Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

August 24, 2014

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

In our first reading today the prophet Jeremiah tries to explain what it means to be a prophet and how God almost forces the prophet to speak out what God dictates and and wants. The imagery is strong almost rape-like. God entices and then overpowers the prophet, prevailing or getting his way with him. Strong imagery about how strong the need to prophesy is within the prophet!

And the prophet is usually not comfortable with the message because it seems to be so much gloom and doom. How wonderful it would be to say something nice, something good, something comforting, but Jeremiah is forced only to warn of violence and destruction. The word of God that he hears and is forced to speak is words of reproach and ridicule of the Hebrew people. If Jeremiah decides that he can stand it no more and tries not speaking, not preaching God’s word to him, it builds up inside him to the point where it has to burst forth like a burning fire in his bones and he has no control over it. It doesn’t seem that Jeremiah is too comfortable being a prophet, and not many of them were. Jonah even ran away from God, but to no avail!

So the knowledge of the will of God  is to a certain extent with the Hebrew people themselves. In the psalms David uses the image of thirst: My soul thirsts for you. There is a longing in each of us for something more, something transcendent, something that we are being drawn to – and we thirst for it. And as you know, thirst must be quenched. When it is, the Psalmist says, when we give in to God, his soul, he says, is satisfied as with a rich feast. His thirst is quenched.

Similarly, St. Paul tells the Romans that they, too, need to quench this kind of thirst, and that the way to do it is to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice so that God can be heard and we will be able to “discern what is the will of God”. It is by not conforming to the changing ways of the world that can distract and not allow us to hear God speaking to us, so we must make new our minds, centering on God and God’s will for us.

I think what ties this all together is the advice of Jesus about being a follower of him. He says a follower has to do two things – deny him or her self and secondly, to take up the cross. The denying of oneself is basically what the prophet Isaiah talks about when he talks about God burning within him so much that he just has to give up and let it out. When we deny ourselves, we are simply submitting to God’s will as we pray every day: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. By denying ourselves we leave ourselves open to possibilities, to creativity, to hearing God inside us.

The second part of being a follower is to take up your cross. This is a violent image, as violent as the one of Jeremiah at the beginning of his reading today, but we lose some of its violence today because we take the cross for granted. It has become a household sight, a cute symbol of Christ, but in actuality it is a symbol of one of the most violent of ways to be murdered. Here in Christ’s mandate, I think, it means an acceptance of all things life can throw at us – the good and the bad. It is succumbing to the idea that maybe God has something better in store for us because of it, and we don’t second guess what God’s will is. That doesn’t mean we don’t pray for help with our crosses, with our temptations, with our sins, but we know that Jesus has said we will never be tempted beyond our ability to deal with it. When we can do this, we are a follower of Jesus, and to follow means that you are right behind the person being followed, right behind Jesus. He is there with you. And at the end of our time, or of Time itself, when the Son of Man comes again with his Angels in the glory of the Father, we will be a friend, a follower, and we need not fear the repayment that will be demanded.

In today’s reading Jesus predicts what is going to happen to him, and like Jeremiah’s predictions it is violence and gloom and destruction. He will undergo great suffering, be killed, but then be raised. When Peter refuses to accept that this is God’s will, Jesus calls him Satan because it is only in Jesus’ acceptance of God’s will that there would be salvation. Peter is tempting Jesus to question, to fight back against it, and so Jesus calls him Tempter, calls him Satan.

How can all this be applied to our rather uncomplicated lives this coming week? I think a simple answer would be that we have to listen for the God who is inside us, we have to thirst to hear our God, we have to give in to the fact that no matter what we want, “we are not thinking as God does”, and it is only in listening that we can understand and accept and give our lives over to God to do whatever is best for us. So instead of picking up your phone and dialing friends this week, put the iPhone down and dial up God. Spend some time with him, deny yourself by finding time for God this week, remembering that being open to God might mean that God can be seen and heard in another person you meet as well. And pick up your cross by knowing that our end is death and resurrection as well, and that crosses are only temporary, as bad as they sometimes might seem. What they lead to, if we offer ourselves to God’s will” is becoming one with God’s will – which is Paul says at the end of our reading today is“good, and acceptable, and perfect.”

And this is the way we might act out the Good News in our lives this week!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[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 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

August 17, 2014

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

If this Gospel seems very familiar it is because we heard it on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul just a few weeks ago. This doesn’t  make it too easy for the homilists, does it!

For this reason I am going to spend a little more time on the Isaiah reading and the Romans excerpt. First of all, Isaiah.

The name Shebna is probably not too familiar to you, and we don’t know much about him.  Apparently he was a servant who moved up to the position of controller or governor of the King’s household which would be a very prominent position. And Shebna apparently took every advantage that came with it. He was very enamored of things, and was building himself a huge tomb for his death, something that only princes did, and was proud, and more concerned about himself and his luxuries than he was of the people under him. It is also said that he was politically working against Israel to gain profit. For this he was eventually demoted to the position of a secretary.

