Archive for June, 2015

Homily for the 14th Sunday in ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 5)

June 28, 2015

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 5 )

Today’s reading from Ezekiel starts off with a kind of mission statement for all prophets. We know about prophets from the Bible, and we sometimes call people today prophets who speak with an uncanny ability to put things into a new perspective and open our minds to a new way of looking at life. Some people also call fortune-tellers prophets because they predict the future. But the Hebrew prophets simply are humans inspired by God to give messages – both good and bad – to God’s people. We know it is inspiration because Ezekiel explains it this way: “A spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard one speaking to me.”

Prophets then are a kind of receptacle for the Holy Spirit. They are not preaching ideas that their own minds have generated but are speaking things that come directly from God. These messages are not intellectually reasoned out, nor do they have a hidden agenda of their own.

The second thing we learn is that prophets are sent. They aren’t just given a message and told to keep quiet about it. They are sent to a certain group and they are told what they have to say to that certain group. This often isn’t easy as we saw before with Jonah who thought God must have been nuts to send him to Nineveh – to non-believers – to foreign conquerors – and preach to them. However, God says to Ezekiel it shouldn’t matter to him whether the people listen or not. It is enough that have been warned. They need to know that God is still around and that he is speaking to them through someone. That someone is called a prophet.

Our opening hymn today expresses this very well. God has chosen me, says the prophet: to bring good news and new sight. That is what a prophet does.

In the Gospel today Jesus refers to himself as a Prophet and this may surprise us a bit, but if you think about it, he is really just the ultimate prophet. Instead of God telling a mortal man to go and give a message to the people, God is coming himself in the form of a man, and he too gives messages which are both good and bad news. Jesus is preaching in his home town but he knew that it would be for naught. But it didn’t stop him – he began to teach them in the synagogue anyway. He knew they wouldn’t listen because they had preconceived ideas about who he was. They had seen him grow up with them, knew his simple background, knew who his parents were and couldn’t see how he could be this great thing. Jesus comments that it seems to be a cliche that people who prophesy have no honor or respect in their home towns. People can’t get beyond the outward appearances and see that God can talk through anyone – even a carpenter’s son. A much talked about verse that says “Jesus could do no deed of power there”, makes it sound like Jesus might not be an all powerful God, but the power of Jesus as a human being seemed to be fueled by belief. We saw this last week with the woman with the hemorrhages and Jairus. It was their belief, their faith in Jesus that was the catalyst for the cure. In Nazareth there was little belief. In fact we are told that “Jesus was amazed at their unbelief”. We might remember for ourselves then, that the more faith we have in Jesus, the easier it will be for miracles to happen. We should try to do things that would strengthen our belief system.

St. Paul adds something else to the concept of Christian prophecy. Christians have been given revelations, and they are told to go to the world and preach the Good News. Paul says he was elated with this news but perhaps began to think of himself as better than others because he had been given the gift of many revelations or prophecies. He was feeling proud of the fact, and so he says, God had to take him down a peg. Paul himself had nothing to do with these graces – it was God’s gift. So Paul should not get a swollen head about it – he had nothing to do with it. He needed only go and preach the faith to others so that they too could enjoy God’s graces and gifts. So Paul says he was given some sort of physical suffering or temptation to deal with. He is very vague – commentators have been trying to guess for years what it could be. Whatever it was, it bad enough that he cried out to Jesus about it for help. The answer he got back was simply: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

That idea that suffering, that taking up a cross, that being tempted, was part of the the following of Jesus is in all the Gospels and certainly in Paul. We are human: we are going to get sick, we are going to be tempted, we are going to feel depressed at times. But we can use those weakness, Jesus says, to understand others, to share in the suffering of Christ, and to empathize. He promises that it will never be too much, because he will always give you the grace to endure if you believe in him. There’s that belief again. And another reason why we need to develop that deep faith and trust and belief in the Lord.

I ask you today to practice doing this a little every day. It can be as simple as offering up some little or big pain or sickness, seeing others who suffer more than you do, realizing the immense gift of grace that is available to us, and looking forward to becoming stronger through our weakness, as Paul did.

