Homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct 30)

October 24, 2016

Homily for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct 30)

I love it when I get to preach on Good News that is really good news for all of us. Today’s readings are all beautiful and uplifting, hopeful and encouraging. Too often we are drawn to look at the dark side of our faith, at sin and the fallen world. It is all part of the larger picture, but I particularly appreciate the virtue of hope that we are given.

St. Paul talks about God calling us and we being worthy of that call, and that we we can glorify God in our resolutions and good works, not to live in depression (shaken in mind) or fear (alarm) but to realize that the day of the Lord is also here right now. We can bring about some of the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

And what could be more beautiful than the reading from Wisdom today talking about how God is so infinite and immense and yet he cares about us, and overlooks our sins. We hear how God loves every bit of creation, loves every created thing for the simple reason – why would God create something he didn’t like??

We also hear in Wisdom how God’s spirit animates every living thing, that God loves life! “You spare all things, Lord, “ says Wisdom, “for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living.”

God has infinite patience with us, teaching his Law little by little, giving it in small chunks, as to a child. And we made add, when we have matured into adults, so has the Law because Jesus refines it for us in our maturity. Wisdom makes a final statement that it is in this way that we learn to trust in God, and of course, trusting someone is the whole point of a good relationship, isn’t it?

Even the Psalm today expresses the optimism of the other readings. “The Lord is good to all,” the Psalmist proclaims, and has compassion for every created creature. And to give image to the idea of trusting God in our relationship, the Psalm closes with “The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. Such images of caregiving!

And lest we think that God only cares about the poor, we get a story in the Gospel of Luke now where a rich man is saved.

We might be reminded right away of the story of the rich man Lazarus we had read to us a few weeks ago. That story of a rich man didn’t end too well. This time not so much!

This is a story about yet another tax collector, very unpopular people in Jesus’ time, and I suppose not so popular today either if you get a call from one. This isn’t just an ordinary tax collector, however. This is a “chief” tax collector which might mean that he is heavily implicated in a corrupt system that makes the collector profit from the poverty of others. We might think today of a CEO in a very corrupt company. I immediately thought of the CEO of the drug company that raised the prices on a medicine recently, basically making it unaffordable, or breaking the pocketbooks of the people that most need it. Fred B Craddock in his “Interpretation” of Luke says: “No-one can be privately righteous while participating in and profiting from a program that robs and crushes other person.” (p. 218)

It is important for us to see that this man, even if he appeared outwardly righteous, was immorally stealing from the poor by raising the tax amounts and skimming off the extra for themselves.

So why does Zacchaeus want to see Jesus so badly that with his short stature, he climbs a tree to get a good look. Perhaps he had heard that Jesus was a friend to sinners, or even to tax collectors, I find it interesting that first, Jesus knew him by name, and secondly, Jesus didn’t wait for an invitation, but in fact, invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home. It seems that Zacchaeus really was thrilled about it though and welcomed him gladly.

Whatever happened at that meal at Zacchaeus’ house, it brings about a change in Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus voluntarily offers to make restitution for the wrongs he has done. In other words, he seems to have been given the grace to see his misdeeds and immoral way of life and to repent of it. He actually goes beyond what the Bible says he should do for voluntary restitution.

One final point of note that is something you may not have thought of before. Jesus says to Zacchaeus that salvation has come to his house. Jesus wants to remind us that repentance does not just affect the one repenting. Luke always makes a big thing about family and community. Zacchaeus’s whole house is blessed and graced by his act of repentance  His whole house is saved. And that extends even further because in his repentance he is giving money to the poor, and so they will profit by it as well. Repentance reaches out and affects others as well.

The final statement of the Gospel – “For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost” – may remind us of the parable of the lost sheep, but who are the lost? I believe it is anyone who lost his or her way. We have all been lost at times, we have all suffered depression, death of  loved ones, fears founded or unfounded, anxiety in our troubles times. Jesus came to find you, to lift you as you are falling, to straighten your body to carry on. This is such great news, and why I love the readings today so much. They give great hope and build my trust in God. I know they will do the same with you if you take the time to look at them and think about them.

And this IS the Good News we celebrate today as Luke leads Jesus closer and closer to his destiny in Jerusalem. God bless.

Note: Whole there may be some postings of homilies, for the next three years I will not be publishing a weekly homily so that I can attend to other things I am doing. My two books contain homilies for each of the Sundays for the next three years, so you might want to have a look at those.