Isaiah did not like him very much, and the words that God puts into Isaiah’s mouth are strong in their indictment of him. Because of his pride he will be “thrust” from office, “pulled down” and someone else will be put in his place, someone more honorable and respectful of his heritage.

When someone places things ahead of God in the Hebrew Testament, they are often punished for it. The honorable, God-fearing person, however, is highly rewarded.

The person that Isaiah prophesies will take his place, Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. Because of his goodness, he will become the new governor and he will be in charge of all things in the kingdom. That is the meaning of giving someone the key to the house of David. They have complete control of the comings and goings, the finances, who gets to see the King, and so on. He is a man who will be worthy to run the King’s affairs.

For those of you who listen carefully, you may have noticed the similar use of the phrase in the Gospel. Instead of keys to the house of David, we have keys to the kingdom, which is the house of Jesus.

Because Peter has recognized that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of the living God, he is to be rewarded, much the same as Eliakim. Peter is raised to the position of being in charge of the kingdom, and the biding and loosing referred to are similar to Eliakim opening doors that no-one will be allowed to shut, and shutting doors that no one is allowed to open.

Now, although the words of Jesus seem to be addressed to Simon Peter specifically, this was a conversation that included all the Apostles, and Peter was seemingly acting as a spokesperson for all the group. That is why Bishops can be seen to posses the kind of authority they do over spiritual matters.

What is always interesting to me, however, is the constant amazement I have in how the Hebrew and Christian Testaments comment on each other, reflect each other, mirror each other, complete each other.

On a different note, the excerpt today from St. Paul to the Romans is a beautiful tribute to God, poetic in language, hymn-like in structure, and deep in meaning. It is a concluding section to Paul’s study of God’s plan of salvation which would not have been our way of doing things at all.  Paul has been so impressed by the methods and choices God has made in bringing about our salvation that he is thrust into deep awe at the workings of God. The more he understands it, the more he looks at it, the richer he finds it. It is through seeing, understanding and experiencing the works of God that we are led to a place of reverence and awe, a place where we know we can only glory in the Lord. “For from him and through him and in him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” We echo this line at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer each week! We acknowledge that God is our be inning and end and worthy of all praise. When I hold the host and chalice up at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, pay special attention to what we are saying and the implications of it. It is such a beautiful hymn to the power, majesty and generosity of our God, especially when the Eucharistic presence can be seen and touched as we say it.

So, we always get to this point in the homily where I try to let you see how these readings might influence your thought and actions during the following week. Sometimes, however, the readings have no moral implications or easy messages to give. We might ask ourselves whether we are to caught up in worldly things, as was Shebna, or whether we appreciate or take for granted the workings of God, especially the redemptive act which allows us to be kingdom-bound again. For my part, I simply would like you to pay more attention, perhaps, to the words we use each week, like the final words of the Eucharist Prayer, and see if you can find the riches, the wisdom and the knowledge that is there for us.  St. Paul had to work at doing that, and so should we for it provides great reward and enriches our faith.

And this is the hope that I present to you to today as the Good News of our God!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[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 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 10, 2014

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

I thank you for having me here with you today and letting me celebrate with you. But, oh my, why did I get to preach on one of the most unflattering Jesus stories in the New Testament? Jesus seems so cruel here, doesn’t he? In modern terms we could picture Jesus walking down a downtown street and some poor Middle Eastern woman begging for food and Jesus looking at her and saying, “We collect our food for Christians, not for dogs like you!”. Can this be our Jesus! Our meek and mild Jesus? Our good shepherd? Let’s look at this a little more carefully.)

As you may have figured out by now, in the last few weeks the readings have been looking at the concept of “faith” and what it means in our lives. In today’s Gospel we see that having faith can even change the mind of God.

Jesus’ mission, by his own admission, is to redeem the Jews. He states this clearly and simply. That is the reason he seems so cold and uncaring to the Gentile woman who asks for his help. It is unusual for us to see a picture of Jesus that seems that  closed and uncaring. Perhaps Jesus is making this statement so that the Apostles can witness his change of heart, so that they too, later, will spread the Gospel to the non-Jews. Nevertheless, in this Gospel passage today, Jesus seems unwilling to help the Canaanite woman and her daughter.

The woman’s belief and faith in Jesus is so great, however, that she will not let him say no. She even lowers herself in order to make a point to Jesus. She picks up on his shocking metaphor in which Jesus calls her nothing more than an animal – a dog, and turns it around – almost making a joke of it. And Jesus does indeed recognize her faith, he gets the joke, and as a reward for her cleverness and belief and faith in him, he cures the woman’s daughter. She becomes an example to the Apostles of how faith can be a part of the Gentile experience of Jesus as well.

