Archive for August, 2014

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

August 24, 2014

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

In our first reading today the prophet Jeremiah tries to explain what it means to be a prophet and how God almost forces the prophet to speak out what God dictates and and wants. The imagery is strong almost rape-like. God entices and then overpowers the prophet, prevailing or getting his way with him. Strong imagery about how strong the need to prophesy is within the prophet!

And the prophet is usually not comfortable with the message because it seems to be so much gloom and doom. How wonderful it would be to say something nice, something good, something comforting, but Jeremiah is forced only to warn of violence and destruction. The word of God that he hears and is forced to speak is words of reproach and ridicule of the Hebrew people. If Jeremiah decides that he can stand it no more and tries not speaking, not preaching God’s word to him, it builds up inside him to the point where it has to burst forth like a burning fire in his bones and he has no control over it. It doesn’t seem that Jeremiah is too comfortable being a prophet, and not many of them were. Jonah even ran away from God, but to no avail!

So the knowledge of the will of God  is to a certain extent with the Hebrew people themselves. In the psalms David uses the image of thirst: My soul thirsts for you. There is a longing in each of us for something more, something transcendent, something that we are being drawn to – and we thirst for it. And as you know, thirst must be quenched. When it is, the Psalmist says, when we give in to God, his soul, he says, is satisfied as with a rich feast. His thirst is quenched.

Similarly, St. Paul tells the Romans that they, too, need to quench this kind of thirst, and that the way to do it is to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice so that God can be heard and we will be able to “discern what is the will of God”. It is by not conforming to the changing ways of the world that can distract and not allow us to hear God speaking to us, so we must make new our minds, centering on God and God’s will for us.

I think what ties this all together is the advice of Jesus about being a follower of him. He says a follower has to do two things – deny him or her self and secondly, to take up the cross. The denying of oneself is basically what the prophet Isaiah talks about when he talks about God burning within him so much that he just has to give up and let it out. When we deny ourselves, we are simply submitting to God’s will as we pray every day: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. By denying ourselves we leave ourselves open to possibilities, to creativity, to hearing God inside us.

The second part of being a follower is to take up your cross. This is a violent image, as violent as the one of Jeremiah at the beginning of his reading today, but we lose some of its violence today because we take the cross for granted. It has become a household sight, a cute symbol of Christ, but in actuality it is a symbol of one of the most violent of ways to be murdered. Here in Christ’s mandate, I think, it means an acceptance of all things life can throw at us – the good and the bad. It is succumbing to the idea that maybe God has something better in store for us because of it, and we don’t second guess what God’s will is. That doesn’t mean we don’t pray for help with our crosses, with our temptations, with our sins, but we know that Jesus has said we will never be tempted beyond our ability to deal with it. When we can do this, we are a follower of Jesus, and to follow means that you are right behind the person being followed, right behind Jesus. He is there with you. And at the end of our time, or of Time itself, when the Son of Man comes again with his Angels in the glory of the Father, we will be a friend, a follower, and we need not fear the repayment that will be demanded.

In today’s reading Jesus predicts what is going to happen to him, and like Jeremiah’s predictions it is violence and gloom and destruction. He will undergo great suffering, be killed, but then be raised. When Peter refuses to accept that this is God’s will, Jesus calls him Satan because it is only in Jesus’ acceptance of God’s will that there would be salvation. Peter is tempting Jesus to question, to fight back against it, and so Jesus calls him Tempter, calls him Satan.

How can all this be applied to our rather uncomplicated lives this coming week? I think a simple answer would be that we have to listen for the God who is inside us, we have to thirst to hear our God, we have to give in to the fact that no matter what we want, “we are not thinking as God does”, and it is only in listening that we can understand and accept and give our lives over to God to do whatever is best for us. So instead of picking up your phone and dialing friends this week, put the iPhone down and dial up God. Spend some time with him, deny yourself by finding time for God this week, remembering that being open to God might mean that God can be seen and heard in another person you meet as well. And pick up your cross by knowing that our end is death and resurrection as well, and that crosses are only temporary, as bad as they sometimes might seem. What they lead to, if we offer ourselves to God’s will” is becoming one with God’s will – which is Paul says at the end of our reading today is“good, and acceptable, and perfect.”

