Archive for November, 2014

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

November 30, 2014

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# )

The beautiful Advent readings today are all about anticipation of the coming of God prophesied by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, in one of the most imagery laden and colorful passages in the Scriptures, and again by the New Testament prophet, John the Baptist. Even the second reading from 2nd Peter anticipates with patience the second coming of the Messiah waiting for the “day of the Lord”. So much anticipation, so much hope, so much excitement for what is to come. That is the true spirit of Advent and what should happen in the season of expectation.

We begin our church year devoted to the reading of the Gospel of Mark with the very first chapter of Mark today. As I have mentioned before, Mark’s Gospel is my favorite, perhaps because I was an English Lit teacher and I am impressed with how he has written his story – both the deceptive simplicity of it and the rapid movement of it leading to his climax. In the original language it moves very quickly as every sentence seems to be “Then this happened, and then this happened, and immediately that happened, and then….” It is also a bit of a detective story or mystery story, except that we are in on the mystery and we watch everyone else trying to solve it. And trust me, the apostles in mark are not very good at it!

Right from the first line of the Gospel, though, we are let in on the secret of who Jesus is: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”! Mark pulls no punches but tells us straight on that Jesus is the Son of God. Then he proceeds with the rest of this identity story which builds when Jesus asks: but who do you say that I am? and is answered by the Gentile centurion at the foot of the cross who realizes “Truly, this man was God’s own son.”

So for Mark, the anticipation is the wonderful discovery of who Jesus is Mark does not go into any genealogy of Jesus or give us any birth narratives, but jumps right into the beginning of the public life of Jesus. First we meet the prophet John the Baptist, himself prophesied by Isaiah as the messenger of God sent to announce the Messiah and prepare the people for his coming. Right away Mark ties the Gospel story to the Hebrew Scriptures, letting us see that this is the culmination of the Scriptural anticipation.

And what was John supposed to be doing? According to Mark he was first of all, proclaiming the message and vision of Isaiah: getting people ready and fixing up the road so that God had a straight path to us. Secondly, John was asking us to turn ourselves around, the meaning of “repent” and look at our lives and ask for forgiveness, so that we too will be on this straight path to receive the Lord. In the first verses of Mark, John the Baptist did not know who the Messiah would be, but that he would be someone much more powerful than he, and who would baptize not only with water but with the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God would be in him, part of him.

So this first few pages of Mark sets up the movement of the whole Gospel of Mark and even though we now know who Jesus is, we anticipate what will happen when the others find out and look forward to seeing how they do find out.

I do have to say a few more words about the Isaiah reading today, as well, because it is such a moving piece of prophetic literature. God, seen here, is a God of comfort who wants only to speak tenderly to us, to forgive our sins. Isaiah wants the messenger of God to stand on a high mountain and announce the coming. And although he notes that God is a mighty God, and a strong God, we are not to fear God because he is more like a shepherd than a warrior, and he will gather us in his arms and carry us next to his breast, and gently lead us where we need to go. These are the images of God that I hold dear, that give me hope, that allow me to anticipate the second coming and am not afraid of the world being “dissolved” by fire, as Peter describes today. Instead I am filled with peace, which is what Peter asks us to be, because the coming of the Lord then and to come is ‘good news’ and we will be comforted and held in the arms of our God. And that is the anticipation we should be thinking about as Christmas approaches. The Christ child is that image of peace, and so, in the next few weeks of hectic readying-ness, we need to put aside some time to center ourselves, breathe a little, repent for anything getting in the way of that peacefulness and feel God’s arms around us, comforting us and helping us on our journey. That is the peace I wish you this week as we all anticipate God’s first and second coming and the Good News that this implies. God bless.

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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Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

November 23, 2014

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# )

Today is the beginning of a new Church year, and once again Advent roles around. I like the word “advent” because I always think it is important to look forward to something. Half the fun of something is the anticipation of it. For many children it is the anticipation of getting some new toy, and for many adults it is the anticipation of seeing relatives and friends and having a good time. Unfortunately, because of the furor in the marketplace today, there are some who do not look forward to Christmas or any holiday, but only have anxiety for it.

