Archive for April, 2014

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter, Year A

April 30, 2014

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

I would like to be a little frivolous this morning in talking about the readings that the Church has prepared for us today, by trying to relate them a little more to Mother’s Day. We know that Mother’s Day is not a religious holiday, though we often remember Mary as our Mother on this day. It is really more a Hallmark Day, probably invented more to market and sell things than it is to really honor the remarkable women who are our mothers. However, since it is Mother’s Day today, I would like to attempt this idea of looking at the readings through the lens of Mother’s Day.

I begin by wondering if Peter in the First Reading from Acts may have learned something from his Jewish mother when he gave the sermon that we hear today.  It is filled with all sorts of guilt inducing elements – and it worked. We are told that as a result of his preaching, three thousand people were baptized. Peter is basically laying a guilt trip on the Jewish people he addresses. God sent us his Son, making him both Lord and Messiah, Peter says. He was both a great and humble person who preached, taught, healed, helped, and showed the way. And what did you do? You had him executed as a common criminal. And he deserved this? How?

Once Peter has made them feel badly by seeing the horror of what they had allowed to happen, he then shows the motherly, forgiving, unconditionally loving side of God, who is willing to take them back, forgive them, and in fact, give them gifts. Who couldn’t love a mother like that!

By using this tactic, Peter let the listeners feel for what they had done, want to make repentance for it, and recognize the great and loving God for what God was. What Jewish mother wouldn’t want that result!

When I read Psalm 23, probably the most loved Psalm, I can’t help think that the qualities that make a good shepherd are the qualities that also make a good mother. A good mother does not allow her children to want. When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of money, and my mother seldom bought clothing or things for herself, but always made sure that we children had what we needed. I never even realized that we were financially struggling. Similarly, a good mother provides a home (green pastures) and stability and peace (still waters). When I was afraid of the dark or went through a period of being afraid of some boogie man, I too could fear no evil, for my mother was beside me during the night to calm my fears, and comfort me. Needless to say, my mother was also a good cook – owned her kitchen, really – and prepared many tables for me. When I was a baby, she oiled my body to prevent diaper rash, and when I was older, she made sure I bathed and was clean. My cup overflowed with the quiet love of that woman, allowing me to develop a deep spirituality myself, so that goodness and mercy could follow me all t days of my life. They probably didn’t have any female shepherds in the psalmist’s time, but mothers certainly can fit all the requirements.

In John’s Gospel today we get a mixed metaphor of Jesus being both the shepherd and the gate. I think for many of us it was our mother’s who first opened the gate for us, the person who was most around for us when we were young, and the person we most trusted, the person who first warned us not to talk to strangers. We, too, knew our mother’s voices, even as babies, and knew that this person would protect us and love us. The wonderful thing for me about Jesus is that he shows both masculine and feminine qualities in what he says and does. The images today show him as a male protector from the thieves and bandits, but female in that he is a gate, giving life, and giving it abundantly. Women are life-givers!

Lastly, I want to mention a line from the Second Reading today from Peter – “If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For this you have been called…” Most of the true mothers that I have seen, even the ones who have great flaws – they are not all perfect! – do have love for their children which endures and often which causes them great suffering. We only have to look at Jesus’ mother Mary to see this. Mary was warned in a prophecy that she would suffer and her heart would be pierced. What must she have felt as she held her child’s body in her arms after the had died on the cross. A child is not supposed to die before a parent in the proper ordering of things, but Mary was called to this. Most mothers have known this type of suffering because of what a child has or hasn’t done, most mother’s suffer because they wonder if they have done a good enough job when they see their children stray, but most mothers never stop loving, never stop caring, never stop believing in their offspring.

I know that the readings today – none of them are about mothers – but I hope that you can see that the qualities that make a good mother are the qualities that the Gospel writers are valuing today, and good mothers are the physical representation on earth of what God the Father and Jesus live out each and every day, allowing us to partake of this through the Spirit.

May we reflect on our mothers today, both living and dead, and honor the gifts and the sufferings and unimaginable love that they bring to the world today.

This is good news, and though interpolated, is the Good News of the Jesus that I want to share with you 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 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A 2014

April 27, 2014

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A 2014

 “Lord, you will show me the path of life” is what we repeat in our psalm antiphon today. The idea of the path or the “way” was such a strong theme in the new Testament that the early Christians adopted it as their name – the Way. And we know in John that Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Similarly in today’s first reading we hear again David’s words: “You have made known to me the way of life”, applied to Jesus.

The quest archetype is a story that occurs in all literatures. Usually, though, the quest is undertaken by a hero, sometimes a hero that doesn’t yet know that he or she is heroic, and goes on a physical journey fighting off all sorts of enemies or demons, but is at the end triumphant.

The “way” that is described in our Gospel today is a type of quest also, a journey. But the quest archetype so often seen in fairy tales and myths is quite turned around.

