Homily for Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord, 2015

March 29, 2015

Homily for Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord, 2015

St Paul in 1st Corinthians tells us, though not in the readings today: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Those are pretty strong words and certainly in Paul’s eyes make the Resurrection of Jesus one of, if not ‘the’ most important event in church history, and indeed in the history of the world. The resurrection is also the one thing that many people find difficult if not impossible to believe – it is a terrible stumbling block especially in this scientific age where we need to have proof before belief.

In reality, I am not sure that Paul is totally correct. I have a feeling that there are many people out there who take the resurrection with a  grain of salt and yet still have great faith in Jesus. The reason that Paul thinks it is so important is because his whole theology hinges on the Jewish idea of sacrifice for atonement of sin and that only in God’s own death can enough atonement be made. The resurrection shows that indeed Jesus was up to the task because he was truly the Son of God. In today’s reading Paul concludes: “For our Paschal lamb has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the festival…”

Paul also uses the image of yeast but we have to understand that yeast was not really a good thing for Jews. Yeast was a fungus, and for bread to be pure, it needed to be unleavened. That is why in the Passover feast the bread was unleavened by order of God, and even why we use unleavened bread at Mass (though often what we use looks more like a potato chip that what we are used to as ‘bread’. So in the image Paul uses today, we are to throw out the old bread that has the yeast fungus which in Paul’s metaphor means wickedness and bad intentions, and celebrate with pure, unleavened bread, Paul’s metaphor for sincerity and truth.

The facts of the Resurrection as we know them are contained in Paul’s letters and in some of the Gospels, and particularly in the Acs of the Apostles by Luke. Our first reading today is a news report of sorts, with the eye witnesses telling us that God raised Jesus from the dead and that he was seen by a chosen few after the Resurrection event and that they even ate and drank with him. The eye witness reports were obviously important in pleading their case for this very unnatural event.

When we get to John’s Gospel today, we read a description that was written some forty to fifty years after the event, and has been influenced by the original witnesses surely, but also the stories that built up around Jesus in those fifty years. In that period of time and with communities in different locations it is no wonder that a few of the ‘facts’ differ int he Resurrection accounts, but they are still remarkably similar. In John’s account it was Mary Magdalene that got up very early, before light even, and went to the tomb. She saw that the stone blocking the entrance had been removed. She must have peeked in because she ran immediately to Peter and another disciple and told him the tomb was empty and the body had likely been moved or stolen. The two men she told ran to the tomb, the younger getting there first, but in deference to Peter he did not go in, but merely looked inside from the door.

What he saw were the white linens in which Jesus’ body had been wrapped still lying there.

When Peter came and they both went in, the also found that someone had taken the time to fold the linen that had been on Jesus’ head.

Apparently, however, they still never thought about Jesus being resurrected, even though they had been told by Jesus that he would rise again, and that Scriptures had foretold this as well. The two men went home but Mary Magdalene, upset that she didn’t know where the body was so that she could mourn, stayed at the tomb and cried. Someone came to her – it may still have been dark even – and asked why she was crying. She turned to the man and told him why but didn’t recognize Jesus. She thought he might be the gardener and would know where they took the body. When the stranger called out her name, she immediately recognized Jesus, and apparently fell on her knees and wrapped herself around Jesus legs. Jesus asks her not to hold on to him. It seems that the resurrected body is somewhat different from the ordinary body, and we will explore this fact over the next few weeks as we see that people sometimes do not recognize him, that he can come and go at will, even through walls, and can move great distances. Yet, at the same time he can be touched, he can eat and drink, and he has still the wounds from his crucifixion. It is also interesting to me that the person he first shows himself to is a woman, and that she is the messenger to bring the Good News to the apostles, just as Mary, Jesus’ mother, is the first to answer Gabriel’s message and feel the child in her womb, and brought the Good News into the world. It is clear to me that women are the bookends that hold the story of Jesus together.

This day is the day we have been preparing for for 40 days. After a fast, food tastes especially good.  If you have done things to prepare yourself, this day should especially feel good for you as well. It is our yearly reminder of one of the most important events in the life of Jesus and the church, and foreshadows our own resurrections from the dead.

The Sequence today summarizes what should be our feelings beautifully: Share the Good News, sing joyfully: His death is victory… Christ the Lamb has saved the sheep!

