Archive for June, 2016

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 3)

June 26, 2016

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 3)

We continue this week learning about what it means to be a “servant” of the Lord to someone who has been called. Last week, if you remember, Jesus was very hard ‘like flint’ in his call to the three young men. There was no time for them to say good-bye to anyone or to take care of other duties before they left home and begin to follow Jesus.  We also saw that this was because Jesus was beginning the trip to Jerusalem where he would die. Time was running out.

Today we don’t see as harsh a call, either in the first reading from Isaiah nor in the Gospel. What we do see today are the rewards for being a servant of God, for those called to a religious vocation specifically, but also for those who, like all of you, are called to evangelize in your daily lives.

The first reading uses beautiful imagery drawn from motherhood, images of consolation, feeding at the breast, drinking deeply with delight, being cradled, being bounced on a mother’s knee and being comforted. These are all promised to God’s servants. While I was away in Canada a few weeks ago, I celebrated my anniversary as a priest, and I have to admit that I have experienced many of these feelings working with all of you. I have what Isaiah would say is a “rejoicing heart” because of my work in this parish and in this community. That is not to say that I haven’t travelled with you through many difficult times dealing with sickness or death or disappointment, but the contentment and joy I have felt much more than any negatives. Hopefully, you, too, will feel this more and more as you become servants of the Lord in the outreach we do in our little community.

In the reading from Galatians today, Paul talks about his ministry and that he sometimes had trouble from people, but in the long run what he has more than anything else is peace and mercy from his service to Jesus.

The Gospel today continues with Jesus appointing his disciples and giving them instructions on how they are to behave. He had already bestowed on them the ability to heal and to drive out devils. Now they are to travel all over and use these gifts.

The passage starts by saying that Jesus sent out seventy people in pairs. We don’t know that that was an actual number or was Luke’s way of having us remember that in Numbers, Moses chose seventy people to help him. Or it may be reminiscent of the seventy nations mentioned in Genesis. In any case, it is a cross reference to those priests or priestly nations that Luke is recalling.

Jesus sends them out two by two, which also is reminiscent of Genesis and Noah’s ark, and indeed the imagery is also of animals: “I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves”.

The other imagery Jesus uses is from farming. He tells the disciples that they are to go out and gather the harvest for the kingdom of heaven. And that we should pray for more laborers to do the same – there are a lot of souls to be saved!

Because this appointment of the seventy is given in Luke right when Jesus begins his final trip to Jerusalem, these disciples are also like messengers who are announcing Christ’s coming.  They go to all the places that Jesus was to go on his way to Jerusalem.  In that way they are like heralds announcing the arrival of a King. It raises one’s mission to a kingly one to have messengers announce his coming.

Then we have a list of instructions for the disciples. Once again there is a time element. There is not a lot of time for socializing. They need to get the work done. You just have to get on the road and get there.

They don’t have the time to pack a lot of things to take with them. No!  You get to take no purse, no bag, no sandals – just yourself and your message.

When you reach a house, you first of all offer the occupants “Peace”.  You are to accept their hospitality as your wage. Expect no money from them.

It is interesting at this point that Jesus seems to direct them to ignore any purity laws. They are to eat and drink what is put in front of them. This passage may have helped settle the later debates of whether Gentiles needed to follow the Jewish purification laws.

Next they are to get down to business.  There is no time to go from house to house to stay, but there are to go out and heal the sick in that community. And then move on.

If the village does not welcome the disciples, they are not to be judges. Wow. I wish people would hear this today. People are so quick to judge others! They are not to reign down fire on the village – as we saw last week when Jesus said that they were not to judge a place and curse it. There will be a judgment, but his disciples will not be the ones to judge and make that decision. Let THAT be a lesson to us!

So after this advice, the seventy go out and do what Jesus asks.  They come back to Jesus to report success in their preaching and healing. They seem quite proud of themselves that even demons were afraid of them.  But Jesus rebukes them not to be proud of what they could do, but only to be proud of the fact that they were doing God’s work and would attain heaven or eternal life. That’s what they should be happy about.

