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

August 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

August 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

August 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless us all.

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

July 31, 2016

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

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

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

Even his wife apparently knew but did nothing about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

July 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (July 17)

July 16, 2016

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 17)

Today I want to talk to you about the other side of the coin that we looked at last week – the active Christian, the do-er. We saw last week that Luke grouped together two stories that in a sense comment on one another.  In the first, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan and tells the lawyer, to whom he is telling the story, to go out and do the same to his neighbor. Christians are, by Jesus’ own words, people who ‘do’, who take action, to see that our neighbors are treated with mercy and justice.

This week, though we can another picture which we have seen reflected in Jesus own life as well. It begins for us today with the first reading from Genesis where we see Abraham rewarded for allowing the servants of God to stop and rest, Abraham wants them to refresh themselves. Abraham’s reward for giving them food and rest was to be given a son in his old age.

Notice that Abraham, the Father of a great nation, has become a servant to these men.

Paul, too, today talks about his becoming a servant for the sake of the Church. Paul becomes a servant and even suffers to complete what might be lacking in Christ’s own sufferings.

The Gospel then completes the story and gives us the Christian point of view, but note that it is the other side of the “action for Christ” coin.

Following immediately from Jesus’ advice to the lawyer to go out and take action, here Jesus comes to the conclusion that Mary, the sister, who was not acting as a servant, and was sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening and relaxing, had made the better decision. Martha who was busily preparing for the guests, “distracted by her many tasks”, goes to Jesus basically to complain about the laziness of her sister.  Although it may have been a valid complaint, it was really quite a social faux pas to complain to a guest about it, to begin with.

But Jesus was quite clear that he would not tell Mary to leave, for she had chosen the better part. Mary was so busy, she hadn’t the time to hear Jesus’ word.

These two stories from last week and this week, Luke tells side by side. They comment on each other, and in so doing, show both sides of the Christian dilemma. If listening is the better part, why bother doing the action? This dichotomy has created some interesting historical anomalies. We have monks on poles who sit all day contemplating God’s word. We have activists who march for justice and fight for equality. Does Jesus really say it’s better to sit on a flagpole and meditate?

The answer is the coin itself with two sides. Neither side is enough in itself. The Christian has to take the time to read, hear the Word of God, reflect on it… but then must act on it. Do any of you feel guilty when we pray for people in some catastrophe, but don’t help out by donating to it?  I do. Do some people get so involved in church activity that they are over-involved and have no time for their own listening because they are teaching a class, ushering, rushing around to get things ready, running this or that committee – angry because they see another just sit there and do nothing.

It is all balance. You can see how, taken out of context, Jesus’ words can promote either of those things, but this is why Luke places the stories side by side – so that we can see that balance that is needed. If Martha didn’t make the meal, they’d all starve. But she needs to temper that with some relaxation at the feet of Jesus with her sister. Mary has put first things first, and is learning from the Master himself, but she also needs to see that she can’t always be there and that she needs to be a servant to others as well.

So, today I ask you to look for balance in your life. Examine your activity and inactivity this week. Are you too preoccupied with any one thing – a video game, television, housecleaning, outside work? Then take some time to relax – under a tree maybe, like Abraham’s guests, and ponder what is important in your life.

If you find you are relaxing too much (not something which happens too often in our busy, crazy world today) perhaps you need to find a way to take some action for others, volunteer some time at a food bank, organize a Bible study, come in and clean our Church closet!  It doesn’t matter what you do, but Christ asks us today, to listen to his Word and to be a servant to our neighbor. Let’s evaluate this week how well we are doing at that!

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 17)

July 11, 2016

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 24)

Today’s readings are all about the Scriptural concept of prayer – what it is, how it is to be used, what type of prayer is called for and when we should pray.

The Old Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a story about sinning against hospitality. Despite what some fundamentalists claim, it is not about homosexual behavior, but about how we ought to treat visitors and guests and aliens. The cities were destroyed because they showed no care for the stranger. The section we read today occurs after the inhospitality has been carried out.

Abraham rightly says to God: “You are going to destroy everyone because of the great sin of a few?” The doesn’t sound very just to me, and yet we say God is justice! So Abraham uses prayer to bargain with God. And he not only bargains with God but he gets more cheeky with each request. ‘If I find 50 people will you not destroy the town? How about 45? 30? 20? 10?’ Abraham is relentless – like a child wearing down a parent for something he wants.

And God listens. God changes his mind – a number of times! Unfortunately for Sodom and Gomorrah, there were not 10 good people in the towns, and so they were punished and destroyed. But Abraham certainly tried. He did manage to save his nephew Lot and his family.

