Archive for October, 2016

Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov. 6)

October 31, 2016

Homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov.6)

For many weeks I have been telling you that we, through Luke’s Gospel,  are on a trip with Jesus to Jerusalem to his ultimate death and glorification. We are finally there today. While he is in Jerusalem he deals with three or four controversies with the chief priests, scribes and elders of Judea. Our Sunday readings have skipped over the first two controversies in Luke and we pick up on the third one, so a little history is in order here. The Pharisees were trying to put Jesus into one of two schools of thought during his time regarding whether or not there was to be  resurrection of the dead.

The Hebrew Bible really does not talk about, but only hints at such a concept. It was, however, by the time of the Maccabees which was two hundred years before Christ, expressed as a belief by many Jewish rabbis and writers. We see this in the first reading today and the rather horrible story of how the Maccabean brothers and their mother were put to death by King Antiochus. As each man died, they expressed the idea that they were more than willing to die for their faith or do something against their Scriptures – in this case, eat pig’s flesh – and by the second brother’s death we are told why they felt that way. The second brother said, “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws. The third brother added these words about his physical body – “I got these [hands] …and from God I hope to get them back again.” Clearly, then in Maccabees there was a belief in not only reward after death but a resurrection of the body in some way.

What we need to know though is that Maccabees is not a book accepted as part of the Scriptures by the Hebrews, or today by Protestants. It was one of the books deemed Scripture by the Catholic church, however. So, what was the belief in Jesus’ time about the resurrection of the dead?

What you know is that some Jewish sects believed in it, and others didn’t. It so happens that the Sadducees who bring the question to Jesus today simply to bait him and find out where he stands, emphatically do not believe in resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees were of the religious class, quite wealthy and very conservative, believing only in what was in the first 5 books of the Bible. If it didn’t say it in the first five Books, they didn’t believe it. Most of the Pharisees, however, did believe in it because they believed not only in the Pentateuch, the first five Books, but also in the Prophets, and the other Scriptural writings as well as the tradition passed on by scholars and rabbis.

So, here we have Sadducees trying to bait Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t comment on their attitude of not really caring that they knew the answer in their own minds, but Jesus replies in two parts.

The question the Sadducees ask is based on a law in Deuteronomy  which is all about how you are to handle the death of a brother.

First Jesus says that the question is out of place: “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they are like Angels, and are sons and daughters of God, being children of the resurrection.” Basically Jesus is affirming that there will be a resurrection but we will be different than we are now – more like angels, and although he doesn’t dismiss our having relationships, he says that we won’t have the bodily sexual needs which bring about marriages.

Secondly, he makes the statement that God is a God of the living and not of the dead.And then states that the famous patriarchs of the Bible are not dead but alive right now. In other words, death might be seen as a transition to a new state. Years later we added the Greek idea of a soul to all this which I don’t believe the Jews had any idea of, though it makes some sense to interpret it that way. But Jesus says that when they died, they never stopped living. We are told in our tradition that when Jesus died, he went to the place of the dead and opened the gates of heaven for them. It is the same kind of idea.

So the two parts of Jesus’s answer show Jesus using first, reason, to explain why you can’t compare life in this world to life in the next because they are two different states. Then he uses the Sadducees own Pentateuch, quoting Moses in the Book of Exodus, to say that they should believe in resurrection of the dead.

In any case, the Sadducees are not happy with the answer, and they too plot to kill Jesus.

St. Paul also believes in resurrection of the dead and even in today’s reading we hear the words: “[God in  Jesus] through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope.” That eternal refers to forever and covers both life and death.

So what can all this history mean for us who read this questioning of Jesus about the resurrection after death today?

I believe it should give us great hope. I have tried to imagine nothingness, and I not only can’t imagine it, but I find it a depressing thought. Our spark will survive our bodies and even if our bodies become resurrected bodies, whatever that may entail, the joy of knowing I will survive in some way is very heartening to me.

Jesus always says he came to bring good news and this to me is very good news. I want to live my life every day as we say in the prayer after the Our Father “in joyful hope” of the life to come. Let this be part of your Christian joy and not fear death, but only fear not being prepared for it by not living a good life. We know the path to eternal life and it is Jesus. God be praised for this Good news today as we get closer and closer the end of another church year cycle and the Passion and glorification of Jesus.

