Archive for August, 2016

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary​ Time, Year C (Sept 4)

August 30, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 4)

The reading from the Book of Wisdom and the Psalm today try to make us aware of our insignificance in relation to the universe and to God. Our “perishable bodies” make sure that no matter how puffed or great we think we are, in the end, we will simply be dust. In Jewish writings, the writers were often weighed down by that insignificance and by the fact that there was nothing really after death except what people remember about us. Around the time of Christ, that thinking began to change and they began to look more closely at an afterlife, but certainly during the period of the writer of Wisdom, they did not think in terms of an afterlife. 

What sustained them then? Why weren’t they totally depressed by that fact? I would be!

The answer lies in the wisdom that was to be learned from God’s holy spirit. Awareness of God and his creation and the joy at being part of such a wonderful creation directed them to look at their present lives, to live for the moment, and to trust in God. So the first reading today ends with: “And thus the paths of those on earth were set right, and people were taught what pleases you and were saved by wisdom.”

Wisdom, then, allowed the people to teach their children good conduct and what was moral, allowing them to make a “meaning” of their short lives. It meant passing on of tradition, values, and respect for the Creator. “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart,” says the Psalmist.

The letter from Paul to the slave owner Philemon, our second reading, shows great wisdom from Paul at the end of his life. He says he is an old man, but he has things to pass down. He is asking this slave owner to treat Onesimus who has been ministering to Paul, as more than a slave. This is the Paul who in Galatians said ‘In Christ…. “there is neither Jew or Gentile,  slave or free, male and female.” He asks Philemon to treat his slave as “a beloved brother”. This wisdom of Paul was highly counter-cultural. Slave owning was a part of the fabric of the Greek life. But Paul is trying to pass on his Wisdom from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus also passes on wisdom in Luke’s Gospel, as shocking as some of the statements seem to be. We note, first of all, that there is a shift in the audience from the last few weeks. Jesus had been addressing his disciples, but now he is addressing large crowds of people. Jesus has not called these people, they have come to him willingly, and unlike the close disciples, are not aware that Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem to die. So Jesus is addressing this group who are enthusiastic about hearing him, that there is more to following him than just listening to him and watching him. It is difficult to be a follower. Jesus is asking these people to think seriously about whether they want to follow him on his journey -they may think they are parading, but it is really a death march.

Jesus first uses the word “hate” in his list of what followers need to do. It is unfortunate that we have only one word for hate, and that it has taken on the meaning it has in English today. The word “hate” in Jesus’ time and the way Jesus uses it means to detach oneself from something. Jesus is not asking us to hate in our sense, but to detach oneself from anything that binds you to earth, including the love of self. When he says we must hate ourselves, he is saying we must detach  from pride and all the things that lock us to ‘this world’.

So, the Wisdom of Jesus about what it takes to follow him is first, detachment from worldly things.

Secondly, he asks us to take up our cross. This is, of course, a metaphor that most of us get these days. Luke uses it ironically in that Jesus knows he is journeying to a real wooden cross, but here it means accepting the difficulties of life. He uses the image or parable of someone intending to build something. They have to have a plan, Jesus says, or they will suffer the consequences of running out of money, or a poorly built structure.

The second metaphor for the same thing is a king who plans carefully whether he can defeat his enemy, and if it looks like he hasn’t the resources to do so, tries to establish a peace treaty. It would be foolish to do otherwise. This, too, is wisdom.

Therefore, Jesus, in his Wisdom, is saying to people: If you want to follow me, you need to weigh the pros and cons carefully, understand just what it will mean for you. His final statement in today’s readings would be one that would hit the hardest, but is just a continuation of his theme of detachment: “So, therefore, whoever of you does not give up all their possessions cannot be my disciple.” I am sure that was the statement that really stung and I don’t doubt that many people got up and walked away,

What does this wisdom mean for us today? Have we really stopped to consider what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Christ? Have we been able to detach ourselves from worldly things, and not have more money than we can use for living? Have we been able to endure our crosses of suffering and pain, trusting in God that there is a higher purpose?

