Homily for the 23rd Sunday in ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept. 6)

August 30, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

All three readings and the psalm today express the same idea: that God protects and cares for the outcasts, the helpless in society. This is a basic premise of Christianity and has been since Jesus walked the earth. Jesus showed us that care in his healings of the blind, the plagued, the lepers, and the deaf, which we read about today. Particularly in his time, the sicknesses we just referred to were seen as punishments by God for sin, so the people who suffered from them multiplied their woes by being outcasts as well.

From early in the Bible, however, we begin to see references to how God is particularly attracted to helping the helpless in society, those who Isaiah says are of a “fearful heart” because of their plight. Don’t be fearful, Isaiah says. God will protect you, will avenge you and punish the people who treat you badly and do not help you. There will be a “terrible recompense”, he says.

After this “recompense”, this repayment, God will open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, strengthen the limbs of the paralyzed, and give voice to the mute person.

Why is God so attracted to the needy? Often, it is because they are the ones with the strongest faith. Think of the times that you have needed something and gone to God, when yourself or someone close to you was seriously ill, and you went to God. It is that kind of time that brings out our faith in God.

Secondly, it is a simple matter of justice. Those who suffer in this life will have that turned around in the next. As the psalm says: “the Lord executes justice for the oppressed.” It is like that folk cliché: ‘what comes around, goes around’. The same psalm from today talks about how God will help the alien (the stranger), the orphan and the widow.

St. James, writing late in the first century, reminds the Christians that God has chosen the poor in the world. They are the ones who are rich in faith, and they will inherit the kingdom of heaven. That is why we are not to cater to the rich or show favoritism to those well-off. Unfortunately, we could give the same message to the many churches today that are so into collection of money, that they do favor the rich and court them. But if we really believe in Jesus as we profess we do, then we cannot ignore the cries of the poor and needy in our society.

Coming from Canada as I did, where there is universal health care, whether or not high taxes are a result, I can only think that that country is acting in a very Christian way. Yes, the rich pay more taxes to support the needy, the unemployed, the outcasts – but isn’t that what Christ would want us to do? I don’t often get political in my homilies, but this is one topic that I can only see as something every Christian needs to wrestle with his or her conscience over, and understand that we have an obligation to share our wealth, to share our good fortune with those who have no fortune, who can barely exist.

The Gospel reading today is unusual in that it is one of the three healings we know about where Jesus used physical matter, mud, in this case, to bring about a miracle. Usually, his simple word was enough. There has been much conjecture about it, and I might be able to summarize the reasons he used mud. First, it may have been a return to the creation story where man was made from the mud of the earth, thus paralleling the creation story. Perhaps he used mud as one of many ways of healing to show that it wasn’t something he did and had a magic method he used, but to show through many different ways that it came from God. Lastly, it could be that the spit or saliva which was often used in Jesus time because they thought it had a healing factor inherent in it, was being used a sign that a healing was going to take place.  For whatever reason, Jesus used the spittle and mud to effect the cure of the man’s hearing and speech. Jesus was the healer that Isaiah was prophesying, and the people began to recognize Jesus first as a healer and gradually to realize that he was more than that. Jesus asked them – ordered them, in fact, to tell no one about the healing. Why was that? It could have been a matter of crowd control. Once every one heard what he could do, people would rush to be cured of all sorts of things and that really wasn’t what Jesus was setting out to do. It was more a by-product of his teaching. Secondly, Jesus or God the Father may have been orchestrating the time Jesus was on earth, and it was not time for him to be arrested and to die, which would have happened because of the criticisms he was making of the Pharisees and the revolutionary teachings he was proposing. Lastly, it could be because he didn’t want to be :”Jesus Christ Superstar”. Ask any celebrity how difficult it is to cope with the kind of public attention a celebrity gets. Jesus would find it difficult to hide from that, to find time to pray, to finish what he set out to do. So there were probably very good reasons for Jesus not wanting anyone outside of the observers to know.

What can we do this week to follow Jesus and the gospel message? ( I know that there are a lot of social works going on in this parish, and so I am not really talking to those of you highly involved in them.  But for those who may not be yet.) Obviously, try to find ways to share what you have with others. I don’t mean just financial, either. Time is a commodity which is worth a lot in our culture, especially in the Northern Virginia area. Giving of your time to help another is certainly a way to act out the Gospel message. I am going to be involved in a committee this month to help get drivers to take cancer victims to their chemo appointments, and will be telling you more about that soon. Once again, I remind you that it doesn’t have to be something very big that we give or do. Just giving or doing some thing could be a reminder for us of how we can bring about the kingdom, and to assure that we will be part of that beautiful city!

And this is the Good News preached by Isaiah, David, James and Jesus today. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

August 22, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

Our first reading today is from the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the books ascribed to Moses and the one dealing with the end of his life and the imminent entry into the God’s Promised Land. Moses and the Hebrews have been wandering through the deserts for forty years and they are about to enter their homeland, but Moses is an old man now and knows that he will not enter it with them. In this reading Moses is talking to his people and reminding them that they have messed up badly over the years, which is why the promise took 40 years too fulfill. Over and over they have forgotten the one true God and the teachings of their God.

