Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (October 2)

September 27, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (October 2)

The parable of Jesus today compares the disciples to slaves. This is certainly part of the larger message Jesus has been giving that disciples are to be servants, and are never to rise above that position. Why does Jesus use this parable? In a few verses just before this reading, Jesus gives some proverbial advice to the apostles, things like it would be better to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around one’s neck than to cause someone to fall into sin. He also tells them that they must forgive, even if the person comes back seven times for the same offense to beg forgiveness.

The Apostles are hearing very difficult things – even scary things – for anyone who is to minister. It is no wonder then, that at the beginning of today’s Gospel they say to Jesus, “Increase our faith”. You have to help us out here!

Jesus’s response is kind. He basically says that even a little faith will get you a long way. And this indicates, I presume, that they all had at least some faith in Jesus and God!

The parable then follows.

The parable is strange to our ears in this day of non-slavery. But we must remember that slaves were considered property, property that you took care of, but still property, and the slave owners  expected obedience. If they sent you out into the fields all day to work and you came home tired but were asked to do even more (even though you thought it might be nice to be invited to sit down to supper with the family for your work and compliance), you did what you were told to do, simply because you are worthless in yourself and have done nothing more than what was expected. You aren’t going to get any extras, any coddling, any special praise for doing what you were asked to do. Neither will God give us extra credit for what we are expected to do.

I guess life isn’t always fair, is it?  In the first reading today we hear the prophet Habakkuk crying to God for help because he is so sick of seeing all the wrongdoing and violence in the world. I want something more, he says. But God answers him that he must simply write down what he sees, and not to worry about it. If you are righteous and faithful, you will be around to see the destruction of the proud. But again, don’t expect anything more for just doing what I asked. It is simply living by faith.

Getting back to the Gospel, Jesus has indicated that even with a small bit of faith, nothing can be ruled out as being impossible. Why is that? How can that be? Because with even a little faith, you are connected to God, and God can do the impossible. God is empowering the apostles in their leadership and it only takes a wee bit of faith to set it in action.

But even if this is true, the parable still holds. There can be no time that the apostles can say, “OK, I have done what you asked me to do. Now it is my turn to be served.” Jesus indicated that it will never be time for them to be served – that being his apostles means that they are forever servants.

I wonder how the apostles must have felt upon hearing that. Those are hard words. But Jesus never said being an apostle wouldn’t be hard, only that if they have faith, they can do anything.- for others!

Now, if this reading is addressed to the Twelve, does that mean the rest of you are off the hook? Do you get to be the ones served? I don’t think so. Sorry.

Jesus called everyone to be followers. Indeed the very early church was a collection of people who were all called to spread the Good News. The Spirit that Paul exclaims about in the letter to Timothy today is given to us so that we can have that faith and love that make us servants and allow us to pass on the teachings we were given. It wasn’t till later that a hierarchy developed, but originally everyone had a charism or gift that they were to use to help spread the Word.

The same is true today although we often think our ordained clergy are the ones who do all that. I believe this is something entrusted to all of us, and it is only in serving others, taking care of the needs of others that our salvation will lie. In any case, I urge you today to examine what kind of faith you have and to know that, even if it is just a little…. nothing is impossible because God can do anything!

This is the responsibility of the Good News that we hear about today, and though it sounds difficult, you must find the gift of service God has given you, and use it to strengthen our community and the community around us. The Good News isn’t always about us and our needs, is it? But it is still Good News for everyone else!  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 25)

September 20, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 25)

Jesus is getting even closer to Jerusalem and his indictment of the people who have too much, the rich, gets even stronger. This indictment is not a new one for the Jewish people. The prophet Amos preached the same thing years before, as we see in the First Reading. In this reading, God is speaking through Amos. He is directing his prophecy to two Jewish groups, the people of Zion or Jerusalem, the Southern kingdom and the Jews in the north represented by their place of worship Mount Samaria. The Jews had split into two groups by Amos’s time. Both of the groups were very complacent, even though the signs were all around them that they would be conquered. They strongly felt that they were God’s people and God would never, ever, let this happen to them.

But Amos sees things differently. He shows them a mirror of themselves in which their complacency has led them to ignore the very people that God cares most about – the poor.  By “poor”, by the way, is meant anyone who is treated unjustly in society. He shows them in this ‘mirror’ as lying on beds of ivory, lounging on couches, eating their fill, singing idle songs all day, drinking lots of wine, and grooming themselves with expensive products. Then Amos says that they are not “grieved by the ruin of Joseph!” This was an expression that was similar to one we might use when we say Nero fiddled while Rome burned, meaning that they were oblivious to the things falling apart around them, the poor, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, who were crying out for help.

God is angry with them because God is a just God. The reading doesn’t say that God punished them, but God is not going to help them either. God lets history take its course and allows the conqueror to do what conquers do. God is just forecasting what will happen.

Luke’s Gospel today gives basically the same message in terms of a parable that Jesus narrates. Luke doesn’t mince words and he tells us right from the start that Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees who loved money. We get the point immediately.

