Archive for May, 2016

Homily for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

May 29, 2016

Homily for the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (June 5)

We have two stories today about widows who lost their only sons. In Biblical times, to be widowed was a terrible thing for a woman. Unable to work or to inherit anything, the woman was left with nothing, only to be cared for by her children. If she had no children or they died, she would would be left destitute. There was no Medicare or Social Security. There was nothing for these widowed women except the generosity of others.

In both stories today the widows are mourning the deaths of their sons. In the Elijah story from the first reading, there was still the idea that the mother must have done something bad to merit this kind of bad luck. The widow cries out to Elijah: “You have come to me to bring my sins to remembrance.” Even Elijah cries out to God: “Have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying by killing her son?”

I still think that we continue remnants of this kind of thinking today – ‘I must have done something very bad to merit this kind of punishment.’ We still tend to see God as being the one who inflicts bad things on sinners or their children.  Well, bad genes may contribute to that, or bad luck, or co-incidence – but God does not cause suffering. He allows it, and sometimes, like with Jesus and Elijah, miraculously stops the suffering, but God does not want to see us suffer any more than we want it to happen to us.

I am reading an excellent book by Derek Flood with the very long title of “Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives and Why We Need to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did”. He explains in the book that the moral thinking of the Bible was a developing thing and continues to develop today. Just as children begin with very black and white moral thinking, by the time they are adults, most have moved from the black and white into grey areas of thinking. Morality is never quite as simple as it seemed to us as children.  In this vein, Flood  explains that the early Jews had no notion of a devil. The serpent in the garden was a serpent; he is not called a devil or a fallen angel. There was only God, and so God was seen to be angry sometimes and benevolent sometimes. In his anger, God was a punisher; in his benevolence, God was the shepherd, the helper. After much thinking and dialogue, the type of which we can see in the Book of Job, the Hebrews began to believe that God could not be the cause of anything bad. We see this development in the devil created for Job, who was more of a tester. By the time of Jesus, the moral thought taught by Jesus, was that God is always good and always looks out for his children, to the point of sending his only Son to redeem us.

If you ever feel that God is punishing you – have a look at this book. It will change your mind.

The Psalm today shows such a maturing growth as I have just described.  We learn that God’s anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime.”  We see that the Psalmist is re-evaluating the idea that God is the punisher.

The is not to say that we won’t be judged by God in the end. For God is just, but merciful. I believe he will simply look at how much we have loved God and how we have loved our neighbor.

In any case, God and Jesus bring both the young men back to life because of “compassion”. Compassion indicates that they feel the pain of the widows and want to end the pain. Jesus’ message about God is often about his compassion for his creation.

So much for the first reading and the Gospel. Our second reading, as so often is the case, has nothing to do with the ideas in the first and Gospel readings. It is an explanation by Paul of how he became Christian. He was not taught by the Apostles, but was given a revelation by Jesus himself. He says that all the knowledge he has of the Son comes only through this visionary revelation of Jesus. And part of this revelation was that he should go to the Gentiles and bring Christ to them.

Paul was trying to explain why he, who originally persecuted Christians and who was never converted by the Apostles of Jesus, should be listened to as an emissary of Christianity. Paul, who never knew or heard Jesus during Jesus’ public life, considered himself an Apostle because he believed he was taught by Jesus himself, just as the Apostles were. After three years of meditating and coming to terms with these revelations, he did go to meet Peter and James but that was all the contact he had with the actual Apostles. The change in Paul was rather remarkable considering his fundamentalist nature as a Pharisee. As with the widows today, it took a miracle in Paul’s case as well that led to his conversion.

What has this to do with us today, who are the Gentiles that Paul brought into the Church? I think we need to grow in our moral understanding of the world, especially if we still feel that God wants to punish us. He doesn’t. he wants to forgive us, and everything that Jesus did in his life confirms this aspect of God. Jesus was around sinners and unbelievers because he wanted to show them the grace and mercy and forgiveness of God. As mature Christians we need to make sure we don’t fall back into child-like patterns of thinking, especially when we are faced with serious illness and death. Put our trust in God, rely on the fact that he is compassionate and pray to him with all your being. Miracles do happen. But even if a miracle doesn’t happen, know that God is still compassionate and will, in the end, make everything all right. He sees the whole picture.

