience tot he Father, his prayers to the Father, his perfection from sin, and finally his through his death he brought salvation.

Obedience and servitude – not qualities that are thought much of today. Society rebels against those concepts. But as always, God’s ways are not our ways, and if Jesus is preaching a kingdom of heaven beginning today on earth, we are being presented with a way to achieve this kingdom today. It is only by lowering ourselves – spiritually, by seeing our helplessness and need for God; emotionally, by trusting implicitly in God’s will; and physically, by obeying God’s commands and becoming a source of help for others, truly serving them.

I let the Passion reading today speak for itself because it is the center point, the point from which we look back or look forward, the point where all things changed, the climax of God’s long trip with us, the tragedy that became to the most glorious of events by redeeming us, and the moment where Jesus is exalted and lifted up, and he is very high. So let us not see this cross, this instrument of torture, as something to be embarrassed about, but as something that raises up and gives glory both to Jesus and through him to us. I close with the final words of today’s psalm: “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord”.  He will be back again on easter Sunday in full glory. 

And this is the incredible Good news of our salvation through Jesus Christ.

Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for Holy Thursday – The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Year A 2014

April 13, 2014

The last few years, speaking on this feast of the Lord’s Supper, I have concentrated on the Eucharist -  even though our Gospel writer of the evening, John, does not. Because the Eucharist is central to our faith and according to three of the four Gospel writers was instituted this evening, I have spent much of my time with you looking at the Eucharist in light of the feasts of Holy Week, and where indeed our first and second readings and psalms would have us go this evening.

Tonight, however, I would like to center my remarks where the unknown compilers of our yearly readings have concentrated their main focus – the Last Supper according to John’s account.

There have been many interpretations of Jesus’ washing the feet of the apostles. The two most prominent would be the idea that Jesus, lowering himself to do such an action, prefigures what will happen the next day when his death on the cross will wash us clean, but in a most demeaning way.  The other main interpretation is that Jesus was trying to show us how to act, how to be humble, and that we should follow his example in this. In other words, the first interpretation is about what God does for us, and the second, what we need to do to become like Jesus.

What is it that was so upsetting about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples?  After all, it was very common in this period for a person to have his feet washed. There were no roads, just dirt, and sandals left room for the dirt to stain people’s feet. Most people had their feet washed when they entered a home, just to keep out the dirt. Peter is upset simply because it was usually a servant or a menial who washed the guests’ feet. Peter does not want to see Jesus as a menial – after all, we saw a few weeks ago at the Transfiguration, that Peter was told by God that Jesus was his Son, the Messiah. Peter still did not understand that the whole idea of a conquering, glorious Messiah was about to be turned around, and that the Messiah would be quite the opposite of what he thought it would be like.

Jesus responds to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” I would like you to think a few moments about the words “Unless I wash you….”  The idea of baptism might obviously come to mind, or the “living water” that Christ spoke about to the Samaritan woman on the 3rd Sunday of Lent. I would suggest to you that the important word here is “you” – “Unless I wash you….” Jesus is telling Peter that he needs to be washed, cleaned, his way of life reoriented, his thinking changed. All the things he thought about the way to live as a Jewish man needed to be stripped away by the waters of Jesus. What was top was now bottom. Master was now servant. The rich were the poorer. In Protestant terms, the phrase “be born again” might apply here. And this change in how one sees the world is really quite radical. Society teaches us one thing, Jesus quite another.

But if we want to experience God, if we want to go where Jesus goes, if we want to have a share with Jesus, we have to turn upside down many of our modern beliefs, the things that society is telling us are important. Let Jesus wash them away – then we can move on to the ethical model of Jesus and see ourselves as servants and service to others.

It is no wonder that so many had and still have such difficulty in reorienting their minds to the Christian way. But it is the love that Christ shows in lowering himself to become our servant, lowering himself to die on a cross tomorrow, and commemorated at each Eucharist, lowering himself so that even the most menial of tasks can show unlimited love – this is what we are called to do by Jesus’ actions tonight.

Peter resisted this, even though he knew who Jesus was. Peter did seem to fathom finally what Jesus was saying and asked to him to wash his whole person, but Peter would not truly understand till much later that this act of a slave would be the way Jesus would be the Messiah, the way he would die tomorrow to save everyone. Jesus’ way is the way of a servant, the way of humility, the way of death for a friend.

