Archive for June, 2014

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

June 29, 2014

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time , Year A  2014

Mathew’s Gospel today begins with Jesus reflecting on his unique position in time and how he serves to reestablish the relationship with God that had been lost. He begins by stating that it is very simple and can be understood by a  child. You don’t have to be highly educated or articulate or experienced to understand the revelation. Jesus then goes on to explain the unique relationship that he has with God the Father.

Well, maybe I am too educated or not enough like a child, but I don’t find the relationship all that easy to understand! The fact that Jesus is the Son of God cannot be determined by earthly means; it simply has to be revealed, which it has been in the Gospels and through the Spirit, as Paul explains to us today. God the Father has given all things to Jesus in the sense, perhaps, that he is to carry out the redemptive process. In the first reading we see how Zechariah prophesies that the Messiah or King will command peace to all nations and will rule from sea to sea. But, in actuality only the Father and the Son can truly know each other, because a person can only truly know oneself. If the Father and Jesus are one, they surely know each other.

Then Jesus comes to his conclusion: Since I have been given everything, you need to trust in me. If in your life you are carrying a heavy burden and are tired, you need to try on the yoke of Jesus. A yoke is a wooden bean placed across two animals to help them pull or carry something very heavy.  We need to yoke ourselves with Jesus also, to help us pull or carry the heaviness of life. Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy, perhaps because he does most of the work. We know that redemption is not something we have merited by anything we have done, but by the simple grace of God, a free gift. At the same time we cannot just let Jesus do all the work. If we are truly yoked to him, we must also pull some weight, do our best effort in life, try to reach the unreachable goals that have been set for us. 

But these are such wonderful, encouraging words for human beings. How often have we succumbed to worry and anxiety in our lives. I don’t think there is anyone who has not experienced high levels of stress and anxiety and worry. It is part of being human.  But how wonderful to know that we can go for help in carrying these burdens.  I think this is one of the most wonderful things about Christianity and the teachings of Jesus. I know that I can’t be thankful enough for the many times I have called on Jesus to help me carry a burden, and the sense of relief and rest it gives to know that he is there with me through it all.

Jesus tells us that he is “meek and humble in heart”. A word about humility, perhaps. We usually don’t think that people who think highly of themselves are humble. If we analyze Jesus’ words here – he is equating himself with God, saying that he has been given everything, that he can shoulder our burdens with us, that we need to learn from him. Although this may not sound humble, we need to realize that humility is seeing oneself in a way that doesn’t exaggerate your good things or diminish the bad things. He is the ability to see yourself as you are, and to know when to talk about it. Jesus is being realistic about who he is and what he has to offer us; therefore, he is being humble. And he speaks about it because it is necessary to do so to help us understand that we can come to him when in distress. 

If we do this, we will find rest for our souls. He doesn’t say that he will solve every problem or that there won’t be stresses and upsets in our lives. But we will find rest inside where it will make a difference to our lives. We will have the added strength to deal with things.

Our psalm today may be a fitting place to end this discussion of Matthew’s Gospel because it is a response to the goodness of God, and a further description of this being that wants only to love and help us. “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and God’s compassion is over all that God has made.” In that compassion, God sent us Jesus, took on our flesh, suffered and redeemed us, and left the Spirit to dwell within us. What more could we ask for? Know that Jesus is there for you, and never give up having faith in Jesus’ ability to take our yoke upon himself.

This is the wonderfully Good News I present to you this day.

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Homily for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, Year A 2014

June 22, 2014

Homily for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, Year A  2014

The Feast today of Saints Peter and Paul takes precedence over the Sunday Ordinary Time, but only falls on a Sunday ever so often. In some countries this is a holy day of obligation, but certainly in its celebration the Church is honoring the two people that had most to do wight he spread of early Christianity. It is also true that they may have butted heads many times, so it is interesting that we celebrate them together.

The main differences in the two men seem to involve the people to whom they felt sent.  Peter was the apostle to the Jews and Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Historians and scholars tend to agree that Peter had more authority than the rest of the Apostles, though James seems to be the actual leader of the Church in Jerusalem. The Acts of the Apostles shows Peter in his leadership position, preaching and deciding to elect an apostle to replace Judas. About half way through the Acts, however, the author, Luke, follows the exploits of Paul, and we don’t hear anything of the later life of Peter.

