Archive for July, 2015

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 2)

July 25, 2015

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 2)

As I mentioned last week, we are taking a mini-sojourn into the Gospel of John and specifically those sections of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. Before we begin that today, though, the Church provides us with the Hebrew background that we need to know in order to put Jesus’ words into the context of Jewish life two thousand years ago.

We begin today with the reading from the Book of Exodus which, as you know, contains the movement of the Jewish people out of their slavery in Egypt and their forty year trip to their new Promised Land.

In our reading today, we hear the Hebrews complaining about their stay in the desert, or what they call the wilderness, and it could not have been very pleasant. There were a lot of people, and because they were traveling, there was no way to grow food. Yet everyone had to be fed. They found there was, of course, not enough food that they could scrounge to feed everyone, so they were starving. It was not an unfounded complaint they were making.

Presumably Moses brings their complaints to God because God sees their hunger and finds a way to feed them. They had apparently brought a few animals with them that they could kill and eat, but they would soon run out and they had nothing else. So the Lord says: “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.”

God then sent quails each night that they could catch and kill, and in the mornings on the ground was a substance much like bread that they could gather and eat. The Israelites named it manna, bread from heaven.

The Psalm today remembers God’s kindness to the Israelites in the desert, and although they never ate or tasted the manna, they remember through the stories that their grandparents and great grandparents passed down to them about it. They thanked God for his goodness for this bread of heaven and this bread of angels.

So the background we need to know is that God took care of his people as God always does, and specifically in this case by nourishing their physical bodies that were starving by giving them the bread from heaven.

Last week in the Gospel, we saw how Christ was able to also feed the hungry with physical bread in the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The crowd had been amazed that they had all been fed, and even though Jesus tried to escape them, they followed Jesus. Jesus says that they had followed him only because he took care of their physical needs, their hunger, not for the reasons that they should have followed him. Jesus is more concerned with their spiritual lives, and feeding their spiritual lives with food that will last forever. He says that they need to work for that kind of bread that will last forever, and the work that they have to do is to believe.

We have seen that idea of the importance of belief in Jesus many times over the last few months, and here John picks up that theme as well as Mark had.

Now our background from Exodus will help us. The crowd tells Jesus that Moses gave their ancestors bread from heaven. They ask, what are you going to do to help us believe? Rather odd, since Jesus had just done a rather major miraculous thing for them by feeding five thousand!

Jesus reminds them that it wasn’t Moses that fed them bread from heaven, but God. God sent them bread from heaven and gave physical life to the world. And now God is sending bread to give spiritual life to the world. And this is where it must have really shocked the people listening to Jesus. They asked where is this bread that God is sending? And Jesus tells them…”I am!”

As Catholics, we were all brought up on this outrageous idea and it doesn’t really seem so foreign to us, but try to imagine what it must have sounded like to the crowd following Jesus. Jesus is bread? Jesus was sent to God for them to eat? If they come to Jesus they will never be hungry spiritually? How crazy must that have seemed to them on the first hearing.

We are lucky, because we know what followed, and we know how Christ’s body becomes present in the eucharist – the bread we consume here each week. But the enormity of this idea, the craziness of this idea, the bizarreness of this idea should have shocked his listeners. And maybe we need to be shocked every once in a while, too.

We have this amazing gift each week – bread that gives life, that allows us never to be hungry or thirsty spiritually and food that will bring us eternal life! Yet, so many people ignore all that and try to be spiritual in their homes and away from the eucharist. If we really understood and believed the immensity of this gift, nothing would be able to stop us from having this pure gift each week. Unfortunately, through unbelief, through repetition, through busy lives, it doesn’t seem all that important or amazing to us any more.

We talk about Good News each week. Well, this news of Jesus today really is good. Let us spend the week reflecting on what a gift it is to us, how by taking the eucharist we can never be spiritually hungry or thirsty, and how we can better prepare ourselves and take advantage of the remarkable powers of this sacrament. Truly good news for a truly good people!

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 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 26 )

July 19, 2015

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 26 )

We are taking a side trip, sort of a summer vacation, for the next six weeks and listening to the Gospel of John rather than the Gospel of Mark which this year is dedicated to. And there are significant differences between the two Gospels – the two are probably the farthest apart – in intent, construction and theology.

Mark’s Gospel was the first and it is the shortest, most compact and deals only with the active ministry of Jesus. John’s Gospel was the last Gospel written and is theologically packed as there had been time to ponder the questions of who Jesus was, so this Gospel was more about Jesus himself than his teachings. Not that it doesn’t include his teachings, but they are done in a different format.

Mark uses Jesus’ parables while John tends to have longer discourses. The longest discourse comes while Jesus is preaching to the people on the mountain and is tied into the feeding of the five thousand. And that is some of the discourse that we will be listening to over the next few weeks.

When we are reading the New Testament is if often a good thing to ask two questions of each of the evangelists. Why are they writing their story? and who were they writing to? The answers to these two questions might explain why the four stories differ in some ways in detail, and why some things are more important in them than others.