We are the crowd that Jesus is addressing, and we need to think about how seriously we take our following of Jesus. Let us pray for the Wisdom needed to be good Christians and followers of Jesus in today’s world.

And this is the Good News that can be so hard to follow but leads to eternal life. 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 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Aug. 28)

August 23, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  (August 28)

Today’s readings could be very apt readings for those who espouse leadership, either in this country or in the church. So many leaders who call themselves Christian are not very humble. I think leaders who put the good of the people of the country or the organization or the church first are true leaders. I think that is why i have so much respect for Pope Francis as a leader. He seems truly humble. As the readings suggest today, we are in trouble if leaders don’t listen, wanted to be treated like royalty, have inflated egos and put their needs before the needs of the weak.

How does all this play out in today’s readings? The Book of Sirach is, for the most part, a book of Scripture that contains wise advice, usually stated in pithy, easy-to-remember sound bytes, and draws on the wisdom and ethical teachings from about 200 years before Christ. It is not a canonical book of Scripture for many Protestants, simply because it has not been regarded as canonical by the Jews.

While the “wisdom” of the Book of Sirach is far-reaching and contains advice for many different people and groups, the section today is directed at the individual who wants to be holy in the sight of God. “My child, perform your tasks with humility…The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself.” It is a state of knowing yourself inside and out and realizing how less important you are in relationship to the universe, the world, and other people. It is keeping things in perspective. It is the “meekness” that inherits the earth, Jesus tells us. It is the opposite of arrogance, aggressiveness, and boastfulness.

When I was still in Canada, there was an archetype of the American which I sometimes still hear.  It was the “ugly American”. And like all archetypes, there is some truth in it. Part of it is being raised to believe that the United States is the absolute best country in the world and no other country can equal it. Believing that, when they travel outside the country, some tend to be haughty, demanding, uncaring of others, ignorant or even ethnocentric, holding other cultures to the standard of their culture. While this does not fit the majority of Americans, I tend to find that the wealthier one is in America, the more entitled they seem to get, rather than being grateful and humble.

So Sirach’s advice to us if we want to find favor with God, is to be humble in all things, because compared to God, we are very small. He also suggests that we be intelligent by appreciating proverbs and that we listen to other people, putting our own ideas last, if we are to be truly wise.

The Psalm today is really about the humility of God. He finds time to provide for the needy, to be a father to orphans, to protect widows, to give the homeless a home and bring prosperity to prisoners. God’s preference is for the needy.

The Gospel today is clearly about religious arrogance and the feeling that because you are religious you are better than other people. In his parable of the upper-class man who goes to a wedding, Jesus even gives a good practical reason for being humble and seeking out the lower place. If you go for the best seat, the host is liable to say it belongs to someone else and send you to a lower seat. But if you choose the lowest seat, you will most likely be brought to a higher one. The moral is a constant theme of Jesus: “…whoever exalts [themselves] will be humbled, and whoever humbles [themselves] will be exalted.”

The second bit of advice Jesus gives also has human reasoning attached to it as well as moral. Don’t do things in expectation of being paid for them. In your humility, seek out those less fortunate than you who cannot ever repay you for your kindness. God is watching and will repay you for your generosity at the final reward.

All of this “advice” today from Sirach and Jesus flies against the American way of thinking. It is definitely counter-cultural. It seems to go against the very grain of what we grow up with in our society today. But there it is. No-one said being a Christian would be easy. The obvious Good News, though, for the humble is that they will receive their reward from God. I know that is something we all strive for in this parish, so we need to work always on our attitudes and listening skills, and compromising skills. Being mature is not seeing the world in black and white terms, but noticing all the different shades of gray that make up this wonderful world of ours.