But what does this tell us about the Jewish concept of prayer?

First of all, it is personal – there is a relationship going on here. You sense the closeness of Abraham and God by the way they talk to each other. Secondly, we can change God’s mind through prayer. God actually listens to us! Thirdly, prayer is not always about ourselves but it is about others. Abraham wanted to save those people. His love for the people of the towns was able to soften God’s heart.

The Psalm today, Psalm 138, is also about prayer. Through this Psalm, which is itself a prayer, of course, we learn about prayers of thanksgiving. Besides asking for things, we use prayer to thank God for the things God has already done for us. That is something that I find missing a lot today. When my children were small we always taught them to write Thank You notes whenever they received a gift. I guess it never quite took because they don’t seem to do it as adults, and aren’t teaching their children to do the same. I’m not sure if this is true in your families, but we seem to take thank-you’s for granted today, or we message someone a quick thanks, which doesn’t somehow seem quite appropriate to me. So we need to ask ourselves if we are always just asking God for something without ever taking the time to thank God when our prayers are answered, or just to thank him for a beautiful day we have had. Many of the Psalms are just “Thank You” psalms.

The Gospel today includes the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father.  It is in a different form than we are used to saying. Apparently each community of early Christians had a slightly different way of saying it – there were no written copies early on. I want to recommend a book to you that I am finding quite amazing on the topic of the Lord’s Prayer. It is by Dom Crossan called “The Greatest Prayer”.  Crossan was one of the presenters at the last conference I went to, and I enjoyed his Irish humor and wonderful scholarship. I am finding this book so fascinating that i may even run a workshop based on it, so I highly recommend it. You will never think of the Our Father in the same way. So much for my little advertisement this morning!

In Luke, it is one of the apostles who suggests that Jesus might teach them how to pray. Jesus prays a lot in Luke, more than int he other Gospels. Luke notes that he prays before big events, like when he is baptized, when he picks the apostles, just before he tells them he is going to die, and even before the transfiguration. So it is easy to see how the apostles might want to know more about how he prays.

In Luke’s version of the prayer we begin with two sections of praise of God, followed by three sections of asking for something.

It is not a personal prayer. We note that the pronouns are plural – it is about community and is primarily aimed at our wish to be part of God’s kingdom. The first petition is to give us our daily bread and while we look at that now with the Eucharist in mind, it probably more properly belongs with the readings from last week when Jesus tells them to take no food, but to eat what is given them. The second petition is for forgiveness, but rightly as we have seen in so many of Jesus’ parables, forgiveness to the extent that we are reciprocal in forgiving the debts of others. This will be part of the message about possessions that we will hear in the Gospel next week.  The last petition asks that we not be tempted to do wrong, or it could be the word “trial” which some translations use, and in that case the meaning could be asking God to protect us from the final days of evil before the second coming, which they referred to as trials.

So here we learn that prayer can be communal and not just personal. When we celebrate Mass for example, we are celebrating the communal prayer as Jesus asked us to do “in memory of [him]”.

The rest of the Gospel today is a group of parables, the first one  illustrating that we must be persistent in our prayer, just as our friends will cave in to our requests if we hound them. God is more than a friend but will do the same.

The next parable shifts from friends to parents, an even closer relationship. Children get what they want often by persistence, wearing down a parent. God is no different, Jesus says. He can be worn down by our persistence as well. And if parents are able to give good gifts to their children, how much more will God be willing to give us.

The final reference is to the greatest gift – the Holy Spirit. That can be God’s greatest gift to us each day, but we have to ask for it and accept the Spirit into our lives.

So, this week, you might want to examine your prayer life – if you have one. Many of us don’t these days. We need to do two things in prayer First, praise God and thank God – that is the predominate prayer of our community at Mass each Sunday, but secondly, we can also ask for what we need, unrelentingly, and sometimes we will get it. Do we pray each day? Do we praise each day? Do we break down the doors of heaven with our needs each day? Certainly something to think about this week and the really Good News is that God listens and answers us, even if it is not always the answer we want to hear. God bless.

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 10)

July 4, 2016

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 10)

This week and next we have two stories, each of which proves that it is hard to pin down Jesus. We often hear people saw that because Jesus said such and such a thing, that that is what he wants for all of us. But listen carefully both to the story this week of the lawyer and Jesus, and next week to Mary and Martha and Jesus. What is said is not actually contradictory but it shows that Jesus is very careful to look at the situation and make recommendations for the individual.

