Archive for July, 2014

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

July 27, 2014

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A  2014

The theme of our readings today is very simply – the Lord provides. Both our physical needs and our spiritual needs can be taken care of if we put our trust in God. If this is so, then why do we still need things? The only answer can be that we haven’t fully placed our trust in our Creator. Let’s face it – it is not an easy thing to do. Even St. Thomas who was so close to Jesus was not able to do it without physical proof. And most of us are not saints yet!

Yet, I am always so very surprised that when I let go and give everything over to God, somehow things get better. But most of us have to be overwhelmed before we end up doing that.

In the Gospel today we see a stunning example of faith and trust in Jesus. We all know that a great crowd of people can turn against someone very quickly, and hunger and thirst are two of the base needs that cause revolution and war. The apostles were worried when the evening was coming and none of this crowd of people had been fed. Yes, Jesus had been very charismatic that day, and had compassion for the crowd and worked all sorts of miracles and healings for them. But hunger can turn a crowd.

The Apostles thought the best idea was to send them away to nearby villages so that they could purchase food. I presume that most of the crowd would not have much money, and purchasing food might not be an option for them.

You can imagine their surprise when Jesus said that their idea wasn’t a good one and that the Apostles better feed them instead. Someone today would probably have looked at Jesus as though he were joking, and say “Yeah…right!”

Bur Jesus was not joking and asked them to gather what food there was – which was really very little. And what did Jesus do? he put his trust in God and prayed to God. he then said the traditional blessing before a meal, and started to distribute the food to the Apostles to give out. The result: 5000 ate supper.

I am reminded of a wedding I performed a few weeks ago.  I had left a ciborium at the door and asked people to put a host in if they were going to communion. When the gifts were brought up at the Offertory, the ciborium was empty – they either hadn’t heard or felt embarrassed to get out of their seats.  In any case, I put in about twenty hosts just in case. Well, at communion, suddenly rows and rows of people got up to go to communion. I looked at my poor twenty hosts and all these people – and said to myself: “Jesus, you fed the five thousand – help me here!

Every time someone came up, I cut the remaining hosts smaller and smaller and in the end, about 100 people came to communion and I ran out for the last five. The last five got a nice blessing and an apology.  Guess I am nowhere as good as Jesus yet!

The Psalmist and the prophet Isaiah both re-iterate the theme of trusting in God to provide for us. Isaiah uses the beautiful metaphor of eating and drinking applied to the Word of God. The Word of God will sustain us even more than wine, milk and bread. So if we are needy, we simply have to come to the waters of Scripture and eat the food that is provided there. The Psalmist cries that “You open your hand to feed, us Lord, and satisfy our needs.” The Lord has compassion on us and he loves us.

One last word about these readings today and that is about the question of “need”. Only the Lord knows what we truly need, and as we have said over and over, God’s ways our not ours.  We may think we need certain things, and in our culture, we always seem to be needing something. None of the things that God provides in Scripture are things of excess – they are base needs: hunger, thirst, love. Too often today our ‘needs’ are tied up in things that are excesses or unnecessary to a simple way of life. And that is why perhaps we only think to ask God, and give things over to God when we are very low and needy – because these are the things God is most likely to provide.

Finally, we need also to pray to God as Jesus did, eyes open – perhaps a metaphor to be very clear in what we are asking – and keep knocking on God’s door. Jesus gave us a way. We just need to follow it.

And this is the Good News of God’s providence that we are given 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”]

Advertisements

Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

July 20, 2014

Homily for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A  2014

If you go through the Gospels to look for the most important themes that Jesus talked about, you would have to acknowledge that his teachings on “the kingdom of heaven” would have to be one of the most prominent. Most of the parables  often begin with the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like…”

So just what are we talking about when we say “the kingdom of heaven”. Is this the place that we are able to go to when we die? Is this the place where God the Father rules with his Son and the Spirit. Is it a place at all? 

The modern Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx says that the term used in Matthew’s Gospel refers to “a process, a course of events, whereby God begins to govern or to act as a King or Lord, an action, therefore, by which God manifests his being-God in the world of men [and women]. I think what Schillebeeckx is saying is that that first of all, the kingdom of heaven is a process that has begun and is continuing to happen. It is not a place away from us – it is where we are at any given time. It is where we live and where we live after death.

Secondly, Schillebeeckx says that is a gradual process whereby God is taking back the world and governing it, and thirdly, it is a gradual realization and growth by us towards a certain way of acting in which the world is able to reflect he God qualities. God is made manifest in the world.