I have fallen into the same trap as the apostles, I think.  I worry that I am not doing enough and that our parish isn’t growing as I think it should, or that attendance some Sundays is very low. What this passage teaches me is that I have to continue to do the work in Jesus’ name and take pride only in the fact that I am doing his work and so, am on the right road to eternal life myself. It is quite humbling.

So, this week, I ask you to look at your motives. Why do you come to Mass? Is it because it is what you have been asked to do to stay on the road to heaven? Is it to glorify God and do what Jesus asked – to do this in memory of him?

Why do you contribute to charities, work on Stop Hunger Now, work at food banks, bring peanut butter, contribute to the running of the parish? What is your motive?  If it is because it is what has been asked of you to get to heaven, great.  if it is for socialization, pride in how much we collect, guilt or other reasons – not so good.

This is what the Good News today reminds us of, and what I hope we will all ask ourselves this week, so that we all can take Jesus’ good advice..

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of 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 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (June 26)

June 26, 2016

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (June 26)

I want to start off today by noting that there is a subtle change taking place today which we will follow through for the next many weeks of Ordinary Time.  In the story Luke tells of Jesus, he structures his story in a way unique to the other Gospel writers.  We begin a brand new section of Luke’s Gospel today with the words: “Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Luke seems to be using the device of a journey which will end in Jerusalem, yet it takes the next ten chapters of his book to get Jesus there. But the journey’s end – Jerusalem – is always in the forefront of Jesus’ thought now and colors a lot of what will happen to him. 

However, it is not that he steadfastly sets his face to Jerusalem and races there. Along the way, he does take time to stop at friends, and eat meals with friends, and so on….but the journey to the cross in Jerusalem is how Luke  pushes along the narrative from now on. Jesus’ knowledge in Luke of what will happen in Jerusalem gives an underlying tone and inevitability to everything Jesus says and does. We will watch for this over the next number of weeks.

After this initial set up in the Gospel today,  in our readings we get little lessons on ‘making excuses’. Whenever we don’t want to do something or are not fully committed to something, most of us are experts at making excuses. Some excuses involve stretching the truth, others are outright lies. But the end result is that we put off doing something.

In both the first reading and the Gospel today we have young men making excuses for not doing something right away when asked to. In the first reading the prophet Elijah was asked by God to anoint another prophet to study under him and take his place. This would be the prophet Elisha.  At this point, Elisha was just a young farm boy out ploughing his fields. The act of throwing his mantle over the boy signified that he was being chosen to take on the prophet’s role. We use the expression today sometimes when we say someone took up the mantle of someone else. They followed in his footsteps or ways.

But Elisha just doesn’t set down his tools and follow Elijah. He excuses himself by saying that he has to kiss his parents goodbye and do some things in preparation for the journey. He kills the oxen which were pulling his plough, by roasting them on a fire made from his plough, and gives the food to the needy. Then he comes back, follows Elijah and becomes his servant – eventually becoming the prophet Elisha.

So this excuse was an honest excuse. He didn’t want to not let his parents know he was going, and he wanted to take care of any unfinished business he had before he left, so that he could start afresh.

There is a lot going on in the Gospel today but I want to focus first on the “excuse” section. When I mentioned at the start that Jesus’ movement to Jerusalem, his realization of his death to come and the need to complete his mission all color what some would think as a kind of ‘grouchy’ Jesus here, who demands a whole lot from those who want to follow him, and even more, his answers here seem curt and snippy. The excuses start with he second man. Jesus has asked the man to follow him. The man says, “First let me go and bury my father.” Now this is a dishonest excuse if not an actual lie. The man’s father has not died. If he had, the young man wouldn’t be there – he would be sitting shiva with the Father as was required. No, the young man wanted to go home and wait for his father to die, collect his inheritance, and then maybe follow Jesus. Jesus did not have time for that. “Let the dead bury the dead. Let those who are spiritually dead and still interested in the things of this world bury the dead, perhaps Jesus is saying.