This is the Good News that we all share in today! Rejoice and be glad!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

HOMILY FOR THE EASTER VIGIL, YEAR B 2015

March 29, 2015

HOMILY FOR THE EASTER VIGIL, YEAR B 2015

It is not hard to see the both the importance and the beauty of this evening’s ceremony. in some ays it is the most rich and the most beautiful of all the liturgies in the Catholic Church. All our senses get involved in the service, and the symbols reflect that sensuality: images of light and darkness, reflected in the fact that we enter church in darkness and gradually the light of Christ in the Easter candle spreads throughout the church. Incense can add the sense of smell, or the burning wood as we prepare the Easter fire. Our sense of touch is involved as we hold the candles and become ourselves light for the world. Our hearing is enriched by the glorious song of the Exulted, the psalms and the many readings that take on on the journey through time from Creation, through the Exodus, through the Prophets and into the fulfillment that is Christ Jesus. And we conclude by tasting our Lord in wine and bread as we become one with him in his Resurrection.

We use also the symbol of water, remembering our baptismal rite and we are doused again in the waters of baptism, remembering the journey through the Red Sea to salvation and liberation.

In our poster this Lent that invited people to our Holy Week services we asked you to come and spend a Liberating week with us, and so i would like to say a few words about liberation as well.

This week we have seen that through the death of Jesus we have been liberated, freed from our sinfulness by a gift so generous and amazing that it is hard to believe. God so loved us that he gave his only Son. He didn’t have to do it, he didn’t have to do it this way. But he did. He loved us so much that he took away our slavery to sin and opened the gates of the kingdom for us. St. Paul explains this evening that “we have been buried with [Christ] by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, … we too might walk in the newness of life.” This is our liberation – that “we might no longer be enslaved to sin… death no longer has dominion…”  The sheer enormity of this event, this act of liberation sometimes fades into something we take for granted, but each year on this night, we hopefully get some sense of the awe that that should inspire in us, the hope it should generate, and make us feel that love that generated such a response from God.

St. Mark’a Gospel, unlike the other Gospels, ends the Easter event with the women fleeing from the empty tomb in amazement and terror – and in fear  They had not yet understood what had happened, they could not yet feel the liberation they were soon to feel. But they did feel! Awe and amazement are striking emotions! The event of he Resurrection had not yet come clear to them and in their fear they did not know what to do, so they did nothing.

I think that for many of us, the implications of the Resurrection create the same response in us. because we have not truly felt or understood the enormity of this event, we do nothing – it doesn’t affect us in any way. We so need to meditate on this event, and to discover along with the travelers to Emmaus, the apostles as they came to slow realization, St. Paul as he saw the light and countless Christians who changed their lives because they finally understood the enormity of this liberation.

I pray this evening that all of our parishioners, those here present and those not with us, come to feel and know the enormity of God’s love, and the amazing richness of the gift God has given us, so that we can have a private Easter in our own lives, and come to God with awe and thanksgiving. Our secular culture has made Easter a bunny rabbit day and a coming of Spring celebration rite, and are so missing the point of the liberation. I was so saddened when I googled Easter images on line to see if i could find some pictures to use, and all i got were flowers, rabbits and eggs. No sign of Jesus at all. How sad.

Let us definitely put Christ back into the Easter of our lives, see the movement through history to this remarkable day, and come to it with great gratitude for our liberation from sin and death. And a truly enlightened Easter to all of you!

This is the tremendous Good News of liberation we bring you tonight!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for Holy Thursday, Year B 2015

March 29, 2015

Homily for Holy Thursday- The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Year B 2105

Today’s feast is the THE feast for the corporate Church. I use corporate in the original meaning of the word “corpus” in Latin, meaning body. THE feast for the creating of the Body of the Church with all its many parts. The Mass, such as we celebrate this evening,  has always been important, of course, in the Church, stemming from Jesus’ own words – “Do this in memory of me.” The THIS is what we celebrate this evening, and indeed each time we say Mass – re-enacting the supreme sacrifice of Jesus to redeem us, remembering it, but also participating in it. When we take communion we become part of the corporate body in a very special and unique way – a mysterious way – And this is the anniversary of that first Eucharist when the mandate to remember was given us.

I want to begin tonight with a quotation from William Willimon that i think might get me into my message of this evening. Many Americans run around today thinking they are religious because they are “spiritual”. Willimon suggests that “spirituality has made religion successful and safe, enabling 90 percent of all Americans to say they believe in God.” And then he really hits hard: “If you crank God down low enough, make the term vague enough, and empty it of any intellectual content, everybody is a believer. Spirituality enables us to be the first generation of Christians in history who cannot get hurt by following Jesus.” 1

I want to support this but want to take it a step further. I don’t think we can call ourselves Christians and not be part of a Christian community. Yes, Jesus went off to pray. But the majority of his time was spent in community – a community of twelve men and many male and female disciples. A lot of that time was spent eating and drinking and celebrating. And the tough messages that Jesus gave us always came in community.