How many of us are willing to debase ourselves in order to prove our faith? What do we do to show Jesus our belief in him? How deep is our faith?

It is really through faith like this, through role models like this woman that the movement of the Christian faith spread to the Gentile world and the Apostles accepted it. Isaiah, of course, predicted it. In the first reading today Isaiah states very clearly that foreigners will be accepted at God’s altar, if they embrace the faith of Abraham’s Lord.

In Genesis we learned that God chose Abraham and his descendants to make a covenant with them. A covenant is not like a contract between two equals, but is a gift of a superior to an inferior. They may have not done anything to merit the gift of the covenant, but the giver promises certain things, in this case God who makes Abraham his friend, promises him descendants, promises him land. In return, the giver may require things of the other party. If we wonder why God chose one particular people and not others, we miss the point of Isaiah today that the Jews were picked in order to bring the one true God to other nations, rather like a man who brings a delicious treat home to his three children, and instead of breaking it up and giving it to all three, gives it to the oldest one and asks him to share it with the others. That is why Isaiah can have God say that his “house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”

Even the psalm today, Psalm 67,  stresses the far reaching influence of God through the Jewish faith. “Let all the peoples praise you!”  and “You guide the nations upon earth.” “Let all the ends of the earth revere him”. So, even though we talk about the covenant between God and the Jews, we can see from the beginning that it was meant to be shared.

St. Paul thoroughly embraced the idea that the Judean Christian faith must be brought to other nations. He sees himself not just as an Apostle, but as an Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul has realized, and is saddened, by the fact that his own people, the people God chose, have not accepted Jesus as Messiah, and so he says he “glorifies” his ministry to the Gentiles, he makes it seem more important, to shame the Jews, to make them jealous, to save them. The fact that so many of them  have rejected Jesus has allowed the Gospel to be opened up to Gentiles, and so unwittingly, the Jews have fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, and brought the one true God to all the nations. But Paul is still saddened by the fact and wants to find ways to bring about the acceptance of Jesus by the Jews. Right now he sees them as being dead, and he wants to bring them life.

What can we take with us from the readings this morning? First of all, acceptance. All people are called, all people are invited, and we need to accept all people. Our goal as Christians should be to encourage all people to see the model Jesus provides, and through him come to the Father.

Secondly, we need to work on our faith in Jesus. Over the last few weeks we have learned from the readings that faith needs to be practiced, faith means letting go and trusting, faith means concern for others more than for ourselves. The Canaanite woman had such faith in Jesus’ ability to cure her daughter that she was willing to not give up in her attempts to communicate with Jesus, but even to lower herself to prove her faithfulness. Can we move from our comfortable lives and visit the sick, the jailed, those living on the street – put aside our prejudices and let Jesus work through us. These are all challenges presented in the study of faith that we have been seeing over the last three weeks, and certainly they provide challenges to our own lives as well. For those of us we do these things, and I know you have many such things going on (at St. Charles), your faith can be a beacon of light that shines out to others, and maybe others can be jealous enough of your successes to find Jesus themselves as Paul hopes the Jewish people might.

And this is the Good News of faith in Jesus that the readings inspire in us today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[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 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

August 3, 2014

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

We begin today with a reading about the prophet Elijah. Most of us are not all that familiar with Elijah except perhaps that he was an Old Testament prophet who never died but was taken up into heaven, and is thought to be going to return before the end of the world. In the verses before this reading, Elijah is very depressed, and says he can’t go on and he prays to God that he might die. Rather ironic, since he is one of the few Biblical people that never does die. But God takes care of him and when Elijah goes into the wilderness, God sees to it that he finds food and drink, and that he rests.

Once his physical needs have been taken care of, Elijah goes into a cave and God allows Elijah to vent his anger on the Hebrew nation because they have not heeded him and have turned to other gods. He tells God that he feels alone and isolated and depressed.

God realizes that what Elijah needs at this point in his life is a personal encounter with God and so God tells Elijah to leave the cave and stand on Mount Horeb, the place where Moses had been given the Ten Commandments. As Elijah did what the Lord had said, and he waited to hear God, he began to look for God  in dramatic ways – in thunder and lightning, earthquakes and wind and fire. Just as many of us look for God in extraordinary manifestations, so did Elijah. But God did not come to Elijah in any of those ways, but he came in the simplicity of silence, in a whisper instead of a loud roar!

The lesson here for us is not to look for God in the extraordinary, but in the simple. Listen to the silence. It is there that we will hear God when God speaks to us. It is the same peacefulness that the first lines of the psalm repeat today: Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.

Elijah was depressed and it took God’s voice to get him out of it. Similarly, Paul is depressed today as well in the reading from Romans, and he, like Elijah is upset because the Hebrew nation as a whole has not accepted Jesus. He is greatly saddened by that fact since the promise belonged to the Jews first. Paul says he has great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart over that fact. God does not console Paul in his reading. He is consoled, however, by the fact hat he knows he is telling the truth about Christ, and the Holy Spirit confirms this by giving him a clear conscience in regard to the matter.