John is writing at the end of the first century to a group that already has faith in Jesus so he isn’t trying to convert them. Instead, he is looking deeper at some of the teachings of Jesus and is especially dealing with the issue of Jesus as God. More than the other apostles he tends to do this with vibrant characters but also with much poetic and metaphoric language. This is a Gospel explaining in great depth who Jesus was and the Gospel is about him more than his teachings.

John appears to be writing to strengthen the faith of his listeners, to combat some heretical thinking that was going around about who Jesus was, and to give a fresh interpretation to the three Gospels that already existed.

The feeding of the five thousand is recounted in all the Gospels with slightly different details given. In John’s version the feeding becomes a catalyst for Jesus’ running away from the crowd’s attempts to make him an earthly ruler and also to set us up for all the bread images that John will use in Christ’s teaching. He can give them earthly bread, but he is also the bread of heaven as we will soon see.

The feeding of the five thousand had some precedent in early Hebrew scriptures as we read in the Hebrew reading today from the book of Kings. Instead of five thousand, it was a hundred, but Elisha managed to listen to God and told the young man to bring out his twenty loaves and feed the people. Somehow, miraculously, all the people were fed and there was some left over.

And our psalm today reiterates the idea that God will feed us, that God satisfies all the needs of the people who love him. Food here can be taken literally or metaphorically: God will also give us what we need when we need it, if we continue loving and having faith in God.

The letter of Paul tot he Ephesians today doesn’t talk of bread or feeding, but it does talk about the oneness – which is what the image of the bread is also metaphorically about.  All the people ate – there was a unity in that. Later, Jesus will talk about that by all eating his body, all will become one with him and each other. So Paul today talks about “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” which John will later incorporate into Jesus teachings on the Eucharist. Remember, in John, the establishment of the Eucharist was more tied to the feeding of thousand than to the Last Supper.  It isn’t even mentioned at his last supper which is about servitude and reversing the power structure.

As we begin, then, reading from John for the next few weeks, I want you to think about food and how it sustains life, how it is pleasurable, how eating together creates unity, because these are all themes that will come up in Jesus’ teaching on the meaning of ‘bread’.  We pray each day: Give us this day our daily bread. Does this have more connotation than just making sure we are nourished by food each day? When you pray the Our Father, think about what that might mean to you. As we picnic with friends – even with our own picnic  next Saturday – ask how this joins us together. What kind of unity does it create?

Then in the next few weeks, we can apply all this to the bread come down from heaven and what it means to us today.

This is the Good News I ask you to ponder over the next few weeks.

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 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 19 )

July 11, 2015

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 19 )

I have had to preach about shepherds quite a few times for it is one of the dominant metaphors in both the Old and New Testaments, and thus comes up in our liturgical worship quite often. But, I thought I would take a little break from that, even though we still celebrate it in song and psalm and readings today, and spend a little more time on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Because the second reading is usually continuous, picking up where we left off the week before, and not thematically based on the first reading and the Gospel, it is often ignored, or it is so dense that a simple reading of Paul doesn’t always make a lot of sense to most people.

So, I’d like to start with an overview of the letter to the Ephesians. First, it isn’t really a letter, it is more like an encyclical, and it probably wasn’t written by St. Paul, but written in his style and using his name, which was very common in early times. It was seen as showing admiration for someone. Quite different than we would think of it today.

But it was written by someone who was close to Paul or understood the themes Paul often talked about, even though there are elements of contradiction with Paul’s earlier work.

Usually Paul’s letters are written to solve problems at individual churches  yet this “letter” could be for any church – it is more universal in content. Paul’s theology in his undisputed letters, that is letters we are sure he wrote, talk about grace through faith, how Jesus’ death on a cross saved us as when he today talks about reconciling “both groups to God in one body through the cross”, and how the Spirit gives us great gifts. This letter also talks about these things. But there are differences from Paul’s early letters, too. Early Paul talks a lot about death, judgment and the end of time. This letter rather ignores all that and concentrates on the now – that Christ is enthroned now and we, as believers,  are already living the “heavenly life”. Salvation for early Paul occurs at the end of time – we will be saved, in the future. Present or future – which is correct?

In this letter the writer says we have already been saved through faith. It says this just before the reading we heard today. In the section we read today this is confirmed when he says that Jews and Gentiles are already united into one. There is no dividing wall or hostility, the writer says. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, though, he says that the process of unification has started but will continue in the future.

The writer today then states that “[Christ] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances” which is basically throwing out the Old Testament, while Paul in Corinthians clearly states that Christ did not abolish the Law.

In the passage today the writer is explaining how the Christians, who were Gentiles before, managed to come under God’s covenant with Israel. This happens through the sacrifice, the death of Jesus who created in this death “one New Man in place of the two” which Paul claimed also in Galatians when he said “there is neither Jew nor Greek”.  In other words, we have become one with Israel, and the end result of that is going to be ‘peace’. Peace comes by getting rid of differences. When you think about it, most of the world’s problems are caused by “differences”. We don’t like people to be different, and we see ourselves as the norm. So Paul or his imitator says here that peace came through Christ’s death which united all of us under one covenant.

The problem in this passage, though, is the abolishment of the Law, which takes away much of the identity of the Jewish half of the equation. Elsewhere Paul has said that God will continue to be faithful to the Jews .