The Last Supper was one of many suppers we read about in the Gospels, although in some ways it should be called the First Supper because it defined what the community would be doing for the next 2000 and more years.We hear from Paul and the 2 earliest Gospel writers about the Supper itself and the command to do the meal in Christ’s memory, but in John we also learn what it means to be a community and we are to treat each other in community.

We have often spoken about the washing of the feet as symbolic of how there is to be no distinction in class, wealth, sex or even religion in how we treat one another. We have often spoken as does John about the commandment of Love, one of the most difficult of all the commandments. It should not be easy to be a Christian – we have to give what we have worked for to others in need, we have to devote time in our schedule filled lives to be part of a community and to find ways to be of service in that community. We are, even when we are not feeling up to it, to think of others first. This is not a namby-pamby spirituality where we sit in our comfortable rocking chairs and meditate or read a holy book though we need some of that as well to recharge our batteries. Just being spiritual makes us an onlooker and not involved. Nothing is at risk. it is too comfortable, and if there is anything about Jesus that we know – he didn’t allow the comfortable to remain that way.

The community that we experience here tonight is probably a little closer to the original meal that Jesus had with the Apostles on that Thursday long ago. We have more food than just bread and wine, though those symbols still stand out as the important ones. We have companionship, common goals, interest in one another, genuine caring for each other, hospitality – thanks Sam and Lori – and each of us brings something to the table in the way of food, conversation, faith and common believe in Jesus as God who we will all receive and be in communion with. Thus, “We are all one body”, as we sing. Whenever we in the church are able to love one another, then we experience what it means to be Christian, what it means to be one with Christ and what it means to have eternal life.

This is what Holy Thursday is about. This is what being a Christian means. And don’t let anyone who withdraws from community or who says they don’t need community to be a Christian,  that they can be spiritual, allow you to believe that. If we miss community, we miss most of what Christ is all about. And this is best illustrated to us today on this feast when we celebrate the Supper that will re-enact what will happen to Jesus in the next three days.

This is both the hard-hitting news of the Last Supper and the Good News of our Savior today.

1.Willimon, William H. Thank God It’s Thursday: Encountering Jesus at the Lord’s Table. Abington Press, Nashville in Chapter Love With the Basin and Towel

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year B 2015 (March 29)

March 22, 2015

Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year B 2015

Today’s readings really speak for themselves and touch different parts of each of us, so I will keep this short and briefly say how they affect me.

One of the most difficult things to reconcile in our minds and that has given rise to all sorts of ideas and heresies over the century is the combination of divinity and humanity in Jesus.  Of course, it is a mystery and impossible to totally understand but that hasn’t stopped us from trying to.

One of the questions that our reading of the Passion today brings up is the question did Jesus know that he was going to rise from the dead? It seems to me that if he did, it would make less tragic the event of his death and even ameliorate the depth of suffering he endured.

If we knew we had to go through something physical terrible and painful but that it would mean we would be perfectly cured or fine afterwards, it would be easier to go through, wouldn’t it?

So I don’t think, as a human, that Jesus knew he would be resurrected although his faith in God never wavered. Isaiah description of the suffering servant we read today ends with the line “I know that I shall not be put to shame”. That is Jesus’ hope and trust in in God!

And yet, in the Psalm today we also hear the words spoken by Jesus on the cross as well: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Does’t this indicate that Jesus lost hope in God. In the least it proves to me that he did not know of his resurrection.

But I don’t think that this was a loss of hope in God for Jesus. I think it was Jesus feeling the weight of everything he had been asked to do, perhaps even feeling our continual abandonment of him even after his death. He was giving up his life for a people that haven’t accepted him and still after two thousand years have not fully accepted him or his message. The weight of this is on him at that moment, questioning, as he submits, whether he has given himself up freely for a people who abandon him.

In our lowest depths of depression, we too can feel that the whole world is against us and that we have accomplished nothing in our lives. We may even blame God or feel that God has forsaken us. Perhaps that is the point that people get to in order to kill themselves. But Jesus never lost faith in God – but his humanity was very strong in that final moment of being human – his death.

In our own lives we need to constantly remember that there is something beyond death, something that will help us to get through the lower depths of life and our own deaths. The final result of each of our deaths if we have been true to God is what Paul says in the second reading today of Jesus: “Therefore God highly exalted him.” We will never be as highly exalted as Jesus, of course – “the name that is beyond every name” – but because of Jesus death for us, we too can be glorified. That is the glory of the cross. That is what we celebrate today! 

And that is the Good News I want you keep in your hearts, especially when things go bad.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

March 15, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

The reading from Jeremiah today is one of the most beautiful and inspiring in the Scriptures. God is speaking through Jeremiah the prophet and is explaining to the Hebrew people the difference between the Old and the New Covenant to come. In the beginning Israel was treated as a child and God acted as a disciplining but loving Father. Things were very black and white – do this and don’t this.

