Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Year C (May 1)

April 24, 2016

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C (May 1)**

       (**2nd Reading and Gospel are taken from the 7th Sunday of Easter)

The early church had its problems much as we do today. The biggest problem stemmed from the admission of the Gentile community. Since Jesus was a Jew and almost all of the early followers, disciples and apostles were Jewish and followed all the Jewish laws and regulations while still believing in Jesus the Messiah, it stood to reason that they would expect everyone to be like them. To be a follower of Jesus would mean that you would also follow the laws and practices of the Jewish faith.

Paul did not see it that way and when Paul went out converting Gentile communities to the Christian faith, he did not have them follow the prescripts of the Jewish law which would involve circumcision, apparel, practices, purity regulations in food and cleanliness, and so on.

Suddenly, missionaries from Judea – Jewish Christians – were visiting and teaching among the new converts and what they were preaching was what they believed to be true – that to be a Christian you also had to follow the law of Moses and the laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

According to our first reading today, Paul had quite a debate and argument with them but neither side would give in. It was decided that Paul and Barnabas would go themselves to Jerusalem and settle the problem once and for all. This was probably the first Council of the Church and it did indeed come to a compromise.

The Gentile converts would not have to follow all the Jewish Laws and customs with just a very few exceptions – they were not allowed to eat food that had been sacrificed to pagan gods, they could not eat blood or strangled animals, and they were to refrain from fornication. They did not have to be circumcised or follow any other of the purity laws than those.

We settle debates much in the same way in the church today, and that is why councils like Vatican 2 were and are so important. It is the spirit working through the whole church as one that is able to influence things or change things and create oneness in the church. In our little community, it is working together to solve problems that makes us one.

That oneness is also the subject of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel today. Jesus prays in the reading today that all may be one – the original followers and those who will come after. The deep theological prayer here is spelled out with logic. Since the Father and the Son are one, the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father. Jesus prays that we can also be one with the Father and Son – in other words, that we be of one mind with them, that we share in their glory and in their love.

That is not always the case, unfortunately. There have been great divisions in the church, many of them based on theological issues that one side or the other could not compromise on. We see it in play today in the Roman church where there is a division on whether or not divorced Catholics can be forgiven and go to Communion, whether or not there can be birth control, whether or not there can ever be women priests. These are divisive issues that are not easily solved or compromised though attempts are being made to bring church members together to look at them. What this has often led to is divisions in the church. While all still call themselves Christian, some groups have moved further away than others.

Jesus’ prayer continues, however, with the wish that everyone could love in the same manner as the Father and the Son love each other. The decisive factor in Christianity, that is, following the way of Jesus, is love. At the end of time, at our deaths, love is going to be the deciding factor. It is God’s love that gives us grace, that forgives us, that opens his kingdom to us. Can we have the same sort of love in our lives that is given freely like grace, that forgives as God has forgiven us, that shares, just as God is willing to share his kingdom with us for eternity. We know Jesus’ prayer for us from the Gospel today. Are we able to be a part of its fulfillment?

And this leads us to the reading from the Book of Revelation today. Revelation is a strange, difficult book because it is visionary, part dream, part symbol. But this section we read today verifies Jesus prayer in that we are told that Jesus is going to return and will “repay each according to their work.” That work which will be repaid is how much we have loved. Those who have loved and shown their love “will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.”

We are not alone in our quest to love, however.  The Father and Jesus have sent the Spirit to us to help us fulfill that goal of love. “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come. And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” In God’s goodness he has shown us the way by sending his Son to us and then the Spirit.