And this is the Good News I bring a mature congregation this morning. 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 Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year C (May 29)

May 22, 2016

Homily for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year C  (May 29)

In the Mass most Sundays, just before the consecration of the bread and wine, we mention different sacrifices that were made in the Old Testament. One of those is the sacrifice of Melchizedek. Probably for most of us this would be a meaningless reference, as he is not one of the most known Biblical figures.  In fact, we really don’t know anything about him really. He wasn’t Jewish because Abram had not yet founded the Jewish nation, but was a King of Salem and a believer in one God. While Salem is a place, it’s original meaning is ‘Peace’.

As we learn in the reading today, Abraham, who wasn’t yet Abraham, but still Abram, had just defeated three of his enemies when suddenly this Melchizedek shows up bringing Abram gifts of bread and wine to Abram’ hungry and thirsty men. Melchizedek blesses Abram by the One God who has helped Abram defeat his enemies. In return, Abram recognizes him as a priest of higher rank than himself and bestows upon him ten percent of all the booty they had collected.

We don’t hear of Melchizedek again in the Bible until the Psalms when he is referenced as a prototype of the Messiah, one who would be a priest forever.

Later, in a reading we do not hear today, Melchizedek is mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews where he becomes the mystic figure, fatherless and motherless, a prototype of the eternal priest without beginning and end.  Similarly, Jesus is compared to Melchizedek, as he is of the same order – a priest forever, with no beginning or end. I even read one account that claimed that Jesus was Melchizedek who appeared to Abram in the form of a priest. Not sure that holds up, but an interesting thought.

In any case, we see here that Jesus is the priest – and what exactly is a priest? Throughout Biblical history and in our own times, a priest is the representative of the people who is the one who offers sacrifice and blessing to God in the name of the people. Jesus offered the final sacrifice to God, and in using bread and wine, allows his priests to participate in that sacrifice over and over again – one final, continual sacrifice to God to save and redeem God’s people. The bread and wine is the connection between Melchizedek and Jesus, of course.

Our second reading today repeats the formula for that sacrifice given to us by Jesus himself and celebrated by priests from the earliest times. St. Paul uses the same words that we use today at Mass, showing the continuity of that great and final sacrifice for salvation. I find it interesting that Paul doesn’t say it was passed on to him by the apostles, but states that he received it from Jesus himself. Paul’s final statement today in Corinthians: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”, is the statement that ties all of the Masses that have been said throughout history to today’s Mass that we celebrate – that they are all one sacrifice – and that that sacrifice will be complete when Christ comes again.

The Gospel chosen today is the section of Luke that describes the miracle of the loaves and fishes which appears in all the Gospel accounts. As miraculous as it seems, the fact that it is in all the accounts seems to indicate the veracity of it. Now we don’t have bread and wine here, we have bread and fish, but the comparison is caught particularly in the words: [Jesus] looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” The breaking of the bread at Mass today is symbolic of the breaking of Jesus as well – his body broken for our sins. This feeding of the thousands becomes the Eucharist for John’s Gospel, in fact. He sees this event as establishing the Eucharist, and at the Passover dinner concentrates on Jesus ordaining his apostles to be servants of others.

So this feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus serves to remind us that the sacrifice is unending, that Jesus is a priest forever, and each Mass continues and let’s us participate in this life-giving sacrifice. Please remember that the Mass is life-giving. That is why coming to Mass on Sundays is so important. We are not here to be entertained, but to enter into the redeeming act of Jesus to the glory and honor of God, and to celebrate our own salvation through his death. I know we can easily take the Mass for granted. Some people say it is boring, and thats why we see so many attempts at entertainment at Mass in churches today.  But that is to miss the whole point! It is repetitive, but not boring, if we immerse ourselves in exactly what is being played out and our participation in the greatest act ever done. Jesus death leads to glorification just as our Masses do as well. Let us try each week to concentrate on the words we have heard so many times, make them our own, and participate as fully as we can in this continuous and awe-inspiring sacrifice which has made our peace with God and opened the gates of heaven for us.

