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

March 1, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent Year B 2015

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

How odd

Of God

To choose

The Jews.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

February 22, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

February 15, 2015

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

February 8, 2015

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

February 1, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

The plight of Job is the classic case of the the person who suffers and doesn’t deserve to suffer. At the point when he talks to his so-called friends today, he is pretty low. He has been hit with all sorts of misery over and over again. In his own words he says he has had “months of emptiness” and “nights of misery”. Like a depressed person he sees “no hope” and in his quickly fleeting life, he doesn’t think he will see anything good again.

Our reading ends there leaving us rather depressed and hanging. Surely there is hope for everyone. Why would God allow such suffering as this? Most of us have been there, at least a little. Those of us who have had serious illness, or lost a spouse or child, or suffered job loss or bankruptcy have all been down the same path as Job.

But, although we don’t read about it today there is hope for Job, especially because he stays faithful to God. Now, he does get a little gutsy after his entire family dies and he is a little sharp with God, but he never renounces God.

The whole point of the Book of Job though, it seems to me, is that pain and suffering are part of the human condition. God allows it but God is not punishing anyone. The point is how we react to pain and suffering in terms of our faith in God.

Job’s suffering runs the whole gamut of pain. That is why he is an ‘everyman”. He has physical pain in rashes and sores, blisters and boils. He has mental pain in that his reputation has been shattered and his social standing taken away. He has emotional pain in the death of most of the people he knows, including his whole family, and he has spiritual pain because he thinks he must have done something to deserve all the pain.

Through it all, however, even at the end, Job says that ‘he came naked from his mother’s womb and will go back their naked. God gave, and God took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord’. In other words, who are we to question why God allows such suffering and pain? God has a wider plan both for us and for civilization. Through his suffering, Job and we learn a lot by our questioning, In the end Job is restored and rewarded because of his faithfulness to God.

This is why in Psalm 147, after that depressing first reading, we can shout “Sing praises to the Lord who heals the brokenhearted.” And also “God’s understanding is beyond measure.” And all this is related to “How good it is to sing praises to our God.” In other words, if we continue to sing praises to God, even in our misery, somehow good will come of it.

In the second reading, Paul suffers all sorts of things in his life as well, but he does it all for the Gospel, he says, so that he may share in its blessings. He also says that “If I do this of my own will, I have a reward.” This is similar to Job’s understanding – if we stay faithful to God, if we carry out his will for us (Paul uses the word “commission”) then we will somehow be rewarded.

We know that God does intervene to help people, although from our point of view, it may seem unfair or very random. Some get cured, others don’t. On earth, though, Jesus showed his God-like nature by healing (physically and spiritually) all sorts of people. Perhaps it was because Jesus was also human, and so was able to cry at Lazarus’ death and feel great sympathy for so many of the suffering people he came up against. In any case, Jesus was first achieving fame as a healer.

Very early on in his career he was healing. Today we read of how he went to Simon Peter’s house and Peter’s mother-in-law was ill with a fever, an infection probably, of some sort. Jesus took her hand and cured her. We also learn that John says early on ‘the whole city” came out to Peter’s house with the diseased people of the city and the mentally ill. And Jesus took care of them all. It is that empathy that comes with Jesus’ humanity that allows God to interrupt the chain of random events and change natural law. So our prayers for the ill should not stop. It may be there there is a greater good in some illness that we can’t see, but we should still cry out to God, who through Jesus was able to suffer along with us and knows what it feels like.

Although he was a healer, the healings were interrupting what Jesus had actually set out to do, and that was preach and tell the Good News of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus took time to pray alone in deserted places to prepare himself, and then moved to the next town to preach, where likely he was interrupted by the pained and suffering people there.

