Archive for the ‘forgiveness’ Category

Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 28)

June 20, 2015

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 28)

Aside from the second reading today, all of the readings have something to do with death, a rather uncomfortable subject for most of us today. Our culture had done everything possible to shield us from the reality of death which was something quite ordinary in the lives of our ancestors. There were few families in the past, when families were large, that hadn’t had death come to a younger person. The mortality rate for children was high. People grew old and died at home, death was a natural occurrence, part of a cycle. Wakes were held in people’s homes. I remember taking my father to a house that his grandfather had built which had now been turned into a gift shop. I thought I would surprise him by taking him back there and visiting his grandfather’s house once again. I was taken aback by his reaction when he entered the house and tears formed in his eyes. When I questioned him about it, wondering if they were tears of nostalgia, he told me that the last time he had been in this house, the wall across from where you entered was filled with flowers, for his grandfather’s body was lying in state there.

I recently spoke to a young relative of mine who had never been to a funeral or seen a dead person – and she was in her twenties and was quite unnerved.

Death is a part of life that we will all have to experience and go through. An older person once said to me that he was ready to go anytime. He was tired, and death no longer frightened him. I think that is a wonderful attitude, and is as it should be.  However, when death comes at an early age, before one has lived a full life, it seems much more sad and disturbing. In the Gospel today, Jairus may have been quite familiar with death, unlike people today, but the death of a child seemed unnatural to him, as it always does. The love he had for his daughter forces him to do everything he can to save his daughter’s life – even going to a wandering preacher that he heard was able to cure people. Jairus was a synagogue leader, a teacher, a rabbi most likely. He may have heard Jesus speak in the synagogue or he may only have known about him through reputation. Nothing, however, would get in the way of his humbling himself and asking for a miracle for his beloved daughter.

We are not told what Jesus said or what he may have been thinking, but his response was to immediately get up and go to the girl.

If we think of this story as a sandwich with the bread of the tale – the story of Jairus and his daughter, there is a filling to the story as well. Mark often does this. The story is interrupted by an incident on the way to the daughter in which a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years – which would have rendered her unclean, also wanted a cure from Jesus. Her faith was such that she didn’t think she even needed to ask Jesus, but only to touch his clothing to be made well.

Despite the fact that Jesus was being touched and jostled from all sides as he travelled along, he felt something different when the woman touched him – some power leaving him – so he demanded to know who it was that had touched him. In fear because she knew she was unclean and had touched Jesus, thus according to law rendering him unclean as well, the woman admitted her guilt. Instead of being angry with her, though, Jesus praises her for her great faith, and tells her she is cured. Mark is setting up here the “power” of Jesus to heal because now that power is going to be seen as something even greater – not just healing but raising the dead.

We come back to the ‘bread’ of the sandwich now. Jairus’ daughter has died so some people from Jairus’ home came to tell Jesus to forget it. The girl had died. He was too late to heal her.

Jesus speaks only five words, but they are words which we should memorize and apply over and over to our own lives as well. Groups like AA and Al-Anon talk a lot about their little sayings that help them through life’s problems – like the Serenity Prayer or Let go and let God. Jesus’ words here could very well be a saying for us to apply to our lives whenever things get bad – Do not fear; only believe. Do not fear; only believe!

Then, Jesus comes to cure the child amidst laughter and jeering that someone could actually ‘heal’ a dead person. But I am sure their laughter quite stopped when the girl came out and was not only well, but hungry.

I love the way Mark tells this story because he keeps it vivid but simple, and sandwiching the hemorrhaging woman in the middle of it, prepares us for an even greater miracle which is to come.

Wisdom reminded us today: God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.” Our God is a God of life, and the movement of history is to life and not death. The kingdom of heaven we talk about so much starts right here – by our living – right now – this moment. The psalmist says “you…restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit….