Judas resisted this as well because he could not find it in his heart to change the way he saw the world. We resist as well. It is a big leap of faith to reverse much of our way of life and way of thinking to question much of our modern realities. Even knowing that Judas would betray him, Jesus washed his feet as well. What a lesson that is for us!

We celebrate this feast on the Feast of the Passover which led to the Hebrews free, but traveling through the wilderness for forty years. Even then God sent them manna and fed them. God has continued to send us manna. This “bread from heaven” for us has been Jesus himself. He continues to feed us.

To make this meaningful for us tonight, I would like to suggest that what Jesus was trying to show us this evening was that Jesus was telling us to live a life of service, yes, but also to die just as he did. That death, however, for us today, probably will not be on a cross because we have stood for our beliefs, but they may be little deaths of our selves – our need for power, for wealth, for being right all the time, for thinking primarily of ourselves. 

Lastly, I want to note that Jesus washed the feet of his intimate group of disciples. He didn’t go out into the streets and wash people’s feet or like Pope Francis did last year, wash the feet of the sick and poor, though I am not disparaging that. He washed the feet of his friends. We need to constantly look at our relationships with each other in this community and be servants to each other. My feeling is that we do that quite often and quite naturally in this community, but I would like you to see it as a mandate from Jesus. It is the way he would want us to act toward each other, to be there for each other, to love and help each other, to give ourselves to each other when there is need. Our eating together after this service, our sharing of a the food we brought, just as Jesus supped and shared with his friends, can be just another illustration of our need for each other and our need to know each other better, to love each other more, and to celebrate our own community.

Let our celebration continue with this Good News and let each of us be good news for our neighbor in the coming year!.

Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year A 2014

April 6, 2014

Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year A  2014

I usually let the Gospel of the Passions speak for themselves because they are moving in their completeness and detail, and perhaps too large to comment on in a brief homily. So it is today with the Gospel of Matthew, 

My words today will focus briefly on the readings that frame the Gospel.  We began with the Gospel reading of Jesus entry into Jerusalem – very much a contrast to the Passion that we hear twenty minutes later! Jesus is seen by his followers as a savior, a messiah who will deliver them from the Roman captors. The procession into the city is linked to the Hebrew tradition by Matthew by the quotation from the Hebrew Testament: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey.” The humble man who will save his people is hailed as he enters the city for the Passover festival. Little do they know that the key word here is humility, and the messiah will not bring them the liberation they are expecting, but something far greater.

The prophet Isaiah describes the person who will sent by God to save his people – not a conqueror, but a servant, a teacher who speaks healing words, sent to give strength to those who are tired. This servant will suffer, will be struck by his masters. They will insult and spit on this servant and treat him badly. But this servant will place all his trust in God, and so what seems like disgrace will become something else. This servant with total trust will set his face to the task at hand as solid as flint, and what would seem an embarrassment will be his glory. 

The evangelists certainly saw this words as applying to Jesus, the teacher-healer who was mocked and spat upon, insulted and nailed to an instrument of torture. What should have been his shame, dying a criminal on a hill, however, will become Jesus’ glory, and will indeed save us, not from the Romans, but from the reign of Satan and death.

The remarkably poignant psalm today can be put directly into the mouth of Jesus on the cross. He remarks on how badly he is mocked, how battered is his body. His clothing has been taken from him and raffled off. He is at the lowest, questioning even whether God has forsaken him. But then the psalm changes, and the the psalmist – and Jesus- placing their total trust in God, know that all will be well, that they will be glorified, that God’s will is being done. We should stand in awe of the God who can do anything and has loved us unconditionally.

St. Paul then is able to summarize all this and put it into theological perspective. God, loving us so much, humbled himself, lowered himself to take on human flesh and become one of us. He obeyed his Father completely and but by that obedience, even to the point of death on a cross, he saved us and was exalted beyond all humans, so that we should honor him forever and confess our gratitude to him by our faith, hope and love.

Think of this, then, as a frame which surrounds the actions we heard about today. Try to find ways to once again realize the enormity of what this means, and in thanksgiving, try to live our lives in a way that will be worthy of the “way” that Jesus taught us to go to get to a little heaven on this earth and to reach the perfection of heaven. Please consider taking the whole Holy Week journey with us, celebrating Passover on Thursday, the crucifixion on Friday, the Vigil on Saturday and Easter Sunday’s glory.

This is today’s Good News which seemed like bad news at the time, and focused on the bleakest of stories, but our journey not yet ended with Easter yet to turn everything around.

Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year A 2014

March 30, 2014

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent , Year A  2014

In the last Sunday before we begin Holy Week and follow the way of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, today’s readings look ahead to Easter in that they all deal with resurrection in some form.

In Jesus’ time medicine was so primitive that they often could not distinguish between death and a person being comatose. There were several stories of people being buried alive because of this. However, the Jews wanted to make sure this never happened and they did this by checking on the body every day for three days, just to make sure it was dead. After the third day, the body would start to decompose and smell, and so they felt it was safe to declare it dead.  It is interesting to note that the point was made that Lazarus had been dead for four days. He was really dead, and wasn’t going to get up and walk around. He smelled.

His sisters would do shivah, mourn Lazarus for seven days by sitting in the house, praying, mourning and having visitors join them in this. Normally, they would not leave the house and meet a guest. An exception to tradition was made in the case of Jesus, however. Martha left the house to meet Jesus.

Now Jesus had taken his time getting to Bethany where Lazarus was, even though the sisters had sent for him and let him know about Lazarus’ illness. This seemed very planned out in Jesus mind – he informs the Apostles first that “this illness does not lead to death.” He knew that in the end, there would not be death. And he saw a greater purpose for what was to happen. The theme that good things can come from bad things happening resonates all throughout the Bible, from Abraham setting out to kill his son, to Joseph being thrown into a pit and left for dead, and to Moses being cast out onto the waters. The Church has a Latin phrase to describe this – felix culpa – happy fault, when something bad leads to something good, and applies it to Adam’s sin which causes God to send Christ to redeem us. Jesus knew there would be a happy ending to the Lazarus story and that it would also be a pinnacle of proof for who he really was – the awaited Messiah.

The disciples were just as happy that Jesus was not going back to see Lazarus because there had been trouble the last time they were in Judea and they had been stoned by people there. They try to convince Jesus not to go. If he is only sleeping, he will be fine, they say.  Let’s not go. Finally Jesus has to tell them that he must go because Lazarus died. Thomas is especially unhappy about it as he states, probably sarcastically, “Let’s go with him, so we can die, too. Lucky us.”

When Jesus arrives Mary and Martha show their disappointment in Jesus when they say – “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They knew and believed that Jesus was a healer and that he could have healed Lazarus.

This allows Jesus to preach the most revolutionary teachings that he proposed so far – eternal life through Him. When Jesus tells Martha that he will rise again, she thinks he is talking about more recent Hebrew teachings that there will be a final day of resurrection for all living things, found in the Book of Daniel. But Jesus says, no, that isn’t what he means. “I am the resurrection and the life. whoever believes in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Martha has always had a deep faith in Jesus and so she lets him know that she believes this and also believes that he is the Messiah, the Son of God.

As a result of this, Jesus shocks everyone present by calling Lazarus from the tomb, and his resurrection brought about the conversion of the people who witnessed it, some of whom were presumably those who had wanted to stone him earlier from claiming to be Messiah.

The words of Ezekiel the prophet are then fulfilled in Jesus who opened up graves, and brought Lazarus up from his grave, and all knew that he was the Lord. Ezekiel was, of course, speaking about Israel’s resurrection as a nation, but read backwards, knowing what we know about Jesus, we can see that this promise of Israel’s resurrection was made concrete in the works of Jesus, the Christ.

Out of the depths (Ps 130) of Mary and Martha’s despair and Lazarus’ death, Jesus has raised a man up, and in his own death will redeem us, be resurrected and “put a great spirit within us, and [we] shall live (Ez 37:14). 

From Ezekiel’s prediction that God will send his Spirit we read in Paul’s letter to the Romans today that we are “in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in [us] (Rom 8:9) and like Lazarus and like Jesus “our mortal bodies” will be given life. This promise, this knowledge, that we shall rise and conquer death is one of the most alluring, awe-inspiring, revolutionary teachings in our whole Catholic faith, and it is what we are about to celebrate in two weeks. But before that happens, there has to be the death, which there will be for all of us, the dark before the light. Beginning next week we begin to look at that dark, the Passion and the Suffering, the intense pain, the fear of death. How wonderful for the Church to sandwich all this suffering between the resurrection narratives so that we always keep in focus the Spring that comes out of Winter.

Let us this week reflect on our own deaths, our own transgressions, our own fears, but be able to see them surrounded and sandwiched by the light of the Good News of Resurrection that Christ provides for us. By really looking at ourselves and ways we need to improve ourselves and reach out to others, we can approach this Resurrection day with less fear and trembling, but with the hope that all those who witnessed the rising of Lazarus had on that day. And this is the Good News on which we need to focus on this last week of the Lenten season before Holy Week.

Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent, Year A 2014

March 23, 2014

Homily for the  4th Sunday of Lent, Year A  2014

It is perhaps difficult for us to understand the intricate thinking of the Pharisees or to fathom the many, many purification laws of the Hebrews, but many of these were second nature to them, just as many of the traditions and rules we have in the Catholic church become part of who we are and we don’t even think about them much. It is only when someone questions them or an outsider laughs at them, do we pause to think about the meaning of them. We make the sign of the cross when we enter church or begin prayer – most of us don’t think twice about it, but we hear someone making a joke about a Catholic brushing away flies before he prays, and we pause to consider what we do.

There were things that Jews just didn’t do on their Sabbath days. Basically, they did not work, so anything that seemed like work was forbidden them. I doubt they thought about it much; it was just there and they did it the way they were supposed to.  Now the Pharisees, because they were such religious conservatives, began to very picky about the rules and applied them even when it might not have made sense to do so.  I say all this because Jesus apparently was breaking rules when he cured this blind man today. First, and foremost, he was doing it on a Sabbath day. You apparently couldn’t ‘doctor’ on a Sabbath. But even more, he was making a building material by wetting and mixing clay. This was also forbidden. Why, you couldn’t even mix your animal’s food – you could provide it, but the animal had to mix it itself.

Obviously, because we are outsiders to these traditions, it is easy for us to see that someone is really missing the point here. Isn’t an overall good happening enough to take precedence over rules? Jesus has taken a man who has never seen before, blind from birth, and given him his sight back. Certainly that should overshadow the minutia of rules being broken. But for the Pharisees it wasn’t.

This scene obviously took place not too long before Jesus’ death. You might have noted the words “that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). Sides had been taken and the Pharisees were not on the side of Jesus. What is not so clear in the text but was factual was that this blind man, now seeing, would probably be “put out of the synagogue”, excommunicated we would say, because of his new belief in who Jesus was. To be ostracized from the synagogue would be a dreadful thing because he would be cut off from the community in which he lives.

But the man has experienced Jesus, and has experienced in a way like no other, and so at the very least he knows that Jesus is a prophet, which is what he declares to the Pharisees. In the attempt of the blind man to convince the Pharisees that Jesus was from God, he was fighting a losing battle. Their minds had been made up – even though it was still controversial and there was some division. In the end, they call the blind man a sinner – echoing the opening lines of the reading today that suggest that infirmities are caused by sin – and they excommunicate him from the synagogue.  He may have gained his sight, but he lost the community that was dear to him.

When Jesus heard what had happened he sought the man out and confirmed what the man had probably been thinking – that Jesus was the Messiah. He believed Jesus when Jesus said “the one speaking to you is he”, and he worshipped Jesus.

I struggled this week to see why the Church combined this Gospel reading with the story of David’s election by God. The story of Samuel being sent to look for a King in Bethlehem, and subsequently realizing that God’s ways are different from our ways in that the election fell on the youngest son rather than the eldest son – a boy who tended sheep (a very lowly and distrusted profession) but who was destined to be a King of Israel. What connection was I missing?

And after reflection I realized that it had to be all about ‘sight’. Samuel couldn’t see the person God had chosen to be King until David was brought in, and what does Samuel notice most about David but his “beautiful eyes”. Can this be a metaphor that David would have the sight needed to recognize God and be the King Israel wanted? And then we sing “The Lord is my Shepherd” tying together the fact that like David, Jesus is also our shepherd. In Ephesians today the meaning is even more clear – “Once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light…Christ will shine on you.” And in the Gospel Jesus explains that he has come “into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see…”

We are like the blind wandering around in a world whose beauty we cannot see, clouded by much sin and corruption. But Jesus allows us to see, he says. And what is it that we see? We see the light of Christ, we see the heavenly kingdom reflected on earth, we see our sins and faults for what they are, we see the beauty of God’s word, we see the struggle of the Church to continue to bring light to the world, we see things as they really are – and we are like the blind man – enabled to see Jesus for who he is, truly is – our Messiah, our Savior, our Light, our Way to God.