The third young man offers the same excuse as Elisha did: “Let me say farewell to those at my home.” We saw that this was a good excuse and even laudable perhaps in the story of Elijah and Elisha, but Jesus is having none of it. Because his eyes are set on Jerusalem – set “like flint” the psalm might say, Jesus is accepting no excuses. The kingdom of God is inevitably pushing forward on Jesus’ agenda, and there is no stopping the train. There is no time now to look back!

A couple of points about the beginning of the Gospel today as well. Jesus sends the apostles to Samaria to prepare a place for him but the Samaritans, enemies of the Jews are not being very hospitable. Jesus wanted to bring the message of the kingdom to Samaria (as he tells the Apostles at his Ascension as well) but right now the Samaritans aren’t open to it.

In retribution, the Apostles want to use their new powers to destroy the enemy, but Jesus rebukes them for it. This may be what happens in the Old Testament regularly, but it is not the way of Jesus. His message is of love, not hate. Our political leaders could learn a lesson from this!

What can we do with these readings in our own lives this week? Let’s try to listen hard to the call of Jesus through the Spirit and not be quick to make excuses when possibilities arise. There are a lot of opportunities to help others, show our love for them and spread the kingdom, but we have to be open to them and not be making excuses all the time. Some excuses are valid, certainly, but others force a commitment from us that we are afraid of, or too comfortable with things the way they are. As Paul says today: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity of self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” We are busy, but if we are given the opportunity to do something for an hour a week, can’t we really find that time if we want to, and think less of our own needs and more of others.  Just a thought. But it is what the Good news prompts us to think about today.  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 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (June 19)

June 12, 2016

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (June 19)

Today I want to do something a little different. I want to talk about the concept of a Messiah since the big question of the day is Jesus’ question: Who do you say that I am?”

Part of the answers that are suggested by the Apostles about Jesus’ identity is that he is either Elijah the prophet returned to earth, or another  prophet announcer of a Messiah coming or he is the Messiah himself.

Now not all Jews accepted the concept of a Messiah in the time of Jesus nor did they all look forward to some sort of God created kingdom of peace and justice, but many did. Many took literally the text of Malachi which said “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” The Jews today who have not chosen to accept Jesus as this messiah are still waiting for the his coming.

There is a wonderful song that was in the pre-Broadway production of Fiddler of the Roof that I had the good fortune to see in Detroit before it opened in its present form on Broadway. At the end of that play the Jewish village of Anatevka is forced to get out of Russia. The people pack up a few of their things and head off to somewhere else. That is how the play ends today with sad song, saying goodbye tot he town they loved and the people they might never see again. Originally though, Tevye had a song at the end which lightened up the ending dramatically, as Tevye always had a comedic way of looking at life. The song was called When Messiah Comes and the lyrics were these:

When Messiah comes He will say to us:

“I apologize that I took so long.

But I had a little trouble finding you.

Over here a few and over there a few.

You were hard to reunite

But, everything is going to be all right.”

“Up in heaven there, how I wrung my hands

When they exiled you from the promised land.

Into Babylon you went like castaways

On the first of many, many moving days.

What a day and what a blow

How terrible I felt you’ll never know.”

Since that day

Many men

Said to us

“Get thee out”.

Kings they were.

Gone they are. We’re still here!

When Messiah comes he will say to us:

“Don’t you think I know what  a time you’ve had

Now I’m here you’ll see how quickly things improve

You won’t have to move unless you want to move

You shall never more take flight

Yes, everything is going to be all right.”

When Messiah comes he will say to us:

“I was worried sick if you’d last or not.”

And I spoke to God, and said “Would that be fair,

If Messiah came and there was no-one there?”

And the Lord replied to me:

“Wait. Everything will be all right, you’ll see.”

Many times

Many men

Took our homes,

Took our lives

Kings they were.

Gone they are. We’re still here!