You have turned my mourning into dancing! That is the richness that Paul talks about today when he says that God became poor, so that by his poverty you may become rich. Our God IS a God of life. Only believe that and live! The kingdom of heaven is here now if we give into it, live it, love in it, and never fear. That is the continuing Good News that Jesus gave during his lifetime here, and the Good News that needs to sustain us as we move to our own death and the eternal life that follows it. Do not fear, only believe!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 14)

June 6, 2015

Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 14)

I planted a garden this year. I have a little more time now, and wanted to get outdoors more, so I put in two raised gardens and planted tomatoes, cucumbers, brussel sprouts, onions, lettuce, melons and a few other things. I know nothing about gardening so I am counting on luck and a little reading to help me along. But God in designing the world also planted a garden and, since God was God, he didn’t need much help. I presume God knows exactly what to do to make a garden thrive.

Ezekiel begins our readings today with a few words from God who talks about planting, but, because God is God, and because this is prophecy, it is probably about something else as well.

God says he is going to take a sprig from on top of a very high cedar tree and plant that sprig on the top of a very high mountain. When it grows big and tall and noble, it will be so big as to be home in the mountains for all kinds of birds. And I can do this, because I can do anything, says God.

I wish I had that kind of confidence in my own garden! But, of course, while God can do anything, this is also a metaphor or a parable. God is telling his people that he took one group of people out of all his creation and he planted them as a special people. He planted them high up so that all can see. For those who don’t know the geography of the Promised Land, Jerusalem is at the top of a mountain, up from the Mediterranean. God placed his people there so that they would grow and bear fruit – in other words, to grow in population and to be a beacon to others through their good deeds and love of God and neighbor. And then God says that through this people he ‘planted’, all nations will be able to live in the shade of Israel. In essence, through Ezekiel’s prophecy, God is foretelling that the Jews as a chosen people will be open to everyone else after they have blossomed themselves. God chose a people, yes, but chose them to eventually open up his grace to the whole world.

That same imagery is picked up in Psalm 92 today with a different kind of tree as metaphor: The righteous flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit, they are always green and full of sap.”  It is the same image that God wants Israel to be a beacon to the rest of the world, and that it the reason God chose one nation above the others.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we hear Jesus also talking today about planting and trees, even though he uses a bit of exaggeration to make his point.

Jesus uses a short series of parables today about the kingdom of heaven which he preaches about so consistently in the Gospel of Mark. His first parable is about a clueless gardener like me, who throws some seeds around and then kind of waits for them to do their thing! He doesn’t do much to the garden, but only seems to get up and go to bed each day without paying much attention to it.

And he doesn’t have to, because God, in his wisdom, gave the earth the wherewithal to know how to make the seeds grow, and they do. At some point, the gardener only has to realize that it is time for harvest – the seeds have grown, borne fruit and done their thing. So the gardener goes in with a sickle and reaps what God has set to grow and produce. So is Jesus telling us not to weed or gardens or get rid of the bugs and pests with spray – just leave everything alone and up to him? No, of course not. This is a parable and not really about gardening at all.

To increase the kingdom of God, we have to plant the seed, we have to talk to others, to preach the Word.  If we do this, we can then leave it to God’s grace which has been given to everyone, to allow it to grow, flourish and produce fruit in another. This may also have been a warning to Judean’s that they weren’t to fight Rome to get the kingdom of God established or to use arms, or it also may have been a way to tell his apostles that they should not get too discouraged if it took time for the preaching they were doing to bear fruit. It would all come in God’s good time.

The second parable is about the mustard seed which is very tiny. You plant this very tiny seed, and surprise! – it grows into a large bush, large enough for birds to build nests in and shade themselves. And the kingdom of God is just like that, Jesus says.

So what does this tell us about the kingdom of heaven? Well, the kingdom is a place for living, for shade, for rest. And to get there, all we have to do is plant just a little seed in people’s minds. And again, we can let God’s grace do the rest. Jesus’ preaching is so often directed at what he calls the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. So once again, let me remind you that this kingdom is a process whereby we gradually begin to see God taking back control of everything and the world changing to a place of peace, serenity and love of God and each other.

We will be hearing a lot more about this kingdom, but please remember that we aren’t just talking about an after-life here, but the process which began when Jesus ascended to glory and which is happening right now. Are we on or off of that train which has left the station?