The Acts today begins with the death of James, one of the original Apostles, being put to death by King Herod, the grandson of the Herod from the Gospels. Because he got positive feedback from killing James, he had Peter arrested, but did not want to do anything with him yet due to the holy Passover season. So, he had Peter imprisoned and guarded. The very simple line: “…the Church prayed fervently for him” really indicates the approach to prayer that the early church took. We might be able to apply it to our prayer life today as well. First of all, we must pray fervently or intensely. The verb “prayed” in Greek is a tense that implies continual praying – so we must pray constantly. We must pray to God, that is develop a personal relationship with God. Prayer should also be as specific as possible. They prayed “for him”.  We do this in our prayers for the sick at the Prayer for the Faithful. We are as specific as possible. Lastly, we should not forget the communal aspect of prayer – the Church prayer for Peter. They believed that all united in prayer would be more efficacious. If we pray this way, we are praying in the same manner as the early church, and as we see, God listened to the prayer and helped Peter miraculously escape. The Psalm reflects this answer to the Church’s prayer with he words: The Lord set me free, the Lord set me free from all my fears”.

Continuing with an emphasis on Peter, the Gospel reading today from Matthew, portrays Peter as one of the first to public acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.  He is praised by Jesus for this because Jesus indicates that there is nothing earthly that would bring Peter to this conclusion, but sees it as a revelation from God to Father to Peter.  The oft-quoted lines: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” have been debated for years. The play on the word rock might come across a little better if we were to say “You are Rocky and upon this rock I will build my Church.” It is word play on the solidity of Peter’s belief, and how the Church will be built on the foundation like rock that Peter represents. The Church will be built on the belief and faith of people like Peter. But Peter is more singled out when Jesus says that he will give Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. We have seen that the “kingdom of God” is something that Jesus has been preaching about his whole public life, and it is a metaphor of the type of world that Jesus preached about – a world of justice, peace, humility, healing, restoration and redemption. Peter, and some would say all the apostles,  is being given administration over the kingdom that Jesus has instituted after he is gone from them. Central to the kingdom is love of God and neighbor.

Do we really understand that the kingdom of heaven exists now, not completely in its fullness, but is here right now. How do we spread the kingdom? Do we continue to restore all things to God, do we continue to forgive others, do we try to heal, to preach the good news that Jesus preached? All valid questions coming from Jesus’ intimate moment with Peter.

St. Paul, as we know, was the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Because of his vision of Jesus and mandate from Jesus, Paul was totally focused on bringing the Good news to the world. And if you follow his travels, they were quite amazing for that time in history. Our reading today is taken from the end of life when he is reflecting on what he has accomplished in the earthly kingdom and he oohs forward to being with Jesus in the kingdom after death. His greatest accomplishment – from his words – is “I have kept the faith”, and that he has “fully proclaimed” the Good News. This is indeed similar to Jesus’ praising of Peter for his “faith” and belief in him. Like Peter, Paul has been helped, rescued and redeemed by Jesus, and his words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” will I hope be echoed on the death beds of each of us here. What more wonderful thing could we hope for. 

So let us use Peter and Paul today as inspirations for our own lives, men who had weaknesses, who fell from grace many times, but picked themselves up and carried on with that vision of a beautiful world, truly a kingdom of God, to guide them, and the inspiration of Jesus to know what to aim for. All saints are role models for us – I think that is the purpose of canonization – but some truly human persons who have failings and still achieve sainthood can be the best role models for us as we struggle to create God’s kingdom now and forever.

And this is the Good News that Jesus preached, the Paul preached, that Peter preached and that I preach 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 of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year A 2014

June 15, 2014

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year A  2014

As I have been suggesting over the past two weeks, there are three ways that Jesus did not leave us orphaned when he went back to the Father. Two weeks ago we celebrated the first of these on the Feast of Pentecost, when the Spirit descended and came into the world, into each one of us. The presence of the Spirit is all-encompassing, and was sent to be our Advocate and Counsellor. Today we celebrate the second of these ways that God’s presence remains among us. His presence is made real in the Eucharist, and allows each one of us to participate in the life and death of Jesus. The feast today, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is a yearly reminder that Christ is still with us, that we are part of the Body of Christ, and that we have access to his physical presence at each and every Eucharistic service – a fact that I think we sometimes take for granted.