These readings are chosen in the Lenten season to give us hope on our 40 day journey, to help us look outward as well as inward. Too much self-reflection may make us miss the point that there is light at the end of the Christian tunnel, and that light is Jesus. We want to keep moving toward the light, aware of our frailties, our sinfulness, our pride, but allowing the light to point out these defects, and choosing God, getting rid of these – just as Jesus got rid of the blindness of the man today, so that we too may continue to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. Our infirmities, our sicknesses, our failures are not caused by sin, but they can be ways to let us see the light.  Victims of cancer often acknowledge that they now see things in a very different way. We pray today that as we quickly move through our 40 days of fast and prayer, we all get glimpses of light and come to Easter with full sight, bathed in the shining light of Christ.

And this is the Good News I pray for you today!

Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, Year A 2014

March 16, 2014

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A  2013-14

Our Gospel today was much longer than usual, but there are many important things going on in this story.  I found it fascinating to read about why the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is considered to be one of the most important and interesting passages in the Gospels.

First of all, some background. Jesus was crossing through Samaria – a fact registered at the beginning that probably doesn’t mean much to us.  But most Jews of the period would not have gone through Samaria, they would have gone around it. Samaritans and Jews, though they believed in the same God, had never forgiven each other for earlier issues, especially the Samaritan intermarriages with pagans. There were also some theological differences, one main one being that Jews believed God was in the Temple in Jerusalem while Samaritans believed God was on Mount Horeb where they worshipped.  In any case, Jesus goes through Samaria, making that the first rebellious thing he does. He and the disciples are tired, so when they reach a famous watering place called Jacob’s well, he sends the disciples into the city for food, but they seem to have taken with them their supplies – which meant that Jesus did not have a container to put any water in. It was noon and it was hot and Jesus became thirsty.

Now the woman who comes to the well is not traditional either. Normally women would come to the well for water early or late in the day to avoid the heat of the noon sun. No woman in her right mind would come at noon. Women would always be accompanied. This women came at noon and alone. Unusual! It might have meant that she was an outcast and the other women might not have anything to do with her, for as we see later she was very promiscuous.

In no way would a man sit with a woman, alone, in Hebrew society. It just was not done. But Jesus asks the woman for water. Even if he could have talked to her, he certainly would not, for purity reasons, drink out of her vessel. But he asks her for water.

She is rather taken aback by this, and does ask him if he knows what he is doing. The fact that she would flaunt tradition and talk to him is important also, and says something about her character.  Was she looking for someone to pick up at the well, that she would engage in any conversation?

After this we get a dialogue between the two. If we take a moment to look at the approach of Jesus to this woman, we might note some interesting facts. Jesus does not start the conversation by trying to convert the woman, but he expresses that he needs something from her. He does not approach her in a way that makes him seem better than she is, but on the contrary, he comes across as needier than she is. She can help him.

It is only after he shows that need that he begins to talk to her and explain his mission to her. Perhaps we can only build a relationship by needing each other, and so that is what Jesus does with this woman. He expresses his need of her and then explains what he can do to help her needs. We might think of this applying to today when we do things for people, even with very good motive, but do it in a way that shows we are superior and strong, and they are inferior and weak. What Jesus, in essence has done is to build up the woman and make her feel worthy to be a receiver herself.

Now let us look at the dialogue.  The woman begins by asking Jesus what is going on that a Jewish man is taking to a woman, and even more, a woman from a hated people. Subtly she is asking if he wants anything more from her.  Is this a come on, in other words?

Jesus’ reply is that if you only knew the gift from God I could be to you, that you would only ask and I could give you water – living water. She is probably thinking that “living water” means spring water, and so she replies that Jesus has nothing from which to gather any water, and she asks if he is thinking he is offering better water than Jacob in her Scriptures who drank from this well originally. She has not yet seen that it is the person of Jesus that is more important than Jacob and the Scriptures themselves.

Jesus then begins to expand on the “living waters” and in doing so expresses to her that what he offers is different than water that can quench but will leave  the person to become thirsty again. He does not engage her political question about Jews and Samaritans and who has the right to claim ancestry to the Scriptures. He tells her that whoever drinks the water he will give will never thirst and will have eternal life.

Jesus is still not reaching the woman except in a superficial way.  She sees what he says as magic and wants to know where she can get some of this living water that can stop me from dying, from having to work so hard.

Then, again without really replying to what she says, he asks her to be a witness to what he says, and do three things – go, tell someone and come back. Is Jesus then asking her to be an evangelist – isn’t that precisely what he asked his apostles to do? The fact that she is a woman and foreign seems to make no difference to Jesus. Is she to become the “spring of water” he has just described, by flowing to others?

