Archive for July, 2016

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Aug. 7)

July 31, 2016

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  (August 7)

These are the three most difficult readings we have had in many weeks, and making sense of them might prove to be a real challenge.

One of the criticisms I heard about the horrendous killings in the Orlando nightclub weeks ago when the powers that be set out to discover just how it happened and why, was that the federal officials, the FBI,  knew about the killer, Mateen, and had him on a list, and also were also informed by the owner of the place where he bought the assault rifles that something dangerous might be going on. The criticism was that the authorities  knew and did nothing about it.

Even his wife apparently knew but did nothing about it.

Our Scripture today is all about knowing and doing something about it, or not doing something about it.

The reading from Wisdom is greatly out of context and as such might make little sense to people on a first reading or hearing. But the background is this. God told the Hebrews who were slaves in Egypt that he was going to do something to cause the Egyptians to let them go. The writer says that the “deliverance from Egypt was made known beforehand to our ancestors.” And why did God let them know? Wisdom says because God wanted them to rejoice in their expectation of what God would do, the sure knowledge that he would keep his word and they would be delivered. They had to act on that knowledge, however, God issued orders of how they were to prepare a final meal, how their houses would be protected, and so on. Those who listened to God were spared the Egyptian fate and were released from their bondage. The then is a story of foreknowledge that was acted on, and the Hebrews were successful.

While the Hebrews listened and had faith in their God, that God would be true to his word, St. Paul today also takes about faith in God. He first gives a definition of faith: it is the assurance, the confidence, we have that something we wish for would happen, even though we do not have concrete knowledge. Paul uses Abraham and his wife Sarah as great examples of people who had faith because they were told that something would happen, and without any proof of it, lived their lives expecting it to happen. They too took action on that foreknowledge. God told Abraham that he would father many nations, but he was a nomad, unsettled. He set out, not knowing where he was going, but had faith that God would get him there. Similarly, Sarah was old and barren, yet God said there would be many children in his line. Sarah also had faith in the pre-knowledge God gave them, and eventually had a child. My point is again that God lets us know what will happen, and some of us have the faith to live out our lives knowing that it will. We take action accordingly.

In the shorter Gospel account today we also hear Jesus giving us foreknowledge of events. He tells us that God is preparing the kingdom of heaven for us and that secondly, the Son of Man will be coming in judgment. As Catholics, we have faith that this is the case and we are asked to act on that faith. Unlike the people in Orlando who may have had pre-knowledge but chose not to act on it, we do not want to be in that position.

Jesus, the consummate storyteller, speaks a parable to explain this. But before he does, he also gives concrete ideas on what should be done because of this pre- knowledge – sell your possessions, give to the poor and needy even if that means self-sacrifice.

The first parable then is of a master of a house coming home from a wedding feast. The pre-knowledge is that they know he is coming. What the servants don’t know is when. When he returns he finds that the servants have stayed awake and kept watch and the Master is so pleased with them that he does what? He sits them down and serves them dinner himself. The master becomes a servant to the servants as a reward.

The second parable is not as positive. The pre- knowledge was that there were thieves in the area that came at night. Knowing this, the servants and master should have taken steps to protect the house and everyone should have taken their duties very carefully. The fact that they didn’t caused a robbery. In this case, the foreknowledge was not acted upon with bad results.

How does all of this apply to us today and this week? We have foreknowledge of a number of things that we as Catholics take on faith – that the soul lives on, that there is a kingdom of God, that a good life will be rewarded, that we must do things to prepare for our deaths – like almsgiving and love of neighbor. The question we must ask ourselves is if our faith that Christ is telling the truth leads us to act on what we know. It is easy to just sit back and say I’ll see what happens, but even though we know we are going to die, we don’t know when. Even though we know Christ will come again, we don’t know when. Will we be ready or will we be sitting and waiting or even sleeping? The parables and the readings today are a wake up call, that these things are going to happen, let’s take action to prepare for it!

And this is the Good News that Jesus reminds us of today for those who live by and through their faith in God’s word.

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 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 31)

July 26, 2016

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 31)

All five of the readings today are consistent in their message to us: the material things we strive so hard for in our lives won’t really matter when we die. And these material things could be possessions or it could be deep knowledge or it could be power. But when we die, it’s all gone. How vain we are to think we can take it with us. “Vanity of vanities!” we proclaim in the first reading. Suppose you struggle to learn everything you can and become master of some knowledge or skill. It may be passed on to another when you die. All your work, just to be given to someone who didn’t work for it. We work so hard to be wise. What will that wisdom get us in the long run except worry and unrest while we strive for it?