For me, Advent is a great season because it can put into perspective what it is I really look forward too, and strip away all those false expectations and anxieties created by the marketing and the media. Let’s face it. They just want to make a living, and that is their job – to get you to go out and buy. But the four Sundays in Advent can balance all of that angst by reminding us of why we are really here, what we really should be looking forward to and figuring out how we can get more love in our lives.

On the last Sunday of the year, last week, we learned that we are to be judged simply on how much love we have shown our neighbors. How can we apply that to the Advent season and help to add to our bank account of love? Last week we saw the final coming of the Lord, but now we put that aside and look at the first coming of Jesus, and are reminded of how that coming was stripped away of any richness or revelry. It was simple, it was peaceful, it was calm.

The Jews for the most part have been living in anticipation for centuries, waiting for this Messiah to come. And they kind of missed it, because in their anticipation they imaged , as did Isaiah today, all the mountains quaking and the awesomeness of the event. It didn’t happen that way. Nor did they think that he would make brothers and sisters of us when he came. He was not to be a conqueror but as Paul says today, “by God you were called into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Interestingly the Gospel today is the first of many Gospels we will hear from the evangelist Mark today – actually my favorite of the four Gospels for reasons I hope to explain as the year goes on – but we don’t hear from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel any kind of Advent story. This is because Mark doesn’t have one. As the first to write a Gospel, his is the most spare in details, and in fact, he doesn’t say anything about Jesus until he is about 30 years old and beginning his ministry. So it isn’t a good Advent Gospel in that sense. So what the Church has done is to take a later section of Mark that is about the Second Coming of Jesus, and have us apply it to his first coming.

“Beware, keep alert;” Jesus says, “for you do not know when the time will come.” Certainly that was true of the first coming as well. And his advise to everyone: “Keep awake.” Be on the look out! Keep the coming in mind!

And so that gives us the theme of the First Sunday of our preparation period. Like the Jews waiting for a Messiah, we too should keep awake in case we might miss him.

Within the context of the metaphor, in which we are seen as slaves with a particular job to do in a household while the master is away, we also have to make sure that we are doing our jobs and don’t slack off. And I think that is pretty good advice for Advent, too.

I know that you and I have now been through many Advent seasons, but maybe the job we have been asked to do is changed. Maybe we are asked to show our love and our charity more in anticipation of the master coming home. Let’s not sleep on the job, then. Stay awake to times that we can prove our love for neighbor, that we can service others, that we can provide peace to others in their misery, pain and grieving. Be awake to the opportunities that will show themselves in our loves to be Christ to others.

It is that vigilance, that active waiting, which Jesus seems to ask for today, as we await his coming as an innocent, powerless child on Christmas today. I hope we are all up to it as part of our Lenten observance to balance out the messages of media and marketing.

That is my Advent wish for you and the 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”]

Homily for the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Christ the King A 2014

November 16, 2014

Homily for the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Christ the King A 2014

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# ) be ready for Year B starting in Advent.)

I think there are two interesting things at war in our readings and themes of the day. It is the final Sunday of the Church Year and we are in nature coming close to the shortest daylight hours of the year. We are in dark for many hours now. This darkness inspires the liturgy to look at the last days, the end of the world and the final judgment “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the Angels with him.” For many this is a terrifying theme and we have seen a large number of movies recently dealing with the apocalypse and the rapture. This has always been a dominant theme in many Protestant sects.  St. Paul also mentions destruction. he says: “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.” (1 Cor 15:24)

But in contrast to the King coming in fierce judgment, we also see the King as a shepherd, and remember shepherds were thought of as very lowly and on the bottom of the social scale. But John says that this Son of Man will be like a shepherd separating his flock from the goats. And then John goes on to explain just who will be seen as a sheep and who will be seen as a goat and that bar line that is drawn is all about love of neighbor. The sheep are those who give their neighbor something to eat, something to drink, some clothes, shelter, welcome, care and visitation. Are we sheep or goats? If you have been an active member of this parish, you have pretty well been sheep, I think. If you have been active in your community, supported social causes, gave of yourself to charities, then you are the sheep.