Her reply to this is not quite truthful – she says she has no husband to tell. Jesus lets her know that he knows the truth about her and that she has had many partners, and is not presently married to the one she is living with.

Now it is her turn to change the topic. It must have shocked her that Jesus could know this and she doesn’t want to discuss it. She says he must be a prophet to know that, so then she switches to another difference between Jews and Samaritans – wanting to know which is the correct place to worship, but in a sense she has played right into Jesus hands. Traditionally, once a prophet has exposed a sin, the sinner must then go to God and ask forgiveness. In Jewish tradition you would go to the Temple in Jerusalem.  In Samartitan tradition you would go to the holy mountain. Inadvertently, the Samaritan woman has played right into that question of what she should do about her life, and how she asks forgiveness and starts afresh.

Jesus does answer her question, however.  In a very theologically important conversation, Jesus says that the source of salvation is the Jews, but that where you believe God is, is no longer of any relevance. God is spirit and as such is everywhere and anywhere.

The woman says she hopes the messiah will come soon in order to clarify what Jesus has said and to give everyone the truth. Jesus’ reply is “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” This is the first of the nine “I am” sayings in St. John’s Gospel. And it is amazing that it is being said to a woman, and a non-Jewish woman at that. And how intriguing that the first person that Jesus has told outright that he is the Messiah is a woman, a foreign woman, a sinful foreign woman!

The woman obviously believed Jesus at this point, but now the disciples return. You can imagine their cultural surprise when they see Jesus talking to this Samaritan woman, but they knew better than to say anything to Jesus. The woman senses perhaps that the newcomers are hostile to her, so she gets up and does what Jesus has asked her to do – go, tell, and return. We know she will return because she has left her water jar. And she will do more than Jesus asked, not telling just the non-existent husband, but by telling the whole community. One homilist I read noted that in leaving the water and water jar behind, she was going as the living water herself to become a stream for others. How wonderful that Jesus has used a woman for this important moment – and how it would have raised the status of women in that time.

As a witness, she approaches the Samaritans first with something to get their attention, given that she probably has a reputation.  ‘This man told me all my wrongdoings – all of them! ‘ Then she doesn’t say that she has seen the Christ or that he said he was the Messiah, but that if they come to hear him they might discover he is the Messiah. She does this by simply asking the question: He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” It puts the question into their minds as they go to hear Jesus.

Next we get a short scene that perhaps balances the idea of living water with that other staple of food. The Apostles ask Jesus to eat because he must be hungry. The living food that Jesus just had was his encounter with the woman. It is a different kind of nourishment. Jesus has sowed it and now will watch it grow and come to fruition because the Samaritans return with the woman and ask him to stay two days. In those two days, Jesus brought the whole village living water, and they believed that he was the Messiah, and that he had truly come to save the world.

So, in summary, there are many points made in this story. First, is that Jesus is made manifest as Savior of the world, not just Savior to the Jews.  Secondly, woman’s status in this period has been raised by his discussions with her and his sending of her as a “missionary”.  Thirdly, we know that God is not found in a place – but that he is spirit and everywhere. Fourthly, the person Jesus replaces Scriptures as a covenant. And lastly we have a vision of the model of Christianity – we are like springs of water that go out and nourish others, giving them vision of the kingdom and eternal life.

The reading from Exodus today talked about Moses striking a rock and water coming out from it. That water quenched the physical thirst of the Jewish people.  Christ has come to quench our spiritual thirst. As Paul said today – we are sinners, just like the Samaritan woman, but we can drink the living water and “boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

This week as we continue our Lenten journey of prayer, reflection and fasting from things that distract us from God, let us know that, like the Samaritan woman we are being called to go, tell and return as well. It reminds of us of our obligation to share our faith, evangelize, share its importance in our lives, not put our light under a bushel. And to come back to God ourselves.

This is the challenge of spreading he Good News that I leave you with this week as we journey on towards our remembrance of that holy week when Jesus gave himself up for our sakes. May we spread the Good News of today!

Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A 2013-14

March 9, 2014

Homily for the  2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A  2013-14

Today’s Gospel – the Transfiguration – is presented to us a number of times over the three year cycle of readings, and its importance is such that it appears in all the Gospels. But I would like to come at it in a slightly different way this time around.  Last week we saw that Jesus, in his humanity, had to pull away from the distracting elements of human life in order to better communicate with the Father and be in touch with his Godhead. Jesus does this many times, usually before important things happen – before he chooses apostles, before his passion, before his public service begins. The same is the case today, although he brings three of the disciples along with him.

