Archive for March, 2016

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, C (April 3, 2016)

March 27, 2016

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, C (April 3, 2016)

The main theme of today’s readings might be summarized by Jesus’ saying in the Gospel of John: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Belief! The early followers of Jesus saw Jesus with their own eyes. Thomas was able to touch Jesus and verify for himself the reality of the risen body. We have not had that luxury, so how much harder is it for us today, 2000 years later, to believe. Yet we do, and Christ calls us blessed for that. By what means do we believe then?

First of all, we believe because we trust the men and women who wrote the accounts. This was not the ramblings of one person, but Jesus was seen by all the apostles and by many of the other followers. We trust that that many people, at different times and places, could not have been so mistaken or could have invented what happened.

I think we also believe because of the strangeness of the account descriptions. Jesus’ resurrected body was not quite the same as his earthly body. Yet, the combination of supernatural and natural elements seems to make it very realistic to us. Jesus appears out of nowhere in the room where the Apostles were hiding because they feared, being Jesus’ followers, that they might be put to death as well. The room was locked, but Jesus just appeared – supernaturally! But his appearance was normalized by his customary greeting to them: Shalom Aleichem, Peace be with you. It made it seem less supernatural and more ordinary. This combination makes it so much realistic to us.

Jesus also greeted them by symbolically breathing on them. He says for them to receive the Holy Spirit, but I think this was symbolic of what would happen to them a few days later at Pentecost. When they receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost they are quite different than the frightened people they remained that day. gain, much more believable.

If that isn’t enough to help us believe, we have the story of the doubter, Thomas, who standing in for those of us that find it hard to believe in the miraculous, has to be convinced by actually physically touching the wounds of Jesus. And he is, and so are we!

Our belief, then, today, is helped by the writings of the Gospels and the witness of the disciples. John says at the end of his reading today that he wrote these things down “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” John was writing his Gospel at a time when most of the contemporaries of Jesus had passed away, and all there was now was word of mouth and the writings that had been created.

Belief today is also helped by our experiences with others who believe. We see this in the Acts of the Apostles, our first reading today. The Apostles were able to go and spread the word by preaching and healing and were so successful that people brought all their sick onto the streets when the Apostles would pass by. Even though people were frightened by what might happen to them if they became followers of this crucified man, Luke says: “Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women…”

So these are some of the ways that we are able to maintain our belief and faith today, centuries after the events happened. The final image that we are left with today is from the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelations. This is the image of Christ that inspires all believers: “I saw one like the Son of Man… but he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, but see, I am alive forever and ever.” Now we have Christ’s own words that John has written down to help our unbelief, to give us strength in our belief, to inspire us to know that our beginning and now our ending will be in Christ, who has defeated death and the underworld. It is a beautiful and inspiring image for all of us who believe. It gives us assurance that there is something after death, and that our end is to be with Christ our Creator, and the Creator of all. Someone who knows us, because he has been in our shoes, walked with us and died with us.

So there you have it from the readings today – a compendium of ways that we are blessed because we believe, and the reasons why we should believe. This week I would ask you to think about what you believe, and take heart because of those beliefs. Christ has told us that we are blessed because of this, and Christ does not lie. Everything we do becomes a step closer to that blessedness which is now our birthright. The ups and downs of our daily life can be made blessed by this belief, and it can make our understanding of life so much more positive. This is the Good News of our belief in Jesus Christ. May it strengthen and secure us in his love. God bless you.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Good Friday- The Lord’s Passion (C) March 25

March 20, 2016

Celebration of the Lord’s Passion [Good Friday] Year C (March 25, 2016)

The cross has become a common symbol in our lives, so common that we often forget that it was an instrument of torture and death. Today we see it as a symbol of victory perhaps, but it was never that. And it is important for us to remember its original meaning. Though we look on it as the symbol of our salvation, it meant a very different thing in Jesus’ time. It meant humiliation, horror, a visible sign of what could happen to you if you didn’t obey Roman Law.

The readings today all speak eloquently for themselves. I particularly love the reading from the book of Isaiah when we are able to look backwards at the reading and apply it to Jesus.

