Archive for April, 2016

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Year C (May 1)

April 24, 2016

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C (May 1)**

       (**2nd Reading and Gospel are taken from the 7th Sunday of Easter)

The early church had its problems much as we do today. The biggest problem stemmed from the admission of the Gentile community. Since Jesus was a Jew and almost all of the early followers, disciples and apostles were Jewish and followed all the Jewish laws and regulations while still believing in Jesus the Messiah, it stood to reason that they would expect everyone to be like them. To be a follower of Jesus would mean that you would also follow the laws and practices of the Jewish faith.

Paul did not see it that way and when Paul went out converting Gentile communities to the Christian faith, he did not have them follow the prescripts of the Jewish law which would involve circumcision, apparel, practices, purity regulations in food and cleanliness, and so on.

Suddenly, missionaries from Judea – Jewish Christians – were visiting and teaching among the new converts and what they were preaching was what they believed to be true – that to be a Christian you also had to follow the law of Moses and the laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

According to our first reading today, Paul had quite a debate and argument with them but neither side would give in. It was decided that Paul and Barnabas would go themselves to Jerusalem and settle the problem once and for all. This was probably the first Council of the Church and it did indeed come to a compromise.

The Gentile converts would not have to follow all the Jewish Laws and customs with just a very few exceptions – they were not allowed to eat food that had been sacrificed to pagan gods, they could not eat blood or strangled animals, and they were to refrain from fornication. They did not have to be circumcised or follow any other of the purity laws than those.

We settle debates much in the same way in the church today, and that is why councils like Vatican 2 were and are so important. It is the spirit working through the whole church as one that is able to influence things or change things and create oneness in the church. In our little community, it is working together to solve problems that makes us one.

That oneness is also the subject of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel today. Jesus prays in the reading today that all may be one – the original followers and those who will come after. The deep theological prayer here is spelled out with logic. Since the Father and the Son are one, the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father. Jesus prays that we can also be one with the Father and Son – in other words, that we be of one mind with them, that we share in their glory and in their love.

That is not always the case, unfortunately. There have been great divisions in the church, many of them based on theological issues that one side or the other could not compromise on. We see it in play today in the Roman church where there is a division on whether or not divorced Catholics can be forgiven and go to Communion, whether or not there can be birth control, whether or not there can ever be women priests. These are divisive issues that are not easily solved or compromised though attempts are being made to bring church members together to look at them. What this has often led to is divisions in the church. While all still call themselves Christian, some groups have moved further away than others.

Jesus’ prayer continues, however, with the wish that everyone could love in the same manner as the Father and the Son love each other. The decisive factor in Christianity, that is, following the way of Jesus, is love. At the end of time, at our deaths, love is going to be the deciding factor. It is God’s love that gives us grace, that forgives us, that opens his kingdom to us. Can we have the same sort of love in our lives that is given freely like grace, that forgives as God has forgiven us, that shares, just as God is willing to share his kingdom with us for eternity. We know Jesus’ prayer for us from the Gospel today. Are we able to be a part of its fulfillment?

And this leads us to the reading from the Book of Revelation today. Revelation is a strange, difficult book because it is visionary, part dream, part symbol. But this section we read today verifies Jesus prayer in that we are told that Jesus is going to return and will “repay each according to their work.” That work which will be repaid is how much we have loved. Those who have loved and shown their love “will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.”

We are not alone in our quest to love, however.  The Father and Jesus have sent the Spirit to us to help us fulfill that goal of love. “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come. And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” In God’s goodness he has shown us the way by sending his Son to us and then the Spirit.

As we end the fifty days of the Easter season today, we need to come to understand that Christianity is not a pile of rules and regulations, although we seem to have a great deal of these. The root of Christianity is love. You will be judged on how well and how much you have loved. I think we can be easily forgiven faults, but the great issue is how much we bear Christ’s love into our world. If we have learned anything from this Easter season, let us know that God raised and glorified his Son to let us know that we can be raised and glorified as well. And Jesus’ prayer today tells us how. Can we begin to measure our days by how much we have loved and shown love?  It is a challenge. It is Christianity.  It is Jesus’ prayer for us. It is Good News if only we will live it.  God bless.

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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Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter C (April 24)

April 17, 2016

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter C (April 24)

In the Book of Revelations today which we usually consider a book about the future, we get a glimpse also of the past. In John’s vision, he sees: “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. And [he] heard a voice from the throne saying, “See the home of God is among humans. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be His peoples, and God himself will be with them.” In the Incarnation – God taking on human flesh – this has become true, and is something we might not think about very often. Why would an immortal, all-powerful God take on mortal, powerless humanity? What does it say about God that he so loved us that he willed to become one of us, to experience what we experience, to suffer, to die as we do? His love is so great that he wants a perfect understanding of our human condition, and then to raise himself and us to a godlike state of being. So great was His love for us.

