Archive for May, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year B 2015 (June 7)

May 31, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year B 2015 (June 7)

The concept of “covenants” has been at the core of both Jewish and Christian faiths from very early on in history. Such covenant are usually seen as agreements between God and the covenanted party. The first covenant was made with Adam and Eve which was broken when they ate of the fruit of the tree, and yet there was a promise of God that the serpent would be crushed.

The second covenant was with Noah and its conditions involved blood. God said he would never destroy the world again by flood, and they we’re never to drink the blood of animals or shed human blood. As a sign he sent the rainbow for them to remember the covenant. A third covenant was made with Abram in which God promised land and posterity. The condition of this promise was that they be circumcised – blood again was involved.

Following this was the Mosaic covenant where God promised that the Israelites would be God’s chosen ones with a Promised land as long as they kept God’s laws and the Ten commandments. The sign of this was the passover which again involved blood. The blood of the Passover lamb was spread on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not visit their homes. Afterwards, as we read today, Moses took the blood from the offerings and splashed the altar, and then splashed it on the people as a sign of the blood covenant they had made with God. (Aren’t you glad we only use water in the New Testament! Could be kind of messy otherwise!).

The fifth covenant with the Jews was made with King David who promised David that he would become a Father to the Jewish people, but a father who would use the rod on his children to discipline them if necessary – again, some blood involvement. The last of the Old Testament covenants was made to the prophet Jeremiah when God promises that his Law would not just be on stone but would be written on the hearts of his people, and all who believed in their hearts would become the new chosen.

In the New Testament we see this last covenant fulfilled in the life of God’s son, Jesus. That we have become the new chosen who believe in Jesus and who carry Christ’s law in our hearts. As part of this covenant there is also blood as we see in the Gospel today when Jesus says “This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” The sign of this covenant is the Eucharist which we celebrate today.

I have chosen to talk about mostly the blood today since this feast day has expanded from being about Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, to include the blood of Christ as well. And blood is not something  most of us like to talk or even think about. It is of course, what gives our body life, and so may freak out when we are bleeding because blood is meant to stay inside. A few of us might like our steaks bloody rare, and many of us donate our blood to help others live. Bleeding is part of the life cycle of every woman which is part of the cycle which includes birth.

We can’t really escape from all the images that blood brings – from horror movies to life-saving transfusions.

While the horror type images might be part of the early Judaeo traditions with angels killing oldest children or beating children to discipline them – ideas that are part of a very immature age to our own, all of the more positive images fit in very nicely with the idea of the Eucharist.

Indeed the Eucharist is a like a blood transfusion where Christ can actually be part of us, moving through our whole body as the blood that courses through it, and we can think of it as a donation of Jesus to help save lives.

In actuality Jesus was talking about his own death and the blood that would be spilt a few days later which would bring about the salvation of the world – the sacrifice of the spotless lamb whose blood washes clean the sins of mankind and opening up heaven’s doors again, taking away the power of death.

The second reading today from St. Paul uses the image of Christ, not Moses going into the Holy of Holies to be present with God, but he goes in not splashing blood as Moses did, but by having shed his own blood for us. Paul says that if sacrifices of goats and heifers purified people of their sins, how much more so would the blood of Christ permanently purify us from ours. And that is why, he says, Christ is the mediator, the go-between, of the new covenant between God and us who believe.

When we dip or drink the consecrated wine today, we are using a symbol but we believe it is more than just a symbol – it is the actual body and blood of Christ. Just a symbol would not allow the transfusion to take place – and indeed we are transfused each week. It is God’s gift to help us through the week, to keep us focused on what is good and to help us love both neighbor and enemy. So as you take communion today, please think about what it means to have Christ within us, his blood coursing through our bodies with ours, his body, digested and giving us sustained life.

It is good to look at the thing we celebrate each week but often take for granted, and it is Good News indeed that not only is Christ inside us, but we become part of Christ as well and share his body with all who are here! Another reason why Sunday Mass is so good for all of us!

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 Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity B 2015 (May 31)

May 23, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year B 2015 (May 31)

Jewish worship from the earliest times was distinguished from the thought of other nations by the concept of only one God. In our reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses summarizes this Jewish belief and makes clear to all his people that there is only one God in heaven or on earth, and that there is no other. This was not the common belief of any of the other nations surrounding them, and so while it may be a concept ingrained in us in our society almost from birth, the cultural milieu in which they lived, the writings, the architecture, the art all around them suggested otherwise.  It was so predominate, in fact, that the history of Israel seems to be the history of a people being tempted and succumbing to the belief in other gods.

