Homily for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year C (May 29)

May 22, 2016

Homily for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year C  (May 29)

In the Mass most Sundays, just before the consecration of the bread and wine, we mention different sacrifices that were made in the Old Testament. One of those is the sacrifice of Melchizedek. Probably for most of us this would be a meaningless reference, as he is not one of the most known Biblical figures.  In fact, we really don’t know anything about him really. He wasn’t Jewish because Abram had not yet founded the Jewish nation, but was a King of Salem and a believer in one God. While Salem is a place, it’s original meaning is ‘Peace’.

As we learn in the reading today, Abraham, who wasn’t yet Abraham, but still Abram, had just defeated three of his enemies when suddenly this Melchizedek shows up bringing Abram gifts of bread and wine to Abram’ hungry and thirsty men. Melchizedek blesses Abram by the One God who has helped Abram defeat his enemies. In return, Abram recognizes him as a priest of higher rank than himself and bestows upon him ten percent of all the booty they had collected.

We don’t hear of Melchizedek again in the Bible until the Psalms when he is referenced as a prototype of the Messiah, one who would be a priest forever.

Later, in a reading we do not hear today, Melchizedek is mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews where he becomes the mystic figure, fatherless and motherless, a prototype of the eternal priest without beginning and end.  Similarly, Jesus is compared to Melchizedek, as he is of the same order – a priest forever, with no beginning or end. I even read one account that claimed that Jesus was Melchizedek who appeared to Abram in the form of a priest. Not sure that holds up, but an interesting thought.

In any case, we see here that Jesus is the priest – and what exactly is a priest? Throughout Biblical history and in our own times, a priest is the representative of the people who is the one who offers sacrifice and blessing to God in the name of the people. Jesus offered the final sacrifice to God, and in using bread and wine, allows his priests to participate in that sacrifice over and over again – one final, continual sacrifice to God to save and redeem God’s people. The bread and wine is the connection between Melchizedek and Jesus, of course.

Our second reading today repeats the formula for that sacrifice given to us by Jesus himself and celebrated by priests from the earliest times. St. Paul uses the same words that we use today at Mass, showing the continuity of that great and final sacrifice for salvation. I find it interesting that Paul doesn’t say it was passed on to him by the apostles, but states that he received it from Jesus himself. Paul’s final statement today in Corinthians: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”, is the statement that ties all of the Masses that have been said throughout history to today’s Mass that we celebrate – that they are all one sacrifice – and that that sacrifice will be complete when Christ comes again.

The Gospel chosen today is the section of Luke that describes the miracle of the loaves and fishes which appears in all the Gospel accounts. As miraculous as it seems, the fact that it is in all the accounts seems to indicate the veracity of it. Now we don’t have bread and wine here, we have bread and fish, but the comparison is caught particularly in the words: [Jesus] looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” The breaking of the bread at Mass today is symbolic of the breaking of Jesus as well – his body broken for our sins. This feeding of the thousands becomes the Eucharist for John’s Gospel, in fact. He sees this event as establishing the Eucharist, and at the Passover dinner concentrates on Jesus ordaining his apostles to be servants of others.

So this feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus serves to remind us that the sacrifice is unending, that Jesus is a priest forever, and each Mass continues and let’s us participate in this life-giving sacrifice. Please remember that the Mass is life-giving. That is why coming to Mass on Sundays is so important. We are not here to be entertained, but to enter into the redeeming act of Jesus to the glory and honor of God, and to celebrate our own salvation through his death. I know we can easily take the Mass for granted. Some people say it is boring, and thats why we see so many attempts at entertainment at Mass in churches today.  But that is to miss the whole point! It is repetitive, but not boring, if we immerse ourselves in exactly what is being played out and our participation in the greatest act ever done. Jesus death leads to glorification just as our Masses do as well. Let us try each week to concentrate on the words we have heard so many times, make them our own, and participate as fully as we can in this continuous and awe-inspiring sacrifice which has made our peace with God and opened the gates of heaven for us.