When Messiah comes and his reign begins

Truth and justice then shall appear on earth,

But if this reward we would be worthy off

We must keep our covenant with God above.

So be patient and devout

And gather up your things and get thee out.

(Sheldon Harnick, unpublished)

From the beginning and to the Jews today, the concept of the Messiah was that God would send a savior to rule over the earth in truth and justice. In Jesus’ time, the greatest majority of his followers wanted to see Jesus not as this Messiah but as the harbinger of the Messiah. Expecting something really good is often better than when we get it. How many times as children was our expectation of Christmas morning so much better than the real thing!  So the disciples who saw Jesus as Elijah or a new Elijah were excited about the hope of a kingdom of God that would arrive soon.

Only Peter seems to have see through this to know who Jesus really was. He himself was the Messiah.

And indeed it has proved true that the reality was not as wonderful as the hope. Jesus tells Peter that this Messiah, himself, would have to undergo great suffering and rejection. He wouldn’t be the mighty prince conqueror that everyone was imagining.  When he tells the Apostles they must not tell anyone, he isn’t like in the other Gospels, telling them not to say that he is the Messiah, but i think he is telling them not to shatter the hopeful vision of the Messiah with the reality of suffering and death. It would be too hard or them to take. Eventually it would be understood but it was too early at this point.

Looking back on the Old Testament with the knowledge of what actually happened, we saw signs and prophecies in the books that foretold this suffering messiah, but they had not put the two together. In our first reading today from Zechariah we hear about God pouring out compassion and supplication on the jewish people when they realize that the one they have made suffer, the one they pierced was like God’s only-begotten son. The clues were there all the time. We just couldn’t see them until the events happened years later.

In the second reading we get to understand that although the concept was of a Jewish Messiah, one who would save the Jewish people and reign over all, the reality was that the messiah came for everyone. Paul says: “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you being to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”  The word Christ means Messiah. And the messiah who came to Abraham’s offspring, comes to us.

But we can’t have a Messiah says God without the suffering, rejection and death. One thing I have noticed in this country, different from Canada where I grew up, and where Good Friday is a holiday, very few Americans go to church on Good Friday. They do go on Easter, preferring the image of the Risen Christ as Messiah. But that is the end of the journey. What Good Friday celebrates is the Messianic journey through rejection, great suffering and finally death. We can’t have an Easter without that, though. Even in Jesus’ time the followers would have trouble with that journey, so Jesus says not to talk about it.

But there is an addendum for each of us.  if we want to follow Jesus, we too have to take the same journey. yes, there will be resurrection at the end, but we all have to take up our crosses and suffer and die to get there. Only Luke adds the words daily to Christ’s message that we must take up our cross – daily, which may be Luke’s way of explaining to us what Christ meant. We don’t go seeking for our crosses, our sufferings, but they come to us anyway. How we deal with those daily problems, pains, and even horrors, can tie us into the suffering of the Messiah and also remind us of our coming resurrection. We accept these crosses in Jesus’ name and when we d we will be saved, just as God saved Jesus.

Good News to think about even in suffering and when things get us down. That is our Christian hope and the Good News I proclaim to 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”]

Homily for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (June 12)

June 9, 2016

Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (June 12)

Today is all about that unpleasant topic – sin! If you are like me, you don’t like to be always reminded that you are a sinner, that all men and women are sinners and that we tend to be ungrateful creatures of our our Creator God. I know that for a number of years before I became a priest myself, that was the kind of message i heard every week from the pulpit and would leave Mass feeling guilty and certainly not full of joy.

The problem is that that message is, like Nathan’s message to David today, all true. We are sinners, who seem to fall back into sin even when we don’t want to. But…and here is the important part – this is only half the message. The other half of the equation is the mercy and forgiveness of our God. Even David, who had committed a dreadful sin in the eyes of God was told by Nathan that God has “put away [his] sin. [He] shall not die.”

