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”]

Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 28)

June 20, 2015

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 28)

Aside from the second reading today, all of the readings have something to do with death, a rather uncomfortable subject for most of us today. Our culture had done everything possible to shield us from the reality of death which was something quite ordinary in the lives of our ancestors. There were few families in the past, when families were large, that hadn’t had death come to a younger person. The mortality rate for children was high. People grew old and died at home, death was a natural occurrence, part of a cycle. Wakes were held in people’s homes. I remember taking my father to a house that his grandfather had built which had now been turned into a gift shop. I thought I would surprise him by taking him back there and visiting his grandfather’s house once again. I was taken aback by his reaction when he entered the house and tears formed in his eyes. When I questioned him about it, wondering if they were tears of nostalgia, he told me that the last time he had been in this house, the wall across from where you entered was filled with flowers, for his grandfather’s body was lying in state there.

I recently spoke to a young relative of mine who had never been to a funeral or seen a dead person – and she was in her twenties and was quite unnerved.

Death is a part of life that we will all have to experience and go through. An older person once said to me that he was ready to go anytime. He was tired, and death no longer frightened him. I think that is a wonderful attitude, and is as it should be.  However, when death comes at an early age, before one has lived a full life, it seems much more sad and disturbing. In the Gospel today, Jairus may have been quite familiar with death, unlike people today, but the death of a child seemed unnatural to him, as it always does. The love he had for his daughter forces him to do everything he can to save his daughter’s life – even going to a wandering preacher that he heard was able to cure people. Jairus was a synagogue leader, a teacher, a rabbi most likely. He may have heard Jesus speak in the synagogue or he may only have known about him through reputation. Nothing, however, would get in the way of his humbling himself and asking for a miracle for his beloved daughter.

We are not told what Jesus said or what he may have been thinking, but his response was to immediately get up and go to the girl.

If we think of this story as a sandwich with the bread of the tale – the story of Jairus and his daughter, there is a filling to the story as well. Mark often does this. The story is interrupted by an incident on the way to the daughter in which a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years – which would have rendered her unclean, also wanted a cure from Jesus. Her faith was such that she didn’t think she even needed to ask Jesus, but only to touch his clothing to be made well.

Despite the fact that Jesus was being touched and jostled from all sides as he travelled along, he felt something different when the woman touched him – some power leaving him – so he demanded to know who it was that had touched him. In fear because she knew she was unclean and had touched Jesus, thus according to law rendering him unclean as well, the woman admitted her guilt. Instead of being angry with her, though, Jesus praises her for her great faith, and tells her she is cured. Mark is setting up here the “power” of Jesus to heal because now that power is going to be seen as something even greater – not just healing but raising the dead.

We come back to the ‘bread’ of the sandwich now. Jairus’ daughter has died so some people from Jairus’ home came to tell Jesus to forget it. The girl had died. He was too late to heal her.

Jesus speaks only five words, but they are words which we should memorize and apply over and over to our own lives as well. Groups like AA and Al-Anon talk a lot about their little sayings that help them through life’s problems – like the Serenity Prayer or Let go and let God. Jesus’ words here could very well be a saying for us to apply to our lives whenever things get bad – Do not fear; only believe. Do not fear; only believe!

Then, Jesus comes to cure the child amidst laughter and jeering that someone could actually ‘heal’ a dead person. But I am sure their laughter quite stopped when the girl came out and was not only well, but hungry.

I love the way Mark tells this story because he keeps it vivid but simple, and sandwiching the hemorrhaging woman in the middle of it, prepares us for an even greater miracle which is to come.

Wisdom reminded us today: God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.” Our God is a God of life, and the movement of history is to life and not death. The kingdom of heaven we talk about so much starts right here – by our living – right now – this moment. The psalmist says “you…restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit….

You have turned my mourning into dancing! That is the richness that Paul talks about today when he says that God became poor, so that by his poverty you may become rich. Our God IS a God of life. Only believe that and live! The kingdom of heaven is here now if we give into it, live it, love in it, and never fear. That is the continuing Good News that Jesus gave during his lifetime here, and the Good News that needs to sustain us as we move to our own death and the eternal life that follows it. Do not fear, only believe!