And this is the way we might act out the Good News in our lives 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 of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

August 17, 2014

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

If this Gospel seems very familiar it is because we heard it on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul just a few weeks ago. This doesn’t  make it too easy for the homilists, does it!

For this reason I am going to spend a little more time on the Isaiah reading and the Romans excerpt. First of all, Isaiah.

The name Shebna is probably not too familiar to you, and we don’t know much about him.  Apparently he was a servant who moved up to the position of controller or governor of the King’s household which would be a very prominent position. And Shebna apparently took every advantage that came with it. He was very enamored of things, and was building himself a huge tomb for his death, something that only princes did, and was proud, and more concerned about himself and his luxuries than he was of the people under him. It is also said that he was politically working against Israel to gain profit. For this he was eventually demoted to the position of a secretary.

Isaiah did not like him very much, and the words that God puts into Isaiah’s mouth are strong in their indictment of him. Because of his pride he will be “thrust” from office, “pulled down” and someone else will be put in his place, someone more honorable and respectful of his heritage.

When someone places things ahead of God in the Hebrew Testament, they are often punished for it. The honorable, God-fearing person, however, is highly rewarded.

The person that Isaiah prophesies will take his place, Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. Because of his goodness, he will become the new governor and he will be in charge of all things in the kingdom. That is the meaning of giving someone the key to the house of David. They have complete control of the comings and goings, the finances, who gets to see the King, and so on. He is a man who will be worthy to run the King’s affairs.

For those of you who listen carefully, you may have noticed the similar use of the phrase in the Gospel. Instead of keys to the house of David, we have keys to the kingdom, which is the house of Jesus.

Because Peter has recognized that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of the living God, he is to be rewarded, much the same as Eliakim. Peter is raised to the position of being in charge of the kingdom, and the biding and loosing referred to are similar to Eliakim opening doors that no-one will be allowed to shut, and shutting doors that no one is allowed to open.

Now, although the words of Jesus seem to be addressed to Simon Peter specifically, this was a conversation that included all the Apostles, and Peter was seemingly acting as a spokesperson for all the group. That is why Bishops can be seen to posses the kind of authority they do over spiritual matters.

What is always interesting to me, however, is the constant amazement I have in how the Hebrew and Christian Testaments comment on each other, reflect each other, mirror each other, complete each other.

On a different note, the excerpt today from St. Paul to the Romans is a beautiful tribute to God, poetic in language, hymn-like in structure, and deep in meaning. It is a concluding section to Paul’s study of God’s plan of salvation which would not have been our way of doing things at all.  Paul has been so impressed by the methods and choices God has made in bringing about our salvation that he is thrust into deep awe at the workings of God. The more he understands it, the more he looks at it, the richer he finds it. It is through seeing, understanding and experiencing the works of God that we are led to a place of reverence and awe, a place where we know we can only glory in the Lord. “For from him and through him and in him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” We echo this line at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer each week! We acknowledge that God is our be inning and end and worthy of all praise. When I hold the host and chalice up at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, pay special attention to what we are saying and the implications of it. It is such a beautiful hymn to the power, majesty and generosity of our God, especially when the Eucharistic presence can be seen and touched as we say it.

So, we always get to this point in the homily where I try to let you see how these readings might influence your thought and actions during the following week. Sometimes, however, the readings have no moral implications or easy messages to give. We might ask ourselves whether we are to caught up in worldly things, as was Shebna, or whether we appreciate or take for granted the workings of God, especially the redemptive act which allows us to be kingdom-bound again. For my part, I simply would like you to pay more attention, perhaps, to the words we use each week, like the final words of the Eucharist Prayer, and see if you can find the riches, the wisdom and the knowledge that is there for us.  St. Paul had to work at doing that, and so should we for it provides great reward and enriches our faith.

And this is the hope that I present to you to today as the Good News of our God!

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 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 10, 2014

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

I thank you for having me here with you today and letting me celebrate with you. But, oh my, why did I get to preach on one of the most unflattering Jesus stories in the New Testament? Jesus seems so cruel here, doesn’t he? In modern terms we could picture Jesus walking down a downtown street and some poor Middle Eastern woman begging for food and Jesus looking at her and saying, “We collect our food for Christians, not for dogs like you!”. Can this be our Jesus! Our meek and mild Jesus? Our good shepherd? Let’s look at this a little more carefully.)