And this is the truly good news of the Eucharist 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”]

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity C (May 22)

May 15, 2016

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity C (May 22)

Our first reading today from the Book of Proverbs is from a well-known section about Wisdom and it is Wisdom who is speaking metaphorically. It is generally about Wisdom being intimate with God and how Wisdom desires to be with human beings. The reason why it is chosen today seems to be that the description of Wisdom here is very similar to Jesus and his works. St.John’s Gospel often equates Jesus with Wisdom as well. So, then, how is Jesus like Wisdom?

Before we answer that question we need to look at the Bible’s definition of Wisdom. What does the Bible mean when it refers to Wisdom? I think we can safely say that living Wisdom was a way of life or a philosophy of life that was very moral and its understanding came through experience. The Bible speaks of Wisdom as teaching young people proper conduct and helping them to understand the meaning of life. The Book of Proverbs is full of Wisdom because it is trying to teach the young how to live moral, proper lives as the law of Moses required.

So how then is Jesus like Wisdom? Jesus is himself a teacher who says that he is the truth. He goes out looking for followers to teach, invites them to a banquet and promises them life. The image of “The Word” which John uses for Jesus exists with God from all time. So, this is part of the developing theology of The Trinity which we celebrate today. God and Jesus, as Wisdom, are co-existent.

If the first reading today gives us a theology of Jesus, the second reading from Paul to the Romans gives us the beginnings of a theology of the Holy Spirit. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” Paul says. The Spirit is, in a sense, God’s love poured out to us. And what does that love do in practical terms? Paul says it gives us peace, hope in salvation, overcoming of our sufferings, endurance of all things, and hope in God. It is God’s way of taking care of us now that we have been saved by Jesus. When we think of the Spirit which we received in baptism and which was strengthened in us by Confirmation, we should realize that it is God’s great love protecting us, encouraging us and teaching us the right way.

The Gospel reading today from John is the clearest expression of the theology of the Trinity that we have in the Bible. In a relatively clear way, Jesus is explaining to the Apostles that he and the Creator God are one: “All that the Father has is mine.” But the Creator is not content to do nothing. God’s love is so great that it must be shared and so the Spirit of God’s Truth comes to us and “guides us” and declares to us “the things that are to come.”

There is no possible way for us to really understand the Trinity. What we do know is compiled from the Biblical references and the writings of early theologians who interpret these writings. How can One God have Three Persons? We don’t know, but we are assured that it does and that it is Truth. We use all sorts of metaphors to help us to understand, but it is so out of our realm to grasp it, that we just have to accept it on faith and realize that when we talk about the Creator Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, that we are talking about God. When we call out to one of the Three, we are calling out to the One God. In so many ways, it is not important for us to understand the workings of something so beyond our understanding, but that we simply realize that we can, through a relationship with any of the Three, have a relationship with the whole, with God.

Similarly, it is important to understand that God so loves his creation of men and women that God gives us chance after chance to be all that we were meant to be, forgiving us, opening up his home to us, loving us unconditionally. He even allows God to come into us as often as we want in the Eucharist to sustain us and nourish us in being all that we were meant to be.

On this feast of the Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity, let us try to react to that great love which has been shown us, by using it as a model of how we are to love other people. Because as Jesus concludes in the Gospel today: “[God] will take what is mine and declare it to you.” What most belonged to Jesus was God’s love, and so Jesus gives that love to us. Let us act on it, never forget it, and make the world a better place because of it.

And this is the Good News of our Triune God and the message we need to keep in our hearts always. 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 Feast of Pentecost, Year C (May 16)

May 8, 2016

Homily for the Feast of Pentecost C (May 16)

(2nd Gospel choice is used – John 14:15-16 23b-26)

Beginning to understand the Holy Spirit is a sign of maturity. I had great difficulty with the concept when I was a child. I first thought that God had a pet bird that he sent out to people, but then was confused because we used to say Holy Ghost, and that conjured up all sorts of images of dead spirits wandering around and influencing people.