The questers in the story of the road to Emmaus are two disciples of Jesus. Their quest, their journey could have been simply to escape the strange goings-on surrounding the death and disappearance of Jesus. They may have been afraid and were simply trying to leave the area and put it behind them. Another possibility is that they were on a quest to find others that followed Jesus and see if they knew any more about the strange and frightening happenings.  In either case, the two men were on the road having a discussion about what they had heard and seen and were trying to piece together the truth of all that was going on.  Their quest simply may have been for the truth.

It is interesting to note that Luke says “their eyes were kept from recognizing [Jesus].” Most commentators find this problematic.  Wouldn’t these two disciples have recognized Jesus? Had he changed that much physically? Luke says simply that they didn’t recognize Jesus because Jesus did not want them to. Perhaps in Jesus’ mind, the only way to clarify their questions and fears was through discussion and enlightenment, and not through miracle. It is by talking to the two men that Jesus is able to clarify the reversed idea of a Messiah who suffers and dies, and then enters his glory. Only through “opening up the scriptures”, letting the two see what the words of the prophets meant, were they able to understand intellectually what the truth was and what it meant for all of us. How ironic that the way and the truth was walking right alongside them all along.

After walking with the disciples all day and expounding on the meaning of Scripture in relationship to Jesus and what had just happened to him, it was becoming night and the two men invited Jesus to stay with them for the night. The recognition scene takes place at supper, and most commentators see this as a reference to the Eucharistic meal: “he took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.” These are the same words we hear at Mass each week, when Jesus also becomes physically present to us as well. Do we pay enough attention to that moment? Has repetition dulled the miraculous thing that happens at each Eucharistic meal. Do our eyes become opened to see Jesus? These are all questions I would like you to consider today. 

We, too are like the disciples going to Emmaus. We too might be escaping, or seeking answers. We too are on quests for truth in our lives. 

After the moment of recognition Jesus disappears. In Eucharistic terms we might say that Jesus is now within them through the eating of the bread. There was no need for his physical body to be present to them.  Jesus had stirred their minds to understand, he had fed them, and he remains with them in spirit.

The truth having been made known, the disciples no longer needed to go to Emmaus and instead took a different path – the path to Jerusalem and to the other apostles and disciples. And they shared their good news, their new understandings with them, and showed how Jesus had been made known in the breaking of the bread.

How blessed we are to have this event recreated each week for us, allowing us to understand a little more each week. The Mass is our journey to Emmaus and the Eucharist is our recognition of Jesus and what God has done for us. St. Paul says that Christ was “ destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.”  For your sake! Whether Jesus is still blinding you toward who he is and the truth, and still in process of helping you to understand, or whether your eyes have already been opened to the miracle that is Christ visible, the story of the road to Emmaus should give us hope and confidence, and we can say with David as quoted in the first reading today: I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.

As we continue our Easter journey, my wish for you is that you discover that abiding hope, that you become increasingly more aware of the ritual that is the Eucharistic Mass, that Jesus becomes present to you each week in a wide variety of ways, and that my words may be Jesus’ words in an attempt to help you understand the Scriptures, and open them up for you. 

Then, like the two disciples, we can talk to the other disciples and share their stories – the stories of how they found that Truth who was walking beside them all along.

May the Good News of today be good news for you each week as we celebrate the risen Lord who helps us when we are on our journeys.

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 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A 2014

April 19, 2014

Homily for the  2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A  2014

The readings that we are presented with today give us as close to a history as we are going to get in the New Testament. Coming a week after Easter, these readings let us know the events that happened immediately after the Resurrection event.

The Apostles were afraid. It had been a traumatic week for them, from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem when things looked rosy, with the Passover meal which bonded them. But after Judas’ betrayal things went sour. It had climaxed in the death of the person they believed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who would save the people from what? the Romans? poverty and submission? Jesus had often been clear in his mission but that clarity was sometimes submerged in the wishes and expectations of his listeners.

Now, after his death comes word of his being alive again. How confusing things must have been for the Apostles! How afraid were they for their own lives for following and being associated with this Jesus! They had left everything for this man – what would they do now? How could he be alive? Yet people reported he had been seen. His tomb was apparently empty. Would they be blamed for that as well? All of this seems to be implied in the simple phrase from the Gospel today: “the doors…were locked for fear of the Jews.” Fear of what their own people might do to them.

We notice that the door was locked and yet Jesus “came and stood among them”. This is rather mysterious in itself since the doors had been locked. How did Jesus get in? In this first encounter with his followers, Jesus greets them the way Jews greet other Jews: Shalom aleikhem! “Peace  be with you.”  By itself, this was just a standard Jesus greeting like “Hello” might be for us. But Jesus makes it more than that because he repeats it. He is trying to calm their fears by offering peace to them.

Jesus may not have looked exactly the same as he did before the resurrection. You would think the apostles, having lived so close to Jesus for three years would have recognized him, but Jesus felt he had to show them the wounds he endured – the nail holes in his hands and the cut in his side where he was stabbed. Only then did the Apostles really believe it was him and they rejoiced.