But as the Hebrews advanced in their knowledge and understanding of God, God became more of a husband, but in the early sense of husband, not in our understanding of the term today. Today we see husband and wife as equal, but when this was written the husband was totally in charge and the wife was a piece of property which the husband often came to love, but was not equal to the husband. It is in this sense that the second phase of God’s relationship with the Hebrews took form.

God says he was like a spouse to the Hebrews. God was the protector that took them by the hand and led them from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the promised Land. He expected their faithfulness, their love, their gratitude, their service, just as a husband in those days would.

But, God says, there is to be a new adult way in their relationship in the near future. In the new Covenant there will be complete knowledge of each other and the relationship will be based on love and equity. God will not remember how they failed in the past, but all will be forgiven, and all shall be one with God.

So what we see God describing is the movement from a childish understanding to a mature understanding of the relationship between God and people. The maturation process which hopefully all of us will go through in our own lives is reflected here as well.

The Psalm picks up on the forgiveness in its prayer to ask God to blot out our transgressions and wash us from our sins. This too is part of the news covenant as the waters of baptism do just that which their prayer is asking. The psalmist also asks “Put a new and right spirit within me “, and again that is part of the promise of the New Covenant that God talks about today. With that new spirit and having been saved, the psalmist goes on to say that we show our gratitude by helping others to know God and getting sinners to return to God.

The Gospel reading today from John sets up the way in which the New Covenant will be made to happen.

Greek speaking Jews come to Philip, probably because he could speak Greek and ask to speak to Jesus. They are probably there to ask him to widen his ministry and perhaps even go to Greece, but Jesus realizes that his time is coming to an end. Jesus seems to understand from all that is happening that his death is imminent. Jesus feels that the chance for expansion is over but that his death will bring an even greater thing to there world. He knows that this will upset the disciples who are still expecting some sort of hero riding in on a white horse to save them from the Romans. He uses a nature metaphor to help them understand that his death will be much like that in nature. A grain of wheat has to die and fall into the earth if it is to be reborn in the Spring. That is how seeds work. Then Jesus says, as he does in two other Gospels, that those who love their life lose it. In the other two Gospels the reference is to us but in John, I think Jesus is referring to himself and the inevitable about to happen.

John does not have an agony in the garden scene, but uses some of the lines from other Gospel accounts. Note how here when Jesus says “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour”? No it is for this reason that I have come to this hour”, note how much this is similar to the Agony in the Garden accounts. John, however, uses it as a help to explain why Jesus is able to accept the inevitable as part of God’s plan.

When God’s voice breaks through as it did at the Baptism and the transfiguration in other Gospels, we are being told that this is in effect the seal of approval on what Jesus is going through and the end result will be one of glorification and Jesus will be held up as light to all the world, not just to the Hebrews, so that Jesus, with his new understanding can see that he will be lifted up from the earth, and “draw all peoples to [him]self”.

This is the last week before Passion Week. We are almost at the end of our Lenten repentance. The events that are set in motion next week as described by the four evangelists illustrate exactly how this happens and how our salvation comes to be. I hope that you will plan to participate in all of the ceremonies of Holy Week. We will again have the triumphant walk of Palm Sunday, our traditional Passover meal on Thursday, our remembrance of Christ’s death on Friday and the most important liturgy of the year on Saturday night where we are reminded of the whole journey of salvation from Adam and Eve to the Resurrection of Jesus. It is a big commitment of time,  I know, but one that will be well worth the effort as we too come to a mature understanding of what all this mean to us as we journey through this life to death and our final victory with Jesus.

And that is the Good News of hope I want to deliver today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

March 7, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

Our first reading today is an interesting story, repeated many times in Hebrew Scriptures in many different ages, but essentially the same story. The Jews through intermarriage, through melding with other nations, through forgetfulness of their duty to God and God’s covenant fall into sinful ways. But, God never stops loving them, as the reading says, “because he had compassion his people and on his dwelling place.” I

n English the word compassion is the same meaning as “suffering with”. If Jesus exists throughout all time, God had indeed understood his creation and could suffer with us because he was one of us. I

n any case, God uses or allows outside forces to take away the promises of the covenant for a time. In this case it was the Babylonians who conquered the Hebrews and took them back into slavery in a foreign land. Because they had not observed the Sabbath for seventy years, they had to make up for those Sabbaths in captivity. In their sinfulness they had forgotten to keep the Sabbath sacred and devoted to God. And so in the Psalm today we hear the pleas of the Hebrew people far away from their homeland in Babylon, weeping by the rivers there, unable to sing a song in a foreign land. At the end of that time, however, God sent them a gift in the person of a non-Jew – Cyrus, King of the Persians, who let the remaining Hebrews go back to their land, and even built a new temple for them in Jerusalem. Cyrus was apparently visited by God and told to let the people go and to rebuild this Temple.