That’s the negative message of Ecclesiastes. Even though it is very true, it seems to be quite a “downer”, doesn’t it?

The Psalm says much the same thing but puts it in a more positive way, I think. The Psalmist also recognizes that we are all going to die, just like natural things around us, and we will be returned to dust, but his lesson is that we ask God to “teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” Ecclesiastes says that wisdom goes away when we die, but the psalmist talks not about intellectual wisdom but the wisdom of the heart – the good we do for others by our love. That is what we will be judged on and what will survive.

St. Paul, too, in Colossians tells us that we need to get rid of earthly passions and habits and “set [our] minds on things that are above”. Paul is concerned with the types of things men and women do in life that feed their passions and take away our ability to keep our minds on the goal of being with God. What will remain for Paul after death is how Christ-like we acted, and when we are judged, it will be revealed that we died with Christ and will be glorified with him as God’s sons and daughters. What Paul saw around him in the Greek world were things that took us away from being Christ-like and made us unloving: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desires and lying. Those are the things , he says, that will stop us from being Christ-like. Instead, always look to “things that are above”, the imitations of Christ. We are helped in doing this by Christ’s actions which have allowed us to clothe ourselves with a new self, in the image of the Creator. That will stay with us after we die.

Lastly, we get to the Gospel of Luke. The set up for Christ’s lesson today comes from the two brothers who were fighting over their father’s inheritance. One of the brothers asks Jesus to settle the argument. This story is only found in the Gospel of Luke, although just as a side note, it is found in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas in a shorter form.

Why did this brother ask Jesus to settle an inheritance issue? It was not something Jesus had been doing – he had been healing, yes, but physical illnesses. Perhaps he felt that from hearing Jesus talk, especially in the area of justice, that Jesus might issue a fair judgment.

Now there are laws in the Old Testament that cover who inherits, but apparently, this brother felt that those laws were not being met. They say that settling inheritances brings out the worst in families!

Jesus will have nothing to do with it, however. The motivating issue here seems to be greed, and Jesus is not about to decide whose greed was best. Instead, it provokes a parable from him that hearkens all the way back to our first reading from Ecclesiastes. Jesus says, “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

The story Jesus then tells is a simple and direct one. A man who was rich had a number of good years of farming and had great windfalls of crops, so much so that he couldn’t store all the produce. So, he decided to pull down his storage facilities and build new, bigger ones.

In so doing, he felt that he could then rest easy for many, many years because his produce would last him for years, even in a famine. He could, “eat, drink and be merry”!

The surprise Alfred Hitchcock type of ending comes very quickly. Just as he is about to relax into his possessions, he has a heart attack and dies. Now all the grains he has put away will be someone else’s. He was not a bad man, but he was a fool.

Jesus ends the parable with the admonition: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

We have to ask ourselves then, what does it mean to be “rich toward God.”

Luke, all the way through his Gospel, brings up the issue of possessions, the have and have-nots, the full and the empty. Luke’s point here was to stress John the Baptist’s mission, Jesus’ mission and the early church’s mission  to share possessions, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked and so on.

To be “rich toward God” then means having just enough for yourself and sharing the rest with others. I can’t stress this enough as a deep concern in the Gospel of Luke, and something which Americans need to look at closely today when most of the wealth is held by a very small percentage of people. If our American government is in any way Christian, it is when it tries to equalize the wealth – something which has proven to be very hard to do. Capitalism is fine, but only if the people also become” rich toward God”!

Unfortunately, the Gospel ends here, but the section doesn’t end here. Jesus in the final section, which we don’t get to read – and you might want to read on your own – turns the negativity around by presenting the idea that generosity, almsgiving, along with fasting and prayer are the cornerstones of Jewish writing. He ends the section by saying “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our hearts follow the treasure. If we give the extra away, we will be “rich toward God”.

It seems rather obvious what we need to consider about ourselves this week. I can hoard along with the best of you. But it’s only when we share, when we are satisfied that we have what we really need, that we will be less anxious, happier and have a rich heart. We all need to look at what we can do in our own lives to get rid of the clutter, to share what we have, and to help those who are in need. Then it will no longer be the cry: Vanity of vanities! but the cry of joy from clearly having sight of God and knowing “Christ is all in all.”