First, this week, we have the lawyer to look at.

This story is a conversation between Jesus and a young lawyer who studies Jewish law. We are told from the start that the movie of the lawyer is not a good one. he already knows the answer to the question he poses to Jesus. And Jesus knows that he knows. Jesus throws back the question to the lawyer: “You’re a lawyer. What does the Law say about inheriting eternal life?” You might also note that in Luke’s version of the story the question is different from Matthew and Mark where the question is “What is the greatest commandment?”

In any case, the lawyer quotes Deuteronomy, the reading we had in our First Reading today, for the first part and Leviticus for the second, perhaps showing that Jesus was not the first to put together these two concepts of love of God and neighbor. Jesus does congratulate him for knowing the right answer, but he doesn’t stop there. He knows that the lawyer is testing him, so he tells the lawyer: You are right, now go out and live it it. In other words, take action on it.

I want you to remember these words: “Do this and you shall live,” because we will hear a different answer next week in the story of Mary and Martha. “Doing” may be just one side of the coin.

The young lawyer is not content to take this advice, but tests Jesus even further by asking Jesus to interpret the word “neighbor.” Just to ask that question implies that there may be some people who are not neighbors and others who are. That was, in fact, the case in some Jewish thinking. Neighbors or people who lived near you or next to you, were usually relatives in those times. Today, probably because of our interpretations of the stories of Jesus, we see neighbor as much, much wider, in fact, encompassing all men and women.

So the parable Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan is meant to answer the question of the lawyer, and closes by asking the lawyer, “Who was the neighbor?”, again leaving the lawyer to answer his own question.

By this point I know we are all very familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan though it would not have the impact today that it had in Jesus’ time. Samaritans were really despised by the Jews because they were a mixed race who stayed in Assyria after they were captured, who fought against the building of the Temple and, in fact, built their own place of worship on Mount Gerizim. Thus they were heretics, unclean and rejected. What might be comparable today? A Muslim? A Mexican? a disliked politician? None of those really work for all of us today, and perhaps we have nothing comparable.

In any case, we know that the Samaritans were the polar opposite of the lawyer himself, and the priest and the Levite. In the story Jesus tells, the priest and the Levite were respected members of Jesus’ society. They may have had very good reasons for passing by the bloody stranger. If they helped, they would have been defiled and would not have been able to carry out their duties. I don’t think jesus was painting them as totally uncaring or bad. They are, in fact, us! We need to identify with them for the story to shock us.

The Samaritan goes to great trouble to help this damaged stranger. He uses his financial resources, he takes time away from what he was on his way to do, he uses up his own resources to help.

So the question that the lawyer is asked: Which one was a neighbor to the one robbed? is obviously a pointed one. The lawyer recognized that it was the mercy of the Samaritan that made the two men neighbors, and it had nothing to do with race or religion or anything else beside compassion and mercy.

When the lawyer answers correctly, Jesus simply says again: “Go and do likewise.” Go out and take action. And that statement has given many over the centuries the spark that was needed to be active in the church, to be a doer. Next week we will examine the other side of that coin.

The short reading from St. Paul today is a hymn to Jesus, and we can see how the early church began to understand Jesus as God, who existed at the beginning, who was the Word who created, and how he holds all things together. Christ, too, according to Paul, was a doer.

This week I would like you to look at the active side of your religion. How do you “do”? What do you “do”. Do you show mercy to others? This has been proclaimed the year of mercy, and certainly the story of the Samaritan gives us a great example of it. But we don’t just do to the few who need help. We need to extend it to all people, for all people are our neighbors. In this global world especially, there are no strangers. There may be people whose customs we don’t understand, whose ways of doing things bother us, whose religions frighten us, whose proclivity to violence appall us. But they are our neighbors, and we must find compassion, mercy and indeed love.

We start, of course, with our “neighbor” around us, but as we mature, we need to extend it further and further. That’s what the Good Samaritan is all about, why it is so shocking both then and now, and why we have to DO something about it.

And this is the very difficult Good News of Jesus to all of us today.

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 3)

June 26, 2016

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 3)

We continue this week learning about what it means to be a “servant” of the Lord to someone who has been called. Last week, if you remember, Jesus was very hard ‘like flint’ in his call to the three young men. There was no time for them to say good-bye to anyone or to take care of other duties before they left home and begin to follow Jesus.  We also saw that this was because Jesus was beginning the trip to Jerusalem where he would die. Time was running out.