And this is the truly good news of the Eucharist 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”]

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity C (May 22)

May 15, 2016

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity C (May 22)

Our first reading today from the Book of Proverbs is from a well-known section about Wisdom and it is Wisdom who is speaking metaphorically. It is generally about Wisdom being intimate with God and how Wisdom desires to be with human beings. The reason why it is chosen today seems to be that the description of Wisdom here is very similar to Jesus and his works. St.John’s Gospel often equates Jesus with Wisdom as well. So, then, how is Jesus like Wisdom?

Before we answer that question we need to look at the Bible’s definition of Wisdom. What does the Bible mean when it refers to Wisdom? I think we can safely say that living Wisdom was a way of life or a philosophy of life that was very moral and its understanding came through experience. The Bible speaks of Wisdom as teaching young people proper conduct and helping them to understand the meaning of life. The Book of Proverbs is full of Wisdom because it is trying to teach the young how to live moral, proper lives as the law of Moses required.

So how then is Jesus like Wisdom? Jesus is himself a teacher who says that he is the truth. He goes out looking for followers to teach, invites them to a banquet and promises them life. The image of “The Word” which John uses for Jesus exists with God from all time. So, this is part of the developing theology of The Trinity which we celebrate today. God and Jesus, as Wisdom, are co-existent.

If the first reading today gives us a theology of Jesus, the second reading from Paul to the Romans gives us the beginnings of a theology of the Holy Spirit. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” Paul says. The Spirit is, in a sense, God’s love poured out to us. And what does that love do in practical terms? Paul says it gives us peace, hope in salvation, overcoming of our sufferings, endurance of all things, and hope in God. It is God’s way of taking care of us now that we have been saved by Jesus. When we think of the Spirit which we received in baptism and which was strengthened in us by Confirmation, we should realize that it is God’s great love protecting us, encouraging us and teaching us the right way.

The Gospel reading today from John is the clearest expression of the theology of the Trinity that we have in the Bible. In a relatively clear way, Jesus is explaining to the Apostles that he and the Creator God are one: “All that the Father has is mine.” But the Creator is not content to do nothing. God’s love is so great that it must be shared and so the Spirit of God’s Truth comes to us and “guides us” and declares to us “the things that are to come.”

There is no possible way for us to really understand the Trinity. What we do know is compiled from the Biblical references and the writings of early theologians who interpret these writings. How can One God have Three Persons? We don’t know, but we are assured that it does and that it is Truth. We use all sorts of metaphors to help us to understand, but it is so out of our realm to grasp it, that we just have to accept it on faith and realize that when we talk about the Creator Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, that we are talking about God. When we call out to one of the Three, we are calling out to the One God. In so many ways, it is not important for us to understand the workings of something so beyond our understanding, but that we simply realize that we can, through a relationship with any of the Three, have a relationship with the whole, with God.

Similarly, it is important to understand that God so loves his creation of men and women that God gives us chance after chance to be all that we were meant to be, forgiving us, opening up his home to us, loving us unconditionally. He even allows God to come into us as often as we want in the Eucharist to sustain us and nourish us in being all that we were meant to be.

On this feast of the Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity, let us try to react to that great love which has been shown us, by using it as a model of how we are to love other people. Because as Jesus concludes in the Gospel today: “[God] will take what is mine and declare it to you.” What most belonged to Jesus was God’s love, and so Jesus gives that love to us. Let us act on it, never forget it, and make the world a better place because of it.

And this is the Good News of our Triune God and the message we need to keep in our hearts always. 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 Feast of Pentecost, Year C (May 16)

May 8, 2016

Homily for the Feast of Pentecost C (May 16)

(2nd Gospel choice is used – John 14:15-16 23b-26)

Beginning to understand the Holy Spirit is a sign of maturity. I had great difficulty with the concept when I was a child. I first thought that God had a pet bird that he sent out to people, but then was confused because we used to say Holy Ghost, and that conjured up all sorts of images of dead spirits wandering around and influencing people.