And this is the tough lesson that leads to the Good News we read today!

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 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (July 17)

July 16, 2016

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 17)

Today I want to talk to you about the other side of the coin that we looked at last week – the active Christian, the do-er. We saw last week that Luke grouped together two stories that in a sense comment on one another.  In the first, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan and tells the lawyer, to whom he is telling the story, to go out and do the same to his neighbor. Christians are, by Jesus’ own words, people who ‘do’, who take action, to see that our neighbors are treated with mercy and justice.

This week, though we can another picture which we have seen reflected in Jesus own life as well. It begins for us today with the first reading from Genesis where we see Abraham rewarded for allowing the servants of God to stop and rest, Abraham wants them to refresh themselves. Abraham’s reward for giving them food and rest was to be given a son in his old age.

Notice that Abraham, the Father of a great nation, has become a servant to these men.

Paul, too, today talks about his becoming a servant for the sake of the Church. Paul becomes a servant and even suffers to complete what might be lacking in Christ’s own sufferings.

The Gospel then completes the story and gives us the Christian point of view, but note that it is the other side of the “action for Christ” coin.

Following immediately from Jesus’ advice to the lawyer to go out and take action, here Jesus comes to the conclusion that Mary, the sister, who was not acting as a servant, and was sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening and relaxing, had made the better decision. Martha who was busily preparing for the guests, “distracted by her many tasks”, goes to Jesus basically to complain about the laziness of her sister.  Although it may have been a valid complaint, it was really quite a social faux pas to complain to a guest about it, to begin with.

But Jesus was quite clear that he would not tell Mary to leave, for she had chosen the better part. Mary was so busy, she hadn’t the time to hear Jesus’ word.

These two stories from last week and this week, Luke tells side by side. They comment on each other, and in so doing, show both sides of the Christian dilemma. If listening is the better part, why bother doing the action? This dichotomy has created some interesting historical anomalies. We have monks on poles who sit all day contemplating God’s word. We have activists who march for justice and fight for equality. Does Jesus really say it’s better to sit on a flagpole and meditate?

The answer is the coin itself with two sides. Neither side is enough in itself. The Christian has to take the time to read, hear the Word of God, reflect on it… but then must act on it. Do any of you feel guilty when we pray for people in some catastrophe, but don’t help out by donating to it?  I do. Do some people get so involved in church activity that they are over-involved and have no time for their own listening because they are teaching a class, ushering, rushing around to get things ready, running this or that committee – angry because they see another just sit there and do nothing.

It is all balance. You can see how, taken out of context, Jesus’ words can promote either of those things, but this is why Luke places the stories side by side – so that we can see that balance that is needed. If Martha didn’t make the meal, they’d all starve. But she needs to temper that with some relaxation at the feet of Jesus with her sister. Mary has put first things first, and is learning from the Master himself, but she also needs to see that she can’t always be there and that she needs to be a servant to others as well.

So, today I ask you to look for balance in your life. Examine your activity and inactivity this week. Are you too preoccupied with any one thing – a video game, television, housecleaning, outside work? Then take some time to relax – under a tree maybe, like Abraham’s guests, and ponder what is important in your life.

If you find you are relaxing too much (not something which happens too often in our busy, crazy world today) perhaps you need to find a way to take some action for others, volunteer some time at a food bank, organize a Bible study, come in and clean our Church closet!  It doesn’t matter what you do, but Christ asks us today, to listen to his Word and to be a servant to our neighbor. Let’s evaluate this week how well we are doing at that!

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 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 17)

July 11, 2016

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 24)

Today’s readings are all about the Scriptural concept of prayer – what it is, how it is to be used, what type of prayer is called for and when we should pray.

The Old Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a story about sinning against hospitality. Despite what some fundamentalists claim, it is not about homosexual behavior, but about how we ought to treat visitors and guests and aliens. The cities were destroyed because they showed no care for the stranger. The section we read today occurs after the inhospitality has been carried out.

Abraham rightly says to God: “You are going to destroy everyone because of the great sin of a few?” The doesn’t sound very just to me, and yet we say God is justice! So Abraham uses prayer to bargain with God. And he not only bargains with God but he gets more cheeky with each request. ‘If I find 50 people will you not destroy the town? How about 45? 30? 20? 10?’ Abraham is relentless – like a child wearing down a parent for something he wants.

