Archive for February, 2015

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015

February 22, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015

The word “transfiguration” is not often part of our vocabulary today. I can’t image a mother coming to the table with a beautifully done casserole proclaiming that she had “transformed” the macaroni into this exotic dish. We might use it if someone goes to the beauty shop and gets a daring haircut. Look how transformed she is! we might say. Or we might use it in telling fairy tales to our children – someone was transformed into a princess-like Cinderella or a frog was transformed into a Prince. But despite the fact that it isn’t a common word to use, what the word signifies does happen pretty often. Something is changed into something more beautiful or altered in some way, making it more “awesome” to use today’s cliché.

Lent is a transformational season in the Church. This is, of course, why we hear the story of the Transfiguration read to us today. In Mark’s version the Apostles are witnesses to the event, but really didn’t understand it. Nor did they understand the reference to Jesus rising from the dead – the ultimate transformation that was to come. It would be a transformation that would transform the world.

How can we transform ourselves during Lent? What do we have to do to turn ourselves from sin, the part of ourselves that pulls away from God? I directed the play “Godspell” a number of years ago, and the character who was supposed to be Mary Magdalene goes out into the audience and sings a seductive song, coming on to all the men in the audience. But the words of the song belie what she is doing in that she had already been transformed by Jesus. Her words were “Turn back, o man; forswear thy foolish ways.” The seduction which she had used as a prostitute was now a seduction of souls to turn back, repent and come to God. Her movement from prostitute to disciple of Jesus transformed her into an evangelizer in the play.

There are some hints for us in all the readings today about our own transformations during Lent and what we must do. In the first reading Abraham had to turn his back on everything he held sacred. We know how important it was to have a son and heir for the Hebrew people. Abraham had only one son who was a gift from God. But now God wanted to take that away from him, and by Abraham’s own hand. It is a very repulsive thought even, but Abraham had such faith in God that he did not waiver. Perhaps Abraham’s faith allowed him to know that this was a test or that God would somehow make anything that happened right, but he turned his back on everything he wanted and had worked for in order to follow God’s command.

How willing are we to have complete faith in God? You know how many times i have stressed to you the fact that God’s ways are not our ways. Knowing this, are we willing to suffer, to offer up everything we hold dear and put it in God’s hands? Abraham’s reward was a great one for his faithfulness. This “handing over” our lives to God, this ability to trust that God will make all things right in the end, that there is a divine purpose behind everything that happens is one of the things that we need to cultivate in our repentance this Lent.

The Psalm today says “I kept my faith, even when I said “I am greatly afflicted”. Do we keep our faith when we suffer, when our family suffers, when there is death even? That is the kind of faith we are being asked to develop in Lent. Nobody said this was going to be easy!  If we are able to put that faith in God, Jesus Christ and the Spirit, then we can proclaim with Paul to the Romans today that nothing “will separate us from the love of Christ.” No hardship, no distress, no persecution, no hunger, no poverty, no peril or no weapon will be able to get us down or take God’s love away. Faith can move mountains!

So how do we develop this faith in ourselves this Lent? It can seem an insurmountable thing to do, but I would suggest we do it by practice, starting small.  We take something that is worrying us and we place it in God’s hands. We literally say to God: Lord, I give you this, it is out of my control and influence, do what you think best with it. Begin to make this a practice. The immediate reward will be a transformation in itself. You will feel the anxiety or depression lifting because you know you are not alone. “If God is for us, who is against us?” Paul says today. This ability to transform those fears and anxieties won’t come quickly or even easily, but it will come with practice.

At Communion today we will sing a hymn that summarizes this transformational attitude – listen to the words. “Transfigure us, O Lord. Break the chains that bind us; speak your healing word, and where you lead, we’ll follow. Transfigure us, O Lord.”  We ask God to break the chains that are not allowing us to give ourselves completely to God and his will. We ask God to heal that in us so that we can follow wherever God may lead us. Just as Jesus had complete faith in the Father and was led even to death, God’s plan was to use that death in the greatest event known to mankind – our return to God’s grace and kingdom. The last line of the verses for the hymn “Transfigure Us” asks the question: “Shall we journey with you and share your paschal road?” And that is the question I leave with you today as well. Shall you journey this Lent with God, letting God lead the way, giving the direction to God, giving our will to God, even to sharing the sacrificial road that God had taken in Jesus? It takes a great faith, but one that can be developed, practiced and lived.