What I see the readings today reminding us of, then, is that we must never give up our faith in God, we must never give up our cries to God to stop suffering and pain, but we also need to realize that their is a greater purpose, one that we are not in on. And so, we place our trust in God, and by doing that, hope that God will reward us in some way. And this is the Good News of trust that we need to be reminded of today, as we continue our constant pleas to the God of healing.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

January 25, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

In the Book of Deuteronomy which is the last book of the 5 books that make up the Hebrew Pentateuch or Law, Moses speaks to the people just before they are to go into the Promised Land. Moses has not been permitted by God to go into the Promised Land and so he knows that he will shortly die. In his three long speeches to the Israelites he includes, near the end, a prophecy. Though we often think of Moses because of the Exodus story as a larger-than-life warring patriarch, he was actually a prophet of God. God spoke to him and he reported what God said to the people.

In our first reading today we hear the prophecy of Moses. Moses explains that the Israelites were afraid to hear the word of God directly lest they die, so that prophets were sent by God, like Moses, to let them know what God was saying to them. At this point Moses is saying that he is about die, but that God will raise up another prophet, similar to Moses, from the Israelite people. That Prophet needs to be listened to.

God says that he will put his own words into the mouth of the prophet and the prophet shall speak everything that he or she  is commanded to speak.

Now there were many prophets, as you know, because they all have books or prophecies in the Bible – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah…and so on. But this is a special prophet because he will be like Moses…Moses, who led the people out of slavery and into a Promised Land.

Christians have seen in this prophecy the foretelling of Jesus who led us out of the slavery to sin and gave us the kingdom of heaven. The emphasis in Deuteronomy and in the Psalm today is on hearing this prophet and listening to his voice.

So when we get to the Gospel reading today what we see first is Jesus teaching, speaking to those gathered in the synagogue, and teaching them with authority. He is speaking God’s word for he is God in the flesh. The people in the synagogue are amazed at what this simple carpenter is saying to them, and word gets out that this man is a prophet.

But he is more than just a prophet for in the next section he performs an exorcism. The devil or the “unclean spirit” that is inside this man recognizes Jesus for who he is, and in fact calls him the Holy One of God. Jesus is not yet ready for the Hebrews to recognize the Messianic qualities about him so Jesus commands the unclean spirit to be quiet and exorcizes him, again with “authority”. That phrase comes up twice in the reading today – with authority – and because Mark’s Gospel is so short, to have something repeated makes it even more important. For someone to speak with authority, even today, means that the person is expert, knowledgable, forceful and in control. This “authority” is in direct contrast to what they know the man to be – a simple peasant from the poor outlying area, born of simple  working parents.

So at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel people are beginning to realize that this Jesus is no ordinary person, and they began to spread word around that Jesus was someone to be watched. His 15 minutes of fame had begun!

What has this to do with us today? I think first and foremost that we, too, have to recognize that Jesus is more than just a man. It is common today for people to think of him as a good man, but just a man, who had an intriguing take on what it meant to be a Jew in that day, and whose teachings have influenced many over the years. But Jesus is much more than that – and the mystery that Mark is trying to create here helps them and us to come to a realization of who this “man” really was, and what he was to do.

We take Jesus for granted in many ways today. Yes, we ask questions like “What would Jesus have done or said,” but many of us still think of him as simply a moral teacher. Somehow we have to have a recognition at some point in our lives that the man being talked about is more than a man. When that realization really hits us, we too can be “amazed” and “astounded” as were the men of Jesus’ time.

If we really believe that Jesus is God, that he is present here with us today, spiritually and physically, and that he has graced us with salvation and is ready to listen to our needs and prayers, we will celebrate with great respect, wonderful awe and great thanksgiving. That is why we come here each week – certainly not to be entertained or even enlightened – but to praise God, thank God and show our love and care for each other as a result of that love. That is what the word “Eucharist” means.

