Archive for August, 2015

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept. 6)

August 30, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

All three readings and the psalm today express the same idea: that God protects and cares for the outcasts, the helpless in society. This is a basic premise of Christianity and has been since Jesus walked the earth. Jesus showed us that care in his healings of the blind, the plagued, the lepers, and the deaf, which we read about today. Particularly in his time, the sicknesses we just referred to were seen as punishments by God for sin, so the people who suffered from them multiplied their woes by being outcasts as well.

From early in the Bible, however, we begin to see references to how God is particularly attracted to helping the helpless in society, those who Isaiah says are of a “fearful heart” because of their plight. Don’t be fearful, Isaiah says. God will protect you, will avenge you and punish the people who treat you badly and do not help you. There will be a “terrible recompense”, he says.

After this “recompense”, this repayment, God will open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, strengthen the limbs of the paralyzed, and give voice to the mute person.

Why is God so attracted to the needy? Often, it is because they are the ones with the strongest faith. Think of the times that you have needed something and gone to God, when yourself or someone close to you was seriously ill, and you went to God. It is that kind of time that brings out our faith in God.

Secondly, it is a simple matter of justice. Those who suffer in this life will have that turned around in the next. As the psalm says: “the Lord executes justice for the oppressed.” It is like that folk cliché: ‘what comes around, goes around’. The same psalm from today talks about how God will help the alien (the stranger), the orphan and the widow.

St. James, writing late in the first century, reminds the Christians that God has chosen the poor in the world. They are the ones who are rich in faith, and they will inherit the kingdom of heaven. That is why we are not to cater to the rich or show favoritism to those well-off. Unfortunately, we could give the same message to the many churches today that are so into collection of money, that they do favor the rich and court them. But if we really believe in Jesus as we profess we do, then we cannot ignore the cries of the poor and needy in our society.

Coming from Canada as I did, where there is universal health care, whether or not high taxes are a result, I can only think that that country is acting in a very Christian way. Yes, the rich pay more taxes to support the needy, the unemployed, the outcasts – but isn’t that what Christ would want us to do? I don’t often get political in my homilies, but this is one topic that I can only see as something every Christian needs to wrestle with his or her conscience over, and understand that we have an obligation to share our wealth, to share our good fortune with those who have no fortune, who can barely exist.

The Gospel reading today is unusual in that it is one of the three healings we know about where Jesus used physical matter, mud, in this case, to bring about a miracle. Usually, his simple word was enough. There has been much conjecture about it, and I might be able to summarize the reasons he used mud. First, it may have been a return to the creation story where man was made from the mud of the earth, thus paralleling the creation story. Perhaps he used mud as one of many ways of healing to show that it wasn’t something he did and had a magic method he used, but to show through many different ways that it came from God. Lastly, it could be that the spit or saliva which was often used in Jesus time because they thought it had a healing factor inherent in it, was being used a sign that a healing was going to take place.  For whatever reason, Jesus used the spittle and mud to effect the cure of the man’s hearing and speech. Jesus was the healer that Isaiah was prophesying, and the people began to recognize Jesus first as a healer and gradually to realize that he was more than that. Jesus asked them – ordered them, in fact, to tell no one about the healing. Why was that? It could have been a matter of crowd control. Once every one heard what he could do, people would rush to be cured of all sorts of things and that really wasn’t what Jesus was setting out to do. It was more a by-product of his teaching. Secondly, Jesus or God the Father may have been orchestrating the time Jesus was on earth, and it was not time for him to be arrested and to die, which would have happened because of the criticisms he was making of the Pharisees and the revolutionary teachings he was proposing. Lastly, it could be because he didn’t want to be :”Jesus Christ Superstar”. Ask any celebrity how difficult it is to cope with the kind of public attention a celebrity gets. Jesus would find it difficult to hide from that, to find time to pray, to finish what he set out to do. So there were probably very good reasons for Jesus not wanting anyone outside of the observers to know.