Now at the beginning i mentioned that this story was oft repeated because the pattern is the same. The Hebrews forget God, they fall into sinfulness, God punishes them, they repent and God rewards them. We hear this same pattern repeated over and over again. Don’t you think they would learn? We would think so!

But don’t we also repeat this same pattern in our lives. How often do we forget God, forget to keep God in our lives, miss Sunday services, don’t recharge our God battery, and fall into patterns of sinfulness? Maybe it is human nature to do this, to forget and take for granted. The one constant throughout this, though, is God’s compassion towards us. And how does that compassion show itself? Through grace!

In the second reading today Paul concentrates on the mercy and the love of God toward the constantly wavering creation. He tells us that we have been saved by grace, not our own doing, but as “a gift of God.” It is because of God’s compassion through Jesus Christ’s life and death that we merit salvation. And what should our response to this be? Doing good works. This is how we show our gratitude for what God has done for us. Note the difference in thinking here – we don’t do good works to merit a heavenly reward, a kingdom come, but we do good works because we have been given that kingdom and we need to thank God for it.

The Gospel today from John is part of the dialogue that Jesus has with Nicodemus and it includes the very famous lines which helped create atonement theology.. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Atonement theology suggests that human beings, having sinned and lost the right to heaven, are saved and gain back that right through the death and resurrection of Jesus, whose death is the ultimate sacrifice to God. Jesus in essence is a scapegoat for our sins. By his death satisfaction was made to God and we are restored to life and light once again as we were before Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

While there are alternate ways of looking at the God/Jesus story, what we can draw from this most common theological position is that thankfulness and good works are the means by which we can repent. We need to find ways to thank God. The ultimate thanksgiving is, of course, the Mass itself, since it is both a thanksgiving (the meaning of the word Eucharist) and a sacrifice re-enacted, done in memory of him who saved us. So going to Mass more often would be a great way of saying thanks, but the thanksgiving can take many forms in our prayer life, in our attention to the good things God has provided for us and in constant attention to his law of love for others.

The second way was what Deacon Gil talked about in his first lenten homily – doing good works. Choosing, not to take away something in repentance, but to find ways to help another, to do some good work for a neighbor, to be God-like in our compassion to others.  If we can find a way to do these two things during Lent – give thanks and show thanks – then we will better be ready for the great feast of Easter that we are preparing for. Let this be our prayer, then this week, that all of us find ways to thank God and be of service to our neighbor, especially the poor and displaced in society.

And this is the Good News that we are prompted to respond to today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

March 1, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent Year B 2015

Today we heard God speaking through Moses as he tells the Hebrew people traveling through the wilderness what he expects of them in return for his promise to them, his covenant, that they will be a great nation in a land of milk and honey. God chose the Jews, as Ogden Nash once commented:

How odd

Of God

To choose

The Jews.

Why the Jews? Why not some other nation?  We don’t know. He just did. It wasn’t for anything they did or did not do particularly, but it was his purpose to bestow a special grace on the Hebrew nation. In return, they were expected to act in a certain way, a way not completely similar to other nations. Other nations did have law codes. We know, for example, that around this time there was a law code called the Law of Hammurabi that the Babylonians followed.

It was probably the most civilized law code of its time and had about 180 laws.

The law code that God prescribes for the Jews to follow has only ten commandments, some of them even the same as Hammurabi’s Code. The difference was that no actual punishment was attached to each commandment, they were simply to avoid doing them. Hammurabi’s code was different in that extra severe punishments were given for each law.

The first three commandments pertain to the Jew’s relationship with God. The other commandments pertain to the Jew’s relationships with each other. Although when we think of a law like “thou shalt not murder” we apply it to all people. the laws were originally taken to be for the Jewish people themselves, their neighbors being relatives and people nearby them – a moral code of conduct for getting along with your close neighbors.

Over the centuries we have extended their meanings and principles, and although most of us follow these laws today as even Jesus said we must, we are not every careful in the commandments that relate to God proper.

We get anesthetized to taking God’s name in vain with all the swearing in TV and movies today, and barely think about what we are saying when we use the name of Jesus or God in daily speech ourselves. We certainly don’t keep the Sabbath the way God seemed to intend us to keep it – even if we have moved it from Saturday to Sunday in honor of the Resurrection. Most of us do some work, and few of us find the time even to give an hour to praise and give back to God each week on Sunday. There are a million excuses and our culture doesn’t make it easy, but the truth is, it doesn’t seem important to many of us any more.