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 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct 30)

October 24, 2016

Homily for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct 30)

I love it when I get to preach on Good News that is really good news for all of us. Today’s readings are all beautiful and uplifting, hopeful and encouraging. Too often we are drawn to look at the dark side of our faith, at sin and the fallen world. It is all part of the larger picture, but I particularly appreciate the virtue of hope that we are given.

St. Paul talks about God calling us and we being worthy of that call, and that we we can glorify God in our resolutions and good works, not to live in depression (shaken in mind) or fear (alarm) but to realize that the day of the Lord is also here right now. We can bring about some of the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

And what could be more beautiful than the reading from Wisdom today talking about how God is so infinite and immense and yet he cares about us, and overlooks our sins. We hear how God loves every bit of creation, loves every created thing for the simple reason – why would God create something he didn’t like??

We also hear in Wisdom how God’s spirit animates every living thing, that God loves life! “You spare all things, Lord, “ says Wisdom, “for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living.”

God has infinite patience with us, teaching his Law little by little, giving it in small chunks, as to a child. And we made add, when we have matured into adults, so has the Law because Jesus refines it for us in our maturity. Wisdom makes a final statement that it is in this way that we learn to trust in God, and of course, trusting someone is the whole point of a good relationship, isn’t it?

Even the Psalm today expresses the optimism of the other readings. “The Lord is good to all,” the Psalmist proclaims, and has compassion for every created creature. And to give image to the idea of trusting God in our relationship, the Psalm closes with “The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. Such images of caregiving!

And lest we think that God only cares about the poor, we get a story in the Gospel of Luke now where a rich man is saved.

We might be reminded right away of the story of the rich man Lazarus we had read to us a few weeks ago. That story of a rich man didn’t end too well. This time not so much!

This is a story about yet another tax collector, very unpopular people in Jesus’ time, and I suppose not so popular today either if you get a call from one. This isn’t just an ordinary tax collector, however. This is a “chief” tax collector which might mean that he is heavily implicated in a corrupt system that makes the collector profit from the poverty of others. We might think today of a CEO in a very corrupt company. I immediately thought of the CEO of the drug company that raised the prices on a medicine recently, basically making it unaffordable, or breaking the pocketbooks of the people that most need it. Fred B Craddock in his “Interpretation” of Luke says: “No-one can be privately righteous while participating in and profiting from a program that robs and crushes other person.” (p. 218)

It is important for us to see that this man, even if he appeared outwardly righteous, was immorally stealing from the poor by raising the tax amounts and skimming off the extra for themselves.

So why does Zacchaeus want to see Jesus so badly that with his short stature, he climbs a tree to get a good look. Perhaps he had heard that Jesus was a friend to sinners, or even to tax collectors, I find it interesting that first, Jesus knew him by name, and secondly, Jesus didn’t wait for an invitation, but in fact, invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home. It seems that Zacchaeus really was thrilled about it though and welcomed him gladly.

Whatever happened at that meal at Zacchaeus’ house, it brings about a change in Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus voluntarily offers to make restitution for the wrongs he has done. In other words, he seems to have been given the grace to see his misdeeds and immoral way of life and to repent of it. He actually goes beyond what the Bible says he should do for voluntary restitution.

One final point of note that is something you may not have thought of before. Jesus says to Zacchaeus that salvation has come to his house. Jesus wants to remind us that repentance does not just affect the one repenting. Luke always makes a big thing about family and community. Zacchaeus’s whole house is blessed and graced by his act of repentance  His whole house is saved. And that extends even further because in his repentance he is giving money to the poor, and so they will profit by it as well. Repentance reaches out and affects others as well.

The final statement of the Gospel – “For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost” – may remind us of the parable of the lost sheep, but who are the lost? I believe it is anyone who lost his or her way. We have all been lost at times, we have all suffered depression, death of  loved ones, fears founded or unfounded, anxiety in our troubles times. Jesus came to find you, to lift you as you are falling, to straighten your body to carry on. This is such great news, and why I love the readings today so much. They give great hope and build my trust in God. I know they will do the same with you if you take the time to look at them and think about them.

And this IS the Good News we celebrate today as Luke leads Jesus closer and closer to his destiny in Jerusalem. God bless.

Note: Whole there may be some postings of homilies, for the next three years I will not be publishing a weekly homily so that I can attend to other things I am doing. My two books contain homilies for each of the Sundays for the next three years, so you might want to have a look at those.

