Archive for January, 2015

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

January 25, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

January 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

January 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

January 4, 2015

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year B 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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