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 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 23)

October 17, 2016

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 23)

Last week I mentioned to you that there were two stories side by side in Luke’s Gospel in this chapter, both about prayer. When Luke does that, he usually means them to be read together because somehow they will comment on each and affect our perception of them when looked at together. Unfortunately we got one last week and one this week, thus thwarting Luke’s original plan. One of the problems of doing little snippets of a Gospel each week!

Just as a reminder, last week we heard the parable of the unjust judge who was badgered by the woman into getting what she wanted by her her persevering and never letting go.

But when we see these two readings next to each other, we also can see that both of these stories are about the need for prayer.

Therefore, this week, we want to examine more of Jesus’s ideas on prayer which was certainly based on the foundation of the Hebrew concept of prayer. Let’s look at that foundation first. In our first reading from the Book of Sirach and in our Psalm we can get a glimpse of the Hebrew thought on prayer. First,  Sirach says that God is not going to show partiality to the poor. That may surprise us. I think if I had asked you the question  – Would God favor the poor? – all of you would have said a resounding “yes”. But Sirach says no, that God, won’t favor them, but he will listen first to the prayers of anyone who has been wronged. If poverty in society is a wrong, then God will listen to the poor before he listens to us. It also means that the prayers of the orphan, the prayers of the widowed will also be listened to first. In other words, God’s mercy will favor the the unfortunate and the wronged.

So if we are not the unfortunate or the wronged, how would the Hebrews say that we would get listened to in prayer? Well, Sirach says that by being a servant to others God will listen to us. When we humble ourselves to serve the needs of others, our prayers will go right up to heaven and continue till they are heard.

Do you see how Christ was able to build on this Hebrew foundation – it already sounds a lot like what we remember Jesus saying, doesn’t it!

The Psalm also re-iterates that the poor and the humble get the first shot at God’s hearing. “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,” the Psalm says, “and rescues them from all their troubles.” “Let the humble hear and be glad!” And then in the repetitive way the Psalms have of saying the same thing in many different ways: “The Lord is near to he brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

So you can see that these teachings about the power of prayer for the humble and the unfortunates in society were around long before Jesus came. And when we look at the parable of Jesus, we can see that Jesus builds on that foundation, but makes it just a little clearer and harder. The Pharisees were men who did good works. They tried not to sin, they donated to the Temple, they fasted often. It does not sound like they were bad people at all, and from what we have seen in Sirach, by doing these good works their prayer should rise to heaven. But Jesus says it is more than just doing something, it is the attitude we have in doing that something.

The Pharisees in the parable were smug, arrogant, and judgmental. Instead of being servants in their attitudes to one another, they were lording it over others, especially people they judged to be unworthy or ‘dirtier’ than they were.

We sometimes get the impression because of the law of love that Jesus espoused, that Jesus was easier on people than the traditional ways. But actually, Jesus was always harder. He didn’t just want the fulfillment of a law, he wanted the attitude behind it changed. That’s why we often hear him say: You are told this, but I tell you that..” It is not the outward doing, but the interior attitude that Jesus wants us to change.

It is easy to fall into the attitude of thinking we are better than others. Certain people repel us and I think there is a natural need to reject that which is different from us. It is certainly something we have to work at. When we are approached by a street person who is unkempt, bearded, dirty, uneducated or whatever, is it fear that causes us to step back, or pride, or disgust? What do we have to do is to throw away those judgments and see underneath all of that – to know that there is a person of dignity there, that God already listens to more than he listens to us. Definitely not easy, but I ask you this week to examine those feelings inside you, confront them, and see if you can change them a little.

In our second reading, Paul had to confront all these things.  Before he was converted, he hated the Christians, judged them to be unworthy. But he was forced to re-examine all of that when he was confronted with Jesus himself. And what did he become? – a servant of the Word, a servant to others in the name of Jesus. At the end of his life, he talks today to Timothy and to us, both with some pride in the fact that he managed to get through life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”, but the pride is tempered with he humility that he didn’t do it through human intervention, but did it through God who never deserted him. It wasn’t him, it was God: “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed.”  It is that humility of knowing it was God more than my efforts that he says will grant him a place in the kingdom.

So let that be the main lesson for us today among the many little lessons. If we hold true to the knowledge that our good deeds are God acting in us for the betterment of the weaker and poorer, we too will inherit the kingdom of heaven.

That is the wonderful Good News of our readings today! 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 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 16)

October 10, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct. 16)

The main message for us as Catholics and Christians today is “perseverance”, the idea that we steadfastly continue doing what we are doing until we get it right or until we get what we want.