So as Mark gradually unfolds the mystery of the who Jesus Christ really was and is, let us try to unravel it with him in our hearts so that we can come to know Jesus in the fullest way possible and live out what he has freely given us in praise and thanksgiving. And that is the thrust of Mark’s Good News today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

January 18, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B 2015

This week’s Gospel is Mark’s version of the same Gospel we heard last week by St. John – the call of Jesus to follow him and be his apostle. We know that 12 men were called by Jesus, bringing to mind, of course, the twelve tribes of Israel.  In Mark’s version of the story, Jesus just walks up to several people, asks them to follow him, and they do, giving up their livelihood and families. Hardly seems a possibility that that could happen, does it? Mark’s Gospel though is very short, direct and sketchy and he seldom goes into any detail at all, so I am sure that more went into what Jesus said or did, and I am tempted to think that John’s version gives a more accurate picture of Jesus as a charismatic speaker that Andrew was drawn to and then invited his brother Peter to see for himself. In any case, there had to be some connection made between Jesus and these men that they would give up most everything and follow him. Or perhaps, they followed him part-time. We do know that Peter had a wife and mother-in-law, and that Jesus stayed with them on occasion. Perhaps, Peter and Andrew still did some fishing as well.

No matter what the actual story was, it was still impressive that twelve men would follow Jesus this early in his career as itinerate preacher and healer. Surely they got to know the person of Jesus and came to love him in order to follow him.

We too need to have a personal relationship with Jesus. It isn’t everything to have this relationship as many Protestant sects seem to believe, but I don’t think we can really love a person unless we know that person, have a relationship with that person, and completely trust that person. We can know a lot of things about Jesus by our reading of the Bible and other literature, but knowledge alone is not enough. We have to somehow meet Jesus face-to-face. Talk with him. Be with him.

I also want you to note that Jesus picks up on the message and preaching of John the Baptist. When he starts proclaiming the good news of God, Mark says that Jesus proclaims “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” If that sounds a lot like John the Baptist, it is because it is. The focus is a little different in that we are given a distinct reason why we need to repent – we need to repent because the kingdom of God is approaching, and secondly, we have to believe in the words of Jesus which contain the “good news”.

I wonder, too, whether the apostles really knew what they were getting into when they followed Jesus. In their minds they were following a Messiah (at least that is what John said last week), but I wonder if they would have followed had they known that following involves service and suffering. For us, too, it will never be a smooth journey – there will be suffering, and pain, happiness and awe, even death. But through it all we are told by Jesus that he will be with us, he has suffered it, too, and his yoke will be easy and his burden light.

Our first reading which doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with anything in the Gospel is actually a reminder that when people listen to God, and do what God says (again, the people of Nineveh  were asked to repent, and they did – by fasting and sackcloth) that God will save them. It isn’t very often in the Hebrew Testament that we hear people listening to the prophets and doing what they say, but in the case of Jonah, the people of Nineveh did listen and their city was saved. I am not sure that God really changed his mind as Jonah says, since he knows present, past and future, but the point is the same: when we do what God asks, he will find a way to reward us.

St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians today believed that the kingdom of heaven that Christ began on earth was going to be completed very soon and the Second Coming was imminent. What he calls the “appointed time” has not been very short. We are still waiting after 2000 years, and in that amount of time we can forget that it is always imminent. We still need to lead our lives in such a way that we never fear the death that is just around the corner or the coming of Christ, both of which could come at any time. Paul’s advice sounds a lot like giving one day at a time and not letting ourselves get tied to material things, keeping our eyes on the final prize. He was wrong about the timing, but right about the advice.

Let us today then ask the question of ourselves whether we are ready to follow Jesus, follow him through all the ups and downs of our lives, through the suffering and the joy, never losing hope that God is with us and something better is always in store for us. This is the Christian way, the Christian journey, the Christian hope.