It didn’t help that when we heard the stories of Pentecost, the Spirit now appeared as fireballs on tops of the heads of the apostles. What to make of that?

Slowly, I began to realize that we humans have to create metaphors or pictures of what we do know to help us make sense of what we don’t understand. These images of the Holy Spirit beginning with the breathe of God in Genesis and ending with the tongues of fire in the house where the Apostles were hiding out, are the attempts of the writers to best explain something that is unexplainable.

The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. That itself is rather unexplainable, though we certainly try. I have always found helpful the explanation that the Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son because I have seen in my own life how love can change things for the better. And change is always involved when the Spirit is present.

All of the readings today attempt to make sense of the miraculous that is going on around the Apostles. In the first reading we see the almost immediate change of the Apostles from men who were afraid and in hiding, bereft of their leader, to men who had daring and the ability to speak out – and not just speak out, but speak out in many languages. The Tower of Babel had been reversed by the Spirit for these men.

The Holy Spirit, again then, is a bringer of change.

In the Psalm today we hear: When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” “When you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.” The change between life and death is an act of the Spirit.

St. Paul in 1st Corinthians today also talks about change, but he uses the metaphor of gifts or what we call “grace”. The Spirit ‘manifests’ itself in each of us in different ways even though there is only one Spirit creating that change in us. We are gifted by that Spirit and given certain talents which are different from each other, but all which glorify our Creator God. He closes with a different metaphor or image of the Spirit when Paul says: In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body….and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. We all get the baptism image but the ‘drinking” metaphor is a little odd. In baptism we drink of one Spirit? This is possibly an early reference to the Eucharist because it would have been adults who were baptized which allowed them to receive communion. The implication is that we receive Jesus and the Spirit in communion.

The Sequence is a song that is sung before the Gospel on very major feasts like Christmas and Easter which each have their own distinctive song. The “Veni Sancte Spiritus” which is the Sequence today is an ancient attempt to give praise to the third person of the Trinity in its many works. It in turn explains how the Spirit is Lord, an advocate of the poor, a consoler, a grace-bringing light, a restorer of sinful hearts, and a bringer of seven major gifts. Note that each of these reflects a change being made for the better in our lives.

Lastly, in the alternate Gospel for Year C, John presents Jesus as he talks about the Spirit. The term Jesus uses is Advocate. But Jesus also uses this term about himself because the Spirit is “another” Advocate. What is an Advocate? It is sometimes a legal term when in the court a lawyer pleads someone’s case in order to get that someone free. Jesus sees himself as an Advocate for mankind, pleading to the Father for us. And so, the Spirit will take his place as Advocate when he is gone. This Spirit Advocate, like Jesus,  is also sent by God and Jesus tells us he will be with us forever.

This Advocate we learn a few verses later is also a Teacher. The purpose of this Teacher will be to keep alive all that Jesus has said and taught, but also to help you understand it. And remember- this Teacher is available in each one of us by the right of our Baptism and Confirmation.

So, that is why we are celebrating today. With the entry of the Spirit we begin what we know as Church history. The Apostles begin converting and the Church grows through the influence of the Spirit. That is why we think of Pentecost as our birthday as a Church.

What can this mean to us this week? We have just been through 50 days of celebration of the risen Christ – and now we get on to the business of being Christ in the world with the help of the Spirit. Do many of you pray to the Spirit, ask for the Spirit’s help, ask for understanding through the Spirit? I think most of us pray to God or to Jesus quite regularly, but do we take time to ask the help of the Spirit?  Remember, Jesus said he and the Spirit were sent into the world to advocate, comfort and teach us. Ask for the Spirit’s help. Let the Spirit inspire you. Let the Spirit teach you what needs to be done to be a good Christian. Let the Spirit inform your conscience to help you make decisions. Give in to the Spirit.

I guess that is my major take-home thought today: Give in to the Spirit. See what a difference it can make in your life. Don’t let the Spirit be the forgotten person of God. Give in to her!