And God listens. God changes his mind – a number of times! Unfortunately for Sodom and Gomorrah, there were not 10 good people in the towns, and so they were punished and destroyed. But Abraham certainly tried. He did manage to save his nephew Lot and his family.

But what does this tell us about the Jewish concept of prayer?

First of all, it is personal – there is a relationship going on here. You sense the closeness of Abraham and God by the way they talk to each other. Secondly, we can change God’s mind through prayer. God actually listens to us! Thirdly, prayer is not always about ourselves but it is about others. Abraham wanted to save those people. His love for the people of the towns was able to soften God’s heart.

The Psalm today, Psalm 138, is also about prayer. Through this Psalm, which is itself a prayer, of course, we learn about prayers of thanksgiving. Besides asking for things, we use prayer to thank God for the things God has already done for us. That is something that I find missing a lot today. When my children were small we always taught them to write Thank You notes whenever they received a gift. I guess it never quite took because they don’t seem to do it as adults, and aren’t teaching their children to do the same. I’m not sure if this is true in your families, but we seem to take thank-you’s for granted today, or we message someone a quick thanks, which doesn’t somehow seem quite appropriate to me. So we need to ask ourselves if we are always just asking God for something without ever taking the time to thank God when our prayers are answered, or just to thank him for a beautiful day we have had. Many of the Psalms are just “Thank You” psalms.

The Gospel today includes the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father.  It is in a different form than we are used to saying. Apparently each community of early Christians had a slightly different way of saying it – there were no written copies early on. I want to recommend a book to you that I am finding quite amazing on the topic of the Lord’s Prayer. It is by Dom Crossan called “The Greatest Prayer”.  Crossan was one of the presenters at the last conference I went to, and I enjoyed his Irish humor and wonderful scholarship. I am finding this book so fascinating that i may even run a workshop based on it, so I highly recommend it. You will never think of the Our Father in the same way. So much for my little advertisement this morning!

In Luke, it is one of the apostles who suggests that Jesus might teach them how to pray. Jesus prays a lot in Luke, more than int he other Gospels. Luke notes that he prays before big events, like when he is baptized, when he picks the apostles, just before he tells them he is going to die, and even before the transfiguration. So it is easy to see how the apostles might want to know more about how he prays.

In Luke’s version of the prayer we begin with two sections of praise of God, followed by three sections of asking for something.

It is not a personal prayer. We note that the pronouns are plural – it is about community and is primarily aimed at our wish to be part of God’s kingdom. The first petition is to give us our daily bread and while we look at that now with the Eucharist in mind, it probably more properly belongs with the readings from last week when Jesus tells them to take no food, but to eat what is given them. The second petition is for forgiveness, but rightly as we have seen in so many of Jesus’ parables, forgiveness to the extent that we are reciprocal in forgiving the debts of others. This will be part of the message about possessions that we will hear in the Gospel next week.  The last petition asks that we not be tempted to do wrong, or it could be the word “trial” which some translations use, and in that case the meaning could be asking God to protect us from the final days of evil before the second coming, which they referred to as trials.

So here we learn that prayer can be communal and not just personal. When we celebrate Mass for example, we are celebrating the communal prayer as Jesus asked us to do “in memory of [him]”.

The rest of the Gospel today is a group of parables, the first one  illustrating that we must be persistent in our prayer, just as our friends will cave in to our requests if we hound them. God is more than a friend but will do the same.

The next parable shifts from friends to parents, an even closer relationship. Children get what they want often by persistence, wearing down a parent. God is no different, Jesus says. He can be worn down by our persistence as well. And if parents are able to give good gifts to their children, how much more will God be willing to give us.

The final reference is to the greatest gift – the Holy Spirit. That can be God’s greatest gift to us each day, but we have to ask for it and accept the Spirit into our lives.

So, this week, you might want to examine your prayer life – if you have one. Many of us don’t these days. We need to do two things in prayer First, praise God and thank God – that is the predominate prayer of our community at Mass each Sunday, but secondly, we can also ask for what we need, unrelentingly, and sometimes we will get it. Do we pray each day? Do we praise each day? Do we break down the doors of heaven with our needs each day? Certainly something to think about this week and the really Good News is that God listens and answers us, even if it is not always the answer we want to hear. God bless.