I heard a good image the other day for Sunday Mass. The person said it was like having a cell phone. The battery runs down after a while and needs recharging. Sunday Mass can be like that. It is the charger for our spiritual battery, and just like the Hebrews, when they stopped their Sunday rest, they forgot about God and all sorts of bad things resulted.

The Psalm today comments on the Ten Commandments saying that in contrast to other nations’ laws, the laws of God are perfect, and revive the soul – there is that re-charging image again. The laws are sure, right, clear, pure, true and righteous.

And although the laws are phrased in the negative – Thou shalt not… – the psalmist sees them only positively – sweeter than honey – he says, because they keep us on the right road to God.

The Gospel for the third Sunday of Lent interrupts the Mark’s Gospel we have been reading to give us a little of John’s. It is here to show us the prophecy of Jesus Resurrection – the event that we are preparing for in Lent, but I would like you to also note that the one time that Jesus gets angry that we are told about happens here as well. It happens because Jesus sees the commandments of our relationship to God being damaged. The house of God, the temple where God dwelt was considered sacred. It was where worship was held, it was where God’s name was never taken in vain, but glorified. Yet the porticos of the Temple were surrounded by trade and finance, and indeed, more emphasis was being put on the buying and selling than the worship and sacrifice itself. Jesus’ anger caused the event that did more than any other to upset the priests and Pharisees and directly led to the death he was about to suffer. So it is an important event. In some sense it was foolish of Jesus and because he gave into his human violence, it may have led to his own violent death. But Paul tells us God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” God had a plan, and that plan brought about nothing less than the salvation of all people.

So as we have to come to the middle of our Lenten preparation, let us use the commandments to help us hone our repentance, help us to review our past faults and sins, helps to pledge anew to be worthy of the grace that God has given us, to question more carefully the motives for why we do things, and resolve to give back to God even more than he asked for. Let us make this Lent a truly repentant one, a way of thanking God for all the graces he has shown us and will show us.And let us take the time, find the time, make the time to show God we care and are thankful for his gifts.

And let this be  the Good News we give to God in return this week!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015

February 22, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015

The word “transfiguration” is not often part of our vocabulary today. I can’t image a mother coming to the table with a beautifully done casserole proclaiming that she had “transformed” the macaroni into this exotic dish. We might use it if someone goes to the beauty shop and gets a daring haircut. Look how transformed she is! we might say. Or we might use it in telling fairy tales to our children – someone was transformed into a princess-like Cinderella or a frog was transformed into a Prince. But despite the fact that it isn’t a common word to use, what the word signifies does happen pretty often. Something is changed into something more beautiful or altered in some way, making it more “awesome” to use today’s cliché.

Lent is a transformational season in the Church. This is, of course, why we hear the story of the Transfiguration read to us today. In Mark’s version the Apostles are witnesses to the event, but really didn’t understand it. Nor did they understand the reference to Jesus rising from the dead – the ultimate transformation that was to come. It would be a transformation that would transform the world.

How can we transform ourselves during Lent? What do we have to do to turn ourselves from sin, the part of ourselves that pulls away from God? I directed the play “Godspell” a number of years ago, and the character who was supposed to be Mary Magdalene goes out into the audience and sings a seductive song, coming on to all the men in the audience. But the words of the song belie what she is doing in that she had already been transformed by Jesus. Her words were “Turn back, o man; forswear thy foolish ways.” The seduction which she had used as a prostitute was now a seduction of souls to turn back, repent and come to God. Her movement from prostitute to disciple of Jesus transformed her into an evangelizer in the play.

There are some hints for us in all the readings today about our own transformations during Lent and what we must do. In the first reading Abraham had to turn his back on everything he held sacred. We know how important it was to have a son and heir for the Hebrew people. Abraham had only one son who was a gift from God. But now God wanted to take that away from him, and by Abraham’s own hand. It is a very repulsive thought even, but Abraham had such faith in God that he did not waiver. Perhaps Abraham’s faith allowed him to know that this was a test or that God would somehow make anything that happened right, but he turned his back on everything he wanted and had worked for in order to follow God’s command.

How willing are we to have complete faith in God? You know how many times i have stressed to you the fact that God’s ways are not our ways. Knowing this, are we willing to suffer, to offer up everything we hold dear and put it in God’s hands? Abraham’s reward was a great one for his faithfulness. This “handing over” our lives to God, this ability to trust that God will make all things right in the end, that there is a divine purpose behind everything that happens is one of the things that we need to cultivate in our repentance this Lent.

The Psalm today says “I kept my faith, even when I said “I am greatly afflicted”. Do we keep our faith when we suffer, when our family suffers, when there is death even? That is the kind of faith we are being asked to develop in Lent. Nobody said this was going to be easy!  If we are able to put that faith in God, Jesus Christ and the Spirit, then we can proclaim with Paul to the Romans today that nothing “will separate us from the love of Christ.” No hardship, no distress, no persecution, no hunger, no poverty, no peril or no weapon will be able to get us down or take God’s love away. Faith can move mountains!