And that is why in the Gospel reading today we also look backwards to before the Resurrection when Jesus had yet to die and was still teaching his apostles. He spends a few minutes talking about the concept of glorification. Glorification according to one dictionary is  the process of revealing the glory of God by one’s actions. So in other words, Jesus is saying he is about to glorify God by his actions and as a result will himself by glorified by the action of God in the resurrection. And then, Jesus adds a new commandment to those given by God on Sinai. We are commanded by God to love one another. And what should that look like? Jesus adds: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The Apostles, at this point in the story, have not yet seen how Jesus has loved them, what he will do for them, but they soon will. He will die for them. But he has already shown that love by becoming one of them – but they Apostles were still not grasping that important fact. It would take them a great deal of time to sort that all out. Jesus final statement on the matter is that people will know that you are followers of Christ by the actions of love that you show for one another.

Do we see actions of love in the political arena today? Do we see it in our workplaces? Do we see it in our neighborhoods? Do we see it in our church community? I know that we do see it in this church community. I have never been part of a community that does show so much love for each other – and it is not be talking, it is by action toward each other and the surrounding community. Anyone who spends time with us will be able to see that we do love each other through our actions.

Jesus may have been referring to his disciples when he remarked that they will know they are a Christian community by their love, but we also know that Jesus died for everyone, and so that love which we express in this community needs to spread out, and indeed, those are our attempts to do so with Stop Hunger Now and the many other things we do in our community. Is it ever enough?  Probably not, but we should constantly strive to reflect Jesus’ love in all our actions and in all the places we inhabit – church, work, home and in the community.

Our psalm today says that “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord.” Our God is a God of action and his love is expressed in action – from our creation to his incarnation, to his saving us from ourselves. We give thanks to God also by our actions of loving.

In the Acts of the Apostles today, Paul has gone to a number of churches but his message to them is always that he is relating “all that God had done with them.”  Notice again the active verb “to do”. Our God is an active God who is always taking action to show His love for us. Again the Psalm says: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. the Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.”

The two themes of glorification through action and love through action dominate the readings today. When we love each other we glorify God because we do the work of God.

This week I ask you to consider thanking God for the actions God has taken in your lives and to give back to God – to glorify God – by giving and doing for others when they are in need.  This is the essence, I believe, of all religion, all worship. It is the important thing – all the rest is decoration. The Good News I preach today is glorification through the action of love, and it is truly the fundamental Good news of the Gospel. God bless you for all you do, and for how you honor God in doing it.

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 4th Sunday of Easter, Year C (April 17)

April 10, 2016

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter C (April 17, 2016)

As we have noticed before, the Gospel of John, because it was written last, is heavier in its theology and also in its interest in Jesus himself, both as man and God. The last statement of the gospel today: “The Father and I are one,” is likely not a direct quote from Jesus but a reflection of the direction that the new Christian theology had been taking. Although cut from this shortened passage, after Jesus says this the Jewish leaders want to have him stoned to death. Why?

The most important phrase in Jewish theology which is repeated by Jews each day is translated: “Adonai our God, Adonai is One.” The most distinctive feature of the Jewish religion from the beginning has been its insistence that there is only one God. When Jesus says that he is one with God, they are thinking equal to God. How can God be divided? And so for the Jew, this is heresy of the highest order.

But the whole Gospel of John, right from the beginning with “the word made flesh” is very high Christology in that its interest is in the divinity of God as well as his humanity. That Jesus is God is a major theme of John’s Gospel because the understanding of Jesus by the end of that first century had developed in that direction. That is not to say that it is not in all the Gospels – it is – but by John’s Gospel it becomes part and parcel of the theology of Christ.

The second theme in John’s Gospel today is of Jesus the shepherd of his people, the Church. The congregations at the turn of that first century hear Jesus’ voice and they follow after him. Jesus says he knows each of his sheep and takes care of each one so that no one will snatch a sheep out of his hand. He will protect them, and he will be the judge who will grant his flock eternal life.

This is picked up in the Book of Revelations as well. The Lamb has become the shepherd, however. An odd image in itself, isn’t it? But this Lamb knows the sheep as well and will give them shelter. “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more’”; they will be protected from the heat of the sun, guided to running waters, and their tears will be wiped away. Such beautiful, protective images of how Jesus will take care of his flock. If you hadn’t figured out that we are the flock he is protecting, the Psalm spells it out for us in the refrain: “We are his people, the sheep of his flock.”

The original flock of Jesus was to have been the chosen people, the Jews. In the first reading today, we sense the frustration of Paul and Barnabas who go from synagogue to synagogue proclaiming the Good news, and each time get put down by the Jewish leaders of the community for preaching blasphemy – that Jesus was God. The leaders would rile up the Jewish people and they would be ejected from the synagogues.

In today’s reading, Paul strikes back verbally and warns the Jewish congregations that they were to have been the first to receive the Good News of eternal life, but since they had rejected it, it was going to go to a different flock – the Gentiles. This angered the traditionalists, of course, because the Jewish religion had often been closed and separate and did not welcome non-believers, even those who wanted to believe. So Paul and Barnabas were driven out and began their mission tot he Gentile nations.