In the selection we read today, Moses is being very practical with his people, and giving them good political advice as well as spiritual. In the spiritual or moral dimension, Moses is telling them to remember what God has done for them in leading them out of slavery, and that God has given them a pattern to live by with the commandments. Moses urges them to be diligent in following God’s commands to show their love and gratitude to God, first of all, but that it would also be good for them politically, to show the other nations that they are a cultured, wise nation.  At this time there were not many countries that had as civilized a law as did the Hebrews. Moses says that they could be a light to other nations, and make it possible for other nations to see the immanence of Israel’s God – the fact that God is with them, hears them, and answers them.

The Torah, then – or the teachings of God given to Moses – makes the Hebrews stand out to other nations, achieving two great purposes – serving God and presenting the one God to other nations.

The teachings (which we translate as Laws) that Moses gave the Hebrews were the Ten Commandments certainly, but also other teachings that separated the Hebrews or set them apart from other nations. Many of the Laws, especially those of purity came about as comments on the Law, just as today many of the the ideas in the United States Constitution have been ruled on and more laws and amendments have been created over the years.

When Jesus attacks the scribes and Pharisees because they say he is not following these created laws of purity, many of these were traditions and not always Biblically based. Some of them came about for hygienic purposes or to suit the needs of the priests or ruling bodies.

When Jesus was accused of breaking these so-called laws, he reminds them that they are merely human traditions, and that more importance is being placed on these than on the actual teaching words of God.

So Jesus uses this as a way to explain that God created everything as good and that it is what we do with God’s creation is what creates something bad. Evil comes from inside a person. And this is what the original commandments or teachings of God was really about. When we look at the list of things that Christ calls evil coming from the heart of man, we see murder (5th commandment), fornication and licentiousness (6th Commandment), theft (7th commandment),  deceit and slander (9th commandment), avarice and envy (10th commandment),  with pride, folly and wickedness involved in all ten of them. Jesus was getting back to the basics by reminding them that God’s commandments are more important than the traditions that had become the sole concern of the Pharisees of his day. I think we do the same thing today when we take individual moral problems like abortion, homosexuality, birth-control as ‘the’ most important issues in our religion. We tend to have pet concerns that override the really important issues of loving God and neighbor and sharing with the poor. That isn’t to say they are not at all important or connected – they certainly are – especially abortion – but we enlarge them to be more important issues, honoring God with our lips, as Jesus says, but ignoring the heart.

The letter of James today really summarizes what I have been trying to say when he defines a “pure and undefiled” religion in a way that seems very simple and narrow. Purity of religion is caring for others, loving your neighbor, especially those who can’t care for themselves like widows and orphans, and not following the ways, the traditions of the ungodly world. James also adds that we need not to just listen to God’s word, but we have to follow through and do it.

So how can we be doers of the word this week? First of all let us focus on the two great commandments this week. Find a way to let God know of your love, spend some time with him, talk with him. He is both immanent and transcendent. We acknowledge his greatness and vastness, God he also became one of us and so we can talk with, complain to, beg, and thank God. Then, find a way to focus on our neighbors in need. Perhaps donate time or food to a mission or food bank, or donate to a cause that helps others. Bring extra peanut butter in for next Sunday’s peanut butter drive. Do “something” to remind yourself of the Word of God presented to us this week.

And that will be really Good News for God and for the recipients of our love 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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 23)

August 15, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 23)

Today the readings are once again about the Eucharist – the bread from heaven – but it is our last foray into that topic for a while. The first two readings, however, are more about service. In the Book of Joshua we find Joshua gathering together all the tribes in a great assembly to praise God. They have entered a land where there were many gods being worshipped, each nation, sometimes each city, having its own God and protector. Joshua knew that moving into these lands and cities would tempt the Hebrews to start to fall in line with he inhabitants and worship other gods, which is exactly what happened in the years to come. This day, however, he asks the people to make a choice. He said you can choose other false gods or you can choose the one true God. Joshua said he had made his decision; he would not be influenced by other cultures but remain dedicated to the God of Israel. The people, having travelled forty years to get to this new land, agreed with him. They recognized, because they had lived through some of it, what God had done for them in taking them out of the slavery of Egypt, feeding them in the wilderness with the bread from heaven, protecting them along the way. that the God of Israel was not to be abandoned. Their thankfulness was so great they as a group they chose Israel’s God to be true to.

The psalm refrain today is once again “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” But the psalm itself is extended and we hear of how God will protect righteous people, even though they have many sufferings and afflictions. In the New testament this becomes the healing power of the eucharist.