As we end the fifty days of the Easter season today, we need to come to understand that Christianity is not a pile of rules and regulations, although we seem to have a great deal of these. The root of Christianity is love. You will be judged on how well and how much you have loved. I think we can be easily forgiven faults, but the great issue is how much we bear Christ’s love into our world. If we have learned anything from this Easter season, let us know that God raised and glorified his Son to let us know that we can be raised and glorified as well. And Jesus’ prayer today tells us how. Can we begin to measure our days by how much we have loved and shown love?  It is a challenge. It is Christianity.  It is Jesus’ prayer for us. It is Good News if only we will live it.  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 5th Sunday of Easter C (April 24)

April 17, 2016

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter C (April 24)

In the Book of Revelations today which we usually consider a book about the future, we get a glimpse also of the past. In John’s vision, he sees: “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. And [he] heard a voice from the throne saying, “See the home of God is among humans. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be His peoples, and God himself will be with them.” In the Incarnation – God taking on human flesh – this has become true, and is something we might not think about very often. Why would an immortal, all-powerful God take on mortal, powerless humanity? What does it say about God that he so loved us that he willed to become one of us, to experience what we experience, to suffer, to die as we do? His love is so great that he wants a perfect understanding of our human condition, and then to raise himself and us to a godlike state of being. So great was His love for us.

And that is why in the Gospel reading today we also look backwards to before the Resurrection when Jesus had yet to die and was still teaching his apostles. He spends a few minutes talking about the concept of glorification. Glorification according to one dictionary is  the process of revealing the glory of God by one’s actions. So in other words, Jesus is saying he is about to glorify God by his actions and as a result will himself by glorified by the action of God in the resurrection. And then, Jesus adds a new commandment to those given by God on Sinai. We are commanded by God to love one another. And what should that look like? Jesus adds: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The Apostles, at this point in the story, have not yet seen how Jesus has loved them, what he will do for them, but they soon will. He will die for them. But he has already shown that love by becoming one of them – but they Apostles were still not grasping that important fact. It would take them a great deal of time to sort that all out. Jesus final statement on the matter is that people will know that you are followers of Christ by the actions of love that you show for one another.

Do we see actions of love in the political arena today? Do we see it in our workplaces? Do we see it in our neighborhoods? Do we see it in our church community? I know that we do see it in this church community. I have never been part of a community that does show so much love for each other – and it is not be talking, it is by action toward each other and the surrounding community. Anyone who spends time with us will be able to see that we do love each other through our actions.

Jesus may have been referring to his disciples when he remarked that they will know they are a Christian community by their love, but we also know that Jesus died for everyone, and so that love which we express in this community needs to spread out, and indeed, those are our attempts to do so with Stop Hunger Now and the many other things we do in our community. Is it ever enough?  Probably not, but we should constantly strive to reflect Jesus’ love in all our actions and in all the places we inhabit – church, work, home and in the community.

Our psalm today says that “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord.” Our God is a God of action and his love is expressed in action – from our creation to his incarnation, to his saving us from ourselves. We give thanks to God also by our actions of loving.

In the Acts of the Apostles today, Paul has gone to a number of churches but his message to them is always that he is relating “all that God had done with them.”  Notice again the active verb “to do”. Our God is an active God who is always taking action to show His love for us. Again the Psalm says: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. the Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.”

The two themes of glorification through action and love through action dominate the readings today. When we love each other we glorify God because we do the work of God.

This week I ask you to consider thanking God for the actions God has taken in your lives and to give back to God – to glorify God – by giving and doing for others when they are in need.  This is the essence, I believe, of all religion, all worship. It is the important thing – all the rest is decoration. The Good News I preach today is glorification through the action of love, and it is truly the fundamental Good news of the Gospel. God bless you for all you do, and for how you honor God in doing it.

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 4th Sunday of Easter, Year C (April 17)

April 10, 2016

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter C (April 17, 2016)

As we have noticed before, the Gospel of John, because it was written last, is heavier in its theology and also in its interest in Jesus himself, both as man and God. The last statement of the gospel today: “The Father and I are one,” is likely not a direct quote from Jesus but a reflection of the direction that the new Christian theology had been taking. Although cut from this shortened passage, after Jesus says this the Jewish leaders want to have him stoned to death. Why?