In the Gospel today, this theme is carried out with the apostles being the ones, who were not so much depressed, but frightened. Jesus had gone, like Elijah, to the mountain to pray, to communicate with God. The Apostles had gone into a boat and were crossing, without Jesus, to the other side of the lake when a storm erupted. In their fear they saw a figure walking toward them on the water, and their fear turned to terror. They really couldn’t believe that it could be Jesus walking on the water even though Jesus spoke to them and told them not to fear. Peter recognized Jesus and wanted to come to him and so he asked Jesus to command him to come and walk on the water as well. So Peter climbed from the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus until he became frightened by the wind and waves, and began to sink. Jesus reached out and caught him but indicated that he sank because he lost faith. And when Peter and Jesus climbed into the boat, the winds stopped and it became peaceful again. Peter had listened to the Lord, and was able to do the impossible – walk on water – but when he was distracted by the winds and the waves, he began to question what was happening and began to sink. This event marked the moment in Matthew when the divinity of Jesus became clear to the Apostles despite other miracles he had performed. It seemed to solidify their belief that this man was truly the Son of God and worthy of worship.

What kinds of lessons can we draw from these readings today? Well, first of all, let’s look for God in the moments we might not expect him – in the silences, in the faces of others, in the stillness. It is in these moments that God talks to us, inspires us, helps us make decisions, leads us. And secondly, let us look to Jesus and not be distracted by other things. If we can keep our minds and hearts focused on Jesus there is nothing that we can’t do. It is when we are distracted and look away, when we lose faith in ourselves and question God in our lives that we are prone to depression and worry. Jesus can come to us on the water, and we can follow him, just like the child who, being thrown into the air, trusts that his father will catch him. That kind of faith and trust will give us the ability to hear God, and to follow him no matter where he leads us, knowing that truth and peace will prevail in our lives.

And this is the Good News of how we communicate with God, and how we need to focus on Jesus in our lives.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[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 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

July 27, 2014

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A  2014

The theme of our readings today is very simply – the Lord provides. Both our physical needs and our spiritual needs can be taken care of if we put our trust in God. If this is so, then why do we still need things? The only answer can be that we haven’t fully placed our trust in our Creator. Let’s face it – it is not an easy thing to do. Even St. Thomas who was so close to Jesus was not able to do it without physical proof. And most of us are not saints yet!

Yet, I am always so very surprised that when I let go and give everything over to God, somehow things get better. But most of us have to be overwhelmed before we end up doing that.

In the Gospel today we see a stunning example of faith and trust in Jesus. We all know that a great crowd of people can turn against someone very quickly, and hunger and thirst are two of the base needs that cause revolution and war. The apostles were worried when the evening was coming and none of this crowd of people had been fed. Yes, Jesus had been very charismatic that day, and had compassion for the crowd and worked all sorts of miracles and healings for them. But hunger can turn a crowd.

The Apostles thought the best idea was to send them away to nearby villages so that they could purchase food. I presume that most of the crowd would not have much money, and purchasing food might not be an option for them.

You can imagine their surprise when Jesus said that their idea wasn’t a good one and that the Apostles better feed them instead. Someone today would probably have looked at Jesus as though he were joking, and say “Yeah…right!”

Bur Jesus was not joking and asked them to gather what food there was – which was really very little. And what did Jesus do? he put his trust in God and prayed to God. he then said the traditional blessing before a meal, and started to distribute the food to the Apostles to give out. The result: 5000 ate supper.

I am reminded of a wedding I performed a few weeks ago.  I had left a ciborium at the door and asked people to put a host in if they were going to communion. When the gifts were brought up at the Offertory, the ciborium was empty – they either hadn’t heard or felt embarrassed to get out of their seats.  In any case, I put in about twenty hosts just in case. Well, at communion, suddenly rows and rows of people got up to go to communion. I looked at my poor twenty hosts and all these people – and said to myself: “Jesus, you fed the five thousand – help me here!

Every time someone came up, I cut the remaining hosts smaller and smaller and in the end, about 100 people came to communion and I ran out for the last five. The last five got a nice blessing and an apology.  Guess I am nowhere as good as Jesus yet!

The Psalmist and the prophet Isaiah both re-iterate the theme of trusting in God to provide for us. Isaiah uses the beautiful metaphor of eating and drinking applied to the Word of God. The Word of God will sustain us even more than wine, milk and bread. So if we are needy, we simply have to come to the waters of Scripture and eat the food that is provided there. The Psalmist cries that “You open your hand to feed, us Lord, and satisfy our needs.” The Lord has compassion on us and he loves us.