The rich man in the parable behaved in much the same way as the Hebrews before the captivity. He doesn’t pay any attention to the suffering around him but only makes sure he is living it up as much as possible in the moment. He too wears expensive, fine clothing and spends the days in lavish eating and drinking. He, too, ignores the pathetic man, Lazarus,  outside his home who is starving and sick and destitute.

Upon their sudden deaths, however, they were apparently judged by God, and Lazarus was taken up to heaven along with the great men of Hebrew history, especially the father of all Jews, Abraham. The rich man, on the other hand, was in Hades suffering the torment of flames and heat.

The rich man apparently was able to see what the other side was like in heaven while he was suffering and he saw Abraham up in heaven, and he shouted to Abraham for help. He didn’t even ask Abraham to save him or bring him up to heaven, but just to give him a little drop of water to ease his thirst. Abraham is blunt in his reply: “You had a lot of good things while you were alive and revealed in them, while someone like Lazarus had only bad things happen to him. You ignored Lazarus when you could have helped him. So no way! You made your bed. Lie in it!”

Having perhaps learned his lesson, the rich man then asks Lazarus at least to go to his brothers and warn them about the consequences of rich living. But he is told by Abraham that there is no need for that. If they just read the Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets, they would know what to expect – just like in our first reading from Amos. But the rich man, who himself had ignored Scripture, said that if Lazarus came back to life and told them, that would be a miracle that they might believe. And Abraham’s final ironic, prophetic statement rings out as truth today: No, even if someone came back from the dead, they wouldn’t be convinced. Notice, here, the other Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead!

Remember: this was addressed to the Pharisees who undoubtedly felt that their wealth was a sign that God was blessing them as seems to be the message of Deuteronomy long before the Prophets. There is an abundance of proof in Deuteronomy that God blesses the righteous person with an abundance of prosperity and riches. The Pharisees felt they had Scripture on their side. Jesus obviously feels that they are misreading Scriptures and cherry-picking verses to give validity to their way of life. The story of the rich man and Lazarus is at base a story of how to interpret Scripture. This is where Jesus and the Pharisees are at odds.

I want also to point out that this is just a story Jesus told. It does not mean literally that there is a burning fire in hell as so many have taken it, or that we will sit around feasting all day in a heaven. These are metaphors of states of being and we don’t know what those states will be. Many theologians think hell will be the absence of God from one’s life. But we don’t know. We can only theorize and guess.

Jesus’s point overall is the misinterpretation of the Scripture looked at as a whole – which all the way through indicates that food should be shared with the one’s who have none in countless verses of Scripture from Leviticus to the Prophets.

My point today then is that we must not ever let someone prove something with a verse from Scripture, especially the New Testament, which does not fit with the overall message of justice and love. “God is love,” John constantly tells us. God also demands justice, That is the underlying theme of Scripture and should be the measuring rod for all our dealings, and anyone who says otherwise is just like the rich man in the parable today.

This week, let us try to remind ourselves of this “forest” of an idea instead of looking at the individual tree that might be rotten. Paul has it right when he sees that forest includes “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”  And this is the Good News that will lead us to be like God and Christ: just and loving.  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 18)

September 13, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept 18)

Today’s readings all have something to do with wealth in terms of finances. The Gospel writer, Luke, of all the writers, has been the most active in talking about issues of poverty and wealth, and we have seen Jesus talking about this many times in the last few weeks as he moves onward toward his final destination. Jesus seems to find it imperative that this theme is repeated again and again, possibly because it was the cornerstone of his teaching.

It is very clear from the first reading that the prophet Amos does not hold rich businessmen in high regard, The rhetoric is a lot like that we are hearing today about Wall Street as the cause of all our financial woes. According to Amos, corrupt rich businessmen trample on the those who are needy, never taking their needs into consideration, but only trying to amass more and more wealth. This has also been a long-standing theme in the Old Testament – it was not new and unique to Jesus. Amos decries their putting wealth before all other considerations. Even if they do keep the Sabbath, for example, they can’t wait for it to end, to get back to the business of making money. Amos says they also use methods or tricks to make more money even – they fix the scales so people are getting less grain but they charge them more. They even sell the grain that falls on the floor along with the dirt. While Amos is quite aware of what they are doing, he makes one important point, however. God sees everything and he will not ever forget!

The Psalm today shows the opposite of this greed. It shows a God who will provide for the poor, lift them up out of the dust, and seat them at the heavenly table with princes. The poor will get their reward before the rich ever do!

Despite the criticisms in Paul’s time of the Roman government and how they too manage to oppress the poor and needy, Paul is quick to say that we need to pray for them, to ask God to awaken them to the “knowledge of the truth”. Paul sees the kind of sharing that was going on in Christian community as a role model for others in this regard.

Jesus attitude to the rich is not always consistent in the parables. Often he is criticizing the rich, but sometimes in the parables, they are saved. He praises those who have enough to give food to the apostles as they go from town to town. He praises Mary who uses expensive ointment on his body. He sometimes tells us that wealth and possessions can be a good thing.