Now we know that pentecost was yet to come when the Holy Spirit would descend upon the Apostles, but John today has Jesus breathing on them and giving them a mandate. Perhaps this was more a foreshadowing of what was to come, the breath being a symbol of a new creation, just as God breathed life into Adam. After they receive the Spirit, they will be able, as he did, to forgive sin – the Spirit of God working through them.

Then the story jumps eight days – actually only seven the way our calendars work, but the Jewish way of counting from Sunday to Sunday would count eight days – when the same situation presents itself. They continued to stay locked up in the room even though Jesus had come to them. They had not yet received the Spirit. During that week, Thomas, who had not been present on the first visitation couldn’t believe what they all told him, just as many people today can’t accept the testimony of the Apostles. Thomas wanted to see and judge for himself.  So this time when Jesus comes, he seemed to know what Tomas had said, and he reaches out directly to Thomas’s doubts and asks Thomas to examine his wounds, which Thomas does. Having seen this for himself first hand, Thomas now believes, and his expression “My Lord and my God” is the first direct reference in the Gospel accounts of Jesus being identified as God. This is a very important step because the whole basis of the Hebrew religion was the premise that there was one God, and to change that concept was a heresy of the highest degree. But Thomas now equates Jesus with God. Jesus does not comment on this statement but only notes that those who come to believe without the “seeing being believing”, are more blessed.

John’s Gospel is almost at an end. He says that no Gospel could contain everything that Jesus said or did, but that he has chosen those things that might help us doubting Thomases to come to a belief in Jesus and to receive the life that he brings. This is perhaps why we have four Gospels that don’t always agree on everything.  Based on oral traditions spread different parts of the Eastern world, the writers chose things that would help them to achieve what they wanted to do and wanted to show in the life of Jesus. How they put it together, the facts they chose, the myths they kept, the parables they used, all suited the theological reasons they wrote – to build the faith of those who already believed and to help the unbelief of those who didn’t.

The opening reading today from the Acts of the Apostles showed the life of the early Jewish Christian communities. Note that what was happening had two components – teaching and fellowship celebration. The breaking of bread probably does not refer to mass as we know it, but to a common celebratory meal that begins with the traditional prayer over the bread, which Jesus had elevated to something else at the Last Supper, making his presence at these celebrations real. They would come together for fellowship and prayer. I think that is the reason that I like the approach we take at this parish where the greetings and the after Mass groupings tend to stress the fellowship part of our community. In a small parish we can do that so easily because we all get to know each other so well and there are opportunities for all of us to be known. The celebration we had on Holy Thursday would be more typical of the early church meetings.

We also might get the idea that the early church was rather communistic, or if that is a bad word – commune-like. It probably wasn’t. Because the church was growing and there were more and more people coming from out of town, they had to find ways to care for these people, and through their charity they did this by sharing their food and clothing, their homes even.  It wasn’t so much a common pot, but a charity that extended to all the others, especially those in need.

They still were Jews – they still went to the synagogues and temples on Saturdays but on Saturday evenings they had their services in various homes. Since the Jewish day started at dusk, these were considered Sunday or first-day-of-the-week meetings. That is why we can have Sunday Mass on Saturday evenings in Catholic churches today.

When First Peter, our second reading today, was written, there were probably few people around who had actually met, and listened to Jesus. Peter probably did not write this letter though it is ascribed to him, but it was written in Rome during early Christian persecutions by someone highly educated in Greek. It is concerned with the concept of suffering because the early church in Rome was being persecuted and Christians had become fearful. Peter says that all good things have to go through fire to be tested, and uses the image of testing gold which was put through furnaces to separate the impure elements from it. It is a good image for Peter too use because it is one of the most precious of metals, and when purified is very expensive and precious.  Christians too have to go through testing to rid themselves of impurities. The end result will be something precious to God, and through his resurrection we become that pure gold – “imperishable, undefiled and unfading.

The early church, as we see today, went through a process of fear, belief, celebration, fellowship, and finally testing. That is the progress of the history we read today. If it has any relevance to us today, I think it is that we must recapture the spirit of the early church. Our religion, our belief in Jesus as God, our belief in the Spirit as God, must lead to celebration and fellowship. And the daily things that we have to suffer and endure can be blessings which lead us to greater things. It is all in how we perceive them.

I will close with words of the Psalm today: I was falling, but the Lord helped me. [God] has become my salvation. There are glad songs of victory.”  We must always keep in mind the Jesus who rose from the dead and how he gave us new birth and celebrate that in everything we do. Being Christian doesn’t mean for an hour on Sunday. It has to become the integral part of our daily life, just as it was for the early church members.

Let us rejoice in this Good News and put it into practice as we go through our coming week! May God bless us 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 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 believes 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 Magdalene 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 with the 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 up the linen facial cover. 

In any case, the younger disciple seemed to figure it out and believed what had just happened. We see that 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 two 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 how good the  Good News is, let me pray today that this Good News of the Resurrection brings 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”]


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