Message from Bishop Ron

November 21, 2016

Last week was  my last post of homilies for the next Church cycle of three years. I hope to be back after this next cycle. I have enjoyed presenting my homilies and the wonderful feedback I got from you. May God bless you all. I have returned to the classroom to get an MS in Catholic Psychology and have been elected Presiding Bishop so this is the reason for my departure, not ill health! Please pray for me, and if you are looking for homilies, you might try getting some of my past homilies published on Amazon ebooks entitles “Teaching the Church Year” by Ronald Stephens. Please pray for me as I will for you.

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Homily for the Feast of Christ the King, Year C (Nov. 20)

November 14, 2016

Please note that this will be the last homily posted for three years. I will begin again three years from now. I am taking this hiatus because I have gone back to school and my time is limited. If you need to look at my older homilies you can check the published books of homilies listed at the end of this page. Thanks to all my readers and I hope you come back.

Homily for the Feast of Christ the King, Year C (Nov. 20)

Given the name of the feast today and all the readings, we obviously need to talk a little about kingship. The early Jews did not have Kings. In fact, they rejected to whole idea of a political kingship and monarchy because they felt that God alone was their King. When things started to fall apart due to the lack of political leadership, they asked God through the Prophets to provide them with a political King – a kind of subordinate to God type of King. But this Kingship was high in political power both in foreign and domestic affairs as well as  being the judge in the law, in charge of the economy, leader of the army, and especially in his relationship with God which allowed him to be a religious leader as well. Pretty heavy duty stuff for one person.

Before their first King, the Israelites were almost the only nation that did not have a human person as King, and as the Hebrews saw some of the benefits of all being under one King for political unity, they demanded one of God.

In our readings today we see how Kings came to have all that power. The first few Kings were appointed by God directly through a prophet. And they were not always the kind of person that one thought could be a King.  But, of course, God saw qualities that the people did not see. Young David, for example, was a simple shepherd yet became the greatest King of Israel. But it was precisely because he had been a shepherd that he was chosen. We hear in the second book of Samuel today that God said to David: “It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” God’s idea of a King was different than the political Kings of this period – he wanted a shepherd for his people, just as God himself was seen in Psalms as a shepherd. It was only later than political ambition and greed caused the downfall of the Kings. They had forgotten how to be shepherds.

That the Kings originally were seen to be moral religious leaders we can see from the Psalm today. When we sing about going to the house of the Lord, rejoicing, we are rejoicing because the thrones of judgment were set up there. Judgment here is seen as the idea of social justice, a bit different than we think of judges meeting out sentences today. Israelites could come and get justice for injustices done to them. We know from stories in the Bible that King Solomon was expert in issuing judgments and making sure that right prevailed.

So in the first two readings we learn that in the Old Testament, kingship was devised as shepherding and carrying out justice for all the people through wisdom.

The readings today from the New Testament both talk about the kingdom that God has created with Christ as the Head. St. Paul says: “The Father has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.” But he doesn’t stop there. He, too, explains what Christ’s kingship is all about: with Christ as King “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Paul goes on to say that Christ is the head of the body, the Church” and that he is to “have first place in everything.” One of the unfortunate byproducts of church history is that people forget, just as the Jews did, who is really the Head of the Church, and we place that headship into a person, forgetting that no person can take the place of Jesus. He is the center of our religion and our worship.

It is with much irony then that the Gospel reading today which ends our church year is not an image of the glorified King of the universe, but the image of the king on the cross, the climactic moment of his time on earth where he changes everything by his suffering and death. The sarcastically-meant comment on the sign above the cross, “This is the King of the Jews” turns into a the most truthful banner after all. And after that death, the doors of heaven are opened, making it possible for us to be saved and redeemed just as the criminal was saved simply by believing in the reality of Christ as King. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Is it hard for Americans to relate to kingships, we who are so politically oriented to a Republic and democracy? I think it can be a challenge for us. But perhaps the answer for us is to look at the first two images of a King that dominate the concept of kingship in the Old Testament – shepherding and justice. If we see Christ as the shepherd who takes care of us, and guides us, and protects us, and feeds us, and corrals us in, and finds us when we are lost, and if we see Christ as justice incarnate, a person who wants to help us see that we need to be his hands in taking care of the poor, the oppressed, those set apart, those sad and lonely, we shall see a King that we want to follow and emulate. That is the kind of King we celebrate today, and we look forward to that kingdom coming when we shall have all those things all the time, not just little bits and pieces of them, the glimmers we see today.