The most important phrase in Jewish theology which is repeated by Jews each day is translated: “Adonai our God, Adonai is One.” The most distinctive feature of the Jewish religion from the beginning has been its insistence that there is only one God. When Jesus says that he is one with God, they are thinking equal to God. How can God be divided? And so for the Jew, this is heresy of the highest order.

But the whole Gospel of John, right from the beginning with “the word made flesh” is very high Christology in that its interest is in the divinity of God as well as his humanity. That Jesus is God is a major theme of John’s Gospel because the understanding of Jesus by the end of that first century had developed in that direction. That is not to say that it is not in all the Gospels – it is – but by John’s Gospel it becomes part and parcel of the theology of Christ.

The second theme in John’s Gospel today is of Jesus the shepherd of his people, the Church. The congregations at the turn of that first century hear Jesus’ voice and they follow after him. Jesus says he knows each of his sheep and takes care of each one so that no one will snatch a sheep out of his hand. He will protect them, and he will be the judge who will grant his flock eternal life.

This is picked up in the Book of Revelations as well. The Lamb has become the shepherd, however. An odd image in itself, isn’t it? But this Lamb knows the sheep as well and will give them shelter. “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more’”; they will be protected from the heat of the sun, guided to running waters, and their tears will be wiped away. Such beautiful, protective images of how Jesus will take care of his flock. If you hadn’t figured out that we are the flock he is protecting, the Psalm spells it out for us in the refrain: “We are his people, the sheep of his flock.”

The original flock of Jesus was to have been the chosen people, the Jews. In the first reading today, we sense the frustration of Paul and Barnabas who go from synagogue to synagogue proclaiming the Good news, and each time get put down by the Jewish leaders of the community for preaching blasphemy – that Jesus was God. The leaders would rile up the Jewish people and they would be ejected from the synagogues.

In today’s reading, Paul strikes back verbally and warns the Jewish congregations that they were to have been the first to receive the Good News of eternal life, but since they had rejected it, it was going to go to a different flock – the Gentiles. This angered the traditionalists, of course, because the Jewish religion had often been closed and separate and did not welcome non-believers, even those who wanted to believe. So Paul and Barnabas were driven out and began their mission tot he Gentile nations.

What does all this have to do with us this week? We are the flock, the ones who have accepted Jesus as God and his offer to us of eternal life. We need, then, to be comforted by the fact that Jesus, our shepherd, will protect us, will feed us, will take away our thirst, will shelter us, will give us life. This is such a great cause for hope in our lives. Because we believe, which is faith, we can have hope that Jesus will judge us favorably and take care of us eternally. And we reflect this in the love that we can then share with others. We need to take time this week to reflect on how our belief strengthens us and gives us so much hope for the future that we can live our lives in love today.

I look around at the political situation today and all I see is chaos, anger, fear, racial division, violence, and negativity. We need desperately to see a little hope and love moving to the front. So, my prayer this week is that we cast aside all those negative things and work on the two virtues which Christ as shepherd wants us to have and put those into practice in our own lives. Let us be, in the words of Acts, a light for the Gentiles, a light for those who are angry, a light for those who fear, and like Paul, not be afraid to speak “boldly” about our hope and our love.

This is the challenge of today’s Good News. 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 3rd Sunday of Easter, C (April 10, 2016)

April 3, 2016

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, C (April 10, 2016)

One of the more memorable scenes in the New Testament is Jesus asking Peter three times if he loves him. While the most common interpretation of this threefold question-answer is that since Peter denied him three times, Jesus asks if he loves Peter three times to balance it all out.

However, just recently I found out that there might be something else at work here. In English, we have only one word for love, which is pretty remarkable considering the number of words in our language and the many different types of love. While the Greeks had a number of words for love, two are used in this conversation. The Greek word for a selfless, self-giving type of love which we associate with God for his people is the word agape. The love that two brothers might have for each other is from the same root that the city of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love has – philia.

So if we were to distinguish, the conversation between Jesus and Peter might have gone like this:

Peter, do you love me selflessly like God loves his people?