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 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 23)

October 17, 2016

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 23)

Last week I mentioned to you that there were two stories side by side in Luke’s Gospel in this chapter, both about prayer. When Luke does that, he usually means them to be read together because somehow they will comment on each and affect our perception of them when looked at together. Unfortunately we got one last week and one this week, thus thwarting Luke’s original plan. One of the problems of doing little snippets of a Gospel each week!

Just as a reminder, last week we heard the parable of the unjust judge who was badgered by the woman into getting what she wanted by her her persevering and never letting go.

But when we see these two readings next to each other, we also can see that both of these stories are about the need for prayer.

Therefore, this week, we want to examine more of Jesus’s ideas on prayer which was certainly based on the foundation of the Hebrew concept of prayer. Let’s look at that foundation first. In our first reading from the Book of Sirach and in our Psalm we can get a glimpse of the Hebrew thought on prayer. First,  Sirach says that God is not going to show partiality to the poor. That may surprise us. I think if I had asked you the question  – Would God favor the poor? – all of you would have said a resounding “yes”. But Sirach says no, that God, won’t favor them, but he will listen first to the prayers of anyone who has been wronged. If poverty in society is a wrong, then God will listen to the poor before he listens to us. It also means that the prayers of the orphan, the prayers of the widowed will also be listened to first. In other words, God’s mercy will favor the the unfortunate and the wronged.

So if we are not the unfortunate or the wronged, how would the Hebrews say that we would get listened to in prayer? Well, Sirach says that by being a servant to others God will listen to us. When we humble ourselves to serve the needs of others, our prayers will go right up to heaven and continue till they are heard.

Do you see how Christ was able to build on this Hebrew foundation – it already sounds a lot like what we remember Jesus saying, doesn’t it!

The Psalm also re-iterates that the poor and the humble get the first shot at God’s hearing. “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,” the Psalm says, “and rescues them from all their troubles.” “Let the humble hear and be glad!” And then in the repetitive way the Psalms have of saying the same thing in many different ways: “The Lord is near to he brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

So you can see that these teachings about the power of prayer for the humble and the unfortunates in society were around long before Jesus came. And when we look at the parable of Jesus, we can see that Jesus builds on that foundation, but makes it just a little clearer and harder. The Pharisees were men who did good works. They tried not to sin, they donated to the Temple, they fasted often. It does not sound like they were bad people at all, and from what we have seen in Sirach, by doing these good works their prayer should rise to heaven. But Jesus says it is more than just doing something, it is the attitude we have in doing that something.

The Pharisees in the parable were smug, arrogant, and judgmental. Instead of being servants in their attitudes to one another, they were lording it over others, especially people they judged to be unworthy or ‘dirtier’ than they were.

We sometimes get the impression because of the law of love that Jesus espoused, that Jesus was easier on people than the traditional ways. But actually, Jesus was always harder. He didn’t just want the fulfillment of a law, he wanted the attitude behind it changed. That’s why we often hear him say: You are told this, but I tell you that..” It is not the outward doing, but the interior attitude that Jesus wants us to change.

It is easy to fall into the attitude of thinking we are better than others. Certain people repel us and I think there is a natural need to reject that which is different from us. It is certainly something we have to work at. When we are approached by a street person who is unkempt, bearded, dirty, uneducated or whatever, is it fear that causes us to step back, or pride, or disgust? What do we have to do is to throw away those judgments and see underneath all of that – to know that there is a person of dignity there, that God already listens to more than he listens to us. Definitely not easy, but I ask you this week to examine those feelings inside you, confront them, and see if you can change them a little.

In our second reading, Paul had to confront all these things.  Before he was converted, he hated the Christians, judged them to be unworthy. But he was forced to re-examine all of that when he was confronted with Jesus himself. And what did he become? – a servant of the Word, a servant to others in the name of Jesus. At the end of his life, he talks today to Timothy and to us, both with some pride in the fact that he managed to get through life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”, but the pride is tempered with he humility that he didn’t do it through human intervention, but did it through God who never deserted him. It wasn’t him, it was God: “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed.”  It is that humility of knowing it was God more than my efforts that he says will grant him a place in the kingdom.

So let that be the main lesson for us today among the many little lessons. If we hold true to the knowledge that our good deeds are God acting in us for the betterment of the weaker and poorer, we too will inherit the kingdom of heaven.

That is the wonderful Good News of our readings 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 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 16)

October 10, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct. 16)

The main message for us as Catholics and Christians today is “perseverance”, the idea that we steadfastly continue doing what we are doing until we get it right or until we get what we want.