What can we do this week to follow Jesus and the gospel message? ( I know that there are a lot of social works going on in this parish, and so I am not really talking to those of you highly involved in them.  But for those who may not be yet.) Obviously, try to find ways to share what you have with others. I don’t mean just financial, either. Time is a commodity which is worth a lot in our culture, especially in the Northern Virginia area. Giving of your time to help another is certainly a way to act out the Gospel message. I am going to be involved in a committee this month to help get drivers to take cancer victims to their chemo appointments, and will be telling you more about that soon. Once again, I remind you that it doesn’t have to be something very big that we give or do. Just giving or doing some thing could be a reminder for us of how we can bring about the kingdom, and to assure that we will be part of that beautiful city!

And this is the Good News preached by Isaiah, David, James and Jesus today. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

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 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

August 22, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

Our first reading today is from the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the books ascribed to Moses and the one dealing with the end of his life and the imminent entry into the God’s Promised Land. Moses and the Hebrews have been wandering through the deserts for forty years and they are about to enter their homeland, but Moses is an old man now and knows that he will not enter it with them. In this reading Moses is talking to his people and reminding them that they have messed up badly over the years, which is why the promise took 40 years too fulfill. Over and over they have forgotten the one true God and the teachings of their God.

In the selection we read today, Moses is being very practical with his people, and giving them good political advice as well as spiritual. In the spiritual or moral dimension, Moses is telling them to remember what God has done for them in leading them out of slavery, and that God has given them a pattern to live by with the commandments. Moses urges them to be diligent in following God’s commands to show their love and gratitude to God, first of all, but that it would also be good for them politically, to show the other nations that they are a cultured, wise nation.  At this time there were not many countries that had as civilized a law as did the Hebrews. Moses says that they could be a light to other nations, and make it possible for other nations to see the immanence of Israel’s God – the fact that God is with them, hears them, and answers them.

The Torah, then – or the teachings of God given to Moses – makes the Hebrews stand out to other nations, achieving two great purposes – serving God and presenting the one God to other nations.

The teachings (which we translate as Laws) that Moses gave the Hebrews were the Ten Commandments certainly, but also other teachings that separated the Hebrews or set them apart from other nations. Many of the Laws, especially those of purity came about as comments on the Law, just as today many of the the ideas in the United States Constitution have been ruled on and more laws and amendments have been created over the years.

When Jesus attacks the scribes and Pharisees because they say he is not following these created laws of purity, many of these were traditions and not always Biblically based. Some of them came about for hygienic purposes or to suit the needs of the priests or ruling bodies.

When Jesus was accused of breaking these so-called laws, he reminds them that they are merely human traditions, and that more importance is being placed on these than on the actual teaching words of God.

So Jesus uses this as a way to explain that God created everything as good and that it is what we do with God’s creation is what creates something bad. Evil comes from inside a person. And this is what the original commandments or teachings of God was really about. When we look at the list of things that Christ calls evil coming from the heart of man, we see murder (5th commandment), fornication and licentiousness (6th Commandment), theft (7th commandment),  deceit and slander (9th commandment), avarice and envy (10th commandment),  with pride, folly and wickedness involved in all ten of them. Jesus was getting back to the basics by reminding them that God’s commandments are more important than the traditions that had become the sole concern of the Pharisees of his day. I think we do the same thing today when we take individual moral problems like abortion, homosexuality, birth-control as ‘the’ most important issues in our religion. We tend to have pet concerns that override the really important issues of loving God and neighbor and sharing with the poor. That isn’t to say they are not at all important or connected – they certainly are – especially abortion – but we enlarge them to be more important issues, honoring God with our lips, as Jesus says, but ignoring the heart.

The letter of James today really summarizes what I have been trying to say when he defines a “pure and undefiled” religion in a way that seems very simple and narrow. Purity of religion is caring for others, loving your neighbor, especially those who can’t care for themselves like widows and orphans, and not following the ways, the traditions of the ungodly world. James also adds that we need not to just listen to God’s word, but we have to follow through and do it.

So how can we be doers of the word this week? First of all let us focus on the two great commandments this week. Find a way to let God know of your love, spend some time with him, talk with him. He is both immanent and transcendent. We acknowledge his greatness and vastness, God he also became one of us and so we can talk with, complain to, beg, and thank God. Then, find a way to focus on our neighbors in need. Perhaps donate time or food to a mission or food bank, or donate to a cause that helps others. Bring extra peanut butter in for next Sunday’s peanut butter drive. Do “something” to remind yourself of the Word of God presented to us this week.