So let us end our church year which is the completion of a three year cycle of readings with great joy in Christ’s kingship and echo the words of the pilgrims going up to the God’s house in Jerusalem: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” so that everyday our lives can be filled with the Good News of a God who loves us, forgives us, saves us and helps us. 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 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov. 13)

November 8, 2016

Please note that starting the First Sunday of Advent I will be taking a three year hiatus from publishing my homilies. I thank everyone for their support and positive encouragement, but will be pursuing further education and need the time off. God bless you all.

Homily for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov. 13)

The readings in the Church Year are interesting in that you would expect that you would start with Advent, then Christmas, then Ordinary Time, then Easter and Pentecost. But it doesn’t work that way. We have already celebrated the Easter season when we jump back into Ordinary Time which is all about the teachings and miracles of Jesus. So how does the church give the liturgical year a climax then? It does it by looking ahead to the end of time and the glorification of Jesus. This week and next, the last two weeks in Ordinary Time deal with both of those issues, and in Luke it is especially appropriate because we have been spending the last many weeks on the final journey to Jerusalem and so finality seems to be a theme on that journey.Therefore, at the end of the church year we look at the end of time as Jesus often did on that journey.

We start, though, with the prophets’ take on it, in this case the prophet Malachi. The word of God as spoken to Malachi is that there will come a time when the arrogant and the evildoers will be judged and punished. He uses the image of fire that is often used in the Bible because fire is such that whatever is burnt, little is left except ash. It seems to be the most destructive punishment. But Malachi is not without hope for the good among us. He says that “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”  We, of course, interpret this sun as the light of Christ who will continue to be the healer and lead us into glorification with him. The idea of “rising” here is also appropriate for Jesus, and that he comes just like a sunrise breaking up the darkness.

The Psalm, too, was chosen for its positive image of the end of time. “The Lord is coming, coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” Again the emphasis is not of the scariness of the end of the world images that we sometimes see today, but the positiveness of it for those of us who are faithful believers.

It is only by chance if the middle reading has anything to do with the theme of the day and today we don’t luck out on that account. It has nothing to do with last days, but with today only. But it is important because it shows us how we can be the faithful Christians that will be saved on the last day. Apparently in some of the early communities where they were living together and sharing their food and incomes, there were a few who were taking advantage of that and lolling around and not providing any support for the others. I her this from people today about the handouts we give to people – that they are just lazy – and they wouldn’t need handouts if they just got up and worked. That bothers me because it is making the issue black and white and it is a very grey issue. Paul is a bit black and white, too when he says “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” But we must realize that he is addressing this to those people who could be working but choose to live in idleness as he puts it. Paul actually puts a great deal of worth in a person’s occupation and in my Psychology course, one of the things we are constantly told is that a person’s occupational vocation is essential to happiness. Paul wasn’t far off in that.

By the Gospel, though, we are back to the last days. This topic is brought about by the prediction of the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple. Jesus has now arrived in Jerusalem. His own death is immanent and he is drawn to musings about life and death with his followers. Some of his followers were awed by the beauty and the majesty of the temple, which leads Jesus to predict that it was going to be destroyed. This, of course, shocks everyone and they throw questions at him, much as we do today about predictions: when, how, why, how soon?

Now it is unclear, at least to me, whether Jesus’s answer to the questions is referring to the destruction of the Temple or that destruction leads him to generalize or enlarge the picture to apocalyptic size and talk about the destruction of the world. He doesn’t transition from the Temple destruction, yet people have always taken this as Jesus description of the end of times, probably because it is similar to Matthew’s Gospel which is more specifically the end of times.

But Jesus talks about the three signs: false messiahs appearing who falsely give times and places to the destruction; wars and international upheavals; and natural disasters, all of which are worldwide. But Jesus does not dwell on that. He doesn’t make the big thing of it that so many fundamentalists do. Instead, Jesus moves quickly to what will happen to his followers before this time. There will be persecutions, and there will also be great fear and stress about what is going on. It will be difficult to remain faithful to Christ because doing Christ’s work will lead some to be imprisoned, tortured or killed. Families may break apart, friends will desert you. This certainly happened in the early church, and sometimes even happens today.

But then there seems to be a discrepancy. Jesus says, “But not a hair of your head will perish.” Oops. Did Jesus get that wrong? A lot of early Christians perished in the persecutions.

But, no, he didn’t get it wrong because he wasn’t talking literally here, he was talking metaphorically about the soul as we see into least line, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” There is more to us than just our bodies. There is a spirit, a soul, a part of us that never dies, and that is what will triumph and become part of Jesus’s glorification that we will focus on next week as we celebrate the last feast of the Church year – the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe.