The theme of servitude is again picked up by Paul in Ephesians. Again, I remind you that this may not have been Paul since some of the things here go against what he had previously written in the epistles we know to be his. The idea of servitude or “subjection” as it is translated here, is that we are to be subjected to each other – we are to act as servants to each other because that is what Jesus did. The example he uses is a marriage and we have to understand that he was writing from a world view where men were totally in charge. His view of marriage is to see the male as Christ-like and wives like the people of God who are to do service, to be subject to Jesus or the husband. If you can get beyond that thinking of male superiority, it can be an apt image, however, for relationships. The dominant image is of the love that Christ had for us that led even to his death. Husbands, being the Christ image, must love their wives, to the death. Paul actually puts a lot on husbands today. They are to help their wives become holy, to help the wives be without blemish, to love the wives as much as they love their own bodies, they must nourish and care for their wives. The husband as the image of Christ is a daunting model for men who have to also realize that instead of lording it over another, they are to be their servant as Christ was. So, in a sense, husband and wife serve each other in a healthy relationship. The ideal is oneness, the great mystery as Paul calls it, of the two becoming one flesh in marriage.

The Gospel then creates the same kind of question that Joshua generated about choosing the God of Israel or other gods. Jesus has explained ‘the bread of heaven” and told them that those who will follow him will have eternal life. They need to choose – go back to the Jewish rituals and continue to follow the Law or follow Jesus and become something quite different within the LAw. Some could not make that choice. We are told that many left over Jesus’ teaching about him being  the bread from heaven. Some stayed, but all the apostles continued to follow him as one who spoke the words of eternal life, and their belief that Jesus was the Holy One of God.

Just a note on a very debated line from this reading today which seemed to some to say that there was predestination. “For this reason I have told toy that none can come to me unless it is granted them by my Father.” Jesus seems to be saying that believing in him is a gift from God, and God doesn’t give the gift to everyone. Therefore only a few people will have eternal life by following him. John Calvin during the Protestant Reformation took this as doctrine, and they believe to this day that some have been chosen to be saved and others have not.

I see this line, though, in context as referring to the Jews who had been chosen by God. God had prepared them for a Messiah and had given clues throughout their history in the writings of the Torah. Without those clues, how could they ever hope to understand what was happening through Jesus. After Jesus’ death this was opened up so that the rest of the world could participate in this knowledge, to become God’s people. Once you see what is before you, but reject it and do not believe, as did many of the people who heard Jesus, then it was not God’s fault. God has drawn you, but you have refused to believe it.

When all is said and done, the most beautiful words in the readings today may be Peter’s: Lord, to whom can we go?”

What else is there? Once we have been made aware of what God has done and is doing for us, once we have been made aware of the bread from heaven come down to earth for us, once we have been made aware that we can share in that bread and in eternal life and have our sins forgiven, to whom else can we go? Is there a choice if we want to live!

And those are the words of Good News that I ask you to think about this week, the last week of our vacation with the Gospel of John.

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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 16)

August 8, 2015

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 16)

Once again this week we are invited to look at the continuing teaching on the Eucharist as presented by Jesus in John’s Gospel. And once again, we have an Old Testament reading that looks forward to the eucharistic event. Proverbs says: “”You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense [Wisdom] says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity and live…””

And again we sing in the Psalm: Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Even so, Paul, or pseudo Paul” in a voice that is censuring excess at Eucharistic meals, says don’t taste too much: Do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit”…and that will lead you “to sing and make music to the Lord”.

So today is all about celebration of the fact that the Eucharist is a wonderful, miraculous, freeing, forgiving thing!

The Gospel repeats and then picks up what we heard last week, re-iterating that the bread from heaven, the flesh of our Savior will give us life now, and eternal life after. Because Jesus has been raised and we are “in Jesus” we too shall live because of him. Hopefully, you found time last week to think about some of these things that we often take for granted.

Because today is so celebratory about the Eucharist I would like to take a few minutes to remind you how many times this ‘bread of heaven” comes up in our Sunday Mass.

We start most Sundays by my saying “As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of Christ’s love, let us acknowledge our failures.”  The mystery of Christ’s love is another way for saying eucharist. Christ’s love for us allows him to give himself up for us, and he does this by giving up his body. Each week at Mass we re-enact that great mystery.

When we get to the Offertory of the Mass after we have finished the readings and said our Creed, the people bring the gifts to the altar, the priest takes them and prays over them. Since I am concentrating on “bread from heaven” today I will only talk about the first one. The priest says..”Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.” The bread of life! Jesus has taken something from the earth, it is refashioned by our hands and the refashioned again into Christ’s body. A threefold mystery.

In the Canon of the Mass, just before the consecration, the priest asks that this bread and wine “become the body and blood of Jesus Christ your only son our Lord.” Immediately following we hear the words from the Last Supper repeated: Take this [bread], all of you and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.” This is the moment in the Mass when we most clearly know what is happening and what sacrifice Jesus was going to make for us.

Immediately after when we proclaim the mystery of our faith, one of the responses is that “we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus until you come in glory”. How we proclaim that is, of course, the Eucharist.