One last word about these readings today and that is about the question of “need”. Only the Lord knows what we truly need, and as we have said over and over, God’s ways our not ours.  We may think we need certain things, and in our culture, we always seem to be needing something. None of the things that God provides in Scripture are things of excess – they are base needs: hunger, thirst, love. Too often today our ‘needs’ are tied up in things that are excesses or unnecessary to a simple way of life. And that is why perhaps we only think to ask God, and give things over to God when we are very low and needy – because these are the things God is most likely to provide.

Finally, we need also to pray to God as Jesus did, eyes open – perhaps a metaphor to be very clear in what we are asking – and keep knocking on God’s door. Jesus gave us a way. We just need to follow it.

And this is the Good News of God’s providence that we are given today!

Bishop Ron Stephens 

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[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 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

July 20, 2014

Homily for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A  2014

If you go through the Gospels to look for the most important themes that Jesus talked about, you would have to acknowledge that his teachings on “the kingdom of heaven” would have to be one of the most prominent. Most of the parables  often begin with the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like…”

So just what are we talking about when we say “the kingdom of heaven”. Is this the place that we are able to go to when we die? Is this the place where God the Father rules with his Son and the Spirit. Is it a place at all? 

The modern Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx says that the term used in Matthew’s Gospel refers to “a process, a course of events, whereby God begins to govern or to act as a King or Lord, an action, therefore, by which God manifests his being-God in the world of men [and women]. I think what Schillebeeckx is saying is that that first of all, the kingdom of heaven is a process that has begun and is continuing to happen. It is not a place away from us – it is where we are at any given time. It is where we live and where we live after death.

Secondly, Schillebeeckx says that is a gradual process whereby God is taking back the world and governing it, and thirdly, it is a gradual realization and growth by us towards a certain way of acting in which the world is able to reflect he God qualities. God is made manifest in the world.

I know this a heavier theology that I am giving you today, but over the next number of weeks in Ordinary Time we will be hearing a lot about the kingdom of heaven and i wanted to give you an overview of just what that teaching is all about. To get it to the simplest terms – God, through Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, has taken back our world and is allowing us to God-center it and create a world that has many of the qualities of the original created world. And just what those qualities are, Jesus tries to explain to us in his many parables.

Today we hear about three of those qualities.  First is that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field that someone hides in order to get possession of the field and the treasure. We hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl merchant who at great cost buys the perfect pearl. And lastly, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that captures many fish, though only the good ones are kept.

If we are in process right now of establishing the kingdom rules by God, what are the qualities that Jesus points out to us today that need to be established and rooted.

From the first and second parable we learn that the kingdom has been a well kept secret and that when we discover that secret, we should, if necessary, do anything to make it our own. The buried treasure is whatever has helped us to discover God’s plan – the Scriptures, church tradition, liturgy – whatever in our lives has helped us realize the value of living in the kingdom. Similarly, the pearl is beautiful in itself, rare, worth whatever it takes to own it.

The last parable is a bit more extended, but basically it allows us to see the presence of the kingdom now. Even though we have not yet neared perfection, and there are good people and bad people in the world, the kingdom is a net that stretches out over everyone. We are not to judge, but to live it to God and his Angels to do so. Everyone is invited to this kingdom. But in the end, for the kingdom to be as perfect as God is perfect, the righteous will be separated from the evil ones.

Jesus’ last statement is basically telling the Apostles that their mission is to tell and bring about the kingdom on earth, and they are to do this by mixing the new and the old. tradition and modern thought, God’s original creation and the new creation, so that as Paul says today in Romans “those whom [God] justified he also glorified.” That glory is the fullness of the kingdom. We may not have the wisdom of Solomon that God granted him because of his humility and unselfishness, but the treasure is presented to us, and we simply have to recognize it and make it our own by whatever means possible.

My question for you today then is how much you value this kingdom that Christ is talking about, how much you see yourself as part of that kingdom, and what price you have had to pay to be part of it. Can we work together as a parish to establish the kingdom of God on earth? When we pray “Thy kingdom come” can we be more aware of what part we are to play in making the kingdom in process a reality and advancing it.

The kingdom of heaven will be on our minds over the summer and fall readings of Matthew. Let us take the time to think about the meaning of each of the parables and how best we can react to them to do our part in helping the kingdom come.

And this is the Good News we are all challenged with today.

Bishop Ron Stephens 

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[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”]

1 Schillebeeckx, Edward (1983) [1974]. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. London: Fount Paperbacks. pp. 140–141. 

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

July 13, 2014

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A  2014

I think it is always difficult to understand the concept of sovereignty in a place like the United States where they originally rebelled against kingship and have not known the concept of sovereignty since. I come from Canada and maybe have a little better sense of it, though the concept has changed greatly there over the years as well.