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 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (June 21)

June 13, 2015

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(Job 38.1-4,8-11; Psalm 107; 2 Corinthians 5.14-17; Mark 4,35-41)

Have you ever found yourselves in one of these conversations.  A parent says. “Just do it! “

“Why?” responds the child. 

“Because I said so,” says the parent.

“But why?”

“Don’t question me. I have had more experience and I know what I am talking about. Just do it!”

One of the the things that is constantly re-iterated in the Bible is that God can do anything. In the reading from Job, it seems that God has lost his patience with Job, and berates him like this parent because he doesn’t seem to get it – God has created everything and has power over everything. Who are we, God asks, to question God? No, God is the one who does the questioning, Job is told.

Who has more knowledge? Were you around when I created the universe? Where you there when I created the lands and separated them from the seas? When I set up the weather pattern for the earth? It frightens me a little that we try to know more than God, or even that we think we do. What might be in store for us to bring us down from our pedestals. When people thought they could build a tower to get to heaven in Babel, they were punished. God says the same thing to Job.

Does that mean that we can’t question God? I don’t think so. As long as we question God with the honest faith that God will know better than we do, and there may be circumstances God knows that we don’t.

In the Psalm today people have constructed ships that can conquer the ocean, and even though the sailors were in awe of a God who could create such wonders of the sea, they still felt that their shipbuilding was a great achievement. Then, though, when the storms came, they realized that they were still dependent on God, and were not afraid to cry out to God for help. And God heard their pleas and calmed the storm and hushed the waves. So, as long we as we are not proud and think that we are little gods, we can ask God and God will listen to us, and help us. Just as in the Job reading, we need, however, to know our place.

Because the dominant imagery tiring together the readings today is the water and the seas, the Gospel shows that, unlike the sailors who go down to the sea in ships but have no control over the seas as God does, Jesus is able to do what God does. He is able to calm the seas. The overwhelming question of his followers then is “Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” has already been answer in the Book of Job and the Psalms. God is the only one with that kind of control.

The reaction of the apostles was, of course, one of awe. When we talk about God, we often talk about fear of God, but a proper understanding of the word fear is more the word “awe”.  We are amazed and in awe of the greatness of God and the abilities of God. The word “awesome” has become rather clichéd today, but does indicate some sense of the word. In actuality the only really awesome thing is God.

The Apostles are beginning in Mark to understand that Jesus was God-like, even if they haven’t been able to piece it all together yet. This takes time in Mark. the Apostles are not the brightest bulbs in the package.

We sometimes sing a beautiful hymn called “The Charity of Christ” whose words are from the reading from Paul today – The charity of Christ urges us on, urges us onwards day by day… Christ’s love will show us the way.” The word “charity” is a translation of caritas or love in Latin. Even though the reading from Corinthians was not picked for its thematic relationship to the other readings today, it does fit in very well with the theme of the awesome God today.

Paul says: we regard no one from a human point of view, Even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” Like the Apostles who saw Jesus as a simple human carpenter, they came to realize that he was not just human. And now Paul is saying that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we too, are “in Christ” and can’t be seen just from a human point of view, but God is now within us.  “Everything has become new”.

This certainly does not mean that we have become gods, and we must never think of ourselves in that light, but that God has come within us – we are vessels for God, we are “new creations”, and we need to act accordingly.

I often ask you to spend time during the week seeing Christ in others. This week more than ever I would like you to try that exercise – talk to others as though you were talking to God. the result will be a charity – a love, the kind of love that “urges us on”. Perhaps we can calm the seas of another’s distress, we can be the answer to their prayers to God, we can be the love that God generates and bring our “God-ness” to the world around us. We may not be able to calm the weather’s storm, but we can manage to bring peace to the stormy life of another by doing God’s work.