It didn’t help that when we heard the stories of Pentecost, the Spirit now appeared as fireballs on tops of the heads of the apostles. What to make of that?

Slowly, I began to realize that we humans have to create metaphors or pictures of what we do know to help us make sense of what we don’t understand. These images of the Holy Spirit beginning with the breathe of God in Genesis and ending with the tongues of fire in the house where the Apostles were hiding out, are the attempts of the writers to best explain something that is unexplainable.

The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. That itself is rather unexplainable, though we certainly try. I have always found helpful the explanation that the Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son because I have seen in my own life how love can change things for the better. And change is always involved when the Spirit is present.

All of the readings today attempt to make sense of the miraculous that is going on around the Apostles. In the first reading we see the almost immediate change of the Apostles from men who were afraid and in hiding, bereft of their leader, to men who had daring and the ability to speak out – and not just speak out, but speak out in many languages. The Tower of Babel had been reversed by the Spirit for these men.

The Holy Spirit, again then, is a bringer of change.

In the Psalm today we hear: When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” “When you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.” The change between life and death is an act of the Spirit.

St. Paul in 1st Corinthians today also talks about change, but he uses the metaphor of gifts or what we call “grace”. The Spirit ‘manifests’ itself in each of us in different ways even though there is only one Spirit creating that change in us. We are gifted by that Spirit and given certain talents which are different from each other, but all which glorify our Creator God. He closes with a different metaphor or image of the Spirit when Paul says: In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body….and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. We all get the baptism image but the ‘drinking” metaphor is a little odd. In baptism we drink of one Spirit? This is possibly an early reference to the Eucharist because it would have been adults who were baptized which allowed them to receive communion. The implication is that we receive Jesus and the Spirit in communion.

The Sequence is a song that is sung before the Gospel on very major feasts like Christmas and Easter which each have their own distinctive song. The “Veni Sancte Spiritus” which is the Sequence today is an ancient attempt to give praise to the third person of the Trinity in its many works. It in turn explains how the Spirit is Lord, an advocate of the poor, a consoler, a grace-bringing light, a restorer of sinful hearts, and a bringer of seven major gifts. Note that each of these reflects a change being made for the better in our lives.

Lastly, in the alternate Gospel for Year C, John presents Jesus as he talks about the Spirit. The term Jesus uses is Advocate. But Jesus also uses this term about himself because the Spirit is “another” Advocate. What is an Advocate? It is sometimes a legal term when in the court a lawyer pleads someone’s case in order to get that someone free. Jesus sees himself as an Advocate for mankind, pleading to the Father for us. And so, the Spirit will take his place as Advocate when he is gone. This Spirit Advocate, like Jesus,  is also sent by God and Jesus tells us he will be with us forever.

This Advocate we learn a few verses later is also a Teacher. The purpose of this Teacher will be to keep alive all that Jesus has said and taught, but also to help you understand it. And remember- this Teacher is available in each one of us by the right of our Baptism and Confirmation.

So, that is why we are celebrating today. With the entry of the Spirit we begin what we know as Church history. The Apostles begin converting and the Church grows through the influence of the Spirit. That is why we think of Pentecost as our birthday as a Church.

What can this mean to us this week? We have just been through 50 days of celebration of the risen Christ – and now we get on to the business of being Christ in the world with the help of the Spirit. Do many of you pray to the Spirit, ask for the Spirit’s help, ask for understanding through the Spirit? I think most of us pray to God or to Jesus quite regularly, but do we take time to ask the help of the Spirit?  Remember, Jesus said he and the Spirit were sent into the world to advocate, comfort and teach us. Ask for the Spirit’s help. Let the Spirit inspire you. Let the Spirit teach you what needs to be done to be a good Christian. Let the Spirit inform your conscience to help you make decisions. Give in to the Spirit.