And this is the Good News I leave you to ponder and maybe even find an answer to 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 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

February 15, 2015

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

First, a parable. Johnny had not been a very good boy this week. He had gotten into trouble at school and had not done the chores at home that had been assigned to him.

His father sat him down at the end of the week, and said: “Look, Johnny, I am going to buy you the bike that you have been dreaming about. Not because you have been good this week, because you haven’t, but just because I want to do it. However, after you get the bike, I expect some things to change around here. I want you to pull your socks up at school, and I want you to be regular in doing your chores to help your mother.  Understood?” Johnny couldn’t believe his good luck. Over the next few weeks after he got his new bike he did start doing better in school and was pretty regular in his chores. But then he started to slack off. He fell into the old patterns and spent more time on his bike than he did doing his chores. One morning he opened the garage to get his bike to go off to school, but his bike wasn’t there. He ran back into the house upset and told his dad his bike must have been stolen! But Dad just said, “You didn’t keep your part of the bargain, boy! I have hidden the bike away and you are going to have to work to get it back!”

What this story is about is “covenant”, a word we hear a lot about in the Scriptures. A covenant is a free gift that we don’t merit from our behavior. But certain behaviors of thankfulness are expected. In Exodus, when the Jews were led out of Egypt, God made a conditional covenant with them, made them his people and gave them the Promised Land. But in return they had to follow certain moral codes, and not worship other gods. When Israel broke that covenant, the Promised Land was taken from them, not forever, because God always keeps promises, but they had to work for it.

In the opening reading today from Genesis, we are given part of the story of Noah, but we also need some context.  God created the world, and after Adam and Eve  left Eden, the population grew. But the didn’t show any thankfulness or keep their part of any moral code and the world became corrupted and ungodly. God could only find one family that kept the covenant. God sent a flood which destroyed everyone except the family of Noah. But God, still in love with the human race despite their turning away, made another covenant with Noah without any expectations – an unconditional covenant that God would never again destroy the world with a flood. And just to remind them of this promise, this covenant, God created the rainbow as a visible sign  of it.

The difference between a conditional and an unconditional covenant is simply that in an unconditional covenant we are not expected to do anything in response, while in a conditional covenant such as at Mount Sinai, we have obligations and so does God.

The Psalm today reflects the Sinai covenant because the response is “Your paths are love and faithfulness for those who keep your covenant.” In other words the Hebrews needed to show faithfulness and love to God and neighbor as a result of the conditions of the Mosaic covenant.

The other major covenant in the Bible is the Davidic covenant, an unconditional covenant where God says  that David’s family line will be blessed and an everlasting kingdom would come from that line. Jesus is from the family line of David and Mark says in Chapter 10 that Jesus is the Son of David and fulfills that covenant because God always keeps promises. Mark’s Gospel is really all about proving that Jesus is this fulfillment of the covenant to David.

This Davidic covenant also has a sign like the rainbow, and St. Peter in the Epistle today describes that covenant sign as baptism. Peter explains that God saved eight persons through water, and that baptism is a saving sign and action which frees us from sin. Peter describes this as “An appeal to God for good conscience” because when sins are taken away that are no longer on our conscience, and we no longer have to worry about them.

So two covenant, two signs! In the Gospel today, in Mark’s direct and uncomplicated way, he explains that Jesus was baptized, showing us what we need to do as well, and then Mark goes on to show the qualities and signs which begin to show that Jesus is Son of God. He was driven by the Spirit, he was tempted by Satan unsuccessfully, and Angels waited on him. We are again told the secret that it will take a while for everyone else to figure out – that Jesus is the promise of the Davidic covenant promised to us.