In Wisdom today we get a little essay on God as sovereign. To be a sovereign means that you are in complete control of everyone and everything in the country. The buck really does start and stop there.  We do understand a little of that kind of power when we look at the rich who have great influence in this land, but nothing like sovereignty. 

In its original form, a sovereign can do anything he or she wants. The sovereign’s word is law, his desires are what is given him and what she despises disappears. 

But the book of Wisdom gives us the picture of a different sovereign, one who has that same power, but who uses it in such a way that the power is not abused. In fact, the scale is tipped on the merciful and loving side. Wisdom tells us that God cares for all people – not just the Jews or the believers in one God, but also the Gentiles and the atheists, the foreigner and the outcast. To all people God shows righteousness and he is willing to look for ways to spare all people. God is patient with those who have doubts, and shows impatience to those who are insolent, who do not respect others who may not yet know God.

God is strength, but shows only mildness and forbearance, another word for tolerance, in the way he governs the world. He is a role model for the way we should behave – as Jesus said, “Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect”. We, too, Wisdom says, must be kind, and must fill our children with hope, the hope that is given when repentance for our sins is accepted and granted.

What a beautiful description of God. I know that some people say the God of the Old Testament is a fire-breathing, vindictive God, but God is certainly not in Wisdom! Our Psalm today reiterates Wisdom as it reminds us over and over that God is good and forgiving, abounding in love and always staying true to us.

The description of God the Spirit in Paul’s letter to the Romans today lets us see those beautiful qualities of God at work. The Spirit is God’s gift of himself to us, to inspire, to help us pray, to intercede for us so that justice can be blended with mercy on our behalf. 

Ironically, in contrast to all of these inspiring and beautiful words of God, we have a group of parables by Jesus that ends with Jesus seeming like the fire-breathing vindictive one: The Son of Man will send his Angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and and gnashing of teeth.”

While that does sound a little fire and brimstone-like, if we examine the passage closer we can see that it does fit in with the sovereign concept of God. The first parable basically tells us that God allows everyone to be cared for – just and unjust. The weeds grow up in the field along with the grain. But justice demands a sorting – God is indeed just. Hopefully though, that justice will be tempered with mercy and only at the very end will there be judgement. Until then there is forgiveness, and those who have remained righteous will be highly rewarded. All three parables show this concept of mixing – good seed and weed seed, yeast and unleavened bread, small seed and large tree. All of us have a chance to be saved, and so we need respect all people and their potential, and let the judging come from the merciful One. Our own judgments are sometimes not so merciful!

Again this week, I have chosen to concentrate on one of readings other than the Gospel, though I hope I have shown how they work together. We need to simply remember that to be like God, we need to be kind, compassionate, accepting, loving and non-judgmental.  I am not sure those are all easy qualities to have, but that is what is being asked of us today. The more we strive to be like God in those areas, the more chance we have that we will not be seen to be the weeds at the very end. Let us try this week to put into practice these virtues, make one specific attempt to show mercy to someone, to show love to someone, to accept someone, to be kind to someone. Besides, it might bring you a little happiness as well, and we can all use lots of that!

This is the Good News brought to you by Wisdom, Paul and Jesus today. Make it your own!

Bishop Ron Stephens 

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[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 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 6, 2014

Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A  2014

Although the dominant theme of the first and last reading is about metaphorically sowing seeds, first by Isaiah in his preaching, and secondly, by Christ in his parables, I would like to concentrate my comments today on the second reading of Paul to the Romans.

Paul begins by commenting on the sufferings of the present time. While he is referring to his own time and the persecutions and struggles of the young community, we can also accept that it means our present time on earth. I think each generation for two thousand years has had unique types of suffering in their present time from the Black Death to AIDS, from Roman martyrs to Jewish Holocaust victims. Suffering is something that has unfortunately been with us through the ages.

Paul’s comment on the sufferings we endure, however, is that no amount of suffering can compare with the glory that will come to us in the end. But we cannot know this – it is promised to us – and it must be revealed to us by faith. In other words, the sufferings we endure in our brief life spans will turn into a glorious new life, one without suffering, without fear, without death.

Glory might also refer to the revelation itself. When Paul wrote, the Gospels had not yet been written, and perhaps the Word of God, spoken by Isaiah and by Jesus in the readings today, is the glory which is coming.

In either case – the sufferings will stop. And Paul extends this idea in very universal terms. The whole of creation has been waiting for this revelation. Because of the first sin, all sorts of evil, but especially death has entered the world – we are as Paul says, in bondage to decay – and it is in turning away from God and his creation that men and women have brought this suffering into the world.  It was not in God’s plan which was for there to be the “freedom of glory” for “the children of God”.

And so we have that remarkable image of childbirth – the world in labor pains waiting for the birth of the glory of the children of God, for people to be rescued for the suffering and death that had been in command.