Let us all strive to be humble, mature, intelligent Christians who focus on the needs of others before our own. That is the truly Good News we are presented today as we navigate the social waters of our culture!  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 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (August 21)

August 15, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  (August 21)

Today’s readings are awfully difficult ones, and ones we might find a little scary as well. It is still Good News, but not obviously for everyone!

Let us put the gospel In context first. Luke begins by reminding us that we are getting closer to Jerusalem. We already, with Jesus, know what will happen there, but as it gets closer, Jesus makes us more and more aware of the impending coming of the kingdom and also of the final judgment.

A follower asks a question, a common trick in Luke to get Jesus talking on the subject, and the question is “Will only a few be saved?” Will only a few enter the kingdom? That’s a good question, one I’m sure we all would like to know the answer to because it affects us personally. Are we going to get in? Jesus’ answer is sort of a summary for us of the requirements of salvation. Jesus first talks about the difficulty in getting into the kingdom. It is isn’t automatic. It is a narrow door. Elsewhere it is referenced as the Eye of the Camel which was a very narrow doorway of an alley into Jerusalem.

I find this a difficult reference because if we have this really narrow door that we have to squeeze to get into, who will not be able to get in? The overweight person, the muscular person, the crippled person? I don’t think we can then take this literally. But what if we take it symbolically, and say that Jesus himself is the door to the kingdom? That might be one interpretation. Remember, Jesus was addressing this to Jewish followers. Many Jews felt that because they were Jewish and followed the laws, they had already had access to or gone through the door to salvation. But Jesus says that they were not already in the kingdom and many of them would not be because they hadn’t recognized Jesus for who he was even though they heard him and saw him. Even more shockingly, Jesus says that non-Jews will get into the kingdom.

This interpretation seems to fit the parable that Jesus tells right after the statement of entering the narrow gate. The owner of the house, God, will close the door. In other words, there will be a point when we are judged, the end of time as we know it. The time is up and we must be accounted for. Some have already entered the kingdom. We note that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets are already there. Presumably the saints and many who were martyred or simply led good lives.

But outside the door, the Jews who did not accept Jesus knock on the door and are not recognized. They may have eaten and drunk with Jesus but there was no conversion. In Jesus’ words, they are ‘evildoers’. But the door isn’t closed for everyone. All sorts of people for the four corners of the earth will come and be admitted, presumably because they have been good, moral people, even if they didn’t know Jesus. We might also note that the purpose of the first reading today from Isaiah was to show that the prophets recognized that the Gentiles could also be saved. God says, in Isaiah, “I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see my glory.”

Jesus final statement probably refers to the Jews who were the first choice for salvation, but many of them will be the last.

So, for us, the narrow door should mean that being a Christian is not an easy task despite Jesus saying that his yoke is easy and his burden light. It takes a certain amount of courage and discipline to navigate through a world that seems fraught with evil sometimes. It is difficult to keep faith in such times. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews today also talks about discipline though he prefers to see it as God’s discipline rather than self-discipline. Paul says, “the Lord disciplines the one whom [the Lord] loves.”  It is a loving discipline that a parent would show to a child. Paul wants us to look on our sufferings as parental corrections which will make us better people and make us peaceful and righteous. That is where the self-discipline lies. It is in lifting your drooping hands, strengthening your weak knees, and walking a straight path. It is in healing what is wrong with us, with faith that everything will come out right in the end.

This week, take a few minutes to think about the path your life has and is taking. How do you react to setbacks, sickness, deaths, depression? Does your faith in Jesus allow you to squeeze through that tight door and find peace on the other side, or do you wallow and wail on the other side without even trying? A few weeks ago we heard Jesus say that we had to batter God’s door down in asking for something, like children pestering their parents until they broke down and gave it to them. Perhaps that should be our key in suffering. Batter heaven with prayer and squeeze through that door. Then maybe we can live in some of the peace of the kingdom to come, and Jesus recognizing us, and saying “Come on in!”