The first reading today from Deuteronomy – again, read backwards – ties in the manna in the dessert, God’s way of feeding his flock during their forty year journey, with God continually feeding us in the Eucharist. And it is not bread alone that feeds us, but Christ also speaks to us in his Word, which is the third way Jesus is present to us. Deuteronomy says that God provides his food to “do [us] good”.  We know from psychology and sociology today that we must take care of our basic needs – hunger and thirst – before we can even think about spiritual things.  Just as God provided for the wilderness travelers, God provides spiritual food for us so that we can have the ability to understand that there is more to life than food.

These images of food and God as provider run throughout the Jewish Testament. In today’s psalm, for example we hear our God fills us with the finest wheat. Again, when we read backwards, how apt a description for the bread of the Christian Testament – the finest God has to offer – his Son.

The reading from St. Paul, again one of the earliest descriptions of Eucharist, reminds us that we all share in the Body and Blood of Christ. In one sense, through consuming the Bread we allow Jesus to use our bodies to become physically present. God is in us, and we are in God. The Bread allows us to be unified as well. We become, in a special way, joined together through partaking of the Eucharist. The cup of blessing is the third cup of wine used in a Passover celebration. Again, Paul is comparing the Eucharist to a Passover Meal, one which has been transformed through the death of Jesus.  At weddings we often toast to the bride and groom. We lift our glasses, clink them with each other to show our solidarity and common wishes to the bride and groom. Similarly, the cup of blessing, shared by all, shows our solidarity, or common wish to be a member of the Body of Christ.

The section of John that we read today has been made very familiar to us through quoting and through many songs, so i think we tend to lose the surprise, the shock of it. Certainly non-believers who read this misinterpreted it widely, even as cannibalism. To talk about eating flesh and blood – even more anathema to a Jew! – smacked of strange ritual and ceremonies of the worst of the pagan cults.

But, those who know Jesus know that what Jesus is referring to is something different, and something quite beautiful. Jesus says that he himself is the manna that was sent down to heaven to feed those on the journey of life. It is different from the manna in the desert, however, because that bread was not any more than bread, and was there only to feed the body. It sustained life, but did not extend it. Jesus is the living bread that falls from heaven. Through the Eucharist he gives us this living bread – his flesh to eat. And it does more than sustain. It gives life, yes, but also extends life to life eternal, so that on the last day we will be raised up and live forever. These are revolutionary thoughts. I can barely imagine what those who first heard them must have thought. Remember John makes a point of it to say that Jesus said all this in the Jewish synagogue! No wonder many thought he was a crazy man!

It is only through reading backwards that the Apostles and we become able to see the relevance of what Jesus was saying. These passages are given meaning by the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

It is so easy for us to normalize and not really think about the meaning of these passages. We hear people today who say they are spiritual but not religious, and by that, they seem to mean that they pray and maybe even have a relationship with Jesus, but they are not churched – they have no community to be attached to. This is so not Christian. Jesus constantly spoke of community, of being one with each other, to the point of giving us this gift of the Eucharist to make it all real. I feel sorry for those who say they are spiritual yet do not partake of the food that Jesus sends us each week. It reminds me of the parable of Jesus where the man was giving a banquet and nobody came. How sad.

For those of us that do come, this yearly feast is a reminder to us not to take the Eucharist for granted. Jesus tells us : Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink [his] blood, you don’t really have life in you.

My wish for you today is that you think about what the Eucharist means and can mean to you this week, that you have the ‘life’ that Jesus promises you, and that we have the strength and means to let others know that they are missing an incredible gift and an incredible opportunity.

Let the Good News of living forever ring out as we celebrate this wonderful feast of Christ’s Body and Blood!

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 of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year A 2014

June 8, 2014

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year A  2014

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is a feast to remind us of the concept of God being three persons, a difficult concept to understand, one which developed in Christian thought over the first 300 years of Christianity. It is a mystery, and I am not quite sure we can ever really understand it it. It began as an attempt by the early Christian Jews to understand how their belief, and indeed the core belief that set them apart from other nations, that there was one God, and one God alone, could be reconciled with the fact that Jesus identified himself with God, yet still spoke of God as outside himself – as a Father. The doctrine of the Trinity was not spelled out, but was pretty much in place in the minds of early Christians by the time John wrote his Gospel sometime late in the first century.