I don’t know how many of you have actually given birth or witnessed a birth. I remember vividly the difference between my two children’s birth. They are 5 years apart so a lot had changed in those five years.  For my oldest I was allowed in the labor room with my wife, but was kicked out just before the birth. All I saw was the pain, and I was actually quite resentful of that pain. It really bothered me for a long time. But when my second came along five years later, I was allowed to be there for the whole birth and was able to experience the pain turn into absolute joy. This is what Paul is talking about. Pain turning into joy or glory! 

Extending the image though, Paul says that while we are on earth we are still experiencing the labor pains and haven’t yet experienced the glory. Through revelation, through the teachings of Jesus, through our faith, we know that we will experience it, however. This is the good soil that Jesus talks about today. We hear the revelation, the word, and we understand it, and because of that we will bear fruit, we will give birth, we will come to glory at the end of our earthly lives.

These teachings of Paul that come from Jesus’ own words are so optimistic, so stress reducing, if we just hear them. Yes, we have to struggle in this life, our lives are filled with loss, with pain, with sorrow, with fear, with sin. But we know that God is in the process of making the world good again and we can have faith that God is true to his Word and his Vision and will complete the work.

Death for the Christian will be a freeing event – will we be born again and experience God. At the end of time, there will be no more death, no more suffering and the world will be restored to its original goodness.

What can this mean to us this week? I hope that it gives us the strength to get through difficult times. To know that our sufferings will have an end, and like pain in the birth of a child, the pain will produce something glorious. Let this sustain us in those difficult times. Eye has not seen, ear has not hear what God has prepared for those who love him, Paul has told us in Corinthians. Let that sustain us when we are down.

Let us keep the soil of our lives good and receive the hundredfold promised us.

And this is the Good News, the revelation of things to come that our reading of Paul and of the Gospel tells us today.

Bishop Ron Stephens 

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[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 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

June 29, 2014

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time , Year A  2014

Mathew’s Gospel today begins with Jesus reflecting on his unique position in time and how he serves to reestablish the relationship with God that had been lost. He begins by stating that it is very simple and can be understood by a  child. You don’t have to be highly educated or articulate or experienced to understand the revelation. Jesus then goes on to explain the unique relationship that he has with God the Father.

Well, maybe I am too educated or not enough like a child, but I don’t find the relationship all that easy to understand! The fact that Jesus is the Son of God cannot be determined by earthly means; it simply has to be revealed, which it has been in the Gospels and through the Spirit, as Paul explains to us today. God the Father has given all things to Jesus in the sense, perhaps, that he is to carry out the redemptive process. In the first reading we see how Zechariah prophesies that the Messiah or King will command peace to all nations and will rule from sea to sea. But, in actuality only the Father and the Son can truly know each other, because a person can only truly know oneself. If the Father and Jesus are one, they surely know each other.

Then Jesus comes to his conclusion: Since I have been given everything, you need to trust in me. If in your life you are carrying a heavy burden and are tired, you need to try on the yoke of Jesus. A yoke is a wooden bean placed across two animals to help them pull or carry something very heavy.  We need to yoke ourselves with Jesus also, to help us pull or carry the heaviness of life. Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy, perhaps because he does most of the work. We know that redemption is not something we have merited by anything we have done, but by the simple grace of God, a free gift. At the same time we cannot just let Jesus do all the work. If we are truly yoked to him, we must also pull some weight, do our best effort in life, try to reach the unreachable goals that have been set for us. 

But these are such wonderful, encouraging words for human beings. How often have we succumbed to worry and anxiety in our lives. I don’t think there is anyone who has not experienced high levels of stress and anxiety and worry. It is part of being human.  But how wonderful to know that we can go for help in carrying these burdens.  I think this is one of the most wonderful things about Christianity and the teachings of Jesus. I know that I can’t be thankful enough for the many times I have called on Jesus to help me carry a burden, and the sense of relief and rest it gives to know that he is there with me through it all.

Jesus tells us that he is “meek and humble in heart”. A word about humility, perhaps. We usually don’t think that people who think highly of themselves are humble. If we analyze Jesus’ words here – he is equating himself with God, saying that he has been given everything, that he can shoulder our burdens with us, that we need to learn from him. Although this may not sound humble, we need to realize that humility is seeing oneself in a way that doesn’t exaggerate your good things or diminish the bad things. He is the ability to see yourself as you are, and to know when to talk about it. Jesus is being realistic about who he is and what he has to offer us; therefore, he is being humble. And he speaks about it because it is necessary to do so to help us understand that we can come to him when in distress. 

If we do this, we will find rest for our souls. He doesn’t say that he will solve every problem or that there won’t be stresses and upsets in our lives. But we will find rest inside where it will make a difference to our lives. We will have the added strength to deal with things.