And this is just one of the things that can make us “awesome” in the Good News 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 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 14)

June 6, 2015

Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 14)

I planted a garden this year. I have a little more time now, and wanted to get outdoors more, so I put in two raised gardens and planted tomatoes, cucumbers, brussel sprouts, onions, lettuce, melons and a few other things. I know nothing about gardening so I am counting on luck and a little reading to help me along. But God in designing the world also planted a garden and, since God was God, he didn’t need much help. I presume God knows exactly what to do to make a garden thrive.

Ezekiel begins our readings today with a few words from God who talks about planting, but, because God is God, and because this is prophecy, it is probably about something else as well.

God says he is going to take a sprig from on top of a very high cedar tree and plant that sprig on the top of a very high mountain. When it grows big and tall and noble, it will be so big as to be home in the mountains for all kinds of birds. And I can do this, because I can do anything, says God.

I wish I had that kind of confidence in my own garden! But, of course, while God can do anything, this is also a metaphor or a parable. God is telling his people that he took one group of people out of all his creation and he planted them as a special people. He planted them high up so that all can see. For those who don’t know the geography of the Promised Land, Jerusalem is at the top of a mountain, up from the Mediterranean. God placed his people there so that they would grow and bear fruit – in other words, to grow in population and to be a beacon to others through their good deeds and love of God and neighbor. And then God says that through this people he ‘planted’, all nations will be able to live in the shade of Israel. In essence, through Ezekiel’s prophecy, God is foretelling that the Jews as a chosen people will be open to everyone else after they have blossomed themselves. God chose a people, yes, but chose them to eventually open up his grace to the whole world.

That same imagery is picked up in Psalm 92 today with a different kind of tree as metaphor: The righteous flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit, they are always green and full of sap.”  It is the same image that God wants Israel to be a beacon to the rest of the world, and that it the reason God chose one nation above the others.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we hear Jesus also talking today about planting and trees, even though he uses a bit of exaggeration to make his point.

Jesus uses a short series of parables today about the kingdom of heaven which he preaches about so consistently in the Gospel of Mark. His first parable is about a clueless gardener like me, who throws some seeds around and then kind of waits for them to do their thing! He doesn’t do much to the garden, but only seems to get up and go to bed each day without paying much attention to it.

And he doesn’t have to, because God, in his wisdom, gave the earth the wherewithal to know how to make the seeds grow, and they do. At some point, the gardener only has to realize that it is time for harvest – the seeds have grown, borne fruit and done their thing. So the gardener goes in with a sickle and reaps what God has set to grow and produce. So is Jesus telling us not to weed or gardens or get rid of the bugs and pests with spray – just leave everything alone and up to him? No, of course not. This is a parable and not really about gardening at all.

To increase the kingdom of God, we have to plant the seed, we have to talk to others, to preach the Word.  If we do this, we can then leave it to God’s grace which has been given to everyone, to allow it to grow, flourish and produce fruit in another. This may also have been a warning to Judean’s that they weren’t to fight Rome to get the kingdom of God established or to use arms, or it also may have been a way to tell his apostles that they should not get too discouraged if it took time for the preaching they were doing to bear fruit. It would all come in God’s good time.

The second parable is about the mustard seed which is very tiny. You plant this very tiny seed, and surprise! – it grows into a large bush, large enough for birds to build nests in and shade themselves. And the kingdom of God is just like that, Jesus says.

So what does this tell us about the kingdom of heaven? Well, the kingdom is a place for living, for shade, for rest. And to get there, all we have to do is plant just a little seed in people’s minds. And again, we can let God’s grace do the rest. Jesus’ preaching is so often directed at what he calls the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. So once again, let me remind you that this kingdom is a process whereby we gradually begin to see God taking back control of everything and the world changing to a place of peace, serenity and love of God and each other.

We will be hearing a lot more about this kingdom, but please remember that we aren’t just talking about an after-life here, but the process which began when Jesus ascended to glory and which is happening right now. Are we on or off of that train which has left the station?