Moses tells his people that they are a blessed people, set apart. What other nation has been so honored to hear the voice of God, speaking out of fire. What other nation has been adopted by God, and proven to be so honored by signs, wonders, holy war, and terrifying displays of power as when they were led out of Egypt. Finally, this God has promised them a land, and all they need to do is keep his commandments, commandments which made them more civilized, more sensitive to others, and more holy.

The Psalm today then speaks of the love of this God who has chosen us, and how our soul was created to wait for God, how God is our help and protector. This one true God has made himself known in his creation and in his commandments which raise us up, a similar idea to that which Moses spoke to his people.

Since all of this was true and was the oldest tradition of Israel, imagine how upset traditional believing Jews must have felt with the new idea that Jesus was God. It upsets the whole apple cart! Yet, from the very beginnings of Christianity we see this belief that Jesus was indeed God made human. How is this possible? Then it is further complicated, perhaps, by the coming of the Holy Spirit who is also ascribed to be God.

In our second reading from Paul written even before the Gospels we hear the term Spirit of God when Paul says: All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God, and he speaks of the glorification of Christ, a term that refers to a God-like status. And in the Gospels, Matthew today puts it all together when he tells the Apostles to go out baptizing “in the name of the Father, and of the on and of the Holy Spirit.”

This Trinitarian concept has been around since the advent of Christianity despite the fact that it seems to abandon the earliest Jewish beliefs – and these are all Jews who were writing, remember! From earliest times theologians have tried to explain the concept of Trinity and the belief in the one true God. The bottom line: it is really not explainable!  We can get glimpses of ideas about it, and theologians have come up with theories of three persons in one God – and we intact state those beliefs each week in our Creed, but they are really quite inadequate because they are beyond our total comprehension. The best we can probably do is exactly what the earliest disciples did – pray to one God through the terms which Jesus gave us: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Probably not many of us question this because it has been such a part of our Christian heritage, most of us just accept it, realize that it is a mystery, and move on. A few others will contemplate some of the metaphors used in the pst to help our understanding, like the shamrock, perhaps, but it is just that – a small help

So what is important about this Feast today and important to our lives. Jesus once said: No one comes to the Father, except through him. I know that for centuries this has been interpreted as only Catholics get to heaven, but I don’t think it means that at all. I think it means that no one comes to an understanding of the God the Father, except by looking at Jesus and how he lived and what he did and what he said. Jesus is God made visible, so if we look at Jesus carefully and imitate his life to the best of our ability, we can move to be perfect as God is perfect.And what help do we have to do that? The Spirit, first described in the Bible as God’s breath or the wind over the waters, provides the impetus to know God. Again, our Psalm 33 today tells us that “Our soul waits for the Lord”. There is something deep inside each of us that wants to know God, that needs to know God, that aches to understand God and the meaning of life. To know God, we have to know Jesus whose humanity was not just a metaphor but an actuality. He is the example of the human who led a life of perfection. To imitate him is to know God, and it is the best we can do until we die and are able to know God intimately and perhaps even understand the great mysteries which elude us now.

Let us pray that this week’s emphasis on the Trinity in our lives can bring us to living our lives on the road that leads to perfection through imitation of the God-man Jesus, and the through the inspiration and persistency of God’s spirit.

And that is the Good News that was preached from the very beginning of the Christian era of the one, true God, the God of our fathers and mothers.

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 Pentecost, Year B 2015 (May 24)

May 17, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Pentecost, Year B 2015 (May 24)

Last week I spoke about the promises that Jesus made before he left the Apostles and ascended. Those promises were all centre around the coming of the Spirit, a free gift of God to those faithful to Jesus, which would allow them to experience and continue to experience Jesus in their lives.

In Acts today the coming of the Spirit is imaged by violent wind and the appearance of tongues of fire resting on each person. Whether that is a literal image or the best description they could come up with for what had happened, the important thing to note is that it had an affect. It changed the Apostles. The first major change that came about was the ability to speak or be understood in many different languages. It is not made clear whether they actually spoke those languages or the hearts just heard everything in their own languages.

The concept of the spirit of God had been in Jewish writings and beliefs for many years. We read in the Psalm today: “when you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” If you remember back to Genesis it was the breath or spirit of God that originally blew over and created the earth. The Jews looked forward to a renewal of that original creation.