What does all this have to do with us this week? We are the flock, the ones who have accepted Jesus as God and his offer to us of eternal life. We need, then, to be comforted by the fact that Jesus, our shepherd, will protect us, will feed us, will take away our thirst, will shelter us, will give us life. This is such a great cause for hope in our lives. Because we believe, which is faith, we can have hope that Jesus will judge us favorably and take care of us eternally. And we reflect this in the love that we can then share with others. We need to take time this week to reflect on how our belief strengthens us and gives us so much hope for the future that we can live our lives in love today.

I look around at the political situation today and all I see is chaos, anger, fear, racial division, violence, and negativity. We need desperately to see a little hope and love moving to the front. So, my prayer this week is that we cast aside all those negative things and work on the two virtues which Christ as shepherd wants us to have and put those into practice in our own lives. Let us be, in the words of Acts, a light for the Gentiles, a light for those who are angry, a light for those who fear, and like Paul, not be afraid to speak “boldly” about our hope and our love.

This is the challenge of today’s Good News. God bless.

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 3rd Sunday of Easter, C (April 10, 2016)

April 3, 2016

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, C (April 10, 2016)

One of the more memorable scenes in the New Testament is Jesus asking Peter three times if he loves him. While the most common interpretation of this threefold question-answer is that since Peter denied him three times, Jesus asks if he loves Peter three times to balance it all out.

However, just recently I found out that there might be something else at work here. In English, we have only one word for love, which is pretty remarkable considering the number of words in our language and the many different types of love. While the Greeks had a number of words for love, two are used in this conversation. The Greek word for a selfless, self-giving type of love which we associate with God for his people is the word agape. The love that two brothers might have for each other is from the same root that the city of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love has – philia.

So if we were to distinguish, the conversation between Jesus and Peter might have gone like this:

Peter, do you love me selflessly like God loves his people?

Peter answers: I love you like a brother. Jesus responds: Feed my lambs.

Again Jesus asks, Peter, do you love me selflessly like God loves his people?

Again Peter answers: I love you like a brother. Jesus responds: Be a shepherd to my sheep.

Lastly, Jesus asks: Peter, do you love me like a brother.

Peter answers, You know, I love you like a brother. Jesus replies: Feed my sheep.

This creates a little different scenario. At no time does Peter say he loves Jesus selflessly, but each time replies he loves him as a friend.

It seems to me that it is very difficult to have the kind of selfless love that Jesus was asking about. Pentecost had not yet happened, and the Spirit had not yet come to the Apostles. Peter was being honest about his love and his feelings. So perhaps that is why the third time, Jesus changes his question and simply verifies that Peter loves him as a friend. Peter was not yet ready for the deepest kind of love.

The simple commands that Jesus gives after each answer of Peter also change slightly. The first time it is lambs while the last two times he mentions sheep. I like to think of the lambs as the innocent children and the sheep as the adults. Peter is to feed or educate or preach to both the children and the adults, and he is also to tend to the needs of the adults with cures and healings, for example.

We see in the first reading today that all this is acted out after Pentecost. The Apostles have been doing what Jesus asked, teaching the adults in the Jewish community about Jesus and his message of love. Because of this, they are brought up before the Jewish high priest for their teachings, and for their accusations that the Judeans were responsible for Jesus’ death. Don’t forget, if they taught that Jesus was God, this would be very upsetting to the Jews who believed in one God, because it would seem they had belief in two. However, even at the trial, Peter and the Apostles continued to teach and explain what they were doing, who Jesus was, who the Holy Spirit was and how God was still one. The Apostles were ordered by the court not to speak any more of Jesus, but, of course, they continued to do so despite any consequences.

The consequence for Peter, according to John’s Gospel today indicate that Peter would also be led to the cross as was Jesus. “…you will stretch out your hands and someone will fasten a belt around you, and take you where you do not wish to go.”

The continuing reading from Revelation continues to explain how Jesus was the Lamb and how he was also God for whom there would be “blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

Lastly, looking backward from the perspective of our knowing Jesus, our psalm today talks about how God has raised us up along with Jesus. The result of our work on earth might be weeping, but joy will come in the morning. After our deaths, we will be with the Lord. Our “mourning” will be turned into “dancing”. And so the message for those martyred Christians was, and still is, that our reward will be great despite what happens to us here.

Of course, we still have martyrs today. Think of the sisters recently killed in Yemen. In our own lives, this should constantly give us hope that no matter how bad things may get for us, there will come a dawn when we are vindicated. Life after the Fall is not easy. Being tempted is not easy. Staying on the right path is not easy. But if we can, we must think of that final reward where we become one with the Angels surrounding the throne, with the living creatures and the elders, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb…” It is then that our brotherly and sisterly love can truly become a selfless one, worthy of God.

May we always keep the goal in front of our eyes which is the Good News we need to live and spread to others. God bless.

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”]