It is as though Isaiah could see the future: listen again to the description – “…he grew up before the Lord like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him…he was despised and rejected by men; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole…he was cut off from the land of the living…they made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

If you wonder where St. Paul got the notion of Christ dying for our sins, you don’t have to look any further than this. St. Paul’s whole theological argument of sin and redemption through Jesus comes from this background.

What does the mean for us 2000 and so years later? Have we become so familiar with the storyline, the theology that it surrounds us but no longer has any affect on us? I think we celebrate Good Friday each year to try to get us to remember, to strip away the familiar and be brought back again into the reality of what Christ did for us. The symbolism of the unveiling of the cross today, the veneration of the wood of the cross, should be symbols that help us to remember and feel again. The cross that was once a symbol of pain, suffering, humiliation, torture has become for us the instrument of salvation. When we make the sign of the cross, let us do so today with the contemplation of its meaning. When we venerate the cross, let us truly think about the sacrifice that has been made for us. Only in this way can we be ready to celebrate the true glory of the Resurrection which is yet to be remembered this week.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the Resurrection of the Lord -Easter Sunday (March 27)

March 19, 2016

Homily for the Resurrection of the Lord -Easter Sunday  (March 27)

Easter is the ultimate feast of the Church year, yet somehow in our culture it is not treated as important as Christmas, for example, or some other feasts. And yet, we realize that if there were no Resurrection, we would be dealing with a holy man who lived and died and left lovely, if somewhat hard, messages for us to consider. The Resurrection raises Jesus’ death to miraculous, but also to a victory over the forces of evil in the world.

It took some time for the Easter miracle to register in the minds of the followers of Jesus and it wasn’t until Pentecost that they really understood. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles today, Peter is preaching a sermon in which he was finally able to put together everything that had happened with Jesus in line with the Prophets and what had been foretold. He determines that Jesus is “the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead”…and that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sin through his name.”

This theology or understanding of the meaning of the Resurrection came when the Spirit came upon them at Pentecost and this understanding which we still believe today came very early in the understanding of the Apostles and the church.

In his letter to the Colossians today, St Paul develops a further theology from the Resurrection – that we must keep our minds on the things that are spiritual because we, too, have died with Christ, and we too will be resurrected and “revealed with him in glory”.

In the Gospel of Luke today we hear the story of the disciples who were on the road to Emmaus, probably escaping from the dangers of Jerusalem for the followers of Christ. Jesus comes to the men in a resurrected body which they don’t recognize, but they gossip and talk on the way. They tell Jesus all about what people have been saying happened, that Jesus was buried but wasn’t in his tomb the next day and that women had come to visit and found only an angel who told them that Christ rose. This was very hard to believe. It is hard for us to believe it today as well. So Jesus began to teach them on the way. He explained how the death and resurrection were foretold by the Prophets and he opens their eyes to mysteries that had not understood. They asked him to stay the night with them because they were so entranced by what he had to say, and at table that night, when Jesus blessed the bread and he gave it to them, they finally had their eyes opened and recognized that this was Jesus. As quickly as they understood, Jesus disappeared from them. They gathered their strength to return to Jerusalem where they found Peter and the apostles gathered. When they arrived they were told that Peter had seen Jesus, that he was alive. Then they recounted to the others their meeting of Jesus, verifying all their hopes.

It is difficult to believe in miracles though we all pray for them. Sometimes we see something happen that can only be explained as miraculous. But most of the time it is difficult for us to believe in unnatural things happening. I think that many Christians hide from the reality of the Resurrection because it is miraculous and doesn’t make scientific sense. But the accounts that we have in the Scriptures of people who were also incredulous and changed their minds ought to help us to do so as well. To believe in something we must get our minds around it, study it and understand it. To believe in something miraculous we also need to rely on the experiences of others who were involved in the event. That is why it is so important that we had numerous witnesses at different times all saying the same thing. Jesus is alive! We have the accounts of the women, the account of Mary Magdalene, the account of Peter, the account of the disciples going to Emmaus we read today. These accounts can strengthen our belief so that as Paul says, we can keep our minds on heaven and what we must do to be sure we are resurrected with Christ as well. Christ is risen. Christ is living. Christ is with us in the Eucharist. We are part of him and he, us. Let us celebrate this mystery today as we re-enact the sacrifice of the Mass and strengthen our belief that we, too, will be resurrected with he Lord.