How can we take these readings and apply them today in the here and now. First, don’t be bothered by all the apocalyptic talk and false prophets who are always predicting the worst. It will happen when it happens. We need to live in the here and now and do our best to live Christ’s message faithfully. If we do that we don’t need to worry about the end of days – whenever that might be. Use the everyday things to remind you of Christ. Treat your occupation as a path to Christ and find ways to bring Christ into your workplace. Do the best you can in your work and try to do the work that strengthens you and not pulls you down. I was excessively fortunate to be in a  job that i loved for 47 years. Not all people can say that, but that should be the goal and it should be a fulfilling way to happiness. If it isn’t, maybe you need to look at things and change what you do. Not always possible, I know, but let’s look at it as a goal. Meanwhile, living a truly Christian life every day, thanking God once a week at Mass, finding ways to help your church and community – this is what is important, not fear of an event we can never predict.

This is the Good News surrounding the bad news for the unfaithful. 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 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov. 6)

October 31, 2016

Homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov.6)

For many weeks I have been telling you that we, through Luke’s Gospel,  are on a trip with Jesus to Jerusalem to his ultimate death and glorification. We are finally there today. While he is in Jerusalem he deals with three or four controversies with the chief priests, scribes and elders of Judea. Our Sunday readings have skipped over the first two controversies in Luke and we pick up on the third one, so a little history is in order here. The Pharisees were trying to put Jesus into one of two schools of thought during his time regarding whether or not there was to be  resurrection of the dead.

The Hebrew Bible really does not talk about, but only hints at such a concept. It was, however, by the time of the Maccabees which was two hundred years before Christ, expressed as a belief by many Jewish rabbis and writers. We see this in the first reading today and the rather horrible story of how the Maccabean brothers and their mother were put to death by King Antiochus. As each man died, they expressed the idea that they were more than willing to die for their faith or do something against their Scriptures – in this case, eat pig’s flesh – and by the second brother’s death we are told why they felt that way. The second brother said, “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws. The third brother added these words about his physical body – “I got these [hands] …and from God I hope to get them back again.” Clearly, then in Maccabees there was a belief in not only reward after death but a resurrection of the body in some way.

What we need to know though is that Maccabees is not a book accepted as part of the Scriptures by the Hebrews, or today by Protestants. It was one of the books deemed Scripture by the Catholic church, however. So, what was the belief in Jesus’ time about the resurrection of the dead?

What you know is that some Jewish sects believed in it, and others didn’t. It so happens that the Sadducees who bring the question to Jesus today simply to bait him and find out where he stands, emphatically do not believe in resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees were of the religious class, quite wealthy and very conservative, believing only in what was in the first 5 books of the Bible. If it didn’t say it in the first five Books, they didn’t believe it. Most of the Pharisees, however, did believe in it because they believed not only in the Pentateuch, the first five Books, but also in the Prophets, and the other Scriptural writings as well as the tradition passed on by scholars and rabbis.

So, here we have Sadducees trying to bait Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t comment on their attitude of not really caring that they knew the answer in their own minds, but Jesus replies in two parts.

The question the Sadducees ask is based on a law in Deuteronomy  which is all about how you are to handle the death of a brother.

First Jesus says that the question is out of place: “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they are like Angels, and are sons and daughters of God, being children of the resurrection.” Basically Jesus is affirming that there will be a resurrection but we will be different than we are now – more like angels, and although he doesn’t dismiss our having relationships, he says that we won’t have the bodily sexual needs which bring about marriages.

Secondly, he makes the statement that God is a God of the living and not of the dead.And then states that the famous patriarchs of the Bible are not dead but alive right now. In other words, death might be seen as a transition to a new state. Years later we added the Greek idea of a soul to all this which I don’t believe the Jews had any idea of, though it makes some sense to interpret it that way. But Jesus says that when they died, they never stopped living. We are told in our tradition that when Jesus died, he went to the place of the dead and opened the gates of heaven for them. It is the same kind of idea.

So the two parts of Jesus’s answer show Jesus using first, reason, to explain why you can’t compare life in this world to life in the next because they are two different states. Then he uses the Sadducees own Pentateuch, quoting Moses in the Book of Exodus, to say that they should believe in resurrection of the dead.

In any case, the Sadducees are not happy with the answer, and they too plot to kill Jesus.

St. Paul also believes in resurrection of the dead and even in today’s reading we hear the words: “[God in  Jesus] through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope.” That eternal refers to forever and covers both life and death.