And that will be really Good News for God and for the recipients of our love this week.

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 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 23)

August 15, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 23)

Today the readings are once again about the Eucharist – the bread from heaven – but it is our last foray into that topic for a while. The first two readings, however, are more about service. In the Book of Joshua we find Joshua gathering together all the tribes in a great assembly to praise God. They have entered a land where there were many gods being worshipped, each nation, sometimes each city, having its own God and protector. Joshua knew that moving into these lands and cities would tempt the Hebrews to start to fall in line with he inhabitants and worship other gods, which is exactly what happened in the years to come. This day, however, he asks the people to make a choice. He said you can choose other false gods or you can choose the one true God. Joshua said he had made his decision; he would not be influenced by other cultures but remain dedicated to the God of Israel. The people, having travelled forty years to get to this new land, agreed with him. They recognized, because they had lived through some of it, what God had done for them in taking them out of the slavery of Egypt, feeding them in the wilderness with the bread from heaven, protecting them along the way. that the God of Israel was not to be abandoned. Their thankfulness was so great they as a group they chose Israel’s God to be true to.

The psalm refrain today is once again “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” But the psalm itself is extended and we hear of how God will protect righteous people, even though they have many sufferings and afflictions. In the New testament this becomes the healing power of the eucharist.

The theme of servitude is again picked up by Paul in Ephesians. Again, I remind you that this may not have been Paul since some of the things here go against what he had previously written in the epistles we know to be his. The idea of servitude or “subjection” as it is translated here, is that we are to be subjected to each other – we are to act as servants to each other because that is what Jesus did. The example he uses is a marriage and we have to understand that he was writing from a world view where men were totally in charge. His view of marriage is to see the male as Christ-like and wives like the people of God who are to do service, to be subject to Jesus or the husband. If you can get beyond that thinking of male superiority, it can be an apt image, however, for relationships. The dominant image is of the love that Christ had for us that led even to his death. Husbands, being the Christ image, must love their wives, to the death. Paul actually puts a lot on husbands today. They are to help their wives become holy, to help the wives be without blemish, to love the wives as much as they love their own bodies, they must nourish and care for their wives. The husband as the image of Christ is a daunting model for men who have to also realize that instead of lording it over another, they are to be their servant as Christ was. So, in a sense, husband and wife serve each other in a healthy relationship. The ideal is oneness, the great mystery as Paul calls it, of the two becoming one flesh in marriage.

The Gospel then creates the same kind of question that Joshua generated about choosing the God of Israel or other gods. Jesus has explained ‘the bread of heaven” and told them that those who will follow him will have eternal life. They need to choose – go back to the Jewish rituals and continue to follow the Law or follow Jesus and become something quite different within the LAw. Some could not make that choice. We are told that many left over Jesus’ teaching about him being  the bread from heaven. Some stayed, but all the apostles continued to follow him as one who spoke the words of eternal life, and their belief that Jesus was the Holy One of God.

Just a note on a very debated line from this reading today which seemed to some to say that there was predestination. “For this reason I have told toy that none can come to me unless it is granted them by my Father.” Jesus seems to be saying that believing in him is a gift from God, and God doesn’t give the gift to everyone. Therefore only a few people will have eternal life by following him. John Calvin during the Protestant Reformation took this as doctrine, and they believe to this day that some have been chosen to be saved and others have not.

I see this line, though, in context as referring to the Jews who had been chosen by God. God had prepared them for a Messiah and had given clues throughout their history in the writings of the Torah. Without those clues, how could they ever hope to understand what was happening through Jesus. After Jesus’ death this was opened up so that the rest of the world could participate in this knowledge, to become God’s people. Once you see what is before you, but reject it and do not believe, as did many of the people who heard Jesus, then it was not God’s fault. God has drawn you, but you have refused to believe it.

When all is said and done, the most beautiful words in the readings today may be Peter’s: Lord, to whom can we go?”

What else is there? Once we have been made aware of what God has done and is doing for us, once we have been made aware of the bread from heaven come down to earth for us, once we have been made aware that we can share in that bread and in eternal life and have our sins forgiven, to whom else can we go? Is there a choice if we want to live!