In this tradition then, we have another parable today about wealth which is strikingly different. Luke saw that poverty and wealth were not black and white issues and that sometimes there was a lot of gray. This week’s Gospel and next week’s Gospel are really contrasting stories about wealth and poverty.

This week’s and next week’s Gospel both start with the sentence..”There was a rich man…” but the two parables will point out very different things. Today’s reading is directed at the disciples themselves and talks about how you can use riches constructively. After the parable itself ends, Luke has Jesus draw some conclusions about the meaning of it.

As I have talked to you before, we know that some people reading this parable are confused and some are even offended that Jesus would praise dishonesty.

The dishonest servant falsified documents almost as a bribe so that he would be helped by the people who profited from his falsification of accounts. He hoped that they would be hospitable to him after doctoring the bill of debts. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus told his followers to be “wise as serpents” and this might be an illustration of that.

The dishonest servant used his brain – something we are not always allowed to do in organized religion. Because his disciples brought nothing with them, they would have to use their brains to make sure they were taken care of. It is not the dishonesty Jesus is praising but the cleverness of the servant to make sure he would be provided for.

After the parable, we have a number of somewhat unrelated statements about wealth, some of which don’t really seem to apply to the parable itself. But some do.

For example, Jesus says that he would trust the one who took care of the little financial things each day to take charge of the larger account. “Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much.”

How does this apply to us? Well, perhaps we need to start taking care of and noticing the little things each day, those small opportunities that get us ready for larger issues. Those who give a beggar a dollar, who write a friendly email, who visit a sick friend, who vote when it is time, who share a meal with a neighbor, who read a story to a child won’t have time or inclination to create a life driven by the almighty dollar. Luke finishes by saying that we can’t serve both God and money. What God asks us to do – to love our neighbor – doesn’t take great wealth. But it does take thinking about another, looking for those opportunities when they arise in order to best prepare for the future – our eternal reward. And isn’t this very Good News for us all?  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C ( Sept. 11)

September 5, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C ( Sept. 11)

Today’s readings are all about God’s response to our sinful nature, a response that always tempers justice with mercy. I don’t think anyone can combine these two things without having some empathy for the sinner, be it an understanding of why they acted, or simply just a great love for that person.  Someone does something wrong to us. Our immediate reaction is often to see that justice is meted out. This is the black and white, eye-for-an-eye approach. It is the approach the early Bible period took because their thought had not matured to a point where they could see beyond black and white issues. You do this and you suffer the consequences!

But if we walk in another’s shoes, we gain an understanding of what led them to that sin or that behavior. We may then temper our judgment with mercy.  Or if we love someone, like a son or daughter, the love alone may temper that judgment.

In our first reading, God has been so good to the Israelites. Yet, when Moses is out of their sight for a few days, they get frightened and turn to worshipping idols again. God is furious with them, but Moses tries to make God see what is happening with them through the eyes of a sinner, himself. Moses asks God to remember all the good things – how they followed Moses out of Egypt, trusting in the Lord, how they wandered the desert for 40 years, again trusting that God would make things better. God listened to Moses and through his mercy was able to pull back and change his mind about punishing them.

Similarly, in Paul’s letter to Timothy, we hear how Paul felt he should have been judged quite severely by God for his violence against Christians, for his persecution of the early church. But God tempered that with mercy because God understood that Paul “acted ignorantly in unbelief”, just as Paul says he will do with all sinners. Through his son, Jesus Christ, God has been able to empathize as well as love mankind. God was able then to use Paul as an example to other people, of how God could be merciful to great sinners.

Our Gospel is long today, and has many things we could talk about, but let’s simply look at how the father treats his prodigal son. How upsetting it must have been for the father when the son proved himself ungrateful, when he left his family behind and led a sinful, dissolute life. Many parents would be tempted to be black and white.  “You treat me like this! You are cut off completely!” How many fathers do we hear of today have done that to a gay son or daughter, or dismissed a child because he sought out a profession not to his liking, or who was disrespectful to his parents, or who abused drugs, or stole money from them.

But this parent of the prodigal was, as the Scripture says, “filled with compassion” for his child. He could have resentfully taken him back, but relegated him to the other servants’ quarters. But, no, through compassion, through empathy, he was able to temper the boy’s rashness with mercy and could only rejoice that the boy had made a right decision in coming home.

The other brother had not yet matured. He still saw things in terms of black and white.  He treated his father and the family badly and he should be punished for it.  His behavior was very child-like – he was a pouting child!

The parables that precede the Prodigal Son story are also examples of this merciful, loving side of God.  God is the shepherd that will leave his other sheep to go after the stray. God is the woman who will spend hours looking for the one lost coin.

It is interesting to note that this whole series of parables are all a result of Jesus being accused by the Pharisees of him eating and drinking with sinners. The fact that God has become one of us, and did eat and drink with sinners, shows great empathy for those sinners. God loves them, God wants them back, God will attempt anything to get that to happen, short of taking away our free will.