And that is the Good News that Jesus brought his first followers and re-iterates to us today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

January 11, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

The theme of today’s reading is obviously how God calls us and what our responses to that call are. This is apparent in all the readings today except for the reading from St. Paul which is usually never thematically connected to the other readings but is simply a weekly continuation of one of the Epistles. We see the theme of “the call of God” in the first reading when Samuel hears someone calling him in the night, and keeps running to his mentor Eli, thinking it must be him. This happens a few times, so Eli eventually suggests that the next time it happens, that Samuel just simple say “OK, I am here.” When Samuel is at rest and hears the call again, he simply says to God – I am here. What do you want? I am listening”, God speaks to him and lets Samuel know what he wants.

If we apply this to our own situations, I think that sometimes we are so busy that we either don’t hear God calling, or we do hear God  and mistake it for something else in our busy lives. If we simply can relax into prayer, and say to God, “OK. I am here. I am listening. Speak to me”, we might actually hear what God is telling us in our lives.

The Psalm picks up on this theme as well. “I waited patiently for the Lord.” If we can take the the time to listen and be patient, if we can say “Here I am, Lord: I come to do your will”, God will, as the psalm says, “incline” to you and put a new song of praise into your mouth.

So far we have learned that we have to do is calm down, be patient, listen intently, and tell God we are there to do what God wants, if we want to hear God. But the Gospel adds even more to this today.

First of all, this is the Gospel of John, not the Gospel of Mark, which we are normally using this year. And this same story in the Gospel of Mark, and for that matter in the other two Gospels, is different than John’s telling of it. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus walks around calling people to follow him. The event of today as described by the Synoptics, has Jesus doing the seeking out. He goes to the shore where he observes Andrew and his brother Peter fishing, and he says, “Follow me”, and they do.

John’s account is a little different because it tells us that Andrew (the patron of our parish) is a follower of John the Baptist. Jesus walks by where John is preaching and baptizing. When John the Baptist announces that Jesus, this person who is walking by, is the lamb of God, Andrew and his companion, who is never named, take the initiative and follow Jesus. It is the reverse of the other Gospels. When Jesus realizes he is being followed, he turns around and asks the two men, “What are you looking for?” 

The two men do not answer Jesus’ question but instead ask another question in response: “Teacher, where are you staying?”

Now let us put ourselves into this situation and pretend we are the one with Andrew. We have just been listening to John the Baptist proclaiming a messiah, and that to get ready for a messiah, we had to repent, turn around and change ourselves. Then John points to someone walking by and calls that person a Lamb of God. What an odd thing, we think, to hear someone, a man, referred to as a lamb – and not just any lamb, but God’s lamb. If John thinks this person is important and yet puzzles us about his identity, we decide that we are going to follow this lamb and see what we can find out. We are curious.

So we do, but then,  this man turns around and asks us a question: “what are you looking for?” What are we looking for in our lives? Normally we might have turned that question around and asked God what he wants  or is looking for from us in our lives, but no. He asks us what we are looking for?

What would be our answer to such a question? . Would it be something minor? “I just wanted to see why John called you a lamb?” Would it be something selfish? “I just wanted to see how important you were so I could follow the best leader.” Would it be something selfless? “I just want to be of some help if you are the person John is telling us is coming.”

Now, today if we sat down to pray and we heard: “What are you looking for?”, would we have a good answer?

So, in this Gospel story we have placed ourselves in, we don’t have an answer, or are afraid to answer, so we simply throw a question back at Jesus. And our question is “Teacher, where are you staying?” This could be a simple response asking where Jesus was living, where his house was. But, of course, this is a Gospel, and it is never that simple. In Greek, the question implies, “Where can you be found, or where are you residing?” What we might be asking today is “Where can I find Jesus? Where can I find God?” Throughout the Gospels Jesus gives a variety of answers to that question, telling us that he stays with the Father or that he stays “in us”. Where do we find him today? In the tabernacle? in holy communion? in other people? in ourselves?

Jesus never really answers Andrew’s question, but simple says “Come and see.” Is this the “Follow me” that the other evangelists use? The reality is that we have to meet Jesus wherever he is, and that could be in a wide variety of people, situations, places and times.