And those are the words of Good News that I ask you to think about this week, the last week of our vacation with the Gospel of John.

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 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 16)

August 8, 2015

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 16)

Once again this week we are invited to look at the continuing teaching on the Eucharist as presented by Jesus in John’s Gospel. And once again, we have an Old Testament reading that looks forward to the eucharistic event. Proverbs says: “”You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense [Wisdom] says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity and live…””

And again we sing in the Psalm: Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Even so, Paul, or pseudo Paul” in a voice that is censuring excess at Eucharistic meals, says don’t taste too much: Do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit”…and that will lead you “to sing and make music to the Lord”.

So today is all about celebration of the fact that the Eucharist is a wonderful, miraculous, freeing, forgiving thing!

The Gospel repeats and then picks up what we heard last week, re-iterating that the bread from heaven, the flesh of our Savior will give us life now, and eternal life after. Because Jesus has been raised and we are “in Jesus” we too shall live because of him. Hopefully, you found time last week to think about some of these things that we often take for granted.

Because today is so celebratory about the Eucharist I would like to take a few minutes to remind you how many times this ‘bread of heaven” comes up in our Sunday Mass.

We start most Sundays by my saying “As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of Christ’s love, let us acknowledge our failures.”  The mystery of Christ’s love is another way for saying eucharist. Christ’s love for us allows him to give himself up for us, and he does this by giving up his body. Each week at Mass we re-enact that great mystery.

When we get to the Offertory of the Mass after we have finished the readings and said our Creed, the people bring the gifts to the altar, the priest takes them and prays over them. Since I am concentrating on “bread from heaven” today I will only talk about the first one. The priest says..”Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.” The bread of life! Jesus has taken something from the earth, it is refashioned by our hands and the refashioned again into Christ’s body. A threefold mystery.

In the Canon of the Mass, just before the consecration, the priest asks that this bread and wine “become the body and blood of Jesus Christ your only son our Lord.” Immediately following we hear the words from the Last Supper repeated: Take this [bread], all of you and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.” This is the moment in the Mass when we most clearly know what is happening and what sacrifice Jesus was going to make for us.

Immediately after when we proclaim the mystery of our faith, one of the responses is that “we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus until you come in glory”. How we proclaim that is, of course, the Eucharist.

After the consecration we are again reminded that what we are doing at Mass is reenacting the perfect sacrifice. We are told “we offer to you, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice: the bread of life and cup of eternal salvation.” Both themes are proclaimed loudly in today’s Gospel – the life-giving effect of the Eucharist and the everlasting effect of it. Then we are reminded of three examples of offerings being given in the Old Testament. We are reminded of Abel who offered up the fruits of the land to God, of Abraham, who was willing to offer the body of his son, and Melchisedech, a Gentile King, who brought gifts of bread and wine to Abram. We see Melchisedech’s gifts as a forerunner of the gifts Jesus transformed.

At the end of the Canon we proclaim that these gifts are filled with life and goodness, and are blessed and holy.

In the Our Father when we say “give us this day our daily bread”, we can hear echoes of the Old Testament and the manna in the desert which was a daily bread and echoes of the Eucharist as well. In this we are asking for the eucharist’s life-giving qualities.

After the Lamb of God litany has reminded us of the fact that sins are forgiven again, the priest takes a piece of the consecrated bread and drops it into the chalice of blood and silently says: May this mingling of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it. So there it is again – the two prominent qualities of the eucharist – forgiveness of sin and eternal life. When the priest consumes the bread, you may not realize but he silently says: ‘May the body of Christ bring me to everlasting life’. In cleansing the vessels the prayer uttered is: May [these gifts] bring me healing and strength.

So you see that in each Mass we have structured our worship and praise of God around the idea of repeating the perfect sacrifice of the bread from heaven and the wine of the covenant.

Coming back to John’s Gospel today we might end by repeating Christ’s explanation to us: “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.