As you may have figured out by now, in the last few weeks the readings have been looking at the concept of “faith” and what it means in our lives. In today’s Gospel we see that having faith can even change the mind of God.

Jesus’ mission, by his own admission, is to redeem the Jews. He states this clearly and simply. That is the reason he seems so cold and uncaring to the Gentile woman who asks for his help. It is unusual for us to see a picture of Jesus that seems that  closed and uncaring. Perhaps Jesus is making this statement so that the Apostles can witness his change of heart, so that they too, later, will spread the Gospel to the non-Jews. Nevertheless, in this Gospel passage today, Jesus seems unwilling to help the Canaanite woman and her daughter.

The woman’s belief and faith in Jesus is so great, however, that she will not let him say no. She even lowers herself in order to make a point to Jesus. She picks up on his shocking metaphor in which Jesus calls her nothing more than an animal – a dog, and turns it around – almost making a joke of it. And Jesus does indeed recognize her faith, he gets the joke, and as a reward for her cleverness and belief and faith in him, he cures the woman’s daughter. She becomes an example to the Apostles of how faith can be a part of the Gentile experience of Jesus as well.

How many of us are willing to debase ourselves in order to prove our faith? What do we do to show Jesus our belief in him? How deep is our faith?

It is really through faith like this, through role models like this woman that the movement of the Christian faith spread to the Gentile world and the Apostles accepted it. Isaiah, of course, predicted it. In the first reading today Isaiah states very clearly that foreigners will be accepted at God’s altar, if they embrace the faith of Abraham’s Lord.

In Genesis we learned that God chose Abraham and his descendants to make a covenant with them. A covenant is not like a contract between two equals, but is a gift of a superior to an inferior. They may have not done anything to merit the gift of the covenant, but the giver promises certain things, in this case God who makes Abraham his friend, promises him descendants, promises him land. In return, the giver may require things of the other party. If we wonder why God chose one particular people and not others, we miss the point of Isaiah today that the Jews were picked in order to bring the one true God to other nations, rather like a man who brings a delicious treat home to his three children, and instead of breaking it up and giving it to all three, gives it to the oldest one and asks him to share it with the others. That is why Isaiah can have God say that his “house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”

Even the psalm today, Psalm 67,  stresses the far reaching influence of God through the Jewish faith. “Let all the peoples praise you!”  and “You guide the nations upon earth.” “Let all the ends of the earth revere him”. So, even though we talk about the covenant between God and the Jews, we can see from the beginning that it was meant to be shared.

St. Paul thoroughly embraced the idea that the Judean Christian faith must be brought to other nations. He sees himself not just as an Apostle, but as an Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul has realized, and is saddened, by the fact that his own people, the people God chose, have not accepted Jesus as Messiah, and so he says he “glorifies” his ministry to the Gentiles, he makes it seem more important, to shame the Jews, to make them jealous, to save them. The fact that so many of them  have rejected Jesus has allowed the Gospel to be opened up to Gentiles, and so unwittingly, the Jews have fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, and brought the one true God to all the nations. But Paul is still saddened by the fact and wants to find ways to bring about the acceptance of Jesus by the Jews. Right now he sees them as being dead, and he wants to bring them life.

What can we take with us from the readings this morning? First of all, acceptance. All people are called, all people are invited, and we need to accept all people. Our goal as Christians should be to encourage all people to see the model Jesus provides, and through him come to the Father.

Secondly, we need to work on our faith in Jesus. Over the last few weeks we have learned from the readings that faith needs to be practiced, faith means letting go and trusting, faith means concern for others more than for ourselves. The Canaanite woman had such faith in Jesus’ ability to cure her daughter that she was willing to not give up in her attempts to communicate with Jesus, but even to lower herself to prove her faithfulness. Can we move from our comfortable lives and visit the sick, the jailed, those living on the street – put aside our prejudices and let Jesus work through us. These are all challenges presented in the study of faith that we have been seeing over the last three weeks, and certainly they provide challenges to our own lives as well. For those of us we do these things, and I know you have many such things going on (at St. Charles), your faith can be a beacon of light that shines out to others, and maybe others can be jealous enough of your successes to find Jesus themselves as Paul hopes the Jewish people might.