I know this a heavier theology that I am giving you today, but over the next number of weeks in Ordinary Time we will be hearing a lot about the kingdom of heaven and i wanted to give you an overview of just what that teaching is all about. To get it to the simplest terms – God, through Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, has taken back our world and is allowing us to God-center it and create a world that has many of the qualities of the original created world. And just what those qualities are, Jesus tries to explain to us in his many parables.

Today we hear about three of those qualities.  First is that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field that someone hides in order to get possession of the field and the treasure. We hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl merchant who at great cost buys the perfect pearl. And lastly, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that captures many fish, though only the good ones are kept.

If we are in process right now of establishing the kingdom rules by God, what are the qualities that Jesus points out to us today that need to be established and rooted.

From the first and second parable we learn that the kingdom has been a well kept secret and that when we discover that secret, we should, if necessary, do anything to make it our own. The buried treasure is whatever has helped us to discover God’s plan – the Scriptures, church tradition, liturgy – whatever in our lives has helped us realize the value of living in the kingdom. Similarly, the pearl is beautiful in itself, rare, worth whatever it takes to own it.

The last parable is a bit more extended, but basically it allows us to see the presence of the kingdom now. Even though we have not yet neared perfection, and there are good people and bad people in the world, the kingdom is a net that stretches out over everyone. We are not to judge, but to live it to God and his Angels to do so. Everyone is invited to this kingdom. But in the end, for the kingdom to be as perfect as God is perfect, the righteous will be separated from the evil ones.

Jesus’ last statement is basically telling the Apostles that their mission is to tell and bring about the kingdom on earth, and they are to do this by mixing the new and the old. tradition and modern thought, God’s original creation and the new creation, so that as Paul says today in Romans “those whom [God] justified he also glorified.” That glory is the fullness of the kingdom. We may not have the wisdom of Solomon that God granted him because of his humility and unselfishness, but the treasure is presented to us, and we simply have to recognize it and make it our own by whatever means possible.

My question for you today then is how much you value this kingdom that Christ is talking about, how much you see yourself as part of that kingdom, and what price you have had to pay to be part of it. Can we work together as a parish to establish the kingdom of God on earth? When we pray “Thy kingdom come” can we be more aware of what part we are to play in making the kingdom in process a reality and advancing it.

The kingdom of heaven will be on our minds over the summer and fall readings of Matthew. Let us take the time to think about the meaning of each of the parables and how best we can react to them to do our part in helping the kingdom come.

And this is the Good News we are all challenged with 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”]

1 Schillebeeckx, Edward (1983) [1974]. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. London: Fount Paperbacks. pp. 140–141. 

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

July 13, 2014

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A  2014

I think it is always difficult to understand the concept of sovereignty in a place like the United States where they originally rebelled against kingship and have not known the concept of sovereignty since. I come from Canada and maybe have a little better sense of it, though the concept has changed greatly there over the years as well.

In Wisdom today we get a little essay on God as sovereign. To be a sovereign means that you are in complete control of everyone and everything in the country. The buck really does start and stop there.  We do understand a little of that kind of power when we look at the rich who have great influence in this land, but nothing like sovereignty. 

In its original form, a sovereign can do anything he or she wants. The sovereign’s word is law, his desires are what is given him and what she despises disappears. 

But the book of Wisdom gives us the picture of a different sovereign, one who has that same power, but who uses it in such a way that the power is not abused. In fact, the scale is tipped on the merciful and loving side. Wisdom tells us that God cares for all people – not just the Jews or the believers in one God, but also the Gentiles and the atheists, the foreigner and the outcast. To all people God shows righteousness and he is willing to look for ways to spare all people. God is patient with those who have doubts, and shows impatience to those who are insolent, who do not respect others who may not yet know God.

God is strength, but shows only mildness and forbearance, another word for tolerance, in the way he governs the world. He is a role model for the way we should behave – as Jesus said, “Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect”. We, too, Wisdom says, must be kind, and must fill our children with hope, the hope that is given when repentance for our sins is accepted and granted.

What a beautiful description of God. I know that some people say the God of the Old Testament is a fire-breathing, vindictive God, but God is certainly not in Wisdom! Our Psalm today reiterates Wisdom as it reminds us over and over that God is good and forgiving, abounding in love and always staying true to us.

The description of God the Spirit in Paul’s letter to the Romans today lets us see those beautiful qualities of God at work. The Spirit is God’s gift of himself to us, to inspire, to help us pray, to intercede for us so that justice can be blended with mercy on our behalf. 

Ironically, in contrast to all of these inspiring and beautiful words of God, we have a group of parables by Jesus that ends with Jesus seeming like the fire-breathing vindictive one: The Son of Man will send his Angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and and gnashing of teeth.”