Our psalm today may be a fitting place to end this discussion of Matthew’s Gospel because it is a response to the goodness of God, and a further description of this being that wants only to love and help us. “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and God’s compassion is over all that God has made.” In that compassion, God sent us Jesus, took on our flesh, suffered and redeemed us, and left the Spirit to dwell within us. What more could we ask for? Know that Jesus is there for you, and never give up having faith in Jesus’ ability to take our yoke upon himself.

This is the wonderfully Good News I present to you this day.

Homily for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, Year A 2014

June 22, 2014

Homily for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, Year A  2014

The Feast today of Saints Peter and Paul takes precedence over the Sunday Ordinary Time, but only falls on a Sunday ever so often. In some countries this is a holy day of obligation, but certainly in its celebration the Church is honoring the two people that had most to do wight he spread of early Christianity. It is also true that they may have butted heads many times, so it is interesting that we celebrate them together.

The main differences in the two men seem to involve the people to whom they felt sent.  Peter was the apostle to the Jews and Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Historians and scholars tend to agree that Peter had more authority than the rest of the Apostles, though James seems to be the actual leader of the Church in Jerusalem. The Acts of the Apostles shows Peter in his leadership position, preaching and deciding to elect an apostle to replace Judas. About half way through the Acts, however, the author, Luke, follows the exploits of Paul, and we don’t hear anything of the later life of Peter.

The Acts today begins with the death of James, one of the original Apostles, being put to death by King Herod, the grandson of the Herod from the Gospels. Because he got positive feedback from killing James, he had Peter arrested, but did not want to do anything with him yet due to the holy Passover season. So, he had Peter imprisoned and guarded. The very simple line: “…the Church prayed fervently for him” really indicates the approach to prayer that the early church took. We might be able to apply it to our prayer life today as well. First of all, we must pray fervently or intensely. The verb “prayed” in Greek is a tense that implies continual praying – so we must pray constantly. We must pray to God, that is develop a personal relationship with God. Prayer should also be as specific as possible. They prayed “for him”.  We do this in our prayers for the sick at the Prayer for the Faithful. We are as specific as possible. Lastly, we should not forget the communal aspect of prayer – the Church prayer for Peter. They believed that all united in prayer would be more efficacious. If we pray this way, we are praying in the same manner as the early church, and as we see, God listened to the prayer and helped Peter miraculously escape. The Psalm reflects this answer to the Church’s prayer with he words: The Lord set me free, the Lord set me free from all my fears”.

Continuing with an emphasis on Peter, the Gospel reading today from Matthew, portrays Peter as one of the first to public acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.  He is praised by Jesus for this because Jesus indicates that there is nothing earthly that would bring Peter to this conclusion, but sees it as a revelation from God to Father to Peter.  The oft-quoted lines: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” have been debated for years. The play on the word rock might come across a little better if we were to say “You are Rocky and upon this rock I will build my Church.” It is word play on the solidity of Peter’s belief, and how the Church will be built on the foundation like rock that Peter represents. The Church will be built on the belief and faith of people like Peter. But Peter is more singled out when Jesus says that he will give Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. We have seen that the “kingdom of God” is something that Jesus has been preaching about his whole public life, and it is a metaphor of the type of world that Jesus preached about – a world of justice, peace, humility, healing, restoration and redemption. Peter, and some would say all the apostles,  is being given administration over the kingdom that Jesus has instituted after he is gone from them. Central to the kingdom is love of God and neighbor.

Do we really understand that the kingdom of heaven exists now, not completely in its fullness, but is here right now. How do we spread the kingdom? Do we continue to restore all things to God, do we continue to forgive others, do we try to heal, to preach the good news that Jesus preached? All valid questions coming from Jesus’ intimate moment with Peter.

St. Paul, as we know, was the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Because of his vision of Jesus and mandate from Jesus, Paul was totally focused on bringing the Good news to the world. And if you follow his travels, they were quite amazing for that time in history. Our reading today is taken from the end of life when he is reflecting on what he has accomplished in the earthly kingdom and he oohs forward to being with Jesus in the kingdom after death. His greatest accomplishment – from his words – is “I have kept the faith”, and that he has “fully proclaimed” the Good News. This is indeed similar to Jesus’ praising of Peter for his “faith” and belief in him. Like Peter, Paul has been helped, rescued and redeemed by Jesus, and his words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” will I hope be echoed on the death beds of each of us here. What more wonderful thing could we hope for. 

So let us use Peter and Paul today as inspirations for our own lives, men who had weaknesses, who fell from grace many times, but picked themselves up and carried on with that vision of a beautiful world, truly a kingdom of God, to guide them, and the inspiration of Jesus to know what to aim for. All saints are role models for us – I think that is the purpose of canonization – but some truly human persons who have failings and still achieve sainthood can be the best role models for us as we struggle to create God’s kingdom now and forever.

And this is the Good News that Jesus preached, the Paul preached, that Peter preached and that I preach today!

Bishop Ron Stephens 

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[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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