The coming of the Holy Spirit took place on a Jewish holiday – the Feast of Shavuat or in Greek Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. It came to be associated with the giving of the Torah, the Law, to Moses. On that feast God put his spirit into the two tablets of the Law for his people to follow. Now, at the Christian Pentecost, the Spirit comes into their hearts. There are comparisons with both comings. There was a theophany, or visible manifestation of God at Sinai and in the house at Pentecost. Both had fire – one in the form of a burning bush seen by all, the other as tongues of fire given individually. There were many people – non Jews present after both events, and both were accompanied by many tongues or voices. (See Stern, David H.  Jewish New Testament Commentary, p.221). Another word for Torah is teaching and the Holy Spirit was sent also to teach. If Shavuat is considered the birth of Judaism, Pentecost is often considered the birth of Christianity.

The Gospel reading today, however, gives a different interpretation of the coming of the Holy Spirit by having Jesus breathe on the apostles and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Most scholars consider this not the Pentecost experience but Jesus preparing them for that experience. John’s Gospel is often different from he Synoptics because his purposes are more theological, coming longer after the others. The purpose here seems to be one of preparation for the power that they were to receive. John does not concern himself with what happens to the Apostles as much as follow what happened to Christ. So he does not include Pentecost but ends with Jesus talking about coming again.

St. Paul today also expounds about the Spirit. He says that without the Spirit, none of us would be able to believe in Jesus. We see the early signs of our understanding of the Trinity also in Paul today. He talks about the Spirit giving many and various gifts, the many and various services we do in Christ’s name, and the activities we carry out in God’s name. But it is one God activating everything. If we are one body in Christ, the Spirit is our life blood coursing through that body to give life and strength to all the limbs.

So the importance of Pentecost for us today is more than just a birthday; it should be a reminder of our unity through the Trinity and through the workings of the Three Persons in One. Being part of that one body, we should not distinguish any member or part of that body being better than any other member. That is why Paul ends with “we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greek, slaves or free. Arguments about priests being better than lay people, men better than women, rich better than poor, different better than same – should have no place in a Christian’s heart. The Spirit unifies us all. And though we may play different parts, just as the function of the heart is different from that of the right arm, we all work together for the wholeness of the body, and we celebrate the health of each part, since it all affects us in some way.

This way of thinking is a different paradigm than we have in modern society. Can we bring our Christian paradigm to the forefront of our own lives, and convince others by our love and care to do the same. That is the challenge of Christians today, and it all began at Pentecost – the Good News that we celebrate at the end of our Easter season.

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 Ascension, Year B 2015 (May 14 or 17th)

May 9, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Ascension, Year B 2015 (May 14 or 17)

In a certain way, today is about saying goodbyes. It is not the seemingly permanent goodbye that we experience when someone dies, but more like the ‘goodbye’ that takes place when you move away to a different state or country and you think you might not see that person or persons again for a long time, if ever.

The Apostles had already said their shocked goodbyes in their hearts to Jesus when he died on the cross and was buried. Getting him back again was a miracle of the highest order and we are told many times how joyful it made them. But it was not to be a permanent stay. The resurrected body was not quite the same as Jesus’ body was before, as we have noted. We teach that heaven isn’t a physical place; Jesus was physical, in that he was seen and touched by the followers, but not physical, in that he could go through walls and appear, and even change or cloak his appearances so he was not known. So his return to the Father is not something that we can quite comprehend. The image we use metaphorically is that heaven is up and the world of the unsaved dead is down, and so Jesus was seen to be lifted up and disappeared.

This story is related to us in all three readings today so it is a story which in itself is so miraculous that all the writers comment on it or tell it.

After getting Jesus back, it must have been very saddening to think that they were going to lose him again, and Jesus knew that.  That is why Jesus is full of promises to them, to make sure that they knew it wasn’t abandonment they were facing, but that he would still be with them, but in a different way. We are told that he had been on earth in his resurrected state for forty days – a number that appears many times in the Bible – forty years in the desert the Jews wandered, Moses sent spies to the Promised Land for forty days, Jonah warned that Nineveh would be destroyed in forty days, Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days. Obviously the number forty had some significance metaphorically. Generally it referred to a testing period or a trial period. The Apostles had been fortified by Jesus for forty days to prepare them for his leaving.

During this time Jesus taught them, and prepared them to take over his ministry. He told them that he would send the Holy Spirit to them. Having the Holy Spirit in them meant that they would be able to do the things that Jesus had done because God was in them. Mark says they would be able to cast out demons, speak in tongues, be unhurt by poisons or snakes, and heal the sick. In other words, they would be given special power. Jesus even uses that word when he says: …you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…”

So these last forty days had been a time of rejoicing because Jesus was with them and a time of preparation for taking over in order to spread the kingdom of God on earth.