This is Good News. This is the Spirit’s message to us today. This is why we are all prophets and God can speak through us. Let God do it!

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 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 28)

June 20, 2015

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 28)

Aside from the second reading today, all of the readings have something to do with death, a rather uncomfortable subject for most of us today. Our culture had done everything possible to shield us from the reality of death which was something quite ordinary in the lives of our ancestors. There were few families in the past, when families were large, that hadn’t had death come to a younger person. The mortality rate for children was high. People grew old and died at home, death was a natural occurrence, part of a cycle. Wakes were held in people’s homes. I remember taking my father to a house that his grandfather had built which had now been turned into a gift shop. I thought I would surprise him by taking him back there and visiting his grandfather’s house once again. I was taken aback by his reaction when he entered the house and tears formed in his eyes. When I questioned him about it, wondering if they were tears of nostalgia, he told me that the last time he had been in this house, the wall across from where you entered was filled with flowers, for his grandfather’s body was lying in state there.

I recently spoke to a young relative of mine who had never been to a funeral or seen a dead person – and she was in her twenties and was quite unnerved.

Death is a part of life that we will all have to experience and go through. An older person once said to me that he was ready to go anytime. He was tired, and death no longer frightened him. I think that is a wonderful attitude, and is as it should be.  However, when death comes at an early age, before one has lived a full life, it seems much more sad and disturbing. In the Gospel today, Jairus may have been quite familiar with death, unlike people today, but the death of a child seemed unnatural to him, as it always does. The love he had for his daughter forces him to do everything he can to save his daughter’s life – even going to a wandering preacher that he heard was able to cure people. Jairus was a synagogue leader, a teacher, a rabbi most likely. He may have heard Jesus speak in the synagogue or he may only have known about him through reputation. Nothing, however, would get in the way of his humbling himself and asking for a miracle for his beloved daughter.

We are not told what Jesus said or what he may have been thinking, but his response was to immediately get up and go to the girl.

If we think of this story as a sandwich with the bread of the tale – the story of Jairus and his daughter, there is a filling to the story as well. Mark often does this. The story is interrupted by an incident on the way to the daughter in which a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years – which would have rendered her unclean, also wanted a cure from Jesus. Her faith was such that she didn’t think she even needed to ask Jesus, but only to touch his clothing to be made well.

Despite the fact that Jesus was being touched and jostled from all sides as he travelled along, he felt something different when the woman touched him – some power leaving him – so he demanded to know who it was that had touched him. In fear because she knew she was unclean and had touched Jesus, thus according to law rendering him unclean as well, the woman admitted her guilt. Instead of being angry with her, though, Jesus praises her for her great faith, and tells her she is cured. Mark is setting up here the “power” of Jesus to heal because now that power is going to be seen as something even greater – not just healing but raising the dead.

We come back to the ‘bread’ of the sandwich now. Jairus’ daughter has died so some people from Jairus’ home came to tell Jesus to forget it. The girl had died. He was too late to heal her.

Jesus speaks only five words, but they are words which we should memorize and apply over and over to our own lives as well. Groups like AA and Al-Anon talk a lot about their little sayings that help them through life’s problems – like the Serenity Prayer or Let go and let God. Jesus’ words here could very well be a saying for us to apply to our lives whenever things get bad – Do not fear; only believe. Do not fear; only believe!

Then, Jesus comes to cure the child amidst laughter and jeering that someone could actually ‘heal’ a dead person. But I am sure their laughter quite stopped when the girl came out and was not only well, but hungry.

I love the way Mark tells this story because he keeps it vivid but simple, and sandwiching the hemorrhaging woman in the middle of it, prepares us for an even greater miracle which is to come.

Wisdom reminded us today: God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.” Our God is a God of life, and the movement of history is to life and not death. The kingdom of heaven we talk about so much starts right here – by our living – right now – this moment. The psalmist says “you…restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit….

You have turned my mourning into dancing! That is the richness that Paul talks about today when he says that God became poor, so that by his poverty you may become rich. Our God IS a God of life. Only believe that and live! The kingdom of heaven is here now if we give into it, live it, love in it, and never fear. That is the continuing Good News that Jesus gave during his lifetime here, and the Good News that needs to sustain us as we move to our own death and the eternal life that follows it. Do not fear, only believe!