So how do we develop this faith in ourselves this Lent? It can seem an insurmountable thing to do, but I would suggest we do it by practice, starting small.  We take something that is worrying us and we place it in God’s hands. We literally say to God: Lord, I give you this, it is out of my control and influence, do what you think best with it. Begin to make this a practice. The immediate reward will be a transformation in itself. You will feel the anxiety or depression lifting because you know you are not alone. “If God is for us, who is against us?” Paul says today. This ability to transform those fears and anxieties won’t come quickly or even easily, but it will come with practice.

At Communion today we will sing a hymn that summarizes this transformational attitude – listen to the words. “Transfigure us, O Lord. Break the chains that bind us; speak your healing word, and where you lead, we’ll follow. Transfigure us, O Lord.”  We ask God to break the chains that are not allowing us to give ourselves completely to God and his will. We ask God to heal that in us so that we can follow wherever God may lead us. Just as Jesus had complete faith in the Father and was led even to death, God’s plan was to use that death in the greatest event known to mankind – our return to God’s grace and kingdom. The last line of the verses for the hymn “Transfigure Us” asks the question: “Shall we journey with you and share your paschal road?” And that is the question I leave with you today as well. Shall you journey this Lent with God, letting God lead the way, giving the direction to God, giving our will to God, even to sharing the sacrificial road that God had taken in Jesus? It takes a great faith, but one that can be developed, practiced and lived.

And this is the Good News I leave you to ponder and maybe even find an answer to today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

February 15, 2015

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

First, a parable. Johnny had not been a very good boy this week. He had gotten into trouble at school and had not done the chores at home that had been assigned to him.

His father sat him down at the end of the week, and said: “Look, Johnny, I am going to buy you the bike that you have been dreaming about. Not because you have been good this week, because you haven’t, but just because I want to do it. However, after you get the bike, I expect some things to change around here. I want you to pull your socks up at school, and I want you to be regular in doing your chores to help your mother.  Understood?” Johnny couldn’t believe his good luck. Over the next few weeks after he got his new bike he did start doing better in school and was pretty regular in his chores. But then he started to slack off. He fell into the old patterns and spent more time on his bike than he did doing his chores. One morning he opened the garage to get his bike to go off to school, but his bike wasn’t there. He ran back into the house upset and told his dad his bike must have been stolen! But Dad just said, “You didn’t keep your part of the bargain, boy! I have hidden the bike away and you are going to have to work to get it back!”

What this story is about is “covenant”, a word we hear a lot about in the Scriptures. A covenant is a free gift that we don’t merit from our behavior. But certain behaviors of thankfulness are expected. In Exodus, when the Jews were led out of Egypt, God made a conditional covenant with them, made them his people and gave them the Promised Land. But in return they had to follow certain moral codes, and not worship other gods. When Israel broke that covenant, the Promised Land was taken from them, not forever, because God always keeps promises, but they had to work for it.

In the opening reading today from Genesis, we are given part of the story of Noah, but we also need some context.  God created the world, and after Adam and Eve  left Eden, the population grew. But the didn’t show any thankfulness or keep their part of any moral code and the world became corrupted and ungodly. God could only find one family that kept the covenant. God sent a flood which destroyed everyone except the family of Noah. But God, still in love with the human race despite their turning away, made another covenant with Noah without any expectations – an unconditional covenant that God would never again destroy the world with a flood. And just to remind them of this promise, this covenant, God created the rainbow as a visible sign  of it.

The difference between a conditional and an unconditional covenant is simply that in an unconditional covenant we are not expected to do anything in response, while in a conditional covenant such as at Mount Sinai, we have obligations and so does God.

The Psalm today reflects the Sinai covenant because the response is “Your paths are love and faithfulness for those who keep your covenant.” In other words the Hebrews needed to show faithfulness and love to God and neighbor as a result of the conditions of the Mosaic covenant.

The other major covenant in the Bible is the Davidic covenant, an unconditional covenant where God says  that David’s family line will be blessed and an everlasting kingdom would come from that line. Jesus is from the family line of David and Mark says in Chapter 10 that Jesus is the Son of David and fulfills that covenant because God always keeps promises. Mark’s Gospel is really all about proving that Jesus is this fulfillment of the covenant to David.

This Davidic covenant also has a sign like the rainbow, and St. Peter in the Epistle today describes that covenant sign as baptism. Peter explains that God saved eight persons through water, and that baptism is a saving sign and action which frees us from sin. Peter describes this as “An appeal to God for good conscience” because when sins are taken away that are no longer on our conscience, and we no longer have to worry about them.