Today we don’t see as harsh a call, either in the first reading from Isaiah nor in the Gospel. What we do see today are the rewards for being a servant of God, for those called to a religious vocation specifically, but also for those who, like all of you, are called to evangelize in your daily lives.

The first reading uses beautiful imagery drawn from motherhood, images of consolation, feeding at the breast, drinking deeply with delight, being cradled, being bounced on a mother’s knee and being comforted. These are all promised to God’s servants. While I was away in Canada a few weeks ago, I celebrated my anniversary as a priest, and I have to admit that I have experienced many of these feelings working with all of you. I have what Isaiah would say is a “rejoicing heart” because of my work in this parish and in this community. That is not to say that I haven’t travelled with you through many difficult times dealing with sickness or death or disappointment, but the contentment and joy I have felt much more than any negatives. Hopefully, you, too, will feel this more and more as you become servants of the Lord in the outreach we do in our little community.

In the reading from Galatians today, Paul talks about his ministry and that he sometimes had trouble from people, but in the long run what he has more than anything else is peace and mercy from his service to Jesus.

The Gospel today continues with Jesus appointing his disciples and giving them instructions on how they are to behave. He had already bestowed on them the ability to heal and to drive out devils. Now they are to travel all over and use these gifts.

The passage starts by saying that Jesus sent out seventy people in pairs. We don’t know that that was an actual number or was Luke’s way of having us remember that in Numbers, Moses chose seventy people to help him. Or it may be reminiscent of the seventy nations mentioned in Genesis. In any case, it is a cross reference to those priests or priestly nations that Luke is recalling.

Jesus sends them out two by two, which also is reminiscent of Genesis and Noah’s ark, and indeed the imagery is also of animals: “I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves”.

The other imagery Jesus uses is from farming. He tells the disciples that they are to go out and gather the harvest for the kingdom of heaven. And that we should pray for more laborers to do the same – there are a lot of souls to be saved!

Because this appointment of the seventy is given in Luke right when Jesus begins his final trip to Jerusalem, these disciples are also like messengers who are announcing Christ’s coming.  They go to all the places that Jesus was to go on his way to Jerusalem.  In that way they are like heralds announcing the arrival of a King. It raises one’s mission to a kingly one to have messengers announce his coming.

Then we have a list of instructions for the disciples. Once again there is a time element. There is not a lot of time for socializing. They need to get the work done. You just have to get on the road and get there.

They don’t have the time to pack a lot of things to take with them. No!  You get to take no purse, no bag, no sandals – just yourself and your message.

When you reach a house, you first of all offer the occupants “Peace”.  You are to accept their hospitality as your wage. Expect no money from them.

It is interesting at this point that Jesus seems to direct them to ignore any purity laws. They are to eat and drink what is put in front of them. This passage may have helped settle the later debates of whether Gentiles needed to follow the Jewish purification laws.

Next they are to get down to business.  There is no time to go from house to house to stay, but there are to go out and heal the sick in that community. And then move on.

If the village does not welcome the disciples, they are not to be judges. Wow. I wish people would hear this today. People are so quick to judge others! They are not to reign down fire on the village – as we saw last week when Jesus said that they were not to judge a place and curse it. There will be a judgment, but his disciples will not be the ones to judge and make that decision. Let THAT be a lesson to us!

So after this advice, the seventy go out and do what Jesus asks.  They come back to Jesus to report success in their preaching and healing. They seem quite proud of themselves that even demons were afraid of them.  But Jesus rebukes them not to be proud of what they could do, but only to be proud of the fact that they were doing God’s work and would attain heaven or eternal life. That’s what they should be happy about.

I have fallen into the same trap as the apostles, I think.  I worry that I am not doing enough and that our parish isn’t growing as I think it should, or that attendance some Sundays is very low. What this passage teaches me is that I have to continue to do the work in Jesus’ name and take pride only in the fact that I am doing his work and so, am on the right road to eternal life myself. It is quite humbling.

So, this week, I ask you to look at your motives. Why do you come to Mass? Is it because it is what you have been asked to do to stay on the road to heaven? Is it to glorify God and do what Jesus asked – to do this in memory of him?

Why do you contribute to charities, work on Stop Hunger Now, work at food banks, bring peanut butter, contribute to the running of the parish? What is your motive?  If it is because it is what has been asked of you to get to heaven, great.  if it is for socialization, pride in how much we collect, guilt or other reasons – not so good.

This is what the Good News today reminds us of, and what I hope we will all ask ourselves this week, so that we all can take Jesus’ good advice..