Let’s start with St. Paul’s exhortation to us today. It is unusual that all three readings have the same theme but today they certainly do. Paul tells Timothy to be persistent in proclaiming the Good News. He tells Timothy he has the tools to be persistent – Scriptures (which was the Old Testament since the New hadn’t been written yet), tradition, and his faith. His job in preaching the Good News as missionary to the Gentiles was to convince, to rebuke and to encourage – but always with patience and persistence. I am not sure we can take this as advice to all of us, since it was specifically directed to Timothy, an “ordained” missionary, but it certainly has implications for all of us.

The Psalm celebrates the persistence of God who will not rest nor sleep but do everything God can to protect us and keep us from evil – the true shepherd of Israel!

In the first reading from Exodus, we also celebrate persistence, and I take this story as a metaphor for how we ought to pray to God. Moses prayed to God by holding up his staff on a mountain overlooking the battlefield. If he let the staff down, the people began to lose the fight, but as long as he kept it up, the Israelites were victorious. I like this image. Many times during our Prayer of the Faithful, I have been tempted to hold my staff up to God, while we asked for miraculous cures. Maybe some day I will try it. Jesus did say with faith we could move mountains!

I see this story though as a way of describing prayer – first of all that it must be persistent. We must never stop praying. But secondly, we have to realize that we can’t do it alone.  It takes a community, all persistent, to batter the gates of heaven. When Moses got tired, they sat him down first, but then held up his arms for him, so that he could be always persistent. And it was that perseverance that won the battle and the war!

And, because this is a story from the Old Testament, how do we know it still applies to us today?  Because – as we see in the Gospel – Jesus tells us so.

The Gospel today is the first of two parables that Jesus tells which illustrate to Luke’s mind, a specific point. Lest we don’t get the message, Luke tells us the message from the start. “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Maybe that is the difference between stating a message and telling a parable. The parable is much more interesting and intriguing, leaving itself open to a number of interpretations.

In this parable, God is certainly not this corrupt judge, but the point of the story is that if even a corrupt judge gives in to persistence, how much more will our God do so?

Luke, who wrote this many years after Christ’s death could also have in mind that the early Christians were still waiting for Christ to come again as judge. In the meantime, they were being persecuted and some were giving up on waiting. Such a parable could seek to strengthen their resolve and be persistent in their faith.

How many times have we prayed to God, hopefully expecting an answer to our prayers and have heard nothing? Have we given up in our prayers? What Jesus seems to be saying to us is that we must continue to pray for God’s justice in any situation, singly and in community. We may have to wait a long time, but we keep on – tis the ‘judge gives in’.

The Gospel ends with Jesus posing a question to his disciples: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth.?” We have been waiting a long time for the second coming. The earliest Christians expected it in their lifetime. Ten thousand generations later, we are still waiting. Is there still faith on earth?

I am aware as Catholics that unlike the fundamentalists we don’t talk as much about the second coming – we kind of brush it aside as something that is an article of faith but it probably doesn’t influence our daily actions or thoughts. If it does, because of the persistence of fundamental emphasis on “end of the world” horror stories, it may simply scare us and we avoid it. But it is very much a part of our faith that we proclaim at every Mass: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! Death will be the first reckoning for most of us, but Christ is returning to merge the kingdom of heaven and earth. It may not be now. It may be much later. We don’t know, but we must have faith and belief that our lives will be judged – our attention to the great commandments noted – and justice will be meted out with mercy. That is a tenet of our faith. So be persistent, not just in your faith, but in your prayer life, and make sure the community is part of your prayer life as well.

This is the Good News we can draw from all four readings today and that I ask you ponder in the following week.

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”]

Note: I will be taking a 3 year Sabbatical from this blog beginning the first Sunday in Advent. I have gone back again to school full time for a Catholic Psychology degree, and need to concentrate on that until it is finished.

Homily for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 9)

October 3, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 9)

Today’s readings are about  faith, ‘coming back” and expressing thanks.

The healing we read about in the First Reading today of leprosy had a very specific purpose. The person with leprosy was Naaman who was a high ranking, successful military man, but he was not a Jew. He was from Syria. His servant girl who was presumably a Hebrew slave told him of a man who lived near the Jordan River who was a prophet and a healer.

Not having any other choice but to submit to the terrible disease, he took large amounts of riches with him to pay Elisha to try to heal him.The Hebrew King was very mistrusting of the motives of Naaman and had no belief in Elisha’s ability to pull off a healing of leprosy. No one can do that, he thought.