Peter answers: I love you like a brother. Jesus responds: Feed my lambs.

Again Jesus asks, Peter, do you love me selflessly like God loves his people?

Again Peter answers: I love you like a brother. Jesus responds: Be a shepherd to my sheep.

Lastly, Jesus asks: Peter, do you love me like a brother.

Peter answers, You know, I love you like a brother. Jesus replies: Feed my sheep.

This creates a little different scenario. At no time does Peter say he loves Jesus selflessly, but each time replies he loves him as a friend.

It seems to me that it is very difficult to have the kind of selfless love that Jesus was asking about. Pentecost had not yet happened, and the Spirit had not yet come to the Apostles. Peter was being honest about his love and his feelings. So perhaps that is why the third time, Jesus changes his question and simply verifies that Peter loves him as a friend. Peter was not yet ready for the deepest kind of love.

The simple commands that Jesus gives after each answer of Peter also change slightly. The first time it is lambs while the last two times he mentions sheep. I like to think of the lambs as the innocent children and the sheep as the adults. Peter is to feed or educate or preach to both the children and the adults, and he is also to tend to the needs of the adults with cures and healings, for example.

We see in the first reading today that all this is acted out after Pentecost. The Apostles have been doing what Jesus asked, teaching the adults in the Jewish community about Jesus and his message of love. Because of this, they are brought up before the Jewish high priest for their teachings, and for their accusations that the Judeans were responsible for Jesus’ death. Don’t forget, if they taught that Jesus was God, this would be very upsetting to the Jews who believed in one God, because it would seem they had belief in two. However, even at the trial, Peter and the Apostles continued to teach and explain what they were doing, who Jesus was, who the Holy Spirit was and how God was still one. The Apostles were ordered by the court not to speak any more of Jesus, but, of course, they continued to do so despite any consequences.

The consequence for Peter, according to John’s Gospel today indicate that Peter would also be led to the cross as was Jesus. “…you will stretch out your hands and someone will fasten a belt around you, and take you where you do not wish to go.”

The continuing reading from Revelation continues to explain how Jesus was the Lamb and how he was also God for whom there would be “blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

Lastly, looking backward from the perspective of our knowing Jesus, our psalm today talks about how God has raised us up along with Jesus. The result of our work on earth might be weeping, but joy will come in the morning. After our deaths, we will be with the Lord. Our “mourning” will be turned into “dancing”. And so the message for those martyred Christians was, and still is, that our reward will be great despite what happens to us here.

Of course, we still have martyrs today. Think of the sisters recently killed in Yemen. In our own lives, this should constantly give us hope that no matter how bad things may get for us, there will come a dawn when we are vindicated. Life after the Fall is not easy. Being tempted is not easy. Staying on the right path is not easy. But if we can, we must think of that final reward where we become one with the Angels surrounding the throne, with the living creatures and the elders, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb…” It is then that our brotherly and sisterly love can truly become a selfless one, worthy of God.

May we always keep the goal in front of our eyes which is the Good News we need to live and spread to others. 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 2nd Sunday of Easter, C (April 3, 2016)

March 27, 2016

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, C (April 3, 2016)

The main theme of today’s readings might be summarized by Jesus’ saying in the Gospel of John: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Belief! The early followers of Jesus saw Jesus with their own eyes. Thomas was able to touch Jesus and verify for himself the reality of the risen body. We have not had that luxury, so how much harder is it for us today, 2000 years later, to believe. Yet we do, and Christ calls us blessed for that. By what means do we believe then?

First of all, we believe because we trust the men and women who wrote the accounts. This was not the ramblings of one person, but Jesus was seen by all the apostles and by many of the other followers. We trust that that many people, at different times and places, could not have been so mistaken or could have invented what happened.