So what can all this history mean for us who read this questioning of Jesus about the resurrection after death today?

I believe it should give us great hope. I have tried to imagine nothingness, and I not only can’t imagine it, but I find it a depressing thought. Our spark will survive our bodies and even if our bodies become resurrected bodies, whatever that may entail, the joy of knowing I will survive in some way is very heartening to me.

Jesus always says he came to bring good news and this to me is very good news. I want to live my life every day as we say in the prayer after the Our Father “in joyful hope” of the life to come. Let this be part of your Christian joy and not fear death, but only fear not being prepared for it by not living a good life. We know the path to eternal life and it is Jesus. God be praised for this Good news today as we get closer and closer the end of another church year cycle and the Passion and glorification of Jesus.

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 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct 30)

October 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

October 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the wonderful Good News of our readings today! God bless.

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 16)

October 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

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

October 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (October 2)

September 27, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (October 2)

The parable of Jesus today compares the disciples to slaves. This is certainly part of the larger message Jesus has been giving that disciples are to be servants, and are never to rise above that position. Why does Jesus use this parable? In a few verses just before this reading, Jesus gives some proverbial advice to the apostles, things like it would be better to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around one’s neck than to cause someone to fall into sin. He also tells them that they must forgive, even if the person comes back seven times for the same offense to beg forgiveness.

The Apostles are hearing very difficult things – even scary things – for anyone who is to minister. It is no wonder then, that at the beginning of today’s Gospel they say to Jesus, “Increase our faith”. You have to help us out here!

Jesus’s response is kind. He basically says that even a little faith will get you a long way. And this indicates, I presume, that they all had at least some faith in Jesus and God!

The parable then follows.

The parable is strange to our ears in this day of non-slavery. But we must remember that slaves were considered property, property that you took care of, but still property, and the slave owners  expected obedience. If they sent you out into the fields all day to work and you came home tired but were asked to do even more (even though you thought it might be nice to be invited to sit down to supper with the family for your work and compliance), you did what you were told to do, simply because you are worthless in yourself and have done nothing more than what was expected. You aren’t going to get any extras, any coddling, any special praise for doing what you were asked to do. Neither will God give us extra credit for what we are expected to do.

I guess life isn’t always fair, is it?  In the first reading today we hear the prophet Habakkuk crying to God for help because he is so sick of seeing all the wrongdoing and violence in the world. I want something more, he says. But God answers him that he must simply write down what he sees, and not to worry about it. If you are righteous and faithful, you will be around to see the destruction of the proud. But again, don’t expect anything more for just doing what I asked. It is simply living by faith.

Getting back to the Gospel, Jesus has indicated that even with a small bit of faith, nothing can be ruled out as being impossible. Why is that? How can that be? Because with even a little faith, you are connected to God, and God can do the impossible. God is empowering the apostles in their leadership and it only takes a wee bit of faith to set it in action.

But even if this is true, the parable still holds. There can be no time that the apostles can say, “OK, I have done what you asked me to do. Now it is my turn to be served.” Jesus indicated that it will never be time for them to be served – that being his apostles means that they are forever servants.

I wonder how the apostles must have felt upon hearing that. Those are hard words. But Jesus never said being an apostle wouldn’t be hard, only that if they have faith, they can do anything.- for others!

Now, if this reading is addressed to the Twelve, does that mean the rest of you are off the hook? Do you get to be the ones served? I don’t think so. Sorry.

Jesus called everyone to be followers. Indeed the very early church was a collection of people who were all called to spread the Good News. The Spirit that Paul exclaims about in the letter to Timothy today is given to us so that we can have that faith and love that make us servants and allow us to pass on the teachings we were given. It wasn’t till later that a hierarchy developed, but originally everyone had a charism or gift that they were to use to help spread the Word.

The same is true today although we often think our ordained clergy are the ones who do all that. I believe this is something entrusted to all of us, and it is only in serving others, taking care of the needs of others that our salvation will lie. In any case, I urge you today to examine what kind of faith you have and to know that, even if it is just a little…. nothing is impossible because God can do anything!

This is the responsibility of the Good News that we hear about today, and though it sounds difficult, you must find the gift of service God has given you, and use it to strengthen our community and the community around us. The Good News isn’t always about us and our needs, is it? But it is still Good News for everyone else!  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 25)

September 20, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 25)

Jesus is getting even closer to Jerusalem and his indictment of the people who have too much, the rich, gets even stronger. This indictment is not a new one for the Jewish people. The prophet Amos preached the same thing years before, as we see in the First Reading. In this reading, God is speaking through Amos. He is directing his prophecy to two Jewish groups, the people of Zion or Jerusalem, the Southern kingdom and the Jews in the north represented by their place of worship Mount Samaria. The Jews had split into two groups by Amos’s time. Both of the groups were very complacent, even though the signs were all around them that they would be conquered. They strongly felt that they were God’s people and God would never, ever, let this happen to them.