The reading ends with Jesus beginning his preaching of the good news of God – that God’s kingdom is near. And what must our response be… what is the one condition that we have to fulfill to get in on this covenant…?  We have to repent and believe.

And THAT is what Lent is all about. It is our response to the covenantal promise of our being saved by Jesus Christ. We have to turn around, examine our lives and state our beliefs. This Lenten response leads to Holy Saturday when we renew our baptismal vows and celebrate the fact that we have been part of an covenant in which God has sent a Savior to us, God’s self in the flesh and we are at the beginning of living the kingdom of God.

This is Good News. This is the Good News of Lent, and this is what Jesus proclaims 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 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

February 8, 2015

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

I am sure it seems odd to us today and quite cruel to treat someone with a severe disability by kicking them out of the community and isolating them outside the town, leaving them to fend for themselves. We are told that what the Bible calls leprosy really isn’t the leprosy that we call Hansen’s Disease today, although some of it may have been, but included any kind of infectious skin diseases including rashes and skin discolorations caused by things like mildew.

But this was a time before medicine, a time when infection meant there could be spreading of disease and separation was, in effect, the way to save the whole community. So when we read the Law regarding lepers in Leviticus we must understand that context. It was not meant to be cruel but to be a protection for the uninfected people.

And they weren’t always cast out forever. Someone with Hansen’s Disease who was wasting away would be, but many other infections simply cleared up and there was a way for dealing with that and bring a person back into the community.

The other problem with the early Jewish understanding was that there was a strong relationship between the external and the internal in the mind of the Hebrew. Leprosy was a sign of sin, a sign of uncleanliness both of which separated the person from the Jewish community.

When we look at the Gospel reading, the first amazing thing I want you to note is that Jesus was approached by a leper. This was forbidden since they were to stay apart and be alone. Jesus doesn’t run away from the man but is moved with pity for him. This is even more true because the man puts complete faith in the ability of Jesus. One wonders how he even heard of Jesus, but as anyone with a bad disease like cancer can tell you, the sick person is often looking for ways to get better, for the newest findings on the disease or for other doctors who claim to be able to heal it. The leper probably had his ear opened to find out about one of the healers who were quite common at the time.

The leper’s faith is such that he asks for his cure in a very unique way. He doesn’t just say “cure me, please!” but he puts it in the way that gives Jesus choice in the matter. “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Jesus responds in a like fashion: “I do choose.”

As the man is immediately made clean, we learn what a person has to do to be admitted back into the community. He or she has to go to a priest to be checked out, and make an offering to God for the cleansing, usually a sacrificial animal.

When Jesus asks him not to tell anyone about it, I am not sure he knows he is not being realistic in that people were going to want to know how this man with torn clothes and disheveled hair was made clean, if only so that they, too, could take advantage of such a person. What Jesus didn’t want, at this point, was his 15 minutes of fame as a healer, because that wasn’t what he was really about. Healing was something he could do, and it strengthened people’s faith in him, but what he really wanted to do was preach the Good News of the kingdom of heaven, eventually knowing that he would die to bring that about. Too much success too early would not allow the message to be spread.

Unfortunately for Jesus, however, the man told everyone, so that Jesus couldn’t preach in the towns any more because of the number of people wanting cures, and he was confined to preaching in the countryside where people still came to be cured, but where he could also spread them out and work in his preaching.

In most of the cures of Jesus, although not in this one of the leper, Jesus also forgave sins. Perhaps with the leper he wanted to show that there was not a relationship between disease and sinning, and that one was not a sign of the other. In many of his healings though, he tried to cure both the outer and inner person, and the psalm today expresses that with the beautiful words: “‘I acknowledged my sin to you…, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” This same healing is still available to us today, one of the most hopeful and remarkable things about our Christian heritage. Each Sunday at the beginning of Mass, if we are truly sorry, we confess our sins and we are given absolution for them. And in our Prayer of the Faithful we say to God, “If you choose to you can cure…” And often he chooses to.

Let me close then  today with St. Paul’s words: whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Let us try to make God part of our everyday life and actions, so that when we are in trouble or bad health we can come to God, like today’s leper, and God will know our faith and belief, and cure us if God so chooses.