We might also note that many parables end with a banquet, much like the one Jesus is at. Our coming together at Mass in all our sinfulness and Godliness is the visible sign that God has connected with humanity, and that the breaking of bread is symbolic of the merciful side of God. We are today at the banquet the father prepared for the prodigal child. All we need do is ask for forgiveness, as we do in the “I confess” at beginning of Mass.

I finish with a question that continues to bother me and comes from these readings: Why are we so put off or even offended when God does something good or accepts those whom we don’t think merit it? We too need to have empathy, to walk in the shoes of those less fortunate. We need to be like God!

And this is the challenge I leave you with today from the Good News of God’s tempering justice with a healthy dose of mercy!

God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary​ Time, Year C (Sept 4)

August 30, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 4)

The reading from the Book of Wisdom and the Psalm today try to make us aware of our insignificance in relation to the universe and to God. Our “perishable bodies” make sure that no matter how puffed or great we think we are, in the end, we will simply be dust. In Jewish writings, the writers were often weighed down by that insignificance and by the fact that there was nothing really after death except what people remember about us. Around the time of Christ, that thinking began to change and they began to look more closely at an afterlife, but certainly during the period of the writer of Wisdom, they did not think in terms of an afterlife. 

What sustained them then? Why weren’t they totally depressed by that fact? I would be!

The answer lies in the wisdom that was to be learned from God’s holy spirit. Awareness of God and his creation and the joy at being part of such a wonderful creation directed them to look at their present lives, to live for the moment, and to trust in God. So the first reading today ends with: “And thus the paths of those on earth were set right, and people were taught what pleases you and were saved by wisdom.”

Wisdom, then, allowed the people to teach their children good conduct and what was moral, allowing them to make a “meaning” of their short lives. It meant passing on of tradition, values, and respect for the Creator. “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart,” says the Psalmist.

The letter from Paul to the slave owner Philemon, our second reading, shows great wisdom from Paul at the end of his life. He says he is an old man, but he has things to pass down. He is asking this slave owner to treat Onesimus who has been ministering to Paul, as more than a slave. This is the Paul who in Galatians said ‘In Christ…. “there is neither Jew or Gentile,  slave or free, male and female.” He asks Philemon to treat his slave as “a beloved brother”. This wisdom of Paul was highly counter-cultural. Slave owning was a part of the fabric of the Greek life. But Paul is trying to pass on his Wisdom from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus also passes on wisdom in Luke’s Gospel, as shocking as some of the statements seem to be. We note, first of all, that there is a shift in the audience from the last few weeks. Jesus had been addressing his disciples, but now he is addressing large crowds of people. Jesus has not called these people, they have come to him willingly, and unlike the close disciples, are not aware that Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem to die. So Jesus is addressing this group who are enthusiastic about hearing him, that there is more to following him than just listening to him and watching him. It is difficult to be a follower. Jesus is asking these people to think seriously about whether they want to follow him on his journey -they may think they are parading, but it is really a death march.

Jesus first uses the word “hate” in his list of what followers need to do. It is unfortunate that we have only one word for hate, and that it has taken on the meaning it has in English today. The word “hate” in Jesus’ time and the way Jesus uses it means to detach oneself from something. Jesus is not asking us to hate in our sense, but to detach oneself from anything that binds you to earth, including the love of self. When he says we must hate ourselves, he is saying we must detach  from pride and all the things that lock us to ‘this world’.

So, the Wisdom of Jesus about what it takes to follow him is first, detachment from worldly things.

Secondly, he asks us to take up our cross. This is, of course, a metaphor that most of us get these days. Luke uses it ironically in that Jesus knows he is journeying to a real wooden cross, but here it means accepting the difficulties of life. He uses the image or parable of someone intending to build something. They have to have a plan, Jesus says, or they will suffer the consequences of running out of money, or a poorly built structure.

The second metaphor for the same thing is a king who plans carefully whether he can defeat his enemy, and if it looks like he hasn’t the resources to do so, tries to establish a peace treaty. It would be foolish to do otherwise. This, too, is wisdom.

Therefore, Jesus, in his Wisdom, is saying to people: If you want to follow me, you need to weigh the pros and cons carefully, understand just what it will mean for you. His final statement in today’s readings would be one that would hit the hardest, but is just a continuation of his theme of detachment: “So, therefore, whoever of you does not give up all their possessions cannot be my disciple.” I am sure that was the statement that really stung and I don’t doubt that many people got up and walked away,

What does this wisdom mean for us today? Have we really stopped to consider what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Christ? Have we been able to detach ourselves from worldly things, and not have more money than we can use for living? Have we been able to endure our crosses of suffering and pain, trusting in God that there is a higher purpose?

We are the crowd that Jesus is addressing, and we need to think about how seriously we take our following of Jesus. Let us pray for the Wisdom needed to be good Christians and followers of Jesus in today’s world.