But Amos sees things differently. He shows them a mirror of themselves in which their complacency has led them to ignore the very people that God cares most about – the poor.  By “poor”, by the way, is meant anyone who is treated unjustly in society. He shows them in this ‘mirror’ as lying on beds of ivory, lounging on couches, eating their fill, singing idle songs all day, drinking lots of wine, and grooming themselves with expensive products. Then Amos says that they are not “grieved by the ruin of Joseph!” This was an expression that was similar to one we might use when we say Nero fiddled while Rome burned, meaning that they were oblivious to the things falling apart around them, the poor, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, who were crying out for help.

God is angry with them because God is a just God. The reading doesn’t say that God punished them, but God is not going to help them either. God lets history take its course and allows the conqueror to do what conquers do. God is just forecasting what will happen.

Luke’s Gospel today gives basically the same message in terms of a parable that Jesus narrates. Luke doesn’t mince words and he tells us right from the start that Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees who loved money. We get the point immediately.

The rich man in the parable behaved in much the same way as the Hebrews before the captivity. He doesn’t pay any attention to the suffering around him but only makes sure he is living it up as much as possible in the moment. He too wears expensive, fine clothing and spends the days in lavish eating and drinking. He, too, ignores the pathetic man, Lazarus,  outside his home who is starving and sick and destitute.

Upon their sudden deaths, however, they were apparently judged by God, and Lazarus was taken up to heaven along with the great men of Hebrew history, especially the father of all Jews, Abraham. The rich man, on the other hand, was in Hades suffering the torment of flames and heat.

The rich man apparently was able to see what the other side was like in heaven while he was suffering and he saw Abraham up in heaven, and he shouted to Abraham for help. He didn’t even ask Abraham to save him or bring him up to heaven, but just to give him a little drop of water to ease his thirst. Abraham is blunt in his reply: “You had a lot of good things while you were alive and revealed in them, while someone like Lazarus had only bad things happen to him. You ignored Lazarus when you could have helped him. So no way! You made your bed. Lie in it!”

Having perhaps learned his lesson, the rich man then asks Lazarus at least to go to his brothers and warn them about the consequences of rich living. But he is told by Abraham that there is no need for that. If they just read the Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets, they would know what to expect – just like in our first reading from Amos. But the rich man, who himself had ignored Scripture, said that if Lazarus came back to life and told them, that would be a miracle that they might believe. And Abraham’s final ironic, prophetic statement rings out as truth today: No, even if someone came back from the dead, they wouldn’t be convinced. Notice, here, the other Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead!

Remember: this was addressed to the Pharisees who undoubtedly felt that their wealth was a sign that God was blessing them as seems to be the message of Deuteronomy long before the Prophets. There is an abundance of proof in Deuteronomy that God blesses the righteous person with an abundance of prosperity and riches. The Pharisees felt they had Scripture on their side. Jesus obviously feels that they are misreading Scriptures and cherry-picking verses to give validity to their way of life. The story of the rich man and Lazarus is at base a story of how to interpret Scripture. This is where Jesus and the Pharisees are at odds.

I want also to point out that this is just a story Jesus told. It does not mean literally that there is a burning fire in hell as so many have taken it, or that we will sit around feasting all day in a heaven. These are metaphors of states of being and we don’t know what those states will be. Many theologians think hell will be the absence of God from one’s life. But we don’t know. We can only theorize and guess.

Jesus’s point overall is the misinterpretation of the Scripture looked at as a whole – which all the way through indicates that food should be shared with the one’s who have none in countless verses of Scripture from Leviticus to the Prophets.

My point today then is that we must not ever let someone prove something with a verse from Scripture, especially the New Testament, which does not fit with the overall message of justice and love. “God is love,” John constantly tells us. God also demands justice, That is the underlying theme of Scripture and should be the measuring rod for all our dealings, and anyone who says otherwise is just like the rich man in the parable today.

This week, let us try to remind ourselves of this “forest” of an idea instead of looking at the individual tree that might be rotten. Paul has it right when he sees that forest includes “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”  And this is the Good News that will lead us to be like God and Christ: just and loving.  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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