Hopeful thoughts that come from the Good News we hear 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 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

February 1, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

The plight of Job is the classic case of the the person who suffers and doesn’t deserve to suffer. At the point when he talks to his so-called friends today, he is pretty low. He has been hit with all sorts of misery over and over again. In his own words he says he has had “months of emptiness” and “nights of misery”. Like a depressed person he sees “no hope” and in his quickly fleeting life, he doesn’t think he will see anything good again.

Our reading ends there leaving us rather depressed and hanging. Surely there is hope for everyone. Why would God allow such suffering as this? Most of us have been there, at least a little. Those of us who have had serious illness, or lost a spouse or child, or suffered job loss or bankruptcy have all been down the same path as Job.

But, although we don’t read about it today there is hope for Job, especially because he stays faithful to God. Now, he does get a little gutsy after his entire family dies and he is a little sharp with God, but he never renounces God.

The whole point of the Book of Job though, it seems to me, is that pain and suffering are part of the human condition. God allows it but God is not punishing anyone. The point is how we react to pain and suffering in terms of our faith in God.

Job’s suffering runs the whole gamut of pain. That is why he is an ‘everyman”. He has physical pain in rashes and sores, blisters and boils. He has mental pain in that his reputation has been shattered and his social standing taken away. He has emotional pain in the death of most of the people he knows, including his whole family, and he has spiritual pain because he thinks he must have done something to deserve all the pain.

Through it all, however, even at the end, Job says that ‘he came naked from his mother’s womb and will go back their naked. God gave, and God took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord’. In other words, who are we to question why God allows such suffering and pain? God has a wider plan both for us and for civilization. Through his suffering, Job and we learn a lot by our questioning, In the end Job is restored and rewarded because of his faithfulness to God.

This is why in Psalm 147, after that depressing first reading, we can shout “Sing praises to the Lord who heals the brokenhearted.” And also “God’s understanding is beyond measure.” And all this is related to “How good it is to sing praises to our God.” In other words, if we continue to sing praises to God, even in our misery, somehow good will come of it.

In the second reading, Paul suffers all sorts of things in his life as well, but he does it all for the Gospel, he says, so that he may share in its blessings. He also says that “If I do this of my own will, I have a reward.” This is similar to Job’s understanding – if we stay faithful to God, if we carry out his will for us (Paul uses the word “commission”) then we will somehow be rewarded.

We know that God does intervene to help people, although from our point of view, it may seem unfair or very random. Some get cured, others don’t. On earth, though, Jesus showed his God-like nature by healing (physically and spiritually) all sorts of people. Perhaps it was because Jesus was also human, and so was able to cry at Lazarus’ death and feel great sympathy for so many of the suffering people he came up against. In any case, Jesus was first achieving fame as a healer.

Very early on in his career he was healing. Today we read of how he went to Simon Peter’s house and Peter’s mother-in-law was ill with a fever, an infection probably, of some sort. Jesus took her hand and cured her. We also learn that John says early on ‘the whole city” came out to Peter’s house with the diseased people of the city and the mentally ill. And Jesus took care of them all. It is that empathy that comes with Jesus’ humanity that allows God to interrupt the chain of random events and change natural law. So our prayers for the ill should not stop. It may be there there is a greater good in some illness that we can’t see, but we should still cry out to God, who through Jesus was able to suffer along with us and knows what it feels like.

Although he was a healer, the healings were interrupting what Jesus had actually set out to do, and that was preach and tell the Good News of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus took time to pray alone in deserted places to prepare himself, and then moved to the next town to preach, where likely he was interrupted by the pained and suffering people there.

What I see the readings today reminding us of, then, is that we must never give up our faith in God, we must never give up our cries to God to stop suffering and pain, but we also need to realize that their is a greater purpose, one that we are not in on. And so, we place our trust in God, and by doing that, hope that God will reward us in some way. And this is the Good News of trust that we need to be reminded of today, as we continue our constant pleas to the God of healing.

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”]