What can we do this week to plant a seed and to join in that process of making the kingdom of heaven a reality more and more. What in our lives has to change to make that happen? Can we find the strength to be verbal about our faith and not fear to express our faith in both word and action – to love God and our neighbor visibly, every day, and so plant that seed which will eventually create the harvest of God’s kingdom. That is the Good News that we need to preach and act out in our own lives each day, and it is very Good News for the future of our world if we heed it.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015 (May 3)

April 25, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015 (May 3)

In John’s Gospel Jesus often speaks with “I” messages – I am such and such, usually as a metaphor.  We saw last week that he metaphorically described himself as the Good Shepherd, a metaphor that would be part of the every day life of the people he was dealing with. They would have run across shepherds all the time, but in our culture we have probably not run across too many shepherds of late,  although most of us know who they were and what they did.

Today, Jesus gives another “I” message, and also uses something very familiar to the Galileans of that time, and even two centuries later, which might be more applicable to you and me since we are very much in a wine cultivating county here. Jesus says he is the true vine, an interesting metaphor.

But if Jesus is the true vine, what is an untrue vine? If a person were an untrue vine, it would seem to me that they would lead lives that looked righteous and good, but were really not good. If Israel was the untrue vine because it gave all the outward signs of following God and believing in the Scripture, but in the end would not acknowledge Jesus or see Jesus as the Messiah, this might be what Jesus was talking about here. Or not.

Let’s look at the extended metaphor a little more closely. Jesus first says that he is a vine, a true vine. He also states that the grower of the vine, the cultivator of the vineyard is God. The vine grows and has to be pruned. God prunes away branches that bear no fruit. What immediately this suggests to me is that if I am bearing no fruit, God will hack away at me to remove those things that are stopping me from bearing fruit.  This is a really positive message of love and care. It is God tenderly taking care of us and lifting us up and helping us realize what we need to do to get rid of the distractions in our life that cause us not to bear fruit.  Even if we are bearing fruit, we will still have to be pruned in order to make us bear more fruit. We cannot reach perfection in this life, though we can and must try.

What does all this pruning and cutting away mean in our lives? How does God prune us? In order to interpret this we need to make sure that we do this in the context of Jesus’ entire message of unconditional love and faithfulness, and knowing his mercy and grace.

Jesus says that “Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” Does this mean he helps us to see the sins in our life, or God forces us to repent for the sins in our life, or just feel more sorry for what we have done? The word “pruning” in Greek is also the same word as for “cleansing”. And if you notice in the very next line, Jesus told us that “You have already been cleansed by the word I have spoken to you.”  Was Jesus contradicting himself?

I am going to prune you, clean you, but then he says, you are already pruned or clean!

Perhaps this is because it is a steady process – we have been made clean by our baptism. We are clean, innocent, sinless, but as life goes on, we do commit transgressions, things that are unworthy of God or Jesus, things that stop us from growing, and so we have to be pruned, made clean again and forgiven. And we know that Jesus is a model of forgiveness, so it should give us great comfort and hope.

The extended metaphor continues and we need to see ourselves as part of the vine of Jesus, getting sustenance from the vine in order to bear fruit. Those who become dead to the vine, who turn away from Jesus and his words will be cut away from the vine and left to wither and be burned. This is not literal, but indicates that apart from Jesus, their lives will not be fruitful and they will be on their own and godless.

I want to say a few words now about “fruit”. What does it mean to bear fruit? Does it mean the eternal goal of being with God after we die? Is being with God the grape, which is rich and ready to be picked? Perhaps. Does it mean learning and applying the Word of God in our lives. Possibly. Does it mean living the kingdom on earth right now – with the two great commandments of loving God and neighbor. Probably.

However, to make it simpler and to be able to apply it to our own lives today St. Paul offers us a definition of fruits of the Spirit in Galatians. He says: …the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness [and] self control. (5:22-23) That list is the list of fruits that we should be developing, growing, producing in our own lives, and Jesus says he is there to help us do just that, pruning away what isn’t that, always with the realization that if we are part of the vine of Jesus, if we are in Jesus, that we are already cleansed and have been pruned, helping us to succeed and bear even more fruit.