When we read the Bible backwards, that is, when we read it knowing how it ended, we can sometimes see references which at the time they were written may not have made sense, or made sense in describing a particular incident, but with our insight into what actually happened, can be seen as a Christian reference. A good example of this may be the first reading today from Exodus. The incident being told is fairly simple. God had made a covenant with Moses and given him two tablets – what we call today the 10 commandments. When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the people worshipping false gods, he broke the tablets in his anger. At the start of today’s reading Moses is called by God to return to the mountain with two new blank stone tablets, which Moses does early in the day, and there God appears and rewrites the words on the new tablets. It is the description of God’s appearance that can be read backwards. God descended in a cloud and appeared as Adonai or Lord. Could this possibly be a description of Christ whom we now call Lord. “The Lord passed before Moses, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. And Moses…worshipped.” These are words that could easily have come out of Jesus’ mouth in the New Testament when he describes his Father. The reading from Exodus was chosen today, then, as a possible early reference to Christ as God when we read backwards.

The letters of St. Paul pre-date the Gospels, so they are the earliest Christian writings that we have. In the letter to the Corinthians today we have one of the earliest references to the Trinity, and the words we can use to start Mass each week: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

The section of the Gospel of John we read today is probably the most quoted verses in the whole Bible, so often repeated that we may take them for granted or not really hear them any more. But these words reflect the relationship between the Father and the Son, and also gives us a definition of what love really is. First of all “God so loved the world…” We often forget that God created everything and it was all good, and that God loved what he had created. That love is always expressed in action – in doing – much as was the act of creation itself. Our God is an active God – a doer. When his creatures sinned and lost the paradise of goodness that God had created, God did not stop loving but actively sought a way to save the world that was so loved. By taking on our humanity, God offered himself to us through the physical reality of Jesus, to be the sacrifice that would save his beloved creatures and give them back eternal life. David Stern expresses it this way in his commentary on this verse: “to love is to give, to love much is to give much, and God loves the world so much that he gave what is most precious to him.”

The condemnation of the one who does not believe might be looked upon, not as a condemnation of non-believers necessarily, but as a condemnation of people who put all their belief in themselves. The condemnation here is that that person is already not living a life that is fully God-filled. Those who put their trust in Jesus will have a full life right here and now, and also will have a full life in eternity: “everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

What can we draw from these readings that we can use this week in our own lives? Hopefully, we can renew our belief and our slight understanding of the Trinity, knowing fully that God loves us, loves us so much, that God the Father  offered up his most precious thing for us, his child. We need to remember that when we pray to God the Father, or to Jesus or to the Spirit, that we pray to only one thing – to a just and merciful God who loves us despite our failings. We need to remember that Jesus is the physical manifestation of God and when we partake of the Eucharist, we partake of God. God truly is in us, and that is why we are not condemned and why we have eternal life. Let us see ourselves and our neighbor as physical manifestations of God and treat them accordingly. It is what Jesus would have us do.

FInally, Fathers who are present today on this Father’s Day know what it means to be a loving parent, know what it means to be hurt by their children and yet continue to love them. The description of God in Exodus as merciful, gracious, slow to anger, loving and faithful, should be the description of every Father. We know it sometimes isn’t but that is what we should strive for. Jesus said “Be perfect even as your heavenly father is perfect”. God the Father is our model on this Father’s Day – a Father who would give up everything out of love for his child.

Let us honor our own Fathers today, living and dead, and go out and proclaim the Good News that God is the Father of all Fathers and that he is active and present in the world today. And this is the Good News to take with us today!

Bishop Ron Stephens 

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

 1 David H. Stern. Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, MD, 1992. p. 166

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for Pentecost Sunday, Year A 2014

June 1, 2014

Homily for Pentecost Sunday, Year A  2014

If we had celebrated the 7th Sunday of Easter last week instead of the Ascension, we would have read that the Apostles, after witnessing the ascension, went back to Jerusalem as Jesus told them to do, and went to an upstairs room and devoted themselves to prayer for a ten day period. The story in Acts then picks up where we started today. 