This is the Good News of Easter and the happy news I offer you today.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper (C) March 24

March 19, 2016

Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday) Year C (March 24, 2016)

Holy Thursday is the day we celebrate the last meal that Jesus ever had, a meal in which there is much going on. On the surface, we have a group of men who had entered Jerusalem somewhat triumphantly, preaching a message of Good News, celebrating together the one Jewish feast of most importance each year – the Passover – together. It was a holy meal, one steeped in tradition for the Jews and laid out for them in their Scriptures. Certain prayers would be recited and they would be brought back to the miracles of the Exodus so that they would never forget the work that God had done for them.

But along with this meal, there was much more going on. Jesus seemed to know that his death was imminent, and he used the feast as a way of preparation for the events to come and even more, long-term, into the future so that everyone after would also be part of this feast. Jesus knew he was being betrayed and as part of the meal he named his betrayer.  He didn’t try to stop him – things were already in motion – God’s plan for all of us.

Two amazing things did happen at this Passover meal, however. The first is the establishment of the eucharist, the way this meal could be immortalized and with us for all time. Jesus took food from the meal and wine from the meal and miraculously became one with the food and drink so that we might experience Jesus inside of us as we ate and drank. Both a metaphor and a reality, the Eucharist has been the bond we have all shared throughout history from that time. As we receive the eucharist this evening, as we drink the wine, know that we are drinking Christ’s body and blood and we are partaking in the great sacrifice that he made for us all. We remember him as he asked, yes, but this is no simple memorial. Christ is living and he becomes a part of us. We take it for granted but we should be awed by this each and every time we take communion.

The second event – the washing of the feet – though it may seem an odd ceremony to us today, was part of a ritual performed in Jewish homes and was based on cleanliness and sanitary reasons. Sandals which were open were the shoes of the day, and there was no cement or concrete. People walked on dirty roads and picked up the dirt of the walk on their feet. When a person entered a home, it was traditional to have jugs of water by the door and to have guests feet washed. This would be done by a servant, just one of the many meal jobs that needed to be done.

But Jesus reverses this. He is the host of the meal, and it is he that gets down and washes the feet of his guests. Peter objects until Jesus tells him that the washing of feet – the service to others – is necessary if we are to be sharers in the life of Jesus. The church has always seen this as the first ordinations – Jesus’ way of showing his apostles what they must do if they are to be his priests, if they are to take over his mission of spreading the Gospel.

“If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” That was his admonition to them – to be servants to all. It amazes me how over the years Bishops have become almost kingly in their garb and attitude, when it so clearly shows in the Gospel, that they are to remain humble, servant-like and helpful to their flock.

So today is a reminder for priests and deacons and a reminder to the faithful. Let us be the people who take seriously the meaning of the Eucharist, become constantly more aware of Christ within us as a result of the eucharistic meal, be constantly reminded of our mandate to help others and each other, and spread the love unto death that Holy Thursday is so much about. I myself have experienced the caring of this parish and am more and more aware of how this is part of being in the St. Andrew’s community. May God pour abundant blessings on all of you over the next few days as we celebrate together the most important feasts in our church year! And this is the Good News I wish to give you tonight!

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for Palm Sunday Year C (March 20)

March 12, 2016

Homily for Palm Sunday Year C (March 20)

Palm Sunday leaves us in a bit of a schizophrenia.  On the one hand we have the entry into Jerusalem where the people proclaim Jesus as their Messiah and King, wave palm branches, and we have a great triumphant feel. Then immediately after, we are plunged into the story of the Passion with all of the betrayal, denials, scheming and plotting leading to the death of this same man.

How do we reconcile these two things? Can we?