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (June 26)

June 26, 2016

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (June 26)

I want to start off today by noting that there is a subtle change taking place today which we will follow through for the next many weeks of Ordinary Time.  In the story Luke tells of Jesus, he structures his story in a way unique to the other Gospel writers.  We begin a brand new section of Luke’s Gospel today with the words: “Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Luke seems to be using the device of a journey which will end in Jerusalem, yet it takes the next ten chapters of his book to get Jesus there. But the journey’s end – Jerusalem – is always in the forefront of Jesus’ thought now and colors a lot of what will happen to him. 

However, it is not that he steadfastly sets his face to Jerusalem and races there. Along the way, he does take time to stop at friends, and eat meals with friends, and so on….but the journey to the cross in Jerusalem is how Luke  pushes along the narrative from now on. Jesus’ knowledge in Luke of what will happen in Jerusalem gives an underlying tone and inevitability to everything Jesus says and does. We will watch for this over the next number of weeks.

After this initial set up in the Gospel today,  in our readings we get little lessons on ‘making excuses’. Whenever we don’t want to do something or are not fully committed to something, most of us are experts at making excuses. Some excuses involve stretching the truth, others are outright lies. But the end result is that we put off doing something.

In both the first reading and the Gospel today we have young men making excuses for not doing something right away when asked to. In the first reading the prophet Elijah was asked by God to anoint another prophet to study under him and take his place. This would be the prophet Elisha.  At this point, Elisha was just a young farm boy out ploughing his fields. The act of throwing his mantle over the boy signified that he was being chosen to take on the prophet’s role. We use the expression today sometimes when we say someone took up the mantle of someone else. They followed in his footsteps or ways.

But Elisha just doesn’t set down his tools and follow Elijah. He excuses himself by saying that he has to kiss his parents goodbye and do some things in preparation for the journey. He kills the oxen which were pulling his plough, by roasting them on a fire made from his plough, and gives the food to the needy. Then he comes back, follows Elijah and becomes his servant – eventually becoming the prophet Elisha.

So this excuse was an honest excuse. He didn’t want to not let his parents know he was going, and he wanted to take care of any unfinished business he had before he left, so that he could start afresh.

There is a lot going on in the Gospel today but I want to focus first on the “excuse” section. When I mentioned at the start that Jesus’ movement to Jerusalem, his realization of his death to come and the need to complete his mission all color what some would think as a kind of ‘grouchy’ Jesus here, who demands a whole lot from those who want to follow him, and even more, his answers here seem curt and snippy. The excuses start with he second man. Jesus has asked the man to follow him. The man says, “First let me go and bury my father.” Now this is a dishonest excuse if not an actual lie. The man’s father has not died. If he had, the young man wouldn’t be there – he would be sitting shiva with the Father as was required. No, the young man wanted to go home and wait for his father to die, collect his inheritance, and then maybe follow Jesus. Jesus did not have time for that. “Let the dead bury the dead. Let those who are spiritually dead and still interested in the things of this world bury the dead, perhaps Jesus is saying.

The third young man offers the same excuse as Elisha did: “Let me say farewell to those at my home.” We saw that this was a good excuse and even laudable perhaps in the story of Elijah and Elisha, but Jesus is having none of it. Because his eyes are set on Jerusalem – set “like flint” the psalm might say, Jesus is accepting no excuses. The kingdom of God is inevitably pushing forward on Jesus’ agenda, and there is no stopping the train. There is no time now to look back!

A couple of points about the beginning of the Gospel today as well. Jesus sends the apostles to Samaria to prepare a place for him but the Samaritans, enemies of the Jews are not being very hospitable. Jesus wanted to bring the message of the kingdom to Samaria (as he tells the Apostles at his Ascension as well) but right now the Samaritans aren’t open to it.

In retribution, the Apostles want to use their new powers to destroy the enemy, but Jesus rebukes them for it. This may be what happens in the Old Testament regularly, but it is not the way of Jesus. His message is of love, not hate. Our political leaders could learn a lesson from this!

What can we do with these readings in our own lives this week? Let’s try to listen hard to the call of Jesus through the Spirit and not be quick to make excuses when possibilities arise. There are a lot of opportunities to help others, show our love for them and spread the kingdom, but we have to be open to them and not be making excuses all the time. Some excuses are valid, certainly, but others force a commitment from us that we are afraid of, or too comfortable with things the way they are. As Paul says today: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity of self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” We are busy, but if we are given the opportunity to do something for an hour a week, can’t we really find that time if we want to, and think less of our own needs and more of others.  Just a thought. But it is what the Good news prompts us to think about today.  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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


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