I think sometimes we think of the final judgment as a counting of our many transgressions – let’s see – I lied 4,500 times in my life, I had impure thoughts 66,007 times – and so on. But that’s not what John says. Our judgment will be in relation to the law of Love – how have we served someone else.

Ezekiel who is often thought to have contributed to the fire and brimstone idea of the end of the world, also uses the shepherd image though. God says, through Ezekiel, “I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out….I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered.” And then God shows himself as acting in the way Christ says we should act: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” This is the same love that we are asked to show.

The Gospel message is a social message of love for others before it is a recipe book morality – for what is sinful and what is not. The Hebrew Testament is often more about that, and unfortunately through the years, misguided churchmen have made it more about that. But if we get back to the basics and we look at what both Ezekiel and John say we will be judged on, it is very simply on how we treat other people. God says in Ezekiel: “I will feed my sheep with justice.” There it is. There’s the bar we have to reach. And what amazes me is that it is not that hard to do really, and that as so many of us have experienced, it also gives back in joy to the giver.

So my homily is a short one today: I simply want you take a look as the year ends, how much have you done this past year to increase the bank account of love you are developing. Be honest with yourself (only you and God have to know!) and then, see if it is full enough to get you a sheep card!

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

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 9, 2014

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A 2014

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# ) be ready for Year B starting in Advent.

A woman’s place in the church has never been debated more than it is being debated right now. If I look at my Facebook, I see almost every day not very flattering comments regrading the male dominated clergy and the Roman Curia. We follow the stories of the nuns who seem to be being chastised for doing the very thing that the Gospels tell us to do.

I have no trouble seeing women as the equals of men – never have – and so, it is often beyond me how half the population can be treated the way that have been.

It seems to all stem from the patriarchal societies of the past – certainly seen in almost all aspects of the Scriptures, with the exception of the Gospels and Jesus. And that is where the strange dichotomy lies. If anything, Jesus treated women with love, compassion and with equal intelligence. I see no sign or hint of the kind of lesser treatment, the kind of slave-like submission that has been in everything else.

Even the earliest Epistles of Paul, the ones we are sure he wrote himself, have little sign of this. But apparently culture is a hard thing to change, and soon the early church was picking up the culture around them and suddenly we hear Paul saying that women should keep quiet, and be submissive toothier husbands. Was it Paul, or was it a sort of backward step taken by those Christians who did not know Christ but lived in a chauvinistic age that did not value women except as property.

And yet, even within this unequal treatment of women, the Scriptures can paint beautiful pictures of women. Certainly the description in proverbs of an ideal wife is beautiful and remarkable in that it seems to treat the husband and wife as equals. This ideal wife is trusted by he husband, she does everything to help her husband, she is a hard, willing worker, she handles the finances of the family, she is strong and even able to work in the fields, she is charitable and wise and teaches kindness. She is respected and loved by her children and the community. Quite a woman!

The psalm is a little more sexist in that the woman is seen only as a fruitful vine – a baby machine – but that is, of course, also cultural. Families needed many children to carry on the work of the family as well as the name. In the Bible, nothing was more horrific than being barren.

St. Paul’s epistle is not really about women, but does contain the image of a woman giving birth. It is in reference to the Lord’s second coming which is unknown to us but will come, and will be painful, like a woman giving birth. But the conclusion for Christians is also true. They say women can forget the piano of childbirth when hey see the child born tot hem. Similarly we will be rewarded for our faithfulness to God and all pain will disappear in the vision of our God.

Finally, we hear again the parable of the talents. I find it rather ironic that this is the reading today – almost as though whoever chose the reading was giving a hidden message to the sexist church.

The actual moral of the story of the talents is that we have to use what we are given. In context, what Jesus is talking about is the message he has given regarding the kingdom of heaven and how he has given that message to his apostles and followers and they must spread that message, making converts and increasing the kingdom. We are responsible for using what is given to us and increasing its value.