I guess that is my major take-home thought today: Give in to the Spirit. See what a difference it can make in your life. Don’t let the Spirit be the forgotten person of God. Give in to her!

And that is the Good News I plead with you to develop in your lives this week. 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 Feast of the Ascension, Year C (May 5 or 8)

May 1, 2016

Homily for the Feast of the Ascension, Year C (May 5 or 8)

The phrase that best sums up the readings today in terms of us as followers of Jesus is the term “clothed with power”.  In the Gospel readings today, Christ foretold all that would happen to him and showed how it was all foretold by Scripture. He told the Apostles that their job was to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sin to all peoples. But he also told them that they weren’t quite ready. Something was going to happen to them in the very near future, and they were to wait for it to happen.  This “something” he described as being “clothed with power from on high.”

We hear a similar story in the opening of the Acts of the Apostles, our first reading today. In Acts, Luke expands on this message of being clothed with power. He says that the Apostles “will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.” When he is questioned about the meaning of this, he explains further: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

This explanation in both the Gospel and Acts is the last thing Jesus tells them before he leaves them.  Basically he was saying that he would not leave them to fend by themselves without him, but that they would be empowered by the Spirit as his last gift to them, so that they would have the ability to continue Jesus’ mission.

In both accounts the physical body of Jesus is lifted up only to disappear in the sky. In Acts, we suddenly have angels addressing the astonished apostles who tell them that Jesus will come again one day. This is why we pray at the end of the Our Father each Mass that we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was present physically for forty days – and we recognize that there must be some significance to the number of days. It is the same amount of days that he was in the desert fasting before he began his public life. But the number forty is very significant all throughout the Bible. In Noah’s story, it rained forty days and forty nights. Moses, after fleeing Pharaoh spent 40 year as a shepherd. Later he  was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. We are told in Deuteronomy that if a man were to be whipped, it could be no more than 40 lashes. The Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years. Jonah warned the people of Nineveh to mend their ways for 40 days and nights. And there are many more such passages.

While the number of 40 days means a literal 40 days, for example after the Resurrection, there is also a metaphoric symbolism to it. It seems to indicate a time of preparation, a time of testing.

So the forty days Jesus was on earth after the Resurrection was a time of preparation and testing for the the second phase of his mission to begin – one where the Apostles are given the power to complete his mission.

In the reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians today, Paul explains what the power of the Spirit does to the Apostles and to us who receive it. First, it is a spirit of wisdom and revelation which expands as we come to know Jesus more and more. Through this “enlightenment” of the Spirit we can come to know hope and begin to understand what riches await us.

Then Paul looks at the ascended Christ who has been seated at the right hand of God, so that Jesus is greater than any earthly power, rule, authority or dominion. He is the head the body, his Church, and so we can be heirs of that same kingdom of heaven to which he ascended.

The Psalm today foretells this glorification of Jesus as well. “God has gone up with a shout”. “God is king over the nations. God sits on his holy throne.”

It seems to be that all this is very difficult for us to understand today. Most of us do not see heaven as a physical place but more of a state of being. Many of us in the United States do not understand kingdoms or kingship. What then can we draw from the readings today?

I want you to concentrate on what Jesus said – that the Apostles – and you – would be given the power to help you do two things: repent and forgive. Those are the two things that Jesus mentions in Luke that are all we are to concentrate on both in our own lives and when dealing with others, teaching others, interacting with others. The repentance is the forty days symbol – it is turning around and looking at your life with honesty, and then asking and being given forgiveness for that – and moving on. Jesus’ teaching is so wonderful in that it allows us to let go of the past and to embrace a new future with knowledge of how we can do better.

What heaven will be like, I don’t really know. No one does. We can only have hope that it will follow the same pattern – that we will be asked to look at our lives, and repenting, will be offered forgiveness. The reward that will follow will be great simply because we are part of the body of Christ as Paul said today, and we will enter into the glory of Christ, seated at the right hand of God, whatever form that takes.

It is a hope, it is foundational for our faith, it is the Good News of what Christ ascending has promised us. Let us dwell on it and have great hope in Jesus. 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”]