And this is the Good News that can be so hard to follow but leads to eternal life. God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Aug. 28)

August 23, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  (August 28)

Today’s readings could be very apt readings for those who espouse leadership, either in this country or in the church. So many leaders who call themselves Christian are not very humble. I think leaders who put the good of the people of the country or the organization or the church first are true leaders. I think that is why i have so much respect for Pope Francis as a leader. He seems truly humble. As the readings suggest today, we are in trouble if leaders don’t listen, wanted to be treated like royalty, have inflated egos and put their needs before the needs of the weak.

How does all this play out in today’s readings? The Book of Sirach is, for the most part, a book of Scripture that contains wise advice, usually stated in pithy, easy-to-remember sound bytes, and draws on the wisdom and ethical teachings from about 200 years before Christ. It is not a canonical book of Scripture for many Protestants, simply because it has not been regarded as canonical by the Jews.

While the “wisdom” of the Book of Sirach is far-reaching and contains advice for many different people and groups, the section today is directed at the individual who wants to be holy in the sight of God. “My child, perform your tasks with humility…The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself.” It is a state of knowing yourself inside and out and realizing how less important you are in relationship to the universe, the world, and other people. It is keeping things in perspective. It is the “meekness” that inherits the earth, Jesus tells us. It is the opposite of arrogance, aggressiveness, and boastfulness.

When I was still in Canada, there was an archetype of the American which I sometimes still hear.  It was the “ugly American”. And like all archetypes, there is some truth in it. Part of it is being raised to believe that the United States is the absolute best country in the world and no other country can equal it. Believing that, when they travel outside the country, some tend to be haughty, demanding, uncaring of others, ignorant or even ethnocentric, holding other cultures to the standard of their culture. While this does not fit the majority of Americans, I tend to find that the wealthier one is in America, the more entitled they seem to get, rather than being grateful and humble.

So Sirach’s advice to us if we want to find favor with God, is to be humble in all things, because compared to God, we are very small. He also suggests that we be intelligent by appreciating proverbs and that we listen to other people, putting our own ideas last, if we are to be truly wise.

The Psalm today is really about the humility of God. He finds time to provide for the needy, to be a father to orphans, to protect widows, to give the homeless a home and bring prosperity to prisoners. God’s preference is for the needy.

The Gospel today is clearly about religious arrogance and the feeling that because you are religious you are better than other people. In his parable of the upper-class man who goes to a wedding, Jesus even gives a good practical reason for being humble and seeking out the lower place. If you go for the best seat, the host is liable to say it belongs to someone else and send you to a lower seat. But if you choose the lowest seat, you will most likely be brought to a higher one. The moral is a constant theme of Jesus: “…whoever exalts [themselves] will be humbled, and whoever humbles [themselves] will be exalted.”

The second bit of advice Jesus gives also has human reasoning attached to it as well as moral. Don’t do things in expectation of being paid for them. In your humility, seek out those less fortunate than you who cannot ever repay you for your kindness. God is watching and will repay you for your generosity at the final reward.

All of this “advice” today from Sirach and Jesus flies against the American way of thinking. It is definitely counter-cultural. It seems to go against the very grain of what we grow up with in our society today. But there it is. No-one said being a Christian would be easy. The obvious Good News, though, for the humble is that they will receive their reward from God. I know that is something we all strive for in this parish, so we need to work always on our attitudes and listening skills, and compromising skills. Being mature is not seeing the world in black and white terms, but noticing all the different shades of gray that make up this wonderful world of ours.

Let us all strive to be humble, mature, intelligent Christians who focus on the needs of others before our own. That is the truly Good News we are presented today as we navigate the social waters of our culture!  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (August 21)

August 15, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  (August 21)

Today’s readings are awfully difficult ones, and ones we might find a little scary as well. It is still Good News, but not obviously for everyone!

Let us put the gospel In context first. Luke begins by reminding us that we are getting closer to Jerusalem. We already, with Jesus, know what will happen there, but as it gets closer, Jesus makes us more and more aware of the impending coming of the kingdom and also of the final judgment.

A follower asks a question, a common trick in Luke to get Jesus talking on the subject, and the question is “Will only a few be saved?” Will only a few enter the kingdom? That’s a good question, one I’m sure we all would like to know the answer to because it affects us personally. Are we going to get in? Jesus’ answer is sort of a summary for us of the requirements of salvation. Jesus first talks about the difficulty in getting into the kingdom. It is isn’t automatic. It is a narrow door. Elsewhere it is referenced as the Eye of the Camel which was a very narrow doorway of an alley into Jerusalem.

I find this a difficult reference because if we have this really narrow door that we have to squeeze to get into, who will not be able to get in? The overweight person, the muscular person, the crippled person? I don’t think we can then take this literally. But what if we take it symbolically, and say that Jesus himself is the door to the kingdom? That might be one interpretation. Remember, Jesus was addressing this to Jewish followers. Many Jews felt that because they were Jewish and followed the laws, they had already had access to or gone through the door to salvation. But Jesus says that they were not already in the kingdom and many of them would not be because they hadn’t recognized Jesus for who he was even though they heard him and saw him. Even more shockingly, Jesus says that non-Jews will get into the kingdom.