I think we also believe because of the strangeness of the account descriptions. Jesus’ resurrected body was not quite the same as his earthly body. Yet, the combination of supernatural and natural elements seems to make it very realistic to us. Jesus appears out of nowhere in the room where the Apostles were hiding because they feared, being Jesus’ followers, that they might be put to death as well. The room was locked, but Jesus just appeared – supernaturally! But his appearance was normalized by his customary greeting to them: Shalom Aleichem, Peace be with you. It made it seem less supernatural and more ordinary. This combination makes it so much realistic to us.

Jesus also greeted them by symbolically breathing on them. He says for them to receive the Holy Spirit, but I think this was symbolic of what would happen to them a few days later at Pentecost. When they receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost they are quite different than the frightened people they remained that day. gain, much more believable.

If that isn’t enough to help us believe, we have the story of the doubter, Thomas, who standing in for those of us that find it hard to believe in the miraculous, has to be convinced by actually physically touching the wounds of Jesus. And he is, and so are we!

Our belief, then, today, is helped by the writings of the Gospels and the witness of the disciples. John says at the end of his reading today that he wrote these things down “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” John was writing his Gospel at a time when most of the contemporaries of Jesus had passed away, and all there was now was word of mouth and the writings that had been created.

Belief today is also helped by our experiences with others who believe. We see this in the Acts of the Apostles, our first reading today. The Apostles were able to go and spread the word by preaching and healing and were so successful that people brought all their sick onto the streets when the Apostles would pass by. Even though people were frightened by what might happen to them if they became followers of this crucified man, Luke says: “Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women…”

So these are some of the ways that we are able to maintain our belief and faith today, centuries after the events happened. The final image that we are left with today is from the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelations. This is the image of Christ that inspires all believers: “I saw one like the Son of Man… but he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, but see, I am alive forever and ever.” Now we have Christ’s own words that John has written down to help our unbelief, to give us strength in our belief, to inspire us to know that our beginning and now our ending will be in Christ, who has defeated death and the underworld. It is a beautiful and inspiring image for all of us who believe. It gives us assurance that there is something after death, and that our end is to be with Christ our Creator, and the Creator of all. Someone who knows us, because he has been in our shoes, walked with us and died with us.

So there you have it from the readings today – a compendium of ways that we are blessed because we believe, and the reasons why we should believe. This week I would ask you to think about what you believe, and take heart because of those beliefs. Christ has told us that we are blessed because of this, and Christ does not lie. Everything we do becomes a step closer to that blessedness which is now our birthright. The ups and downs of our daily life can be made blessed by this belief, and it can make our understanding of life so much more positive. This is the Good News of our belief in Jesus Christ. May it strengthen and secure us in his love. God bless you.

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”]

Good Friday- The Lord’s Passion (C) March 25

March 20, 2016

Celebration of the Lord’s Passion [Good Friday] Year C (March 25, 2016)

The cross has become a common symbol in our lives, so common that we often forget that it was an instrument of torture and death. Today we see it as a symbol of victory perhaps, but it was never that. And it is important for us to remember its original meaning. Though we look on it as the symbol of our salvation, it meant a very different thing in Jesus’ time. It meant humiliation, horror, a visible sign of what could happen to you if you didn’t obey Roman Law.

The readings today all speak eloquently for themselves. I particularly love the reading from the book of Isaiah when we are able to look backwards at the reading and apply it to Jesus.

It is as though Isaiah could see the future: listen again to the description – “…he grew up before the Lord like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him…he was despised and rejected by men; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole…he was cut off from the land of the living…they made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

If you wonder where St. Paul got the notion of Christ dying for our sins, you don’t have to look any further than this. St. Paul’s whole theological argument of sin and redemption through Jesus comes from this background.