After the consecration we are again reminded that what we are doing at Mass is reenacting the perfect sacrifice. We are told “we offer to you, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice: the bread of life and cup of eternal salvation.” Both themes are proclaimed loudly in today’s Gospel – the life-giving effect of the Eucharist and the everlasting effect of it. Then we are reminded of three examples of offerings being given in the Old Testament. We are reminded of Abel who offered up the fruits of the land to God, of Abraham, who was willing to offer the body of his son, and Melchisedech, a Gentile King, who brought gifts of bread and wine to Abram. We see Melchisedech’s gifts as a forerunner of the gifts Jesus transformed.

At the end of the Canon we proclaim that these gifts are filled with life and goodness, and are blessed and holy.

In the Our Father when we say “give us this day our daily bread”, we can hear echoes of the Old Testament and the manna in the desert which was a daily bread and echoes of the Eucharist as well. In this we are asking for the eucharist’s life-giving qualities.

After the Lamb of God litany has reminded us of the fact that sins are forgiven again, the priest takes a piece of the consecrated bread and drops it into the chalice of blood and silently says: May this mingling of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it. So there it is again – the two prominent qualities of the eucharist – forgiveness of sin and eternal life. When the priest consumes the bread, you may not realize but he silently says: ‘May the body of Christ bring me to everlasting life’. In cleansing the vessels the prayer uttered is: May [these gifts] bring me healing and strength.

So you see that in each Mass we have structured our worship and praise of God around the idea of repeating the perfect sacrifice of the bread from heaven and the wine of the covenant.

Coming back to John’s Gospel today we might end by repeating Christ’s explanation to us: “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.

I ask you this week and going forward to watch for the mentioning of the bread of heaven at Mass in attempt to not let us take the Mass for granted, but to make it a real eucharistic meal binding us to Christ and to one another. Then we can echo the final prayer of the priest: Lord may i receive these gifts in purity of heart. May they bring me healing and strength, now and for ever.:

This is Good News, and it is news that bears repeating today.

(Please note that the Catholic Apostolic church still uses the post Vatican II translation of the Canon, which I have used 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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 9)

August 1, 2015

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 9)

We continue with Jesus’ teachings on the eucharist today and the idea we began last week with Jesus proclaiming himself to be the bread of heaven.

I want to start, however, with the first reading from the Book of Kings. Elijah was a prophet who was depressed.  I think if we read the selection carefully, we could put together all the elements of a good case for depression.

I checked out a doctor’s list for signs of depression and here’s what I found. A person may be depressed if they can’t sleep or want to sleep too much. Elijah sat down in the middle of the day and fell asleep under a broom tree. A depressed person finds tasks that were all right before to be difficult.  Elijah was finding it difficult to prophesy, especially when no one heeded his prophecies. The depressed person feels hopeless and helpless. Elijah asks that he might die! The depressed person can’t control negative thoughts. Elijah says “I am no better than my ancestors – take away my life.” The depressed person has no appetite. Elijah hadn’t been eating and didn’t want to eat until the angel forced him to. Even after he hate he went to lie down again. The final thing that is noted in depression is that the person feels life is not worth living. And that seems to be the whole attitude of Elijah in this reading.

Many people, maybe even some of us, suffer from depression. Elijah had no diagnosis, no doctors to prescribe for him,but God sends an angel to him to feed him and to push him on. The passage ends with Elijah “went in the strength of that food, forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mountain of God.

We seem to have made medical strides with depression today, but one thing a patient is not told is to put some hope in God who told us he would never send anything to us that we couldn’t handle with his grace. It was, in this case, food that God sent, that strengthened him and pulled back on his depressive state.

We, too, need the food that God sends. Our Psalm says “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” “I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” A little bit of God goes a long way, and a little of the food from heaven can cure us.

That, too, seems to be the message of Jesus in the Gospel today, among a number of theological messages John presents to us.

Our Gospel passage picks up from last week when Jesus proclaimed himself the bread from heaven and some of the literal minded crowd wondered how he could say he was from heaven when they knew he was just a carpenter’s son, the son of Joseph.

In answer, Jesus begins a discourse on how God has sent this bread to them in the form of a human, and has given grace to people to allow them to see Jesus for that bread. Jesus explains that if they have learned from the Old testament and have been taught by God, they will come to him, for they will see him as the fulfillment of that promise of old.

Then the shocking promise comes. If you eat of the bread from heaven, bread which means both the teaching and words of Jesus, and later the eucharistic bread that is his body, you will not die.

On one level the people must have thought he was crazy – how could they eat the bread from heaven and how was someone not supposed to die – ever! It made no sense.  But Jesus doesn’t let it go. He says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world [to accomplish this feat] will be my own flesh.

As I said last week, it makes sense to us because most of us have been brought up with this concept, this idea from our youth, but imagine hearing it the first time. Is it not surprising that many people found him a bit crazy, if this was how he was talking. I asked you last week to reflect on the importance of the eucharist, and this week I would like to to reflect on the healing power of the eucharist. Just as God was able to help Elijah’s depression, the food that came down from heaven which is Jesus, can also help us to be healed, sometimes physically, but most often spiritually. These few weeks in John, we can find Jesus at his most outrageous self in his teachings, something we have never known or have forgotten. But the content of what he says needs to rattle our own brains so that we can come to depend on the eucharist, to know that it is truly a healing gift – not just for forgiveness of sins, its major accomplishment, but for other healings as well.