This interpretation seems to fit the parable that Jesus tells right after the statement of entering the narrow gate. The owner of the house, God, will close the door. In other words, there will be a point when we are judged, the end of time as we know it. The time is up and we must be accounted for. Some have already entered the kingdom. We note that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets are already there. Presumably the saints and many who were martyred or simply led good lives.

But outside the door, the Jews who did not accept Jesus knock on the door and are not recognized. They may have eaten and drunk with Jesus but there was no conversion. In Jesus’ words, they are ‘evildoers’. But the door isn’t closed for everyone. All sorts of people for the four corners of the earth will come and be admitted, presumably because they have been good, moral people, even if they didn’t know Jesus. We might also note that the purpose of the first reading today from Isaiah was to show that the prophets recognized that the Gentiles could also be saved. God says, in Isaiah, “I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see my glory.”

Jesus final statement probably refers to the Jews who were the first choice for salvation, but many of them will be the last.

So, for us, the narrow door should mean that being a Christian is not an easy task despite Jesus saying that his yoke is easy and his burden light. It takes a certain amount of courage and discipline to navigate through a world that seems fraught with evil sometimes. It is difficult to keep faith in such times. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews today also talks about discipline though he prefers to see it as God’s discipline rather than self-discipline. Paul says, “the Lord disciplines the one whom [the Lord] loves.”  It is a loving discipline that a parent would show to a child. Paul wants us to look on our sufferings as parental corrections which will make us better people and make us peaceful and righteous. That is where the self-discipline lies. It is in lifting your drooping hands, strengthening your weak knees, and walking a straight path. It is in healing what is wrong with us, with faith that everything will come out right in the end.

This week, take a few minutes to think about the path your life has and is taking. How do you react to setbacks, sickness, deaths, depression? Does your faith in Jesus allow you to squeeze through that tight door and find peace on the other side, or do you wallow and wail on the other side without even trying? A few weeks ago we heard Jesus say that we had to batter God’s door down in asking for something, like children pestering their parents until they broke down and gave it to them. Perhaps that should be our key in suffering. Batter heaven with prayer and squeeze through that door. Then maybe we can live in some of the peace of the kingdom to come, and Jesus recognizing us, and saying “Come on in!”

And for us, that is the Good News of our salvation we hear today!

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Aug 14)

August 8, 2016

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  (August 14)

Jeremiah was not a particularly well-liked prophet. Doom and gloom one might say. We are told in the first reading that he was demoralizing the Hebrew troops. The reason they say this, which comes just before our reading today, is that Jeremiah was telling everyone to get out of the city. They couldn’t and wouldn’t win. Babylon was going to overtake them.

Now we have to remember that prophets speak only what God has told them to speak, but they were only hearing the human message of doom. The princes in charge of the army wanted him out of the way before he scared all the soldiers and they took off.

The King, apparently, didn’t agree with his princes, so he gave in to them, by telling them to do whatever they wanted with Jeremiah. Unfortunately, or fortunately for Jeremiah, they threw him into a dry well, into the mud. He didn’t drown but he would soon starve for there was no way out.

One of the officers of the King felt that that was a horrible way to die, to starve to death, and he reported what the princes had done to Jeremiah to the King. The King had mercy on Jeremiah and had him taken out of the well. What we don’t hear int he reading is that the King kept Jeremiah under guard, and did not let him run free.

The King here is compared to God in the Psalm today. Jeremiah waited patiently in the cistern. The Psalmist sings: God drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

The lesson? God is our deliverer who will have mercy on us in our great need or distress and will help us. But there might be a delay, as there was in both the Jeremiah story and the Psalm. Our prayers are not always answered immediately.

As we see in the second reading today, Jesus also had patience, enduring the cross and disregarding the shame of dying such a despised death. Jesus is the role model of patience even in great suffering, so, as St. Paul says, we must just continue to persevere and run the race that is set before us, confident that God will hear our prayer.

Now how does all this relate to the “fire and brimstone” Gospel we have today which is probably out of our comfort zone. We have to remember that Jesus was not all apple pie and lovey-dovey! Jesus too was prophetic and was telling us the things that God the Father had given him to see. Like Jeremiah, Jesus is telling us that we are going to have quite a time of it in the world. Jesus and the religion he preaches will bring division, division in households, division in families, divisions in nations. This prophecy as we know from history is certainly true. Even within the religious communities there has been and is division. Families have been divided over religion, particularly in marriage. There is division in our nation today, and we are fooling ourselves if we don’t think that religion is at the base of much of it. Jesus saw all that. He knew it was coming. He told us it was coming. He has brought fire to the earth, he says. And he was, of course, right.

Imagine how that must have made Jesus feel, preaching the kingdom of God and love for neighbor – to know what it would bring. Jesus says, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed.” Now remember, that this section of Luke for the last weeks has been the journey to Jerusalem, to Jesus’ death. Luke uses Jesus’ saying here to emphasize that journey to his death.