So the result of these simple two questions and a Jesus statement was that Andrew and his companion went with Jesus, stayed with him (and the word stay here implies the patience in prayer we talked about earlier) and were so impressed, so sure that this was the Messiah whom John the Baptist had been preaching about, that they themselves became disciples and evangelizers.

The next thing Andrew did was to evangelize by going out and convincing his brother that he had found the Messiah and he brought Simon Peter to Jesus.

So, if we look closely at this pattern we can also apply this to our lives. We need to find Jesus, stay with him – through prayer, listen to him and by listening coming to know Jesus, and then we need to share that experience with others. That is what the CALL of Jesus is all about for the Gospel writer John.

This, I suggest to you is the pattern that is being given to us if we wish to become followers of Jesus and hear that call. Just something to think about this week, and very Good News if we have an answer to Jesus first question: “And what are you looking for?”

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year B 2015

January 4, 2015

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year B 2015

{using Isaiah 42.1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34 and Mark 1.7-11)

Christmas is now quite over and once again we begin the story of the public life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ as we continue in what we call Ordinary Time. I am oftentimes frightened by how many times we have to preach each year on elements of this same introductory story. We get it in Advent, we get it on this feast, we get it on other John the Baptist’s feasts, and it comes up each year in whatever Gospel we are concentrating on. I always wonder whether I can find anything new or relevant for you in the story. But simply because the story is read to us so many times in its different versions in the four Gospel, I realize the import of it, and always manage to find something to say about it.

The opening reading today from Isaiah is not about John the Baptist as we saw in the Christmas readings of Isaiah.  This is not about the man who announces the servant of the Lord, but is about the servant himself, so the focus of today’s feast is not on John but on Jesus himself.

There are four “servant” songs in Isaiah, and today we hear one of them. We often think of Christ’s sayings about being a servant to others, his washing of the feet of his apostles, his dying on the cross to serve as a sacrifice to redeem us. Isaiah talked about a servant who was to come – a chosen one of God, one in whom God puts his Spirit. Those first two qualities Isaiah foretells are picked up by Mark today in his telling of Jesus’ baptism. Being chosen, and being filled with the Spirit are the same two themes Mark uses. God chooses Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”, and in the baptism the Spirit of God descends on Jesus like a dove. So it is clear, then, right from the beginning that for Mark, Jesus is the servant of God that Isaiah foretold.

It will follow then that the rest of the prophecy will also be carried out by Jesus, so if we look at the list of things that Isaiah proclaims about this servant, we should see exactly the same things played out in the life of Jesus. Isaiah says that “he will bring forth justice to the nations.” He will do what he has to do quietly, not like some preachers who cry out and rant and scream. Both of the these qualities we see in Jesus.

The image of the bruised reed and dimly burning wick probably refer to our own weakness and proclivity to sin. Or it may be an image of the poor or derelict in society who delicate and bruised. Isaiah says that the servant will not break the reed or quench the fire that still burns on the wick. It is an image of gentleness, of care for those who are suffering or in pain.

The servant will faithfully bring forth justice. Certainly that is an image of the Christ. Social justice issues are all through the New Testament, in the sermons of Jesus and in his actions.

Lastly, the servant will carry through his job till the end: “he will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.”

All of these prophecies of the servant fit Jesus so perfectly, and give us much to meditate on in our own dealings with people and problems.

Lastly, the Isaiah passage talks about what the servant will mean to us. Most important is the idea of our having with a God New Covenant. God says: “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.

If you haven’t noticed the dominant imagery of “light” over the Christmas season, you really haven’t been listening or singing our hymns.  It has been a major theme during our Christmas celebrations. Christ is our light, just as God says his servant will be a light to all the nations, again opening up the covenant, creating a new covenant that enlarges the scope of the older one.

In the final few lines we hear the lines that Jesus himself so often uses as a description of his mission on earth – his purpose, his goal: “to open the eyes off the blind, to bring prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” And these are both actual and metaphoric . Actual, as we see in the second reading from Acts when we are told that Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” and metaphoric since we are often blind to the spiritual realities of life, often held prisoner by our habits and our misunderstandings.