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 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (June 21)

June 13, 2015

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(Job 38.1-4,8-11; Psalm 107; 2 Corinthians 5.14-17; Mark 4,35-41)

Have you ever found yourselves in one of these conversations.  A parent says. “Just do it! “

“Why?” responds the child. 

“Because I said so,” says the parent.

“But why?”

“Don’t question me. I have had more experience and I know what I am talking about. Just do it!”

One of the the things that is constantly re-iterated in the Bible is that God can do anything. In the reading from Job, it seems that God has lost his patience with Job, and berates him like this parent because he doesn’t seem to get it – God has created everything and has power over everything. Who are we, God asks, to question God? No, God is the one who does the questioning, Job is told.

Who has more knowledge? Were you around when I created the universe? Where you there when I created the lands and separated them from the seas? When I set up the weather pattern for the earth? It frightens me a little that we try to know more than God, or even that we think we do. What might be in store for us to bring us down from our pedestals. When people thought they could build a tower to get to heaven in Babel, they were punished. God says the same thing to Job.

Does that mean that we can’t question God? I don’t think so. As long as we question God with the honest faith that God will know better than we do, and there may be circumstances God knows that we don’t.

In the Psalm today people have constructed ships that can conquer the ocean, and even though the sailors were in awe of a God who could create such wonders of the sea, they still felt that their shipbuilding was a great achievement. Then, though, when the storms came, they realized that they were still dependent on God, and were not afraid to cry out to God for help. And God heard their pleas and calmed the storm and hushed the waves. So, as long we as we are not proud and think that we are little gods, we can ask God and God will listen to us, and help us. Just as in the Job reading, we need, however, to know our place.

Because the dominant imagery tiring together the readings today is the water and the seas, the Gospel shows that, unlike the sailors who go down to the sea in ships but have no control over the seas as God does, Jesus is able to do what God does. He is able to calm the seas. The overwhelming question of his followers then is “Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” has already been answer in the Book of Job and the Psalms. God is the only one with that kind of control.

The reaction of the apostles was, of course, one of awe. When we talk about God, we often talk about fear of God, but a proper understanding of the word fear is more the word “awe”.  We are amazed and in awe of the greatness of God and the abilities of God. The word “awesome” has become rather clichéd today, but does indicate some sense of the word. In actuality the only really awesome thing is God.

The Apostles are beginning in Mark to understand that Jesus was God-like, even if they haven’t been able to piece it all together yet. This takes time in Mark. the Apostles are not the brightest bulbs in the package.

We sometimes sing a beautiful hymn called “The Charity of Christ” whose words are from the reading from Paul today – The charity of Christ urges us on, urges us onwards day by day… Christ’s love will show us the way.” The word “charity” is a translation of caritas or love in Latin. Even though the reading from Corinthians was not picked for its thematic relationship to the other readings today, it does fit in very well with the theme of the awesome God today.

Paul says: we regard no one from a human point of view, Even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” Like the Apostles who saw Jesus as a simple human carpenter, they came to realize that he was not just human. And now Paul is saying that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we too, are “in Christ” and can’t be seen just from a human point of view, but God is now within us.  “Everything has become new”.

This certainly does not mean that we have become gods, and we must never think of ourselves in that light, but that God has come within us – we are vessels for God, we are “new creations”, and we need to act accordingly.

I often ask you to spend time during the week seeing Christ in others. This week more than ever I would like you to try that exercise – talk to others as though you were talking to God. the result will be a charity – a love, the kind of love that “urges us on”. Perhaps we can calm the seas of another’s distress, we can be the answer to their prayers to God, we can be the love that God generates and bring our “God-ness” to the world around us. We may not be able to calm the weather’s storm, but we can manage to bring peace to the stormy life of another by doing God’s work.

And this is just one of the things that can make us “awesome” in the 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 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 14)

June 6, 2015

Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 14)

I planted a garden this year. I have a little more time now, and wanted to get outdoors more, so I put in two raised gardens and planted tomatoes, cucumbers, brussel sprouts, onions, lettuce, melons and a few other things. I know nothing about gardening so I am counting on luck and a little reading to help me along. But God in designing the world also planted a garden and, since God was God, he didn’t need much help. I presume God knows exactly what to do to make a garden thrive.