Do we think about what we are doing when we go to communion? Do we see it as a healing power? Do we see it as partaking in Jesus’ death to give life to us? Do we discover the peace that comes with communion? Does it influence our lives during the week? Do we miss it dreadfully when we can’t partake of it? I hope that you will spend a few moments this next week, asking yourself these questions, and if it has become something rote and ritualistic for you with little meaning, try to discover the true meaning and how it can affect your life for the better. Does it lead to what Paul tells us today – “to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

And this is the eucharistic Good News I proclaim 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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 2)

July 25, 2015

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 2)

As I mentioned last week, we are taking a mini-sojourn into the Gospel of John and specifically those sections of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. Before we begin that today, though, the Church provides us with the Hebrew background that we need to know in order to put Jesus’ words into the context of Jewish life two thousand years ago.

We begin today with the reading from the Book of Exodus which, as you know, contains the movement of the Jewish people out of their slavery in Egypt and their forty year trip to their new Promised Land.

In our reading today, we hear the Hebrews complaining about their stay in the desert, or what they call the wilderness, and it could not have been very pleasant. There were a lot of people, and because they were traveling, there was no way to grow food. Yet everyone had to be fed. They found there was, of course, not enough food that they could scrounge to feed everyone, so they were starving. It was not an unfounded complaint they were making.

Presumably Moses brings their complaints to God because God sees their hunger and finds a way to feed them. They had apparently brought a few animals with them that they could kill and eat, but they would soon run out and they had nothing else. So the Lord says: “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.”

God then sent quails each night that they could catch and kill, and in the mornings on the ground was a substance much like bread that they could gather and eat. The Israelites named it manna, bread from heaven.

The Psalm today remembers God’s kindness to the Israelites in the desert, and although they never ate or tasted the manna, they remember through the stories that their grandparents and great grandparents passed down to them about it. They thanked God for his goodness for this bread of heaven and this bread of angels.

So the background we need to know is that God took care of his people as God always does, and specifically in this case by nourishing their physical bodies that were starving by giving them the bread from heaven.

Last week in the Gospel, we saw how Christ was able to also feed the hungry with physical bread in the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The crowd had been amazed that they had all been fed, and even though Jesus tried to escape them, they followed Jesus. Jesus says that they had followed him only because he took care of their physical needs, their hunger, not for the reasons that they should have followed him. Jesus is more concerned with their spiritual lives, and feeding their spiritual lives with food that will last forever. He says that they need to work for that kind of bread that will last forever, and the work that they have to do is to believe.

We have seen that idea of the importance of belief in Jesus many times over the last few months, and here John picks up that theme as well as Mark had.

Now our background from Exodus will help us. The crowd tells Jesus that Moses gave their ancestors bread from heaven. They ask, what are you going to do to help us believe? Rather odd, since Jesus had just done a rather major miraculous thing for them by feeding five thousand!

Jesus reminds them that it wasn’t Moses that fed them bread from heaven, but God. God sent them bread from heaven and gave physical life to the world. And now God is sending bread to give spiritual life to the world. And this is where it must have really shocked the people listening to Jesus. They asked where is this bread that God is sending? And Jesus tells them…”I am!”

As Catholics, we were all brought up on this outrageous idea and it doesn’t really seem so foreign to us, but try to imagine what it must have sounded like to the crowd following Jesus. Jesus is bread? Jesus was sent to God for them to eat? If they come to Jesus they will never be hungry spiritually? How crazy must that have seemed to them on the first hearing.

We are lucky, because we know what followed, and we know how Christ’s body becomes present in the eucharist – the bread we consume here each week. But the enormity of this idea, the craziness of this idea, the bizarreness of this idea should have shocked his listeners. And maybe we need to be shocked every once in a while, too.

We have this amazing gift each week – bread that gives life, that allows us never to be hungry or thirsty spiritually and food that will bring us eternal life! Yet, so many people ignore all that and try to be spiritual in their homes and away from the eucharist. If we really understood and believed the immensity of this gift, nothing would be able to stop us from having this pure gift each week. Unfortunately, through unbelief, through repetition, through busy lives, it doesn’t seem all that important or amazing to us any more.

We talk about Good News each week. Well, this news of Jesus today really is good. Let us spend the week reflecting on what a gift it is to us, how by taking the eucharist we can never be spiritually hungry or thirsty, and how we can better prepare ourselves and take advantage of the remarkable powers of this sacrament. Truly good news for a truly good people!

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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 26 )

July 19, 2015

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 26 )

We are taking a side trip, sort of a summer vacation, for the next six weeks and listening to the Gospel of John rather than the Gospel of Mark which this year is dedicated to. And there are significant differences between the two Gospels – the two are probably the farthest apart – in intent, construction and theology.

Mark’s Gospel was the first and it is the shortest, most compact and deals only with the active ministry of Jesus. John’s Gospel was the last Gospel written and is theologically packed as there had been time to ponder the questions of who Jesus was, so this Gospel was more about Jesus himself than his teachings. Not that it doesn’t include his teachings, but they are done in a different format.