But Elisha said that God had a purpose in this event, and let the man, Naaman, come.

But, even so, Elisha was not very neighborly to the alien. He didn’t even greet him or meet him. Instead, he sent a message to Naaman to go wash seven times in the river Jordan, apparently nothing more than a ditch at that point in time.

At first Naaman was very angry the inhospitality and he railed that he could bathe in much cleaner waters at home and be treated with more kindness. He started to go back home, angry, but his servant girl, the same one who had suggested Elisha, convinced him to do what Elisha said. She wanted him to have faith in Elisha.

So, having few other options, he did what Elisha said, bathed 7 times, and amazingly, his flesh was healed. Needless to say he was very grateful and offered all his gifts and riches to Elisha, who refused to take anything, even after Naaman begged him to.

Finally, Naaman, impressed with Elisha’s ability and honesty, and in return was covered to pay honor to the one Hebrew God. So, Elisha, a prophet, knew that this act could bring someone to God, could give them faith in the one God.

Faith is a difficult concept to explain, and it has a couple of meanings for us. We use it in the sense of Faith of our Ancestors when we say we believe in a body of teaching, when we recite the Creed, when we come to a Eucharist. But faith is also a strong belief in something whether we have proof or not. This kind of faith is often seen as a gift, a grace. Certainly the martyrs who died for Jesus had that kind of faith.

St. Paul in the second reading also had that kind of faith. “Remember Jesus Christ,” he says, “that is my Gospel for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal.”It takes great faith to put your life on line. Yet Jesus said last week that we only needed even a little to do anything. And even if we have no faith, Paul says, “[God] remains faithful-“ to us! waiting perhaps for that little thing in our lives which will restore our faith.

The Gospel reading is about the faith of the one Samaritan also healed of leprosy who returns to Jesus because of faith in him. Interesting that both of the main characters in our stories today were not Jews, but foreigners. Jesus tells the ex-leper that his faith in God has made him well.

The ones who were supposed to have great faith the Hebrew lepers never bothered to come back, but only fulfilled the legal obligations of going to the Temple to be examined.

Remember again that all this happens to Jesus as we are told at the beginning of the reading, as he was on his way to Jerusalem. That needs to always be the context of this section of Luke and he never lets us forget it. The events in Jerusalem are immanent.

This healing story can be seen in two distinct parts. We are on the border between Samaria and Galilee. The lepers who by law need to stay away from people would often beg at a distance for food. Jesus doesn’t go up to them and touch them and doesn’t heal them, but simply says for them to go show themselves to the priest and the healing happens presumably when they are on their way. It is their obedience to Jesus and the law which heals them.

Now we have a problem here, don’t we? In the second part of the story the Samaritan could not go to the Temple – he was a foreigner. He starts off, but on that realization, he turns back to thank Jesus and fall on his knees before him in gratitude. But there is something at work here because all of them were healed. Why is it that Jesus comments on this leper’s faith and not the others? The translation may throw us off here. When Jesus uses the term “You’re faith has made you well”, that term “made you well” is the same in Aramaic as is translated “has saved you.” So is Jesus really commenting on the fact that he is coming to save all people, not just the Jews. I think so.

If we go back to the fact that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to his death, we are gradually seeing the Jews as ungrateful and unaccepting of Jesus. Nine never came back to thank him. So what we have here is a healing story and a salvation by faith story. Now how can we apply this to ourselves?

It might simply be that we can’t take our faith for granted. Some of us have a great deal of faith, some just a little. Whatever amount of faith we have, we need to be thankful for it. Eucharist means “thanksgiving”. It is the community of the faithful’s way of thanking God for their gift of faith. This week I would like you to look at your understanding and dedication in coming to Mass for the major purpose of praising and thanking God. Yes, I know we try to make it a social and communal event, a feel-good experience, but it isn’t really about us. We take missing Mass quite lightly in CACINA, it seems to me. Almost anything can trump going to Mass these days. But what we are doing in coming to Mass is showing our thankfulness in community, re-enacting as Jesus asked, his memorial meal and making holy the Sabbath which has often gone but he wayside but is still one of the original Ten Commands of God. Are we the one who came back, or are we of the nine who are thankful, but often turn our backs?

These readings can be Good News for us in showing how God wants not only our thanks, but wants to save us as well as he did the Samaritan.  The two are interrelated: we give thanks and are saved, we are saved and we give thanks. 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”]