So two covenant, two signs! In the Gospel today, in Mark’s direct and uncomplicated way, he explains that Jesus was baptized, showing us what we need to do as well, and then Mark goes on to show the qualities and signs which begin to show that Jesus is Son of God. He was driven by the Spirit, he was tempted by Satan unsuccessfully, and Angels waited on him. We are again told the secret that it will take a while for everyone else to figure out – that Jesus is the promise of the Davidic covenant promised to us.

The reading ends with Jesus beginning his preaching of the good news of God – that God’s kingdom is near. And what must our response be… what is the one condition that we have to fulfill to get in on this covenant…?  We have to repent and believe.

And THAT is what Lent is all about. It is our response to the covenantal promise of our being saved by Jesus Christ. We have to turn around, examine our lives and state our beliefs. This Lenten response leads to Holy Saturday when we renew our baptismal vows and celebrate the fact that we have been part of an covenant in which God has sent a Savior to us, God’s self in the flesh and we are at the beginning of living the kingdom of God.

This is Good News. This is the Good News of Lent, and this is what Jesus proclaims today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

February 8, 2015

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

I am sure it seems odd to us today and quite cruel to treat someone with a severe disability by kicking them out of the community and isolating them outside the town, leaving them to fend for themselves. We are told that what the Bible calls leprosy really isn’t the leprosy that we call Hansen’s Disease today, although some of it may have been, but included any kind of infectious skin diseases including rashes and skin discolorations caused by things like mildew.

But this was a time before medicine, a time when infection meant there could be spreading of disease and separation was, in effect, the way to save the whole community. So when we read the Law regarding lepers in Leviticus we must understand that context. It was not meant to be cruel but to be a protection for the uninfected people.

And they weren’t always cast out forever. Someone with Hansen’s Disease who was wasting away would be, but many other infections simply cleared up and there was a way for dealing with that and bring a person back into the community.

The other problem with the early Jewish understanding was that there was a strong relationship between the external and the internal in the mind of the Hebrew. Leprosy was a sign of sin, a sign of uncleanliness both of which separated the person from the Jewish community.

When we look at the Gospel reading, the first amazing thing I want you to note is that Jesus was approached by a leper. This was forbidden since they were to stay apart and be alone. Jesus doesn’t run away from the man but is moved with pity for him. This is even more true because the man puts complete faith in the ability of Jesus. One wonders how he even heard of Jesus, but as anyone with a bad disease like cancer can tell you, the sick person is often looking for ways to get better, for the newest findings on the disease or for other doctors who claim to be able to heal it. The leper probably had his ear opened to find out about one of the healers who were quite common at the time.

The leper’s faith is such that he asks for his cure in a very unique way. He doesn’t just say “cure me, please!” but he puts it in the way that gives Jesus choice in the matter. “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Jesus responds in a like fashion: “I do choose.”

As the man is immediately made clean, we learn what a person has to do to be admitted back into the community. He or she has to go to a priest to be checked out, and make an offering to God for the cleansing, usually a sacrificial animal.

When Jesus asks him not to tell anyone about it, I am not sure he knows he is not being realistic in that people were going to want to know how this man with torn clothes and disheveled hair was made clean, if only so that they, too, could take advantage of such a person. What Jesus didn’t want, at this point, was his 15 minutes of fame as a healer, because that wasn’t what he was really about. Healing was something he could do, and it strengthened people’s faith in him, but what he really wanted to do was preach the Good News of the kingdom of heaven, eventually knowing that he would die to bring that about. Too much success too early would not allow the message to be spread.

Unfortunately for Jesus, however, the man told everyone, so that Jesus couldn’t preach in the towns any more because of the number of people wanting cures, and he was confined to preaching in the countryside where people still came to be cured, but where he could also spread them out and work in his preaching.

In most of the cures of Jesus, although not in this one of the leper, Jesus also forgave sins. Perhaps with the leper he wanted to show that there was not a relationship between disease and sinning, and that one was not a sign of the other. In many of his healings though, he tried to cure both the outer and inner person, and the psalm today expresses that with the beautiful words: “‘I acknowledged my sin to you…, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” This same healing is still available to us today, one of the most hopeful and remarkable things about our Christian heritage. Each Sunday at the beginning of Mass, if we are truly sorry, we confess our sins and we are given absolution for them. And in our Prayer of the Faithful we say to God, “If you choose to you can cure…” And often he chooses to.

Let me close then  today with St. Paul’s words: whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Let us try to make God part of our everyday life and actions, so that when we are in trouble or bad health we can come to God, like today’s leper, and God will know our faith and belief, and cure us if God so chooses.

Hopeful thoughts that come from the Good News we hear today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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


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