Mark uses Jesus’ parables while John tends to have longer discourses. The longest discourse comes while Jesus is preaching to the people on the mountain and is tied into the feeding of the five thousand. And that is some of the discourse that we will be listening to over the next few weeks.

When we are reading the New Testament is if often a good thing to ask two questions of each of the evangelists. Why are they writing their story? and who were they writing to? The answers to these two questions might explain why the four stories differ in some ways in detail, and why some things are more important in them than others.

John is writing at the end of the first century to a group that already has faith in Jesus so he isn’t trying to convert them. Instead, he is looking deeper at some of the teachings of Jesus and is especially dealing with the issue of Jesus as God. More than the other apostles he tends to do this with vibrant characters but also with much poetic and metaphoric language. This is a Gospel explaining in great depth who Jesus was and the Gospel is about him more than his teachings.

John appears to be writing to strengthen the faith of his listeners, to combat some heretical thinking that was going around about who Jesus was, and to give a fresh interpretation to the three Gospels that already existed.

The feeding of the five thousand is recounted in all the Gospels with slightly different details given. In John’s version the feeding becomes a catalyst for Jesus’ running away from the crowd’s attempts to make him an earthly ruler and also to set us up for all the bread images that John will use in Christ’s teaching. He can give them earthly bread, but he is also the bread of heaven as we will soon see.

The feeding of the five thousand had some precedent in early Hebrew scriptures as we read in the Hebrew reading today from the book of Kings. Instead of five thousand, it was a hundred, but Elisha managed to listen to God and told the young man to bring out his twenty loaves and feed the people. Somehow, miraculously, all the people were fed and there was some left over.

And our psalm today reiterates the idea that God will feed us, that God satisfies all the needs of the people who love him. Food here can be taken literally or metaphorically: God will also give us what we need when we need it, if we continue loving and having faith in God.

The letter of Paul tot he Ephesians today doesn’t talk of bread or feeding, but it does talk about the oneness – which is what the image of the bread is also metaphorically about.  All the people ate – there was a unity in that. Later, Jesus will talk about that by all eating his body, all will become one with him and each other. So Paul today talks about “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” which John will later incorporate into Jesus teachings on the Eucharist. Remember, in John, the establishment of the Eucharist was more tied to the feeding of thousand than to the Last Supper.  It isn’t even mentioned at his last supper which is about servitude and reversing the power structure.

As we begin, then, reading from John for the next few weeks, I want you to think about food and how it sustains life, how it is pleasurable, how eating together creates unity, because these are all themes that will come up in Jesus’ teaching on the meaning of ‘bread’.  We pray each day: Give us this day our daily bread. Does this have more connotation than just making sure we are nourished by food each day? When you pray the Our Father, think about what that might mean to you. As we picnic with friends – even with our own picnic  next Saturday – ask how this joins us together. What kind of unity does it create?

Then in the next few weeks, we can apply all this to the bread come down from heaven and what it means to us today.

This is the Good News I ask you to ponder over the next few weeks.

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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 19 )

July 11, 2015

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 19 )

I have had to preach about shepherds quite a few times for it is one of the dominant metaphors in both the Old and New Testaments, and thus comes up in our liturgical worship quite often. But, I thought I would take a little break from that, even though we still celebrate it in song and psalm and readings today, and spend a little more time on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Because the second reading is usually continuous, picking up where we left off the week before, and not thematically based on the first reading and the Gospel, it is often ignored, or it is so dense that a simple reading of Paul doesn’t always make a lot of sense to most people.

So, I’d like to start with an overview of the letter to the Ephesians. First, it isn’t really a letter, it is more like an encyclical, and it probably wasn’t written by St. Paul, but written in his style and using his name, which was very common in early times. It was seen as showing admiration for someone. Quite different than we would think of it today.

But it was written by someone who was close to Paul or understood the themes Paul often talked about, even though there are elements of contradiction with Paul’s earlier work.

Usually Paul’s letters are written to solve problems at individual churches  yet this “letter” could be for any church – it is more universal in content. Paul’s theology in his undisputed letters, that is letters we are sure he wrote, talk about grace through faith, how Jesus’ death on a cross saved us as when he today talks about reconciling “both groups to God in one body through the cross”, and how the Spirit gives us great gifts. This letter also talks about these things. But there are differences from Paul’s early letters, too. Early Paul talks a lot about death, judgment and the end of time. This letter rather ignores all that and concentrates on the now – that Christ is enthroned now and we, as believers,  are already living the “heavenly life”. Salvation for early Paul occurs at the end of time – we will be saved, in the future. Present or future – which is correct?

In this letter the writer says we have already been saved through faith. It says this just before the reading we heard today. In the section we read today this is confirmed when he says that Jews and Gentiles are already united into one. There is no dividing wall or hostility, the writer says. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, though, he says that the process of unification has started but will continue in the future.