And I started today with the word “true” when Jesus said “I am the true vine. John’s letter today picks up on the word truth. We can be great fruit and can accomplish what John begins his Epistle with today: …let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. We can’t just talk about love… we really have to take action and show it. If we do this we will truly abide in Christ through the Spirit that continually prunes and cleanses us, just as the early apostles in Acts today built up peace by living in awe of God and being comforted by the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray today that we can accept the pruning of God in our lives, recognize that we are already cleansed by God and on our way to bearing the fruits that Paul names, thus bringing about the kingdom of God right here and now.

And this is the God News of the allegory of Jesus as the vine!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015 (April 19)

April 11, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015

The history of the relationship between the Jewish people and the early Christian Jews is an interesting and tragic one. We know that Jesus was a devout Jew as were almost all his followers. Yet, by the second century, the Christians had pretty well pulled away from their Jewish roots and made the Jews out to be the villains. It was I suppose somewhat inevitable, especially since the church came to be made up of more Gentiles or non-Jews than of those with Jewish backgrounds.

We can certainly see it happening in the Gospel of Luke today. Luke is the only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament and his sympathies throughout his Gospel and certainly in the Acts of the Apostles, his continuation of the Gospel shows signs of this.

In the first reading today we have Peter addressing his fellow Jews, trying to convert them. already though in Luke’s description and in the speech he has written for Peter, you can see an I versus them attitude. Peter begins with their common ground – they all have the same God – they share the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the patriarchs. But then his speech changes to a rather damning “you”… even though he is one of the Jews himself. “You handed over… you rejected…you asked to have a murderer handed over…you killed…” Luke has already had Peter separate himself from his Jewish heritage.

Peter tells them that they acted in ignorance. They just didn’t know or didn’t understand what they were doing. That was true. Jesus himself said the same thing on the cross. And Peter rather justifies their ignorance by saying that it was, in fact, a rather good thing, because it allowed God to fulfill what he had promised through the prophets. Peter the hopes that ‘they” will repent so that there sins will be forgiven.

The second reading from John picks up this theme of forgiveness of sin and sets up the atonement theology which the Church has understood ever since. Christ was the atoning sacrifice for our sins, in fact, the sins of the whole world. This was the gift of God – that we were forgiven, but it also involves acting on that forgiveness – in gratitude we are to keep the word of God, the twofold command to love God and neighbor – and in doing so, we will know that we are in God.

To understand atonement and sacrifice we need to look again at our Jewish heritage when every year an animal would be killed – a scapegoat – representing all our sins and sinfulness – and offering to God. That understanding which was part of the Jewish ritual allowed early Christians to see Jesus as that scapegoat – that lamb – who being sacrificed could take away the sins of the world – something we say three times at every Mass.

That is why in the Gospel reading today Jesus makes such a point in teaching the disciples on the road to Emmaus what Jewish scriptures were actually saying. In turn, it tells us why Jewish Scriptures are still so important to us. Jesus, in this reading, speaks particularly about the prophets and the psalms and he taught them how he was the fulfillment of all of the prophecies and of the law. His final words take us back to t he common thread of all three readings which is forgiveness. Jesus says: “Thus it is written, that the Christ is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations…” This is what is meant by Good News!

I know that in the past some of us have not felt the teachings of the Church were always very good news for us. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, we often get bogged down in detail and add rule upon rule, losing sight of the frighteningly beautiful news that we are forgiven…God forgives us…over and over….over and over. We have only to repent, to try to turn around. We don’t deserve this. It is God’s gift to us, and so we need to give back to God by trying our best to “be perfect as the Father is perfect”. The end result of all this is what Jesus says each time he appears “Peace be with you.” When we know there is unconditional love supporting us, and some of us have seen that in our own parents and in ourselves toward our children, we can feel at peace about ourselves and the world even in troubling times.

Too often we forget the Good News, but we can’t let that happen. It needs to be central in our hearts and in our actions.  Each week, as you have probably noticed