Just a few years later, St. Paul was able to observe all that had been happening since the Ascension, and he says it in such a beautiful way. Paul describes what has happened to the disciples since the coming of the Spirit on them, and he begs them to continue being worthy of those gifts – to live in humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with each other in love to maintain that unity of Spirit. He reminds them that they are all one, just like that vine metaphor that Jesus had used, and they must work together to maintain that strength of being in one Lord, one faith, one baptism, in one God. Then Paul talks about all the gifts that the Spirit had brought them. Their purpose, he reminds them, was not for self-glory, but to build up the body of Christ. Paul doesn’t want them to forget that these wonderful gifts have been given so that they may bring everyone to know Christ as mature Christians, unified in the faith.

So the ‘goodbye’ that we celebrate today, though similar to many goodbyes in our lives, is different. It isn’t just through memory that the person we say goodbye to will be with us, but Jesus will be part of us, inside us, inspiring us, helping us, making us stronger. These are such hopeful sentiments that I think we often take for granted or forget. Jesus didn’t go away. he is right here, and right there [the tabernacle], and when we call on him he can’t but help to hear.

Good News! Yes. And good news that we need to shout to the ends of the earth as we celebrate today his final promise to us – the coming of his Spirit which we will celebrate next Sunday.

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 of Easter, Year B 2015 (May 10) Mother’s Day

May 2, 2015

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015 

Today’s readings, appropriately, are all about love and gifting. I say ‘appropriate’ because when I think of the word ‘mother’, I think about both love and giving.

The love that a mother has for a child is somehow different from that love which a man has for a child, I would imagine. I don’t think a man can feel what it must be like to have a person grow inside of you, to bond for nine months with something that is so integrally a part of oneself. In that sense the birth of the child must be somewhat traumatic when the time comes to rend apart. But what can’t be pulled apart is the intimate feeling of love for that child, so helpless, so needy, but reflecting the mother herself.

I think God must be like that. I know we have mental images of God as the Father, very male, but God is really sexless, and so since the beginning of time Jesus was with God, his transition to a human person, so helpless, so needy, reflected God as well.

I think that is why we can see God as love, and why God is love, and why God has gifted us with Spirit, with grace, with everlasting life, even though we are so mortal and so undeserving – so helpless and so needy.

In the first reading today we read of the gift of the Spirit in the early Christian community. We learn that this gift which comes from love was not just for the Hebrew people who had a testament with God, but was for everyone.  God’s love knows no bounds.

We can sing God a new song because we recognize what God’s son has done for us and we recognize the gifts he has given us. God has indeed done marvelous things, as the Psalm prays today.

The end result of this love and this gifting of God is proclaimed both in the Epistle and Gospel today by John. In the Second Reading John tells us how we need to react to this love of God and the gifts he sent. We are to love one another. It is as simple and as complex as that. We are to love one another. The model for that love is God, the gratefulness we need to show is to reflect that love of God, and the life we need to live is one where love is the abiding factor.

Over and over we are reminded that we did nothing to merit God’s love, and it is not through anything we do that we earn God’s love, but because God’s great love for us, shown by God’s sending his Son to be the atonement for our sins, that we can know about and mimic that love in our own lives.

In the Gospel Jesus says that he loves us, just as the Father loves him, that same intense, unbridled love that we see in mothers, and Jesus teaches us that if we want to continue to live in that state of love with God, we need only keep his commandments willingly.

Jesus says the result of that will be joy. There seems to be so little joy in the world today. I seldom read the paper or watch the news today because the news is never joyous. But Jesus says: “I have said these things so that my joy may be in you, and that your your joy may be complete.

When was the last time you experienced complete joy? Jesus says that we must keep his commands to love God and one another, and by doing so you will achieve complete joy. He doesn’t say when, he doesn’t say how, but he says you will experience it. That is why it is so important to get the priorities of lives straightened out, to forgive others, to be merciful to others, to help others, to show love to others. That is what it is all about. That, according to Jesus, is the meaning of life – devoting ourselves to God and others.

So many philosophers have sought the answer to that question “what is the meaning of life?’ but here we have it in Jesus own words – he tells us how to do it. Will it be easy? Nothing worth having is ever easy. Ask a mother. She will tell you how hard it is sometimes to love unconditionally, but that is what we are directed to by no other than God him or herself.

Think about it. Reflect on it. Act on it.

That is the extremely Good News that answers the most existential of question – why we are here!

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”]