It bothers me so much today when people dwell only on the sin and ignore the forgiveness that is offered to us time and again. As you know, I end every sermon with the mention of Good News. Being told you are a sinner, realizing you are a sinner, falling again into sin….this is not Good News. That’s the bad news! The Good News is that God is willing to forgive and forget countless times. All we need to do is be sorry, confess our sin and God’s mercy will come to us in abundance.

David’s sin in the first story was great in so many ways. He murdered a man, but if that weren’t bad enough, he did it because of pride, not wanting it to be found out that he had made the man’s wife pregnant. So many of us do things that we try to cover up because of our pride. But God knows all, and we should never think we are hiding it from God.  In a way, David was lucky because God sent a prophet, Nathan, to make him realize his sin was not hidden. It was like God was giving him a second chance. We, too, have prophets inside us – called a conscience – which works in somewhat the same way if we let it.

The Psalm today, Psalm 32, is all about acknowledging one’s sins and not hiding them. Only then will God forgive the guilt of our sin, the psalmist says. Since David also wrote this psalm, no one knew better than he what the Lord had forgiven. If you have to hide, he says, hide in the lord and be preserved from sinning again. The Psalm ends also with Good News: Be glad in the Lord and rejoice…and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” And surely that is Good News that should never leave our hearts.

Paul today talks about justification which can be a confusing and difficult topic. If I might simplify it, justification means that God has, through the death of Christ, taken away the guilt and penalty of our sins and made everything right again. So it is very much what we have been talking about, but something that happens not just individually but to all men and women. Christ died to make us right and not just to forgive sin, but to open up again the kingdom of heaven to each of us. It is really remarkable Good News and news that should raise us up and make us feel so loved.

In the Gospel today we get a story which is a prime example of all the theology we have just been talking about. Jesus translates  into action this whole sin and forgiveness concept in his own wonderful way.

Jesus is dining at the home of a Pharisee. I am sure the Pharisee’s house was kosher in every way, because Pharisees were noted for their adherence to all the rules and regulations found in the Bible. But even though he was “kosher”, he didn’t include the niceties that would have been expected to have been done to distinguished guests. He didn’t have a servant wash Jesus’ feet, he didn’t welcome Jesus with a kiss, he did not perfume Jesus with ointment.

We are not told how this “sinful” woman entered the Pharisee’s house – she may have even been a servant girl. In any case, she was known by the Pharisee to be a sinner, which could have meant many things from prostitution to uncleanliness. It is never specified. In any case, the woman was moved by Jesus and took out a jar of ointment she had with her and proceeded to anoint Jesus feet after bathing them in her tears and using her hair to wipe the dust off his feet.

The Pharisee doesn’t actually say anything about this but he thinks the worst of this girl and the worst of Jesus, that he would allow a sinner to touch him, defiling him.

So Jesus, as he often des, tells a story. A very simple story. A man had two people who owed him money. One owed a lot, the other a little. The man forgives both their debts and they don’t have to pay him back. Jesus asks, “Which one will love the man more?” Obviously, the answer wold be the one who was forgiven the biggest debt.

Then Jesus forgives the girl of her sins because she has shown great love. But he puts down the Pharisee because he has shown little love for Jesus in his actions, and indicates that he is little forgiven.

The people in the room, presumably many Pharisees were astonished that Jesus was claiming to forgive sins. Notice though it is in the passive voice, “Your sins are forgiven.” He doesn’t actually say that he is forgiving them. But Jesus is more and more beginning to identify himself with God.

So Jesus and the apostles leave the house and we are told they they went about proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God. Finally, it is interesting to note that others began to follow him and those that were named were all women. The church would be good to examine THAT as well!

So, this week, I would like you concentrate on the forgiveness of God, and not on the guilt of our sins. It is what Jesus would want you to do. Even more, act on that forgiveness by forgiving others as you would be forgiven. Our faith translates into action. Our being forgiven translates not our ability to forgive others. That is the Christian path, the Christian way – and anyone who tells you differently is not Christian!

This is the Good News I want you to act on 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”]