Jesus is the servant of God foretold by Isaiah, and at his Baptism, Mark sees the beginning of the servant’s role announced and played out. If we are to follow Jesus as he asks us to, we must also be servants to others, develop a social justice awareness and act on it, and realize that we too have God’s Spirit within us to help us achieve that state of perfection. It won’t be easy – we will all have crosses to carry – but that is what the readings today suggest to me that the Good News is all about.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany B 2015

December 28, 2014

The Epiphany of the Lord, Year B 2015

St. Paul talk to the Ephesians today about the mystery that had been  made known to him by Revelation. It was something that no one ever understood before, and that was that God had now invited non-Jews into what had been the birthright only of the Hebrew nation. All these years God had chosen only one people as his heirs, but now he was opening his kingdom up to all people. This revelation was indeed an ‘epiphany’ for Paul, if by the word epiphany we mean “seeing the light” and coming to a new understanding. As a practicing and devout Jew Paul had taken pride in the fact that he was among the chosen people and had been very strict in his following of the letter of the law of the Jewish commandments, not admitting even free thinkers into that company. That was why he had persecuted the early church. But Paul literally saw the light on one of his journeys, and was thrown off a horse and blinded by it. And in that epiphany, he saw Christ and learned that he was to open the gate to the Gentiles allowing them to become the chosen people of God.

While the feast of the Epiphany we celebrate today isn’t about Paul’s own epiphany, it is quite fitting that this reading was chosen because the Gospel today describes an Epiphany in which men who were not Jews but probably astrologers, saw in the sky a star or a falling star which they believed heralded the birth of someone who would change the world as they knew it. They sought out this person in the story we hear today, following the trajectory of the star and arriving in Judea sought this person. It came to the attention of King Herod who was fearful of someone removing him from the throne, especially since his own counsellors recount the prophecies of the prophets, like Isaiah, telling of this event.

There were, of course, prophets who talked about all the nations worshipping the one Hebrew God. The first reading we have of the prophet Isaiah today is probably the most influential of these. The idea of seeing the light is expressed as God’s glory shining in the darkness, and because of this, kings and nations shall realize that God exists, and all shall come to God.

In the Gospel today the wise men from the East are possibly used by Matthew to express the truth that Christ, by his Incarnation, has started the process whereby all men and women can be the heirs of God. By using the references to Isaiah and creating the Kings who bring gold, frankincense and myrrh to the child, Matthew is able to tie in the non-literal prophecy of Isaiah with he reality that he wants to present – that this child was to redeem all people, and with his death, salvation was open to all nations. It is interesting that Matthew added myrrh to the story – you may have noted that in Isaiah the kings just bring gold and frankincense. The myrrh is an important addition because myrrh was used in the embalming of someone, and it is Matthew’s way of preparing the reader of the death and sacrifice which was to com in his story.

It is not important whether or not we believe there were actually three wise men or not because it is the truth behind the story that we need to get to in order to have the Gospel affect out own lives. The truth is that God has sent Jesus, the light that shines in darkness, to bring about the salvation of all the world. The truth is that we have been saved, that we have been given a gift that we don’t even deserve, all because God has chosen us, and in his infinite mercy and seen fir to reward us this way. It is not that we have been good and so have been rewarded, but actually the reverse. We have been rewarded not for anything we have done, but must now express our thanks by acting in a good way. As usual, God has reversed the human way of thinking and interacting.

If we get anything from the feast of the Epiphany today, I hope it is that we need to express our thanks to God more often, we need to realize that in trying every day to be a better, more perfect human being, we are just reciprocating what God has done to us. It is a different way of thinking about things – and so, maybe we all can have an epiphany of sorts today as well, as we look at our relationship with God in a new light.

And this is the bright and glorious Good News I present to you today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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


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