Ezekiel begins our readings today with a few words from God who talks about planting, but, because God is God, and because this is prophecy, it is probably about something else as well.

God says he is going to take a sprig from on top of a very high cedar tree and plant that sprig on the top of a very high mountain. When it grows big and tall and noble, it will be so big as to be home in the mountains for all kinds of birds. And I can do this, because I can do anything, says God.

I wish I had that kind of confidence in my own garden! But, of course, while God can do anything, this is also a metaphor or a parable. God is telling his people that he took one group of people out of all his creation and he planted them as a special people. He planted them high up so that all can see. For those who don’t know the geography of the Promised Land, Jerusalem is at the top of a mountain, up from the Mediterranean. God placed his people there so that they would grow and bear fruit – in other words, to grow in population and to be a beacon to others through their good deeds and love of God and neighbor. And then God says that through this people he ‘planted’, all nations will be able to live in the shade of Israel. In essence, through Ezekiel’s prophecy, God is foretelling that the Jews as a chosen people will be open to everyone else after they have blossomed themselves. God chose a people, yes, but chose them to eventually open up his grace to the whole world.

That same imagery is picked up in Psalm 92 today with a different kind of tree as metaphor: The righteous flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit, they are always green and full of sap.”  It is the same image that God wants Israel to be a beacon to the rest of the world, and that it the reason God chose one nation above the others.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we hear Jesus also talking today about planting and trees, even though he uses a bit of exaggeration to make his point.

Jesus uses a short series of parables today about the kingdom of heaven which he preaches about so consistently in the Gospel of Mark. His first parable is about a clueless gardener like me, who throws some seeds around and then kind of waits for them to do their thing! He doesn’t do much to the garden, but only seems to get up and go to bed each day without paying much attention to it.

And he doesn’t have to, because God, in his wisdom, gave the earth the wherewithal to know how to make the seeds grow, and they do. At some point, the gardener only has to realize that it is time for harvest – the seeds have grown, borne fruit and done their thing. So the gardener goes in with a sickle and reaps what God has set to grow and produce. So is Jesus telling us not to weed or gardens or get rid of the bugs and pests with spray – just leave everything alone and up to him? No, of course not. This is a parable and not really about gardening at all.

To increase the kingdom of God, we have to plant the seed, we have to talk to others, to preach the Word.  If we do this, we can then leave it to God’s grace which has been given to everyone, to allow it to grow, flourish and produce fruit in another. This may also have been a warning to Judean’s that they weren’t to fight Rome to get the kingdom of God established or to use arms, or it also may have been a way to tell his apostles that they should not get too discouraged if it took time for the preaching they were doing to bear fruit. It would all come in God’s good time.

The second parable is about the mustard seed which is very tiny. You plant this very tiny seed, and surprise! – it grows into a large bush, large enough for birds to build nests in and shade themselves. And the kingdom of God is just like that, Jesus says.

So what does this tell us about the kingdom of heaven? Well, the kingdom is a place for living, for shade, for rest. And to get there, all we have to do is plant just a little seed in people’s minds. And again, we can let God’s grace do the rest. Jesus’ preaching is so often directed at what he calls the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. So once again, let me remind you that this kingdom is a process whereby we gradually begin to see God taking back control of everything and the world changing to a place of peace, serenity and love of God and each other.

We will be hearing a lot more about this kingdom, but please remember that we aren’t just talking about an after-life here, but the process which began when Jesus ascended to glory and which is happening right now. Are we on or off of that train which has left the station?

What can we do this week to plant a seed and to join in that process of making the kingdom of heaven a reality more and more. What in our lives has to change to make that happen? Can we find the strength to be verbal about our faith and not fear to express our faith in both word and action – to love God and our neighbor visibly, every day, and so plant that seed which will eventually create the harvest of God’s kingdom. That is the Good News that we need to preach and act out in our own lives each day, and it is very Good News for the future of our world if we heed it.

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”]