What does the mean for us 2000 and so years later? Have we become so familiar with the storyline, the theology that it surrounds us but no longer has any affect on us? I think we celebrate Good Friday each year to try to get us to remember, to strip away the familiar and be brought back again into the reality of what Christ did for us. The symbolism of the unveiling of the cross today, the veneration of the wood of the cross, should be symbols that help us to remember and feel again. The cross that was once a symbol of pain, suffering, humiliation, torture has become for us the instrument of salvation. When we make the sign of the cross, let us do so today with the contemplation of its meaning. When we venerate the cross, let us truly think about the sacrifice that has been made for us. Only in this way can we be ready to celebrate the true glory of the Resurrection which is yet to be remembered this week.

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 Resurrection of the Lord -Easter Sunday (March 27)

March 19, 2016

Homily for the Resurrection of the Lord -Easter Sunday  (March 27)

Easter is the ultimate feast of the Church year, yet somehow in our culture it is not treated as important as Christmas, for example, or some other feasts. And yet, we realize that if there were no Resurrection, we would be dealing with a holy man who lived and died and left lovely, if somewhat hard, messages for us to consider. The Resurrection raises Jesus’ death to miraculous, but also to a victory over the forces of evil in the world.

It took some time for the Easter miracle to register in the minds of the followers of Jesus and it wasn’t until Pentecost that they really understood. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles today, Peter is preaching a sermon in which he was finally able to put together everything that had happened with Jesus in line with the Prophets and what had been foretold. He determines that Jesus is “the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead”…and that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sin through his name.”

This theology or understanding of the meaning of the Resurrection came when the Spirit came upon them at Pentecost and this understanding which we still believe today came very early in the understanding of the Apostles and the church.

In his letter to the Colossians today, St Paul develops a further theology from the Resurrection – that we must keep our minds on the things that are spiritual because we, too, have died with Christ, and we too will be resurrected and “revealed with him in glory”.

In the Gospel of Luke today we hear the story of the disciples who were on the road to Emmaus, probably escaping from the dangers of Jerusalem for the followers of Christ. Jesus comes to the men in a resurrected body which they don’t recognize, but they gossip and talk on the way. They tell Jesus all about what people have been saying happened, that Jesus was buried but wasn’t in his tomb the next day and that women had come to visit and found only an angel who told them that Christ rose. This was very hard to believe. It is hard for us to believe it today as well. So Jesus began to teach them on the way. He explained how the death and resurrection were foretold by the Prophets and he opens their eyes to mysteries that had not understood. They asked him to stay the night with them because they were so entranced by what he had to say, and at table that night, when Jesus blessed the bread and he gave it to them, they finally had their eyes opened and recognized that this was Jesus. As quickly as they understood, Jesus disappeared from them. They gathered their strength to return to Jerusalem where they found Peter and the apostles gathered. When they arrived they were told that Peter had seen Jesus, that he was alive. Then they recounted to the others their meeting of Jesus, verifying all their hopes.

It is difficult to believe in miracles though we all pray for them. Sometimes we see something happen that can only be explained as miraculous. But most of the time it is difficult for us to believe in unnatural things happening. I think that many Christians hide from the reality of the Resurrection because it is miraculous and doesn’t make scientific sense. But the accounts that we have in the Scriptures of people who were also incredulous and changed their minds ought to help us to do so as well. To believe in something we must get our minds around it, study it and understand it. To believe in something miraculous we also need to rely on the experiences of others who were involved in the event. That is why it is so important that we had numerous witnesses at different times all saying the same thing. Jesus is alive! We have the accounts of the women, the account of Mary Magdalene, the account of Peter, the account of the disciples going to Emmaus we read today. These accounts can strengthen our belief so that as Paul says, we can keep our minds on heaven and what we must do to be sure we are resurrected with Christ as well. Christ is risen. Christ is living. Christ is with us in the Eucharist. We are part of him and he, us. Let us celebrate this mystery today as we re-enact the sacrifice of the Mass and strengthen our belief that we, too, will be resurrected with he Lord.

This is the Good News of Easter and the happy news I offer you today.