While that does sound a little fire and brimstone-like, if we examine the passage closer we can see that it does fit in with the sovereign concept of God. The first parable basically tells us that God allows everyone to be cared for – just and unjust. The weeds grow up in the field along with the grain. But justice demands a sorting – God is indeed just. Hopefully though, that justice will be tempered with mercy and only at the very end will there be judgement. Until then there is forgiveness, and those who have remained righteous will be highly rewarded. All three parables show this concept of mixing – good seed and weed seed, yeast and unleavened bread, small seed and large tree. All of us have a chance to be saved, and so we need respect all people and their potential, and let the judging come from the merciful One. Our own judgments are sometimes not so merciful!

Again this week, I have chosen to concentrate on one of readings other than the Gospel, though I hope I have shown how they work together. We need to simply remember that to be like God, we need to be kind, compassionate, accepting, loving and non-judgmental.  I am not sure those are all easy qualities to have, but that is what is being asked of us today. The more we strive to be like God in those areas, the more chance we have that we will not be seen to be the weeds at the very end. Let us try this week to put into practice these virtues, make one specific attempt to show mercy to someone, to show love to someone, to accept someone, to be kind to someone. Besides, it might bring you a little happiness as well, and we can all use lots of that!

This is the Good News brought to you by Wisdom, Paul and Jesus today. Make it your own!

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 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 6, 2014

Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A  2014

Although the dominant theme of the first and last reading is about metaphorically sowing seeds, first by Isaiah in his preaching, and secondly, by Christ in his parables, I would like to concentrate my comments today on the second reading of Paul to the Romans.

Paul begins by commenting on the sufferings of the present time. While he is referring to his own time and the persecutions and struggles of the young community, we can also accept that it means our present time on earth. I think each generation for two thousand years has had unique types of suffering in their present time from the Black Death to AIDS, from Roman martyrs to Jewish Holocaust victims. Suffering is something that has unfortunately been with us through the ages.

Paul’s comment on the sufferings we endure, however, is that no amount of suffering can compare with the glory that will come to us in the end. But we cannot know this – it is promised to us – and it must be revealed to us by faith. In other words, the sufferings we endure in our brief life spans will turn into a glorious new life, one without suffering, without fear, without death.

Glory might also refer to the revelation itself. When Paul wrote, the Gospels had not yet been written, and perhaps the Word of God, spoken by Isaiah and by Jesus in the readings today, is the glory which is coming.

In either case – the sufferings will stop. And Paul extends this idea in very universal terms. The whole of creation has been waiting for this revelation. Because of the first sin, all sorts of evil, but especially death has entered the world – we are as Paul says, in bondage to decay – and it is in turning away from God and his creation that men and women have brought this suffering into the world.  It was not in God’s plan which was for there to be the “freedom of glory” for “the children of God”.

And so we have that remarkable image of childbirth – the world in labor pains waiting for the birth of the glory of the children of God, for people to be rescued for the suffering and death that had been in command.

I don’t know how many of you have actually given birth or witnessed a birth. I remember vividly the difference between my two children’s birth. They are 5 years apart so a lot had changed in those five years.  For my oldest I was allowed in the labor room with my wife, but was kicked out just before the birth. All I saw was the pain, and I was actually quite resentful of that pain. It really bothered me for a long time. But when my second came along five years later, I was allowed to be there for the whole birth and was able to experience the pain turn into absolute joy. This is what Paul is talking about. Pain turning into joy or glory! 

Extending the image though, Paul says that while we are on earth we are still experiencing the labor pains and haven’t yet experienced the glory. Through revelation, through the teachings of Jesus, through our faith, we know that we will experience it, however. This is the good soil that Jesus talks about today. We hear the revelation, the word, and we understand it, and because of that we will bear fruit, we will give birth, we will come to glory at the end of our earthly lives.

These teachings of Paul that come from Jesus’ own words are so optimistic, so stress reducing, if we just hear them. Yes, we have to struggle in this life, our lives are filled with loss, with pain, with sorrow, with fear, with sin. But we know that God is in the process of making the world good again and we can have faith that God is true to his Word and his Vision and will complete the work.

Death for the Christian will be a freeing event – will we be born again and experience God. At the end of time, there will be no more death, no more suffering and the world will be restored to its original goodness.

What can this mean to us this week? I hope that it gives us the strength to get through difficult times. To know that our sufferings will have an end, and like pain in the birth of a child, the pain will produce something glorious. Let this sustain us in those difficult times. Eye has not seen, ear has not hear what God has prepared for those who love him, Paul has told us in Corinthians. Let that sustain us when we are down.

Let us keep the soil of our lives good and receive the hundredfold promised us.

And this is the Good News, the revelation of things to come that our reading of Paul and of the Gospel tells 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 of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]