And for us, that is the Good News of our salvation we hear 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 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Aug 14)

August 8, 2016

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  (August 14)

Jeremiah was not a particularly well-liked prophet. Doom and gloom one might say. We are told in the first reading that he was demoralizing the Hebrew troops. The reason they say this, which comes just before our reading today, is that Jeremiah was telling everyone to get out of the city. They couldn’t and wouldn’t win. Babylon was going to overtake them.

Now we have to remember that prophets speak only what God has told them to speak, but they were only hearing the human message of doom. The princes in charge of the army wanted him out of the way before he scared all the soldiers and they took off.

The King, apparently, didn’t agree with his princes, so he gave in to them, by telling them to do whatever they wanted with Jeremiah. Unfortunately, or fortunately for Jeremiah, they threw him into a dry well, into the mud. He didn’t drown but he would soon starve for there was no way out.

One of the officers of the King felt that that was a horrible way to die, to starve to death, and he reported what the princes had done to Jeremiah to the King. The King had mercy on Jeremiah and had him taken out of the well. What we don’t hear int he reading is that the King kept Jeremiah under guard, and did not let him run free.

The King here is compared to God in the Psalm today. Jeremiah waited patiently in the cistern. The Psalmist sings: God drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

The lesson? God is our deliverer who will have mercy on us in our great need or distress and will help us. But there might be a delay, as there was in both the Jeremiah story and the Psalm. Our prayers are not always answered immediately.

As we see in the second reading today, Jesus also had patience, enduring the cross and disregarding the shame of dying such a despised death. Jesus is the role model of patience even in great suffering, so, as St. Paul says, we must just continue to persevere and run the race that is set before us, confident that God will hear our prayer.

Now how does all this relate to the “fire and brimstone” Gospel we have today which is probably out of our comfort zone. We have to remember that Jesus was not all apple pie and lovey-dovey! Jesus too was prophetic and was telling us the things that God the Father had given him to see. Like Jeremiah, Jesus is telling us that we are going to have quite a time of it in the world. Jesus and the religion he preaches will bring division, division in households, division in families, divisions in nations. This prophecy as we know from history is certainly true. Even within the religious communities there has been and is division. Families have been divided over religion, particularly in marriage. There is division in our nation today, and we are fooling ourselves if we don’t think that religion is at the base of much of it. Jesus saw all that. He knew it was coming. He told us it was coming. He has brought fire to the earth, he says. And he was, of course, right.

Imagine how that must have made Jesus feel, preaching the kingdom of God and love for neighbor – to know what it would bring. Jesus says, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed.” Now remember, that this section of Luke for the last weeks has been the journey to Jerusalem, to Jesus’ death. Luke uses Jesus’ saying here to emphasize that journey to his death.

Jesus also says that he “came to bring fire to the earth”, which is his prophetic vision. But fire has many meanings in Scriptural tradition.

It can mean pain and burning, but it can also mean judgment, purification and the even the Holy Spirit. Surprisingly, this reading is cut short today and we don’t get the next section where Jesus says that we can look at the sky and predict the weather (he obviously was not speaking about DC weather reports), but they can’t see the signs from God in the present time.

This was true of most of the prophets who said things to allow people to see and hear the things which they were blind to.

Do we see the signs that God sends us to today? Do we listen to the prophets that he sends us today? And how do we tell if someone is a false prophet? The signs of the times today are very scary. I am frightened for us, for our town, for our nation. I think there are voices of prophets out there, trying to show us the right path, but we need to constantly pray that we hear them, and do the hard things they demand to make our world a better lace. First and foremost is Christ himself, and we need to read and hear his words more than ever before. I ask you to take some time each day to read the Gospels and meditate on Jesus’ words. Remember, they are the words of eternal life.

This is about as “fire and brimstone-y”as I ever get in a homily, but my words are inspired by Jesus’ words today – still Good News if we listen to what he says!

God bless us all.

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”]