We get some hints at how to do this in the first three readings today. In the Isaiah reading and the Psalm we see the horrors described – the people who struck the suffering servant, the people who pulled out his beard, who insulted and spat at him turn into something else by the end of the reading. “The Lord God helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced…and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah turns around what has happened to the servant so that he is in the end exalted by God who saves him. Similarly in the Psalm which is so despairing at first – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the servant cries. People mock him, shake their heads, divide his clothes and encircle him with evildoers. But this too takes a dramatic change in the last verse. The whole tone changes as the psalmist says that the servant’s name will be told to all the brothers and sisters, and the congregations will praise him. All the offspring of Israel will be in awe of him.

And why is there this abrupt shift? St Paul explains so beautifully: “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” There, in a nutshell, is the story of our salvation. But, St. Paul says, it doesn’t end there. It ends as do the Isaiah reading and the Psalm, with exaltation. “Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is lord, to the glory of the God the Father.”

Today in the Gospel and on Good Friday we don’t get to see the exaltation. We get to see the humility of God, the obedience of Jesus, the love of Jesus for others even in his suffering and finally the execution of Jesus he accepts in obedience. We must await his Easter to see the glorification and exaltation.

Please join in this week on Holy Thursday and Good Friday in order to best prepare yourself for the glory of that exaltation on Easter Sunday.

It is a microcosm of our own lives as well and is well worth meditating on this week.

And this is the good News we look forward to in a week’s time.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 5th Sunday in Lent C (Mar 13)

March 6, 2016

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C  (Mar 13)

There is very definitely a theme running through all of our readings today which might be proclaimed as: Forget what’s happened in the past and look to the future! When Jesus has managed to dismiss all the naysayers who wanted to kill the woman caught in adultery, he is left alone with her. In a confessional moment, Jesus apparently forgives her past sins and has her look to the future: Go and sin no more.

We get similar moments in the other three readings. In the reading from Isaiah God is speaking and he is telling his people not to bother even remembering the exodus from Egypt and the miracles in the desert because in the future God is going to do even more remarkable things for them. He tells them to rejoice in that thought. Put the past behind them and look to a bright future.

Our Psalmist re-iterates: in the past they were mourners who sowed in tears and went out weeping, but in the present and future they go home rejoicing, coming home with full grown sheaves of wheat.

St. Paul, too, says that he does only one thing: he forgets what lies behind and he strains forward to what lies ahead.

For us too, it does not matter what has happened to us in the past – great suffering, death of loved ones, poverty, fear, abandonment. If we keep the faith realizing that we are partakers and sharers of the Passion of Christ, we can put all that behind us, forget the past, and concentrate on the final goal of Paradise and the joys that will come between that and our death. If we keep the faith of Christ, we might still not have a great life or we may have abundant joys, but we know…we know..in the end by having kept the faith that we will gain eternal life with God, the only true happiness, the only complete happiness.  And this is what Lent has been all about: preparing us not so much for the cross but for what comes after the cross.

Jesus just like us, suffered and died. He knows what it is to feel pain, isolation, loneliness, the death of friends, hatred by others, anything we feel – he was fully human. But he experienced also the Resurrection with a new and improved body, oneness with God and the satisfaction that he had saved all of us.

By identifying ourselves with Jesus, by fully realizing he understands us and suffers with us, we bring ourselves through the self-evaluations of Lent, turn ourselves around and come out the other side.

Pope Francis has declared this a year of grace for Roman Catholics and I don’t see why we can’t tap into that as well. The message is clear and similar to this morning. God loves us and will forgive us anything. We just have to repent, say we are sorry and go on loving him. That is the gift of amazing grace that he gives. We can put behind anything with that grace and look to a brighter future, a resurrection of sorts in each one of us.

Next Sunday we begin the most solemn week of the church year. On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the kingship of Jesus, followed immediately by readings of his death. On Thursday we celebrate the last supper that he had with his friends where he ordained his priests and gave us the sacrament of unity and love, then when out to his death. On Friday, we look solely at that death and the suffering it entailed, but from the Easter Vigil through Easter Mass we leave the pains of childbirth behind, and look to the new creation. May you follow the journey with the understanding of yourself you have gained this Lent, awareness of the need others have of you to be present and compassionate and loving, and why you need to celebrate together so that on Easter morning we may truly sing out with joy: The Lord has done great things for us – we are filled with gladness and joy. This is the Good News the readings offer you this last Sunday of Lent.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]