The writer today then states that “[Christ] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances” which is basically throwing out the Old Testament, while Paul in Corinthians clearly states that Christ did not abolish the Law.

In the passage today the writer is explaining how the Christians, who were Gentiles before, managed to come under God’s covenant with Israel. This happens through the sacrifice, the death of Jesus who created in this death “one New Man in place of the two” which Paul claimed also in Galatians when he said “there is neither Jew nor Greek”.  In other words, we have become one with Israel, and the end result of that is going to be ‘peace’. Peace comes by getting rid of differences. When you think about it, most of the world’s problems are caused by “differences”. We don’t like people to be different, and we see ourselves as the norm. So Paul or his imitator says here that peace came through Christ’s death which united all of us under one covenant.

The problem in this passage, though, is the abolishment of the Law, which takes away much of the identity of the Jewish half of the equation. Elsewhere Paul has said that God will continue to be faithful to the Jews .

When there are parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other, how do we handle it? I want to suggest to you that studying the Bible will both puzzle you at times, but also give you a chance to put things into context. Knowing that Paul did not write Ephesians allows the historian and theologian to evaluate the things we know are Paul with the things that do not sound like him. In context we can resolve what the original thought was, and sometimes dismiss the contradiction. But we don’t dismiss everything because often the newer writings are deeper insights into the original teachings. Yet, that is why it is also dangerous to take the Bible literally and out of context. Terrible things have happened as a result of that.

So what should we draw from Paul’s letter today? I would like you to concentrate this week on the idea that peace comes through unity, and unity often comes through understanding. When we are upset by someone different from us, or an idea that is different than what we have been brought up with, try to keep an open mind, evaluate and then make a decision.

Let’s look at an example. The gay marriage issue has been a complex one and both sides have staunchly held to their beliefs. By reading openly both sides of the argument, understanding why the Roman church opposes it, which is different from the reasons the fundamentalists oppose it, might just allow you to make a decision of conscience.

There are many such issues today which take away peace and cause conflict. Most of them are peripheral to the core content of Jesus’ message. But, let us be reminded of the third part of Paul’s teaching which is preserved in Ephesians – the Spirit will help us if we are open to what the Spirit is saying to us.

And this is the Good News I hope to get you thinking bout more 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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 12 )

July 5, 2015

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 

We continue today with readings that deal with Prophets or Apostles.If you remember from last week, prophets were inspired by the Spirit to speak God’s words. We also learned that it didn’t matter who you were or how much knowledge a person had, if God wanted you to prophesy, you did.

We see that again in todays reading, not from Ezekiel as last week, but from the prophet Amos who was surprised to get a calling from God, told to him by the priest Amaziah. He says that he isn’t a prophet or isn’t the son of a prophet. Why would the king think that he could go and earn his living prophesying. He was just a simple herdsmen and horticulturalist. What was he even thinking?

Again God works in ways that confound us. Amos must have had something that God saw because he indeed call him to be a prophet, and to make his living at it.

We need to be open to God. The Psalm today expresses it well when it says “Let me hear what the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.” We have to learn to listen to God – God could be calling any one of us, even if we think we are not worthy, not knowledgeable enough, not brave enough. God’s Spirit will come to us and work through us. We simply have to let it happen and be open to it.

As we move into the New Testament in our readings we hear Paul preaching some really good news to us of redemption and forgiveness of sin, and Paul seems to think that we have all become Prophets because the Spirit is in us, and the grace of God has been given to us. “With all wisdom and insight,” he says, “God has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ.” In order for this to happen, he says, we have been “marked with he seal of the promised Holy Spirit.”  We saw last week that that was the first thing that happens to a Prophet – God’s Spirit enters one. So in that sense we are all prophets, and that is why in the Gospel today we see Jesus sending out his disciples to continue his work of healing and preaching of repentance.

It is interested that the new prophets are sent out not alone, but two by two. Unlike Amos, who was paid for his prophesying, the Apostles are to ask nothing in return, and they are to go out with nothing. They will be taken care of in welcoming homes – they will not starve. It is true that in this period there was a great deal of generosity toward visitors – there were no motels – so the traveller was at the mercy of the good will of others. And visitors were treated with care, often more than family.

But Jesus also says that if they don’t listen to your words of repentance, simply leave the house and shake the dust off their feet and move on.

The idea of sending the Apostles two by two intrigues me. We have echoes of Noah’s ark, and even of the Genesis statement – it is not good for a man to be alone.” Certainly the company on the long journey would be good, might also help keep them safer on the road. Probably though, the idea was that two people could witness the truth for each other, showing that they agree on the doctrine of repentance. Two saying and believing the same thing makes a better case perhaps. They were more reliable witnesses to what Jesus had said and done.Many Protestant groups take this literally and send out their members two by two even today.