Jesus also says that he “came to bring fire to the earth”, which is his prophetic vision. But fire has many meanings in Scriptural tradition.

It can mean pain and burning, but it can also mean judgment, purification and the even the Holy Spirit. Surprisingly, this reading is cut short today and we don’t get the next section where Jesus says that we can look at the sky and predict the weather (he obviously was not speaking about DC weather reports), but they can’t see the signs from God in the present time.

This was true of most of the prophets who said things to allow people to see and hear the things which they were blind to.

Do we see the signs that God sends us to today? Do we listen to the prophets that he sends us today? And how do we tell if someone is a false prophet? The signs of the times today are very scary. I am frightened for us, for our town, for our nation. I think there are voices of prophets out there, trying to show us the right path, but we need to constantly pray that we hear them, and do the hard things they demand to make our world a better lace. First and foremost is Christ himself, and we need to read and hear his words more than ever before. I ask you to take some time each day to read the Gospels and meditate on Jesus’ words. Remember, they are the words of eternal life.

This is about as “fire and brimstone-y”as I ever get in a homily, but my words are inspired by Jesus’ words today – still Good News if we listen to what he says!

God bless us all.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Aug. 7)

July 31, 2016

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  (August 7)

These are the three most difficult readings we have had in many weeks, and making sense of them might prove to be a real challenge.

One of the criticisms I heard about the horrendous killings in the Orlando nightclub weeks ago when the powers that be set out to discover just how it happened and why, was that the federal officials, the FBI,  knew about the killer, Mateen, and had him on a list, and also were also informed by the owner of the place where he bought the assault rifles that something dangerous might be going on. The criticism was that the authorities  knew and did nothing about it.

Even his wife apparently knew but did nothing about it.

Our Scripture today is all about knowing and doing something about it, or not doing something about it.

The reading from Wisdom is greatly out of context and as such might make little sense to people on a first reading or hearing. But the background is this. God told the Hebrews who were slaves in Egypt that he was going to do something to cause the Egyptians to let them go. The writer says that the “deliverance from Egypt was made known beforehand to our ancestors.” And why did God let them know? Wisdom says because God wanted them to rejoice in their expectation of what God would do, the sure knowledge that he would keep his word and they would be delivered. They had to act on that knowledge, however, God issued orders of how they were to prepare a final meal, how their houses would be protected, and so on. Those who listened to God were spared the Egyptian fate and were released from their bondage. The then is a story of foreknowledge that was acted on, and the Hebrews were successful.

While the Hebrews listened and had faith in their God, that God would be true to his word, St. Paul today also takes about faith in God. He first gives a definition of faith: it is the assurance, the confidence, we have that something we wish for would happen, even though we do not have concrete knowledge. Paul uses Abraham and his wife Sarah as great examples of people who had faith because they were told that something would happen, and without any proof of it, lived their lives expecting it to happen. They too took action on that foreknowledge. God told Abraham that he would father many nations, but he was a nomad, unsettled. He set out, not knowing where he was going, but had faith that God would get him there. Similarly, Sarah was old and barren, yet God said there would be many children in his line. Sarah also had faith in the pre-knowledge God gave them, and eventually had a child. My point is again that God lets us know what will happen, and some of us have the faith to live out our lives knowing that it will. We take action accordingly.

In the shorter Gospel account today we also hear Jesus giving us foreknowledge of events. He tells us that God is preparing the kingdom of heaven for us and that secondly, the Son of Man will be coming in judgment. As Catholics, we have faith that this is the case and we are asked to act on that faith. Unlike the people in Orlando who may have had pre-knowledge but chose not to act on it, we do not want to be in that position.

Jesus, the consummate storyteller, speaks a parable to explain this. But before he does, he also gives concrete ideas on what should be done because of this pre- knowledge – sell your possessions, give to the poor and needy even if that means self-sacrifice.

The first parable then is of a master of a house coming home from a wedding feast. The pre-knowledge is that they know he is coming. What the servants don’t know is when. When he returns he finds that the servants have stayed awake and kept watch and the Master is so pleased with them that he does what? He sits them down and serves them dinner himself. The master becomes a servant to the servants as a reward.

The second parable is not as positive. The pre- knowledge was that there were thieves in the area that came at night. Knowing this, the servants and master should have taken steps to protect the house and everyone should have taken their duties very carefully. The fact that they didn’t caused a robbery. In this case, the foreknowledge was not acted upon with bad results.

How does all of this apply to us today and this week? We have foreknowledge of a number of things that we as Catholics take on faith – that the soul lives on, that there is a kingdom of God, that a good life will be rewarded, that we must do things to prepare for our deaths – like almsgiving and love of neighbor. The question we must ask ourselves is if our faith that Christ is telling the truth leads us to act on what we know. It is easy to just sit back and say I’ll see what happens, but even though we know we are going to die, we don’t know when. Even though we know Christ will come again, we don’t know when. Will we be ready or will we be sitting and waiting or even sleeping? The parables and the readings today are a wake up call, that these things are going to happen, let’s take action to prepare for it!