And this is the Good News of faith in Jesus that the readings inspire in 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”]

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

August 3, 2014

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

We begin today with a reading about the prophet Elijah. Most of us are not all that familiar with Elijah except perhaps that he was an Old Testament prophet who never died but was taken up into heaven, and is thought to be going to return before the end of the world. In the verses before this reading, Elijah is very depressed, and says he can’t go on and he prays to God that he might die. Rather ironic, since he is one of the few Biblical people that never does die. But God takes care of him and when Elijah goes into the wilderness, God sees to it that he finds food and drink, and that he rests.

Once his physical needs have been taken care of, Elijah goes into a cave and God allows Elijah to vent his anger on the Hebrew nation because they have not heeded him and have turned to other gods. He tells God that he feels alone and isolated and depressed.

God realizes that what Elijah needs at this point in his life is a personal encounter with God and so God tells Elijah to leave the cave and stand on Mount Horeb, the place where Moses had been given the Ten Commandments. As Elijah did what the Lord had said, and he waited to hear God, he began to look for God  in dramatic ways – in thunder and lightning, earthquakes and wind and fire. Just as many of us look for God in extraordinary manifestations, so did Elijah. But God did not come to Elijah in any of those ways, but he came in the simplicity of silence, in a whisper instead of a loud roar!

The lesson here for us is not to look for God in the extraordinary, but in the simple. Listen to the silence. It is there that we will hear God when God speaks to us. It is the same peacefulness that the first lines of the psalm repeat today: Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.

Elijah was depressed and it took God’s voice to get him out of it. Similarly, Paul is depressed today as well in the reading from Romans, and he, like Elijah is upset because the Hebrew nation as a whole has not accepted Jesus. He is greatly saddened by that fact since the promise belonged to the Jews first. Paul says he has great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart over that fact. God does not console Paul in his reading. He is consoled, however, by the fact hat he knows he is telling the truth about Christ, and the Holy Spirit confirms this by giving him a clear conscience in regard to the matter.

In the Gospel today, this theme is carried out with the apostles being the ones, who were not so much depressed, but frightened. Jesus had gone, like Elijah, to the mountain to pray, to communicate with God. The Apostles had gone into a boat and were crossing, without Jesus, to the other side of the lake when a storm erupted. In their fear they saw a figure walking toward them on the water, and their fear turned to terror. They really couldn’t believe that it could be Jesus walking on the water even though Jesus spoke to them and told them not to fear. Peter recognized Jesus and wanted to come to him and so he asked Jesus to command him to come and walk on the water as well. So Peter climbed from the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus until he became frightened by the wind and waves, and began to sink. Jesus reached out and caught him but indicated that he sank because he lost faith. And when Peter and Jesus climbed into the boat, the winds stopped and it became peaceful again. Peter had listened to the Lord, and was able to do the impossible – walk on water – but when he was distracted by the winds and the waves, he began to question what was happening and began to sink. This event marked the moment in Matthew when the divinity of Jesus became clear to the Apostles despite other miracles he had performed. It seemed to solidify their belief that this man was truly the Son of God and worthy of worship.

What kinds of lessons can we draw from these readings today? Well, first of all, let’s look for God in the moments we might not expect him – in the silences, in the faces of others, in the stillness. It is in these moments that God talks to us, inspires us, helps us make decisions, leads us. And secondly, let us look to Jesus and not be distracted by other things. If we can keep our minds and hearts focused on Jesus there is nothing that we can’t do. It is when we are distracted and look away, when we lose faith in ourselves and question God in our lives that we are prone to depression and worry. Jesus can come to us on the water, and we can follow him, just like the child who, being thrown into the air, trusts that his father will catch him. That kind of faith and trust will give us the ability to hear God, and to follow him no matter where he leads us, knowing that truth and peace will prevail in our lives.

And this is the Good News of how we communicate with God, and how we need to focus on Jesus in our lives.

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”]