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”]

Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper (C) March 24

March 19, 2016

Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday) Year C (March 24, 2016)

Holy Thursday is the day we celebrate the last meal that Jesus ever had, a meal in which there is much going on. On the surface, we have a group of men who had entered Jerusalem somewhat triumphantly, preaching a message of Good News, celebrating together the one Jewish feast of most importance each year – the Passover – together. It was a holy meal, one steeped in tradition for the Jews and laid out for them in their Scriptures. Certain prayers would be recited and they would be brought back to the miracles of the Exodus so that they would never forget the work that God had done for them.

But along with this meal, there was much more going on. Jesus seemed to know that his death was imminent, and he used the feast as a way of preparation for the events to come and even more, long-term, into the future so that everyone after would also be part of this feast. Jesus knew he was being betrayed and as part of the meal he named his betrayer.  He didn’t try to stop him – things were already in motion – God’s plan for all of us.

Two amazing things did happen at this Passover meal, however. The first is the establishment of the eucharist, the way this meal could be immortalized and with us for all time. Jesus took food from the meal and wine from the meal and miraculously became one with the food and drink so that we might experience Jesus inside of us as we ate and drank. Both a metaphor and a reality, the Eucharist has been the bond we have all shared throughout history from that time. As we receive the eucharist this evening, as we drink the wine, know that we are drinking Christ’s body and blood and we are partaking in the great sacrifice that he made for us all. We remember him as he asked, yes, but this is no simple memorial. Christ is living and he becomes a part of us. We take it for granted but we should be awed by this each and every time we take communion.

The second event – the washing of the feet – though it may seem an odd ceremony to us today, was part of a ritual performed in Jewish homes and was based on cleanliness and sanitary reasons. Sandals which were open were the shoes of the day, and there was no cement or concrete. People walked on dirty roads and picked up the dirt of the walk on their feet. When a person entered a home, it was traditional to have jugs of water by the door and to have guests feet washed. This would be done by a servant, just one of the many meal jobs that needed to be done.

But Jesus reverses this. He is the host of the meal, and it is he that gets down and washes the feet of his guests. Peter objects until Jesus tells him that the washing of feet – the service to others – is necessary if we are to be sharers in the life of Jesus. The church has always seen this as the first ordinations – Jesus’ way of showing his apostles what they must do if they are to be his priests, if they are to take over his mission of spreading the Gospel.

“If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” That was his admonition to them – to be servants to all. It amazes me how over the years Bishops have become almost kingly in their garb and attitude, when it so clearly shows in the Gospel, that they are to remain humble, servant-like and helpful to their flock.

So today is a reminder for priests and deacons and a reminder to the faithful. Let us be the people who take seriously the meaning of the Eucharist, become constantly more aware of Christ within us as a result of the eucharistic meal, be constantly reminded of our mandate to help others and each other, and spread the love unto death that Holy Thursday is so much about. I myself have experienced the caring of this parish and am more and more aware of how this is part of being in the St. Andrew’s community. May God pour abundant blessings on all of you over the next few days as we celebrate together the most important feasts in our church year! And this is the Good News I wish to give you tonight!

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 Palm Sunday Year C (March 20)

March 12, 2016

Homily for Palm Sunday Year C (March 20)

Palm Sunday leaves us in a bit of a schizophrenia.  On the one hand we have the entry into Jerusalem where the people proclaim Jesus as their Messiah and King, wave palm branches, and we have a great triumphant feel. Then immediately after, we are plunged into the story of the Passion with all of the betrayal, denials, scheming and plotting leading to the death of this same man.

How do we reconcile these two things? Can we?

We get some hints at how to do this in the first three readings today. In the Isaiah reading and the Psalm we see the horrors described – the people who struck the suffering servant, the people who pulled out his beard, who insulted and spat at him turn into something else by the end of the reading. “The Lord God helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced…and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah turns around what has happened to the servant so that he is in the end exalted by God who saves him. Similarly in the Psalm which is so despairing at first – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the servant cries. People mock him, shake their heads, divide his clothes and encircle him with evildoers. But this too takes a dramatic change in the last verse. The whole tone changes as the psalmist says that the servant’s name will be told to all the brothers and sisters, and the congregations will praise him. All the offspring of Israel will be in awe of him.