Let’s start with St. Paul’s exhortation to us today. It is unusual that all three readings have the same theme but today they certainly do. Paul tells Timothy to be persistent in proclaiming the Good News. He tells Timothy he has the tools to be persistent – Scriptures (which was the Old Testament since the New hadn’t been written yet), tradition, and his faith. His job in preaching the Good News as missionary to the Gentiles was to convince, to rebuke and to encourage – but always with patience and persistence. I am not sure we can take this as advice to all of us, since it was specifically directed to Timothy, an “ordained” missionary, but it certainly has implications for all of us.

The Psalm celebrates the persistence of God who will not rest nor sleep but do everything God can to protect us and keep us from evil – the true shepherd of Israel!

In the first reading from Exodus, we also celebrate persistence, and I take this story as a metaphor for how we ought to pray to God. Moses prayed to God by holding up his staff on a mountain overlooking the battlefield. If he let the staff down, the people began to lose the fight, but as long as he kept it up, the Israelites were victorious. I like this image. Many times during our Prayer of the Faithful, I have been tempted to hold my staff up to God, while we asked for miraculous cures. Maybe some day I will try it. Jesus did say with faith we could move mountains!

I see this story though as a way of describing prayer – first of all that it must be persistent. We must never stop praying. But secondly, we have to realize that we can’t do it alone.  It takes a community, all persistent, to batter the gates of heaven. When Moses got tired, they sat him down first, but then held up his arms for him, so that he could be always persistent. And it was that perseverance that won the battle and the war!

And, because this is a story from the Old Testament, how do we know it still applies to us today?  Because – as we see in the Gospel – Jesus tells us so.

The Gospel today is the first of two parables that Jesus tells which illustrate to Luke’s mind, a specific point. Lest we don’t get the message, Luke tells us the message from the start. “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Maybe that is the difference between stating a message and telling a parable. The parable is much more interesting and intriguing, leaving itself open to a number of interpretations.

In this parable, God is certainly not this corrupt judge, but the point of the story is that if even a corrupt judge gives in to persistence, how much more will our God do so?

Luke, who wrote this many years after Christ’s death could also have in mind that the early Christians were still waiting for Christ to come again as judge. In the meantime, they were being persecuted and some were giving up on waiting. Such a parable could seek to strengthen their resolve and be persistent in their faith.

How many times have we prayed to God, hopefully expecting an answer to our prayers and have heard nothing? Have we given up in our prayers? What Jesus seems to be saying to us is that we must continue to pray for God’s justice in any situation, singly and in community. We may have to wait a long time, but we keep on – tis the ‘judge gives in’.

The Gospel ends with Jesus posing a question to his disciples: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth.?” We have been waiting a long time for the second coming. The earliest Christians expected it in their lifetime. Ten thousand generations later, we are still waiting. Is there still faith on earth?

I am aware as Catholics that unlike the fundamentalists we don’t talk as much about the second coming – we kind of brush it aside as something that is an article of faith but it probably doesn’t influence our daily actions or thoughts. If it does, because of the persistence of fundamental emphasis on “end of the world” horror stories, it may simply scare us and we avoid it. But it is very much a part of our faith that we proclaim at every Mass: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! Death will be the first reckoning for most of us, but Christ is returning to merge the kingdom of heaven and earth. It may not be now. It may be much later. We don’t know, but we must have faith and belief that our lives will be judged – our attention to the great commandments noted – and justice will be meted out with mercy. That is a tenet of our faith. So be persistent, not just in your faith, but in your prayer life, and make sure the community is part of your prayer life as well.

This is the Good News we can draw from all four readings today and that I ask you ponder in the following week.

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”]

Note: I will be taking a 3 year Sabbatical from this blog beginning the first Sunday in Advent. I have gone back again to school full time for a Catholic Psychology degree, and need to concentrate on that until it is finished.

Homily for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 9)

October 3, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 9)

Today’s readings are about  faith, ‘coming back” and expressing thanks.

The healing we read about in the First Reading today of leprosy had a very specific purpose. The person with leprosy was Naaman who was a high ranking, successful military man, but he was not a Jew. He was from Syria. His servant girl who was presumably a Hebrew slave told him of a man who lived near the Jordan River who was a prophet and a healer.

Not having any other choice but to submit to the terrible disease, he took large amounts of riches with him to pay Elisha to try to heal him.The Hebrew King was very mistrusting of the motives of Naaman and had no belief in Elisha’s ability to pull off a healing of leprosy. No one can do that, he thought.