I ask you this week and going forward to watch for the mentioning of the bread of heaven at Mass in attempt to not let us take the Mass for granted, but to make it a real eucharistic meal binding us to Christ and to one another. Then we can echo the final prayer of the priest: Lord may i receive these gifts in purity of heart. May they bring me healing and strength, now and for ever.:

This is Good News, and it is news that bears repeating today.

(Please note that the Catholic Apostolic church still uses the post Vatican II translation of the Canon, which I have used 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 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 9)

August 1, 2015

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 9)

We continue with Jesus’ teachings on the eucharist today and the idea we began last week with Jesus proclaiming himself to be the bread of heaven.

I want to start, however, with the first reading from the Book of Kings. Elijah was a prophet who was depressed.  I think if we read the selection carefully, we could put together all the elements of a good case for depression.

I checked out a doctor’s list for signs of depression and here’s what I found. A person may be depressed if they can’t sleep or want to sleep too much. Elijah sat down in the middle of the day and fell asleep under a broom tree. A depressed person finds tasks that were all right before to be difficult.  Elijah was finding it difficult to prophesy, especially when no one heeded his prophecies. The depressed person feels hopeless and helpless. Elijah asks that he might die! The depressed person can’t control negative thoughts. Elijah says “I am no better than my ancestors – take away my life.” The depressed person has no appetite. Elijah hadn’t been eating and didn’t want to eat until the angel forced him to. Even after he hate he went to lie down again. The final thing that is noted in depression is that the person feels life is not worth living. And that seems to be the whole attitude of Elijah in this reading.

Many people, maybe even some of us, suffer from depression. Elijah had no diagnosis, no doctors to prescribe for him,but God sends an angel to him to feed him and to push him on. The passage ends with Elijah “went in the strength of that food, forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mountain of God.

We seem to have made medical strides with depression today, but one thing a patient is not told is to put some hope in God who told us he would never send anything to us that we couldn’t handle with his grace. It was, in this case, food that God sent, that strengthened him and pulled back on his depressive state.

We, too, need the food that God sends. Our Psalm says “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” “I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” A little bit of God goes a long way, and a little of the food from heaven can cure us.

That, too, seems to be the message of Jesus in the Gospel today, among a number of theological messages John presents to us.

Our Gospel passage picks up from last week when Jesus proclaimed himself the bread from heaven and some of the literal minded crowd wondered how he could say he was from heaven when they knew he was just a carpenter’s son, the son of Joseph.

In answer, Jesus begins a discourse on how God has sent this bread to them in the form of a human, and has given grace to people to allow them to see Jesus for that bread. Jesus explains that if they have learned from the Old testament and have been taught by God, they will come to him, for they will see him as the fulfillment of that promise of old.

Then the shocking promise comes. If you eat of the bread from heaven, bread which means both the teaching and words of Jesus, and later the eucharistic bread that is his body, you will not die.

On one level the people must have thought he was crazy – how could they eat the bread from heaven and how was someone not supposed to die – ever! It made no sense.  But Jesus doesn’t let it go. He says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world [to accomplish this feat] will be my own flesh.

As I said last week, it makes sense to us because most of us have been brought up with this concept, this idea from our youth, but imagine hearing it the first time. Is it not surprising that many people found him a bit crazy, if this was how he was talking. I asked you last week to reflect on the importance of the eucharist, and this week I would like to to reflect on the healing power of the eucharist. Just as God was able to help Elijah’s depression, the food that came down from heaven which is Jesus, can also help us to be healed, sometimes physically, but most often spiritually. These few weeks in John, we can find Jesus at his most outrageous self in his teachings, something we have never known or have forgotten. But the content of what he says needs to rattle our own brains so that we can come to depend on the eucharist, to know that it is truly a healing gift – not just for forgiveness of sins, its major accomplishment, but for other healings as well.

Do we think about what we are doing when we go to communion? Do we see it as a healing power? Do we see it as partaking in Jesus’ death to give life to us? Do we discover the peace that comes with communion? Does it influence our lives during the week? Do we miss it dreadfully when we can’t partake of it? I hope that you will spend a few moments this next week, asking yourself these questions, and if it has become something rote and ritualistic for you with little meaning, try to discover the true meaning and how it can affect your life for the better. Does it lead to what Paul tells us today – “to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

And this is the eucharistic Good News I proclaim 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”]