That’s where I see the irony with regard to women. Women who hide their talents, or who are not allowed to develop them, or who are kept in submission so they can’t increase their abilities and talents would be something that Jesus would consider wrong. The women we most respect in the world and in history are women who often went against the establishment and did remarkable things despite men trying to be put down. From Joan of Arc to Mother Teresa, they have spread the kingdom and used what was given to them. Similarly, the nuns today traveling around by bus and spreading the word despite being told to “cool it” by the male dominated hierarchy, are doing exactly what Jesus tells us to do today.

And so, let us today celebrate women, encourage women, recognize the strengths of women not in men, and perhaps women will take on those leadership roles that are so important for Christ’s kingdom to spread to others and become what it will be on Christ’s return. And this is the God News of hope that i suggest 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 B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, Cycle A 2014

November 2, 2014

Homily for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, Cycle A 2014

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# ) Be ready for Year B starting in Advent.)

Water has always been a symbol of life. Because it is so necessary and life sustaining it is often used as an archetype since all people, regardless of race or background, share that common symbolic meaning. Today’s readings use that archetype in the first two of today’s readings.

In the Ezekiel reading today we see water in relationship to the temple. The Jewish temple in Jerusalem was seen as God’s resting place on earth, and as such it was holy. The original Ark of the Covenant which was carried from place to place and was home for God on earth, was eventually incorporated into the Temple that Solomon had built.

Ezekiel’s water imagery signifies that the place of worship, the dwelling place of God was life-giving. Water flows from the Temple, and eventually ends up in the sea and freshens the start waters as it goes.  Also, as the water flows it gives life to the animals and the plants along the way, the plants giving both food and healing because they have drunk of the holy waters flowing from the the place of God.

So the importance of the Temple as a life-giving place is established by Ezekiel. There was only one dwelling place of God, a much different idea than we have of the various churches today. A synagogue in a town was a teaching place, where Scripture could be read, but if they wanted to sacrifice to God, ask of God, meet their God, it would have to be at The temple in Jerusalem, which is why we so often reading of people going each year to the temple – for cleansing, for forgiveness, for sacrifice, for worship.

The slam today re-iterates that message: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most high.” It reminds us that because of the Temple, God is with us.

All of this changed when Christ came.

St. Paul explains to us today that the temple was no longer necessary since God came down to be one of us, live with us, and finally to live in us. Paul says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you… God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

It is the same imagery used when after the crucifixion we read that the cloth of the Temple covering the door to the Holy of Holies was ripped in half. Withe the crucifixion came a major change in how we view the dwelling place of God. With the the institution of the Eucharist, Christ becomes present with us physically at Mass, and when we eat and drink at Mass, Christ is in us. Even more, the Spirit comes into us at Baptism and Confirmation and dwells inside each of us.

The Gospel today shows the only really violent image of Jesus, overturning the tables in the Temple in Jerusalem because they had forgotten the ‘holiness’ of the place of God, and had turned it into a marketplace. Immediately after this, he predicts that he can rebuild the Temple in three days. The logic of this is, of course, totally misunderstood by his listeners, but reading backwards, we see that though God the Father may dwell in that Jerusalem temple, God also was Jesus, and after his death he would be restored to us in three days.

Paul picks up on the moral concerns of having Christ within us as well. If Christ is in us, we must treat our bodies like temples. We must not do anything to make our bodies a “marketplace”, to discredit the holiness of our bodies. Much of our Christian morality stems from this simple truth that God dwells within us.

If we can meditate on this, if we can live our lives, living up to the holiness in our bodies, we can be wonderful dwelling places for God, doing godly things and fulfilling the two great commands of loving God and our neighbor because we will first love ourselves, recognizing the holiness that is in us.

The Lateran Basilica is celebrated today because it is, in a way, like the temple in Jerusalem, in that it is the called the mother church of all Catholics, the oldest church of the western hemisphere, and the cathedral for the Roman diocese. As such, we use it as a reminder that God is present in our churches and in ourselves, and that reminder each year helps us to remember the holiness that we should be striving for in all things.

And this is the Good News of Christ being inside each of 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”]