But Elisha said that God had a purpose in this event, and let the man, Naaman, come.

But, even so, Elisha was not very neighborly to the alien. He didn’t even greet him or meet him. Instead, he sent a message to Naaman to go wash seven times in the river Jordan, apparently nothing more than a ditch at that point in time.

At first Naaman was very angry the inhospitality and he railed that he could bathe in much cleaner waters at home and be treated with more kindness. He started to go back home, angry, but his servant girl, the same one who had suggested Elisha, convinced him to do what Elisha said. She wanted him to have faith in Elisha.

So, having few other options, he did what Elisha said, bathed 7 times, and amazingly, his flesh was healed. Needless to say he was very grateful and offered all his gifts and riches to Elisha, who refused to take anything, even after Naaman begged him to.

Finally, Naaman, impressed with Elisha’s ability and honesty, and in return was covered to pay honor to the one Hebrew God. So, Elisha, a prophet, knew that this act could bring someone to God, could give them faith in the one God.

Faith is a difficult concept to explain, and it has a couple of meanings for us. We use it in the sense of Faith of our Ancestors when we say we believe in a body of teaching, when we recite the Creed, when we come to a Eucharist. But faith is also a strong belief in something whether we have proof or not. This kind of faith is often seen as a gift, a grace. Certainly the martyrs who died for Jesus had that kind of faith.

St. Paul in the second reading also had that kind of faith. “Remember Jesus Christ,” he says, “that is my Gospel for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal.”It takes great faith to put your life on line. Yet Jesus said last week that we only needed even a little to do anything. And even if we have no faith, Paul says, “[God] remains faithful-“ to us! waiting perhaps for that little thing in our lives which will restore our faith.

The Gospel reading is about the faith of the one Samaritan also healed of leprosy who returns to Jesus because of faith in him. Interesting that both of the main characters in our stories today were not Jews, but foreigners. Jesus tells the ex-leper that his faith in God has made him well.

The ones who were supposed to have great faith the Hebrew lepers never bothered to come back, but only fulfilled the legal obligations of going to the Temple to be examined.

Remember again that all this happens to Jesus as we are told at the beginning of the reading, as he was on his way to Jerusalem. That needs to always be the context of this section of Luke and he never lets us forget it. The events in Jerusalem are immanent.

This healing story can be seen in two distinct parts. We are on the border between Samaria and Galilee. The lepers who by law need to stay away from people would often beg at a distance for food. Jesus doesn’t go up to them and touch them and doesn’t heal them, but simply says for them to go show themselves to the priest and the healing happens presumably when they are on their way. It is their obedience to Jesus and the law which heals them.

Now we have a problem here, don’t we? In the second part of the story the Samaritan could not go to the Temple – he was a foreigner. He starts off, but on that realization, he turns back to thank Jesus and fall on his knees before him in gratitude. But there is something at work here because all of them were healed. Why is it that Jesus comments on this leper’s faith and not the others? The translation may throw us off here. When Jesus uses the term “You’re faith has made you well”, that term “made you well” is the same in Aramaic as is translated “has saved you.” So is Jesus really commenting on the fact that he is coming to save all people, not just the Jews. I think so.

If we go back to the fact that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to his death, we are gradually seeing the Jews as ungrateful and unaccepting of Jesus. Nine never came back to thank him. So what we have here is a healing story and a salvation by faith story. Now how can we apply this to ourselves?

It might simply be that we can’t take our faith for granted. Some of us have a great deal of faith, some just a little. Whatever amount of faith we have, we need to be thankful for it. Eucharist means “thanksgiving”. It is the community of the faithful’s way of thanking God for their gift of faith. This week I would like you to look at your understanding and dedication in coming to Mass for the major purpose of praising and thanking God. Yes, I know we try to make it a social and communal event, a feel-good experience, but it isn’t really about us. We take missing Mass quite lightly in CACINA, it seems to me. Almost anything can trump going to Mass these days. But what we are doing in coming to Mass is showing our thankfulness in community, re-enacting as Jesus asked, his memorial meal and making holy the Sabbath which has often gone but he wayside but is still one of the original Ten Commands of God. Are we the one who came back, or are we of the nine who are thankful, but often turn our backs?

These readings can be Good News for us in showing how God wants not only our thanks, but wants to save us as well as he did the Samaritan.  The two are interrelated: we give thanks and are saved, we are saved and we give thanks. 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 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”]