And this is the Good News that Jesus reminds us of today for those who live by and through their faith in God’s word.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 31)

July 26, 2016

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 31)

All five of the readings today are consistent in their message to us: the material things we strive so hard for in our lives won’t really matter when we die. And these material things could be possessions or it could be deep knowledge or it could be power. But when we die, it’s all gone. How vain we are to think we can take it with us. “Vanity of vanities!” we proclaim in the first reading. Suppose you struggle to learn everything you can and become master of some knowledge or skill. It may be passed on to another when you die. All your work, just to be given to someone who didn’t work for it. We work so hard to be wise. What will that wisdom get us in the long run except worry and unrest while we strive for it?

That’s the negative message of Ecclesiastes. Even though it is very true, it seems to be quite a “downer”, doesn’t it?

The Psalm says much the same thing but puts it in a more positive way, I think. The Psalmist also recognizes that we are all going to die, just like natural things around us, and we will be returned to dust, but his lesson is that we ask God to “teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” Ecclesiastes says that wisdom goes away when we die, but the psalmist talks not about intellectual wisdom but the wisdom of the heart – the good we do for others by our love. That is what we will be judged on and what will survive.

St. Paul, too, in Colossians tells us that we need to get rid of earthly passions and habits and “set [our] minds on things that are above”. Paul is concerned with the types of things men and women do in life that feed their passions and take away our ability to keep our minds on the goal of being with God. What will remain for Paul after death is how Christ-like we acted, and when we are judged, it will be revealed that we died with Christ and will be glorified with him as God’s sons and daughters. What Paul saw around him in the Greek world were things that took us away from being Christ-like and made us unloving: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desires and lying. Those are the things , he says, that will stop us from being Christ-like. Instead, always look to “things that are above”, the imitations of Christ. We are helped in doing this by Christ’s actions which have allowed us to clothe ourselves with a new self, in the image of the Creator. That will stay with us after we die.

Lastly, we get to the Gospel of Luke. The set up for Christ’s lesson today comes from the two brothers who were fighting over their father’s inheritance. One of the brothers asks Jesus to settle the argument. This story is only found in the Gospel of Luke, although just as a side note, it is found in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas in a shorter form.

Why did this brother ask Jesus to settle an inheritance issue? It was not something Jesus had been doing – he had been healing, yes, but physical illnesses. Perhaps he felt that from hearing Jesus talk, especially in the area of justice, that Jesus might issue a fair judgment.

Now there are laws in the Old Testament that cover who inherits, but apparently, this brother felt that those laws were not being met. They say that settling inheritances brings out the worst in families!

Jesus will have nothing to do with it, however. The motivating issue here seems to be greed, and Jesus is not about to decide whose greed was best. Instead, it provokes a parable from him that hearkens all the way back to our first reading from Ecclesiastes. Jesus says, “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

The story Jesus then tells is a simple and direct one. A man who was rich had a number of good years of farming and had great windfalls of crops, so much so that he couldn’t store all the produce. So, he decided to pull down his storage facilities and build new, bigger ones.

In so doing, he felt that he could then rest easy for many, many years because his produce would last him for years, even in a famine. He could, “eat, drink and be merry”!

The surprise Alfred Hitchcock type of ending comes very quickly. Just as he is about to relax into his possessions, he has a heart attack and dies. Now all the grains he has put away will be someone else’s. He was not a bad man, but he was a fool.

Jesus ends the parable with the admonition: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

We have to ask ourselves then, what does it mean to be “rich toward God.”

Luke, all the way through his Gospel, brings up the issue of possessions, the have and have-nots, the full and the empty. Luke’s point here was to stress John the Baptist’s mission, Jesus’ mission and the early church’s mission  to share possessions, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked and so on.

To be “rich toward God” then means having just enough for yourself and sharing the rest with others. I can’t stress this enough as a deep concern in the Gospel of Luke, and something which Americans need to look at closely today when most of the wealth is held by a very small percentage of people. If our American government is in any way Christian, it is when it tries to equalize the wealth – something which has proven to be very hard to do. Capitalism is fine, but only if the people also become” rich toward God”!

Unfortunately, the Gospel ends here, but the section doesn’t end here. Jesus in the final section, which we don’t get to read – and you might want to read on your own – turns the negativity around by presenting the idea that generosity, almsgiving, along with fasting and prayer are the cornerstones of Jewish writing. He ends the section by saying “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our hearts follow the treasure. If we give the extra away, we will be “rich toward God”.

It seems rather obvious what we need to consider about ourselves this week. I can hoard along with the best of you. But it’s only when we share, when we are satisfied that we have what we really need, that we will be less anxious, happier and have a rich heart. We all need to look at what we can do in our own lives to get rid of the clutter, to share what we have, and to help those who are in need. Then it will no longer be the cry: Vanity of vanities! but the cry of joy from clearly having sight of God and knowing “Christ is all in all.”

And this is the tough lesson that leads to the Good News we read today!

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]