What can we do this week to plant a seed and to join in that process of making the kingdom of heaven a reality more and more. What in our lives has to change to make that happen? Can we find the strength to be verbal about our faith and not fear to express our faith in both word and action – to love God and our neighbor visibly, every day, and so plant that seed which will eventually create the harvest of God’s kingdom. That is the Good News that we need to preach and act out in our own lives each day, and it is very Good News for the future of our world if we heed 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”]

Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year B 2015 (June 7)

May 31, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year B 2015 (June 7)

The concept of “covenants” has been at the core of both Jewish and Christian faiths from very early on in history. Such covenant are usually seen as agreements between God and the covenanted party. The first covenant was made with Adam and Eve which was broken when they ate of the fruit of the tree, and yet there was a promise of God that the serpent would be crushed.

The second covenant was with Noah and its conditions involved blood. God said he would never destroy the world again by flood, and they we’re never to drink the blood of animals or shed human blood. As a sign he sent the rainbow for them to remember the covenant. A third covenant was made with Abram in which God promised land and posterity. The condition of this promise was that they be circumcised – blood again was involved.

Following this was the Mosaic covenant where God promised that the Israelites would be God’s chosen ones with a Promised land as long as they kept God’s laws and the Ten commandments. The sign of this was the passover which again involved blood. The blood of the Passover lamb was spread on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not visit their homes. Afterwards, as we read today, Moses took the blood from the offerings and splashed the altar, and then splashed it on the people as a sign of the blood covenant they had made with God. (Aren’t you glad we only use water in the New Testament! Could be kind of messy otherwise!).

The fifth covenant with the Jews was made with King David who promised David that he would become a Father to the Jewish people, but a father who would use the rod on his children to discipline them if necessary – again, some blood involvement. The last of the Old Testament covenants was made to the prophet Jeremiah when God promises that his Law would not just be on stone but would be written on the hearts of his people, and all who believed in their hearts would become the new chosen.

In the New Testament we see this last covenant fulfilled in the life of God’s son, Jesus. That we have become the new chosen who believe in Jesus and who carry Christ’s law in our hearts. As part of this covenant there is also blood as we see in the Gospel today when Jesus says “This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” The sign of this covenant is the Eucharist which we celebrate today.

I have chosen to talk about mostly the blood today since this feast day has expanded from being about Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, to include the blood of Christ as well. And blood is not something  most of us like to talk or even think about. It is of course, what gives our body life, and so may freak out when we are bleeding because blood is meant to stay inside. A few of us might like our steaks bloody rare, and many of us donate our blood to help others live. Bleeding is part of the life cycle of every woman which is part of the cycle which includes birth.

We can’t really escape from all the images that blood brings – from horror movies to life-saving transfusions.

While the horror type images might be part of the early Judaeo traditions with angels killing oldest children or beating children to discipline them – ideas that are part of a very immature age to our own, all of the more positive images fit in very nicely with the idea of the Eucharist.

Indeed the Eucharist is a like a blood transfusion where Christ can actually be part of us, moving through our whole body as the blood that courses through it, and we can think of it as a donation of Jesus to help save lives.

In actuality Jesus was talking about his own death and the blood that would be spilt a few days later which would bring about the salvation of the world – the sacrifice of the spotless lamb whose blood washes clean the sins of mankind and opening up heaven’s doors again, taking away the power of death.

The second reading today from St. Paul uses the image of Christ, not Moses going into the Holy of Holies to be present with God, but he goes in not splashing blood as Moses did, but by having shed his own blood for us. Paul says that if sacrifices of goats and heifers purified people of their sins, how much more so would the blood of Christ permanently purify us from ours. And that is why, he says, Christ is the mediator, the go-between, of the new covenant between God and us who believe.

When we dip or drink the consecrated wine today, we are using a symbol but we believe it is more than just a symbol – it is the actual body and blood of Christ. Just a symbol would not allow the transfusion to take place – and indeed we are transfused each week. It is God’s gift to help us through the week, to keep us focused on what is good and to help us love both neighbor and enemy. So as you take communion today, please think about what it means to have Christ within us, his blood coursing through our bodies with ours, his body, digested and giving us sustained life.

It is good to look at the thing we celebrate each week but often take for granted, and it is Good News indeed that not only is Christ inside us, but we become part of Christ as well and share his body with all who are here! Another reason why Sunday Mass is so good for all of us!

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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