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 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 10)

July 4, 2016

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (July 10)

This week and next we have two stories, each of which proves that it is hard to pin down Jesus. We often hear people saw that because Jesus said such and such a thing, that that is what he wants for all of us. But listen carefully both to the story this week of the lawyer and Jesus, and next week to Mary and Martha and Jesus. What is said is not actually contradictory but it shows that Jesus is very careful to look at the situation and make recommendations for the individual.

First, this week, we have the lawyer to look at.

This story is a conversation between Jesus and a young lawyer who studies Jewish law. We are told from the start that the movie of the lawyer is not a good one. he already knows the answer to the question he poses to Jesus. And Jesus knows that he knows. Jesus throws back the question to the lawyer: “You’re a lawyer. What does the Law say about inheriting eternal life?” You might also note that in Luke’s version of the story the question is different from Matthew and Mark where the question is “What is the greatest commandment?”

In any case, the lawyer quotes Deuteronomy, the reading we had in our First Reading today, for the first part and Leviticus for the second, perhaps showing that Jesus was not the first to put together these two concepts of love of God and neighbor. Jesus does congratulate him for knowing the right answer, but he doesn’t stop there. He knows that the lawyer is testing him, so he tells the lawyer: You are right, now go out and live it it. In other words, take action on it.

I want you to remember these words: “Do this and you shall live,” because we will hear a different answer next week in the story of Mary and Martha. “Doing” may be just one side of the coin.

The young lawyer is not content to take this advice, but tests Jesus even further by asking Jesus to interpret the word “neighbor.” Just to ask that question implies that there may be some people who are not neighbors and others who are. That was, in fact, the case in some Jewish thinking. Neighbors or people who lived near you or next to you, were usually relatives in those times. Today, probably because of our interpretations of the stories of Jesus, we see neighbor as much, much wider, in fact, encompassing all men and women.

So the parable Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan is meant to answer the question of the lawyer, and closes by asking the lawyer, “Who was the neighbor?”, again leaving the lawyer to answer his own question.

By this point I know we are all very familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan though it would not have the impact today that it had in Jesus’ time. Samaritans were really despised by the Jews because they were a mixed race who stayed in Assyria after they were captured, who fought against the building of the Temple and, in fact, built their own place of worship on Mount Gerizim. Thus they were heretics, unclean and rejected. What might be comparable today? A Muslim? A Mexican? a disliked politician? None of those really work for all of us today, and perhaps we have nothing comparable.

In any case, we know that the Samaritans were the polar opposite of the lawyer himself, and the priest and the Levite. In the story Jesus tells, the priest and the Levite were respected members of Jesus’ society. They may have had very good reasons for passing by the bloody stranger. If they helped, they would have been defiled and would not have been able to carry out their duties. I don’t think jesus was painting them as totally uncaring or bad. They are, in fact, us! We need to identify with them for the story to shock us.

The Samaritan goes to great trouble to help this damaged stranger. He uses his financial resources, he takes time away from what he was on his way to do, he uses up his own resources to help.

So the question that the lawyer is asked: Which one was a neighbor to the one robbed? is obviously a pointed one. The lawyer recognized that it was the mercy of the Samaritan that made the two men neighbors, and it had nothing to do with race or religion or anything else beside compassion and mercy.

When the lawyer answers correctly, Jesus simply says again: “Go and do likewise.” Go out and take action. And that statement has given many over the centuries the spark that was needed to be active in the church, to be a doer. Next week we will examine the other side of that coin.

The short reading from St. Paul today is a hymn to Jesus, and we can see how the early church began to understand Jesus as God, who existed at the beginning, who was the Word who created, and how he holds all things together. Christ, too, according to Paul, was a doer.

This week I would like you to look at the active side of your religion. How do you “do”? What do you “do”. Do you show mercy to others? This has been proclaimed the year of mercy, and certainly the story of the Samaritan gives us a great example of it. But we don’t just do to the few who need help. We need to extend it to all people, for all people are our neighbors. In this global world especially, there are no strangers. There may be people whose customs we don’t understand, whose ways of doing things bother us, whose religions frighten us, whose proclivity to violence appall us. But they are our neighbors, and we must find compassion, mercy and indeed love.

We start, of course, with our “neighbor” around us, but as we mature, we need to extend it further and further. That’s what the Good Samaritan is all about, why it is so shocking both then and now, and why we have to DO something about it.

And this is the very difficult Good News of Jesus to all of us today.

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”]