And that is the Good News I plead with you to develop in your lives this week. 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 Feast of the Ascension, Year C (May 5 or 8)

May 1, 2016

Homily for the Feast of the Ascension, Year C (May 5 or 8)

The phrase that best sums up the readings today in terms of us as followers of Jesus is the term “clothed with power”.  In the Gospel readings today, Christ foretold all that would happen to him and showed how it was all foretold by Scripture. He told the Apostles that their job was to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sin to all peoples. But he also told them that they weren’t quite ready. Something was going to happen to them in the very near future, and they were to wait for it to happen.  This “something” he described as being “clothed with power from on high.”

We hear a similar story in the opening of the Acts of the Apostles, our first reading today. In Acts, Luke expands on this message of being clothed with power. He says that the Apostles “will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.” When he is questioned about the meaning of this, he explains further: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

This explanation in both the Gospel and Acts is the last thing Jesus tells them before he leaves them.  Basically he was saying that he would not leave them to fend by themselves without him, but that they would be empowered by the Spirit as his last gift to them, so that they would have the ability to continue Jesus’ mission.

In both accounts the physical body of Jesus is lifted up only to disappear in the sky. In Acts, we suddenly have angels addressing the astonished apostles who tell them that Jesus will come again one day. This is why we pray at the end of the Our Father each Mass that we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was present physically for forty days – and we recognize that there must be some significance to the number of days. It is the same amount of days that he was in the desert fasting before he began his public life. But the number forty is very significant all throughout the Bible. In Noah’s story, it rained forty days and forty nights. Moses, after fleeing Pharaoh spent 40 year as a shepherd. Later he  was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. We are told in Deuteronomy that if a man were to be whipped, it could be no more than 40 lashes. The Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years. Jonah warned the people of Nineveh to mend their ways for 40 days and nights. And there are many more such passages.

While the number of 40 days means a literal 40 days, for example after the Resurrection, there is also a metaphoric symbolism to it. It seems to indicate a time of preparation, a time of testing.

So the forty days Jesus was on earth after the Resurrection was a time of preparation and testing for the the second phase of his mission to begin – one where the Apostles are given the power to complete his mission.

In the reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians today, Paul explains what the power of the Spirit does to the Apostles and to us who receive it. First, it is a spirit of wisdom and revelation which expands as we come to know Jesus more and more. Through this “enlightenment” of the Spirit we can come to know hope and begin to understand what riches await us.

Then Paul looks at the ascended Christ who has been seated at the right hand of God, so that Jesus is greater than any earthly power, rule, authority or dominion. He is the head the body, his Church, and so we can be heirs of that same kingdom of heaven to which he ascended.

The Psalm today foretells this glorification of Jesus as well. “God has gone up with a shout”. “God is king over the nations. God sits on his holy throne.”

It seems to be that all this is very difficult for us to understand today. Most of us do not see heaven as a physical place but more of a state of being. Many of us in the United States do not understand kingdoms or kingship. What then can we draw from the readings today?

I want you to concentrate on what Jesus said – that the Apostles – and you – would be given the power to help you do two things: repent and forgive. Those are the two things that Jesus mentions in Luke that are all we are to concentrate on both in our own lives and when dealing with others, teaching others, interacting with others. The repentance is the forty days symbol – it is turning around and looking at your life with honesty, and then asking and being given forgiveness for that – and moving on. Jesus’ teaching is so wonderful in that it allows us to let go of the past and to embrace a new future with knowledge of how we can do better.

What heaven will be like, I don’t really know. No one does. We can only have hope that it will follow the same pattern – that we will be asked to look at our lives, and repenting, will be offered forgiveness. The reward that will follow will be great simply because we are part of the body of Christ as Paul said today, and we will enter into the glory of Christ, seated at the right hand of God, whatever form that takes.

It is a hope, it is foundational for our faith, it is the Good News of what Christ ascending has promised us. Let us dwell on it and have great hope in Jesus. 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 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”]


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