When there are parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other, how do we handle it? I want to suggest to you that studying the Bible will both puzzle you at times, but also give you a chance to put things into context. Knowing that Paul did not write Ephesians allows the historian and theologian to evaluate the things we know are Paul with the things that do not sound like him. In context we can resolve what the original thought was, and sometimes dismiss the contradiction. But we don’t dismiss everything because often the newer writings are deeper insights into the original teachings. Yet, that is why it is also dangerous to take the Bible literally and out of context. Terrible things have happened as a result of that.

So what should we draw from Paul’s letter today? I would like you to concentrate this week on the idea that peace comes through unity, and unity often comes through understanding. When we are upset by someone different from us, or an idea that is different than what we have been brought up with, try to keep an open mind, evaluate and then make a decision.

Let’s look at an example. The gay marriage issue has been a complex one and both sides have staunchly held to their beliefs. By reading openly both sides of the argument, understanding why the Roman church opposes it, which is different from the reasons the fundamentalists oppose it, might just allow you to make a decision of conscience.

There are many such issues today which take away peace and cause conflict. Most of them are peripheral to the core content of Jesus’ message. But, let us be reminded of the third part of Paul’s teaching which is preserved in Ephesians – the Spirit will help us if we are open to what the Spirit is saying to us.

And this is the Good News I hope to get you thinking bout more 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 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 12 )

July 5, 2015

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

We continue today with readings that deal with Prophets or Apostles.If you remember from last week, prophets were inspired by the Spirit to speak God’s words. We also learned that it didn’t matter who you were or how much knowledge a person had, if God wanted you to prophesy, you did.

We see that again in todays reading, not from Ezekiel as last week, but from the prophet Amos who was surprised to get a calling from God, told to him by the priest Amaziah. He says that he isn’t a prophet or isn’t the son of a prophet. Why would the king think that he could go and earn his living prophesying. He was just a simple herdsmen and horticulturalist. What was he even thinking?

Again God works in ways that confound us. Amos must have had something that God saw because he indeed call him to be a prophet, and to make his living at it.

We need to be open to God. The Psalm today expresses it well when it says “Let me hear what the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.” We have to learn to listen to God – God could be calling any one of us, even if we think we are not worthy, not knowledgeable enough, not brave enough. God’s Spirit will come to us and work through us. We simply have to let it happen and be open to it.

As we move into the New Testament in our readings we hear Paul preaching some really good news to us of redemption and forgiveness of sin, and Paul seems to think that we have all become Prophets because the Spirit is in us, and the grace of God has been given to us. “With all wisdom and insight,” he says, “God has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ.” In order for this to happen, he says, we have been “marked with he seal of the promised Holy Spirit.”  We saw last week that that was the first thing that happens to a Prophet – God’s Spirit enters one. So in that sense we are all prophets, and that is why in the Gospel today we see Jesus sending out his disciples to continue his work of healing and preaching of repentance.

It is interested that the new prophets are sent out not alone, but two by two. Unlike Amos, who was paid for his prophesying, the Apostles are to ask nothing in return, and they are to go out with nothing. They will be taken care of in welcoming homes – they will not starve. It is true that in this period there was a great deal of generosity toward visitors – there were no motels – so the traveller was at the mercy of the good will of others. And visitors were treated with care, often more than family.

But Jesus also says that if they don’t listen to your words of repentance, simply leave the house and shake the dust off their feet and move on.

The idea of sending the Apostles two by two intrigues me. We have echoes of Noah’s ark, and even of the Genesis statement – it is not good for a man to be alone.” Certainly the company on the long journey would be good, might also help keep them safer on the road. Probably though, the idea was that two people could witness the truth for each other, showing that they agree on the doctrine of repentance. Two saying and believing the same thing makes a better case perhaps. They were more reliable witnesses to what Jesus had said and done.Many Protestant groups take this literally and send out their members two by two even today.

Finally, Jesus gave the gift of exorcism to the Apostles.  What this indicates is that first and foremost they were fighting Satan, and so they were able to cast out many demons. It isn’t popular for us today except in horror movies to believe in exorcism, but the church right from the beginning of Christianity has always seen it as a fight against Satan in the same way that Christ was tempted by the devil, though he was able to win the fight by himself. We also see here an early example of the Sacrament of the Sick when the Apostles anointed someone with oil and cured them of disease. When most of us were younger this sacrament had morphed into a sacrament for those who were dying, and was even called Extreme Unction – given only in extreme cases. This was never its true use, however, and Vatican II brought back the idea that anointing is for any sick person. So if I come and anoint you, don’t have a heart attack because you think you are about to die!

What I would like you to leave with today, however, is the idea that you are a prophet, and you need to listen to what God is calling you to do or say. We don’t listen enough – we are always thinking of replies to a person today. Just listen. You might be surprised what you hear, and you might even be as terrified as some of the prophets to find out just what God is calling you to. Remember, though, as Paul said last week: ”his grace is enough!” and if God calls you, he will help through whatever it is God asks you to do.

And that is the Good News of our prophetic vocation today. God bless.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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