And why is there this abrupt shift? St Paul explains so beautifully: “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” There, in a nutshell, is the story of our salvation. But, St. Paul says, it doesn’t end there. It ends as do the Isaiah reading and the Psalm, with exaltation. “Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is lord, to the glory of the God the Father.”

Today in the Gospel and on Good Friday we don’t get to see the exaltation. We get to see the humility of God, the obedience of Jesus, the love of Jesus for others even in his suffering and finally the execution of Jesus he accepts in obedience. We must await his Easter to see the glorification and exaltation.

Please join in this week on Holy Thursday and Good Friday in order to best prepare yourself for the glory of that exaltation on Easter Sunday.

It is a microcosm of our own lives as well and is well worth meditating on this week.

And this is the good News we look forward to in a week’s time.

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 5th Sunday in Lent C (Mar 13)

March 6, 2016

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C  (Mar 13)

There is very definitely a theme running through all of our readings today which might be proclaimed as: Forget what’s happened in the past and look to the future! When Jesus has managed to dismiss all the naysayers who wanted to kill the woman caught in adultery, he is left alone with her. In a confessional moment, Jesus apparently forgives her past sins and has her look to the future: Go and sin no more.

We get similar moments in the other three readings. In the reading from Isaiah God is speaking and he is telling his people not to bother even remembering the exodus from Egypt and the miracles in the desert because in the future God is going to do even more remarkable things for them. He tells them to rejoice in that thought. Put the past behind them and look to a bright future.

Our Psalmist re-iterates: in the past they were mourners who sowed in tears and went out weeping, but in the present and future they go home rejoicing, coming home with full grown sheaves of wheat.

St. Paul, too, says that he does only one thing: he forgets what lies behind and he strains forward to what lies ahead.

For us too, it does not matter what has happened to us in the past – great suffering, death of loved ones, poverty, fear, abandonment. If we keep the faith realizing that we are partakers and sharers of the Passion of Christ, we can put all that behind us, forget the past, and concentrate on the final goal of Paradise and the joys that will come between that and our death. If we keep the faith of Christ, we might still not have a great life or we may have abundant joys, but we know…we know..in the end by having kept the faith that we will gain eternal life with God, the only true happiness, the only complete happiness.  And this is what Lent has been all about: preparing us not so much for the cross but for what comes after the cross.

Jesus just like us, suffered and died. He knows what it is to feel pain, isolation, loneliness, the death of friends, hatred by others, anything we feel – he was fully human. But he experienced also the Resurrection with a new and improved body, oneness with God and the satisfaction that he had saved all of us.

By identifying ourselves with Jesus, by fully realizing he understands us and suffers with us, we bring ourselves through the self-evaluations of Lent, turn ourselves around and come out the other side.

Pope Francis has declared this a year of grace for Roman Catholics and I don’t see why we can’t tap into that as well. The message is clear and similar to this morning. God loves us and will forgive us anything. We just have to repent, say we are sorry and go on loving him. That is the gift of amazing grace that he gives. We can put behind anything with that grace and look to a brighter future, a resurrection of sorts in each one of us.

Next Sunday we begin the most solemn week of the church year. On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the kingship of Jesus, followed immediately by readings of his death. On Thursday we celebrate the last supper that he had with his friends where he ordained his priests and gave us the sacrament of unity and love, then when out to his death. On Friday, we look solely at that death and the suffering it entailed, but from the Easter Vigil through Easter Mass we leave the pains of childbirth behind, and look to the new creation. May you follow the journey with the understanding of yourself you have gained this Lent, awareness of the need others have of you to be present and compassionate and loving, and why you need to celebrate together so that on Easter morning we may truly sing out with joy: The Lord has done great things for us – we are filled with gladness and joy. This is the Good News the readings offer you this last Sunday of Lent.

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”]


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