Finally, Jesus gave the gift of exorcism to the Apostles.  What this indicates is that first and foremost they were fighting Satan, and so they were able to cast out many demons. It isn’t popular for us today except in horror movies to believe in exorcism, but the church right from the beginning of Christianity has always seen it as a fight against Satan in the same way that Christ was tempted by the devil, though he was able to win the fight by himself. We also see here an early example of the Sacrament of the Sick when the Apostles anointed someone with oil and cured them of disease. When most of us were younger this sacrament had morphed into a sacrament for those who were dying, and was even called Extreme Unction – given only in extreme cases. This was never its true use, however, and Vatican II brought back the idea that anointing is for any sick person. So if I come and anoint you, don’t have a heart attack because you think you are about to die!

What I would like you to leave with today, however, is the idea that you are a prophet, and you need to listen to what God is calling you to do or say. We don’t listen enough – we are always thinking of replies to a person today. Just listen. You might be surprised what you hear, and you might even be as terrified as some of the prophets to find out just what God is calling you to. Remember, though, as Paul said last week: ”his grace is enough!” and if God calls you, he will help through whatever it is God asks you to do.

And that is the Good News of our prophetic vocation today. God bless.

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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 14th Sunday in ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 5)

June 28, 2015

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 5 )

Today’s reading from Ezekiel starts off with a kind of mission statement for all prophets. We know about prophets from the Bible, and we sometimes call people today prophets who speak with an uncanny ability to put things into a new perspective and open our minds to a new way of looking at life. Some people also call fortune-tellers prophets because they predict the future. But the Hebrew prophets simply are humans inspired by God to give messages – both good and bad – to God’s people. We know it is inspiration because Ezekiel explains it this way: “A spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard one speaking to me.”

Prophets then are a kind of receptacle for the Holy Spirit. They are not preaching ideas that their own minds have generated but are speaking things that come directly from God. These messages are not intellectually reasoned out, nor do they have a hidden agenda of their own.

The second thing we learn is that prophets are sent. They aren’t just given a message and told to keep quiet about it. They are sent to a certain group and they are told what they have to say to that certain group. This often isn’t easy as we saw before with Jonah who thought God must have been nuts to send him to Nineveh – to non-believers – to foreign conquerors – and preach to them. However, God says to Ezekiel it shouldn’t matter to him whether the people listen or not. It is enough that have been warned. They need to know that God is still around and that he is speaking to them through someone. That someone is called a prophet.

Our opening hymn today expresses this very well. God has chosen me, says the prophet: to bring good news and new sight. That is what a prophet does.

In the Gospel today Jesus refers to himself as a Prophet and this may surprise us a bit, but if you think about it, he is really just the ultimate prophet. Instead of God telling a mortal man to go and give a message to the people, God is coming himself in the form of a man, and he too gives messages which are both good and bad news. Jesus is preaching in his home town but he knew that it would be for naught. But it didn’t stop him – he began to teach them in the synagogue anyway. He knew they wouldn’t listen because they had preconceived ideas about who he was. They had seen him grow up with them, knew his simple background, knew who his parents were and couldn’t see how he could be this great thing. Jesus comments that it seems to be a cliche that people who prophesy have no honor or respect in their home towns. People can’t get beyond the outward appearances and see that God can talk through anyone – even a carpenter’s son. A much talked about verse that says “Jesus could do no deed of power there”, makes it sound like Jesus might not be an all powerful God, but the power of Jesus as a human being seemed to be fueled by belief. We saw this last week with the woman with the hemorrhages and Jairus. It was their belief, their faith in Jesus that was the catalyst for the cure. In Nazareth there was little belief. In fact we are told that “Jesus was amazed at their unbelief”. We might remember for ourselves then, that the more faith we have in Jesus, the easier it will be for miracles to happen. We should try to do things that would strengthen our belief system.

St. Paul adds something else to the concept of Christian prophecy. Christians have been given revelations, and they are told to go to the world and preach the Good News. Paul says he was elated with this news but perhaps began to think of himself as better than others because he had been given the gift of many revelations or prophecies. He was feeling proud of the fact, and so he says, God had to take him down a peg. Paul himself had nothing to do with these graces – it was God’s gift. So Paul should not get a swollen head about it – he had nothing to do with it. He needed only go and preach the faith to others so that they too could enjoy God’s graces and gifts. So Paul says he was given some sort of physical suffering or temptation to deal with. He is very vague – commentators have been trying to guess for years what it could be. Whatever it was, it bad enough that he cried out to Jesus about it for help. The answer he got back was simply: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

That idea that suffering, that taking up a cross, that being tempted, was part of the the following of Jesus is in all the Gospels and certainly in Paul. We are human: we are going to get sick, we are going to be tempted, we are going to feel depressed at times. But we can use those weakness, Jesus says, to understand others, to share in the suffering of Christ, and to empathize. He promises that it will never be too much, because he will always give you the grace to endure if you believe in him. There’s that belief again. And another reason why we need to develop that deep faith and trust and belief in the Lord.

I ask you today to practice doing this a little every day. It can be as simple as offering up some little or big pain or sickness, seeing others who suffer more than you do, realizing the immense gift of grace that is available to us, and looking forward to becoming stronger through our weakness, as Paul did.

This is Good News. This is the Spirit’s message to us today. This is why we are all prophets and God can speak through us. Let God do it!

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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]


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