“When the day of Pentecost had come….”  This Jewish feast, translated in Hebrew as Festival of Weeks is one of three times a year that Jewish males  go up to Jerusalem, seven weeks or 50 days after Passover. The name Pentecost comes from the Greek word for fifty. For Jews it was time to offer the first of the wheat grains for the year, by offering two loaves of leavened bread. The feast was also associated with a celebration of Moses being given the Torah because the Jews linked each Festival with some aspect of their history. They also linked each Festival with a religious theme and the theme of Pentecost was “Revelation”. 

This theme  of “Revelation” is highly appropriate to what we celebrate today as well. Because God wanted to bring his new Covenant first to the Jewish people, he used a Jewish way to do it – through Jewish Feasts – in order to convey truths which were linked with older truths.  The Ten Commandments were given to Moses on this day and are being given again, but, this time, being written as Jeremiah says “in our hearts”. This is accomplished by the gift, not of tablets, but of the Spirit. If the Torah or Ten Commandments has been the glue that bonded the Jewish people as a society of God’s people for so long, the Spirit now will bond the new community of Apostles and sustain them through the centuries to follow. The Ten Commandments are still valid – Jesus didn’t come to destroy them – but with the Spirit we are able to see things in a different way.

Let us continue to look at the story in Acts. The Apostles were in the upper room, praying when a violent wind seemed to go through the place and tongues of fire rested on each of them.  Going back to the Moses story, when Moses was given the Torah, it was from a burning bush. The presentation of God was communal for Moses – there was one fiery bush, but at Pentecost the fire broke off into pieces to individualize each person. The fact that Jesus made point that he wanted this to happen in Jerusalem is also important for that shows the  continuation of the contract that God had made with the Jewish people. The New Covenant comes out of the Old. In one sense the Jewish people as a people was born on Sinai when Moses was given the Torah. In a very real sense the Church was born on Pentecost when the Apostles were given the Holy Spirit. So happy birthday!

The amazing “power” that was given to the Apostles after they received the Spirit was a reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel.  In that story everyone spoke one language until through their pride they thought they could build a tower to heaven so nothing they wanted would be out of their reach. God punished them and suddenly they could no longer communicate with each other and different languages were born.

The reverse happens at Pentecost – God restores the ability to communicate and each hears the Word of God in his or her own language.

The Gospel today is John’s re-interpretation of the Pentecostal event through Jesus’ breathing on the Apostles and giving them both the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sin, more as a foreshadowing of the actual event itself because John seems to take the ascension for granted.

Finally, in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we get, not a story, but a theological interpretation of the event. It seems that Paul had been writing to Corinth because there had been arguments in the Corinth community about the relative importance of the different graces or gifts given by the Spirit. They thought that some gifts were more valuable than others, and that speaking in tongues was to be most valued. Paul response to this is to lump all the gifts together and describe them in their totality as graces given by the Spirit in order to build up a community. This is also one of the passages where we get some idea of early theology on the Trinity. The one Spirit gives gifts in many varieties; we give service, as a result, in many ways, as Christ did, and there is but one Christ; and we take action and evangelize in many ways, but in the name of the one God. All are given gifts and all are valuable and are not to be rated better or worse, but simply they are to be used for the good of the community and the spread of the Word. The gift is not given a person to inspire pride in it, but it is for the common good of all.

The idea Paul suggests is that being a part of the body of Christ, we each have a function for the common good.  We need to find out what that function is that the Spirit has given us, develop it, trust God the Spirit to activate it, and then appreciate and not be envious of the gifts of others which work to further our own good.

I am suggesting, with Paul today, that each of you has been given a gift to advance the community here. You may not have discovered that gift yet. You may have been afraid to discover that gift. But with your confirmation, it can be discovered and activated. It may even surprise you. This week i would love for you to think about what gift or gifts you may have been graced with, and whether you are using them for the good of this community or in building Christ’s kingdom beyond us. You may want to think of it as a talent for something or just simply something you are good at, but it is important to bring it to our table, to use it, to function as part of Christ’s body.  I promise you, when you use it properly it will feel very satisfying and good and you will know you have contributed to the unity of this parish and this community through the grace of God.

This is the Good News you need to discover within yourself and use, and Happy Birthday to our Church!

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 of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]