The context of today’s reading is also important. Jesus goes up to the mountain, not to be transfigured, but to pray. As a human Jesus experiences all the emotions that we do, and at this time of his life I would imagine that he would be a bit depressed, discouraged and frustrated.  He has been going around preaching the Good News that the kingdom of heaven has arrived He has been healing the sick, performing miracles, telling them he is the one they have been waiting for, but he has not been accepted by his own people. Oh yes, they come to him to be cured or to have a miracle happen, but they haven’t accepted him for who he really is. He knows that the great work is yet to come – he has predicted his own death to the apostles – and he must feel it is about to happen. He is weary and maybe even more than a little frightened. So he does what he always does when he needs to commune with God, to refresh himself, to get strength to continue his work – he goes to nature to pray, this time to the mountains.

As he has done so many times before, he probably goes off a little way by himself, leaving the three apostles – Peter, James and John – while he pulls away from human things to talk with the Father in prayer. And while he was praying, the Apostles see a transformation take place – Jesus began to shine, and his clothes turned to a dazzling white.  The Apostles began to physically see what they had known all along, that Christ was the Son of God, that he was special, that he was Messiah. The transfigured man they saw before him became a spirit-like being, and not only that they could see that he was in the center talking with two other spirit-like men that they identified as Moses and Elijah.

It was not long ago that Jesus had told the Apostles that he had come to fulfill the Law (the Teachings) and the Prophets. Moses represented the teachings of God, what we call the Law, and Elijah represented the prophets. And here was Jesus, in the center, about to complete what he said he was completing.

Oh, that we could hear the words that Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus. They were not recorded or perhaps even heard by the Apostles, but I would imagine that they were words of encouragement to Jesus, words that could help Jesus through the Passion and death that was to follow.

Peter wants to build three shrines to commemorate the event, and Matthew makes no comment on this unlike other evangelists who do. Then the voice of God makes clear the meaning of the event and the pleasure God has in the obedience of his Son – “This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

Even if no one else had been listening to Jesus and accepting him as the one who had been foretold – the Messiah, the Apostles got it directly from God, and how could they not believe it? The voice frightened them to death, and they fell to the ground in awe.

But the time Jesus had spent in prayer did exactly what it had been planned to do – it took away Jesus’ own fear, and gave him the courage to face his own death, now knowing that the Son of Man would be “raised from the dead”.

All of this was necessary according to St. Paul today so that death could be abolished by our Savior Christ Jesus who brought “life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”  And Paul says we didn’t have anything to do with it – it was “a total gift from God according to his own purpose and grace”. And all of this was necessary, too, because of a promise that God made to Abram in the beginnings of Hebrew history – “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise to Abram.

As I tried to make clear last week, Jesus was God, but he was also a man with all the emotions and limitations, though without the sin. None of us could be perfect as God is perfect, so none of us could redeem the world. But Jesus could be perfect, and in the death of that perfect man, the Lamb who died for our sins, our sins are forgiven us and heaven opened to us.

What did Jesus feel like when he came down from that mountain? What human emotions must he have felt as he asked the apostles not to talk about it? Certainly, there was a new resolve, a new strength, perhaps a complete human understanding of what he must go through and why.

What can we learn from this event, and how can it impact our lives? We are as human as Jesus and we too become frightened, discouraged, frustrated, caught up in a vortex of worldly troubles that drag us along. Do we go up to our mountains and pray? Do we take the time to get in touch with nature and let God talk to us? We, too, are God’s beloved sons and daughters. Do you think that God will ever treat us any differently than Jesus? God will be there to comfort us. We may still have to go through passions, sickness, fears, and horrors as Jesus did, but God will find a way to help us understand and get through these times. Talk to God. Give your emotions to God. Give yourself to God. As our psalm says today: “Let your love be upon us O Lord, as we place our trust in you. “Truly the eye of the Lord” watches over us and we have only to find a way to get a dial tone to heaven.

This is Good News and the kind of good news we need to hear when problems of life surround us. In this Lenten voyage, let’s find some time to let God comfort us. And this is the Good News i want to leave you with today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese

Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year A 2013-14

March 2, 2014

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year A  2013-14

I happened to be reading Karl Rahner the other day and was surprised to find out that in the Western Church, the Season of Lent as a time of prayer and fasting was a much later addition than I had thought. It came sometime in the 7th century. Up to that time Holy Week was the only penitential time – the six days preceding Easter. So why did our liturgical concept of Lent develop and what do we see it as today?

Obviously, since it is a forty day period of time, it must have something to do with the Gospel of Matthew that we read today. In Matthew, before Jesus begins his three years of ministry, he goes off by himself into the wild to fast and to pray. As I thought about this it seemed that forty days was an incredibly long time to fast. Matthew says that near the end he was “famished”.  He must have been! Now fasting does not necessarily mean that he ate or drank nothing, but since he was alone out in the wilderness, he couldn’t have had much. He was led to do this by the Spirit, so he did it. It also seems that this forty days must have been an important time in which Jesus was coming to terms with who he was. He left the world that he knew, the family that he knew and stripped himself of as much of his humanity as he could, in order to fully comprehend his divinity. Even though Jesus was God, he was also fully human, and our humanity often gets in the way of seeing and understanding the divine. Prayer and fasting for Jesus must have been the means to get closer to his Godhead, to communicate with the Father, to understand the dichotomy of being a God-human, and more to the purpose, he needed to know what he was supposed to do.

But he was fully human and at the end of the forty days, things happened to him in probably a very human way. Someone in his condition could begin to hallucinate, and while I do not want to say that the tempter was a figment of Jesus’ imagination (I believe the temptations were real!) his physical condition left him in a very vulnerable state.

When the tempter came after him, the devil cleverly played on that state.  At this point, Jesus knew that he was the Son of God – his forty days had made that very clear to him – and so the tempter uses that point as a starting point in the temptations. If you are really the Son of God, what are you doing out here starving? You don’t need to starve; you could easily command these rocks become food for you. If you are God’s Son, what are you doing in this wilderness, stumbling around? You could summon angels to protect you. If you really are the Son of God, you don’t have to be here starving and lonely, you could make yourself King and be waited on, and everyone would want to befriend you.

The devil inside Jesus plays on the very human fears and needs of us all. But Jesus, though tempted, never gives in, never says what most of us would say. He has gone out to the wilderness to find God, to communicate with God, to realize his Godhead, and he knows now that this is all that matters – that his very life is directed to and by God. And so, he is able to say to the tempter that the only food he needs is the Word of God, the only help he needs is the love of God and the only kingdom he needs is the eternal kingdom of the Father. He tells Satan to get away from him. Even in his weakness and hunger and fatigue, he knows now what he has to do and what is important in human, as well as divine, life. “Away with you, Satan!”. And ironically, though he has turned down the request of angelic help, the angels come and minister to him as a sign of who is really is.

We are not gods, no matter that we try to act like we are sometimes. If Jesus who was Son of God needed to strip away his humanity through prayer and fasting in order to get a clear vision of God and what God wanted of him and his own Godhead, how much more must we need to do it?

In the first reading today we hear again the story from Genesis of the other great temptation. The one that we did not pass – the temptation to be like gods. This great decision of Adam and Eve was not thought out carefully in the wilderness. They were apparently hungry – either for food or knowledge – but they forsake God’s command and gave in to that temptation.

And so, in our second reading from Paul today to the Romans, Paul explains how Jesus came to make right that bad decision, that temptation so easily given into by Adam and Eve; how that would be made right by someone who would not give into temptation. And so Paul can say that “…just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all people, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all people. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

And it all began out in the wilderness, when Jesus makes the decision not to be tempted and to begin his work of redemption. And so, through Jesus, we can have our transgressions blotted out, as we prayed in our Psalm response today.

So it is that each year since the 7th century the Western church has Lent – 40 days in which to pray and fast and be like Jesus in an attempt to get closer to our God and know what God is asking of us. What we do to divest ourselves of our totally human inclinations can be called “fasting”. The days of giving up candy for Lent I hope are gone. It has to be more serious than that. We need to try to find something in our lives that is pulling us away from God, and try to do without that. Maybe it is spending too much time surfing the internet, too much time shopping, too much time playing games on the computer – whatever is stopping us from getting in touch with our spiritual selves and making a connection with our God – that would be the true concept of fasting in the wilderness today.

So I ask you to look at these things as the days go by, not to lose sight of them, to try every single day to get a little closer to God through prayer, meditation, good works, charitable deeds, and less catering to our mostly selfish needs. If you do this, you may be tempted, as Jesus was, to take the easier routes, but maybe, like Jesus, you will be able to easier say: Get away, Satan. God and God’s kingdom is more important to me!

And this is the Good News of prayer and fasting I present to you today. May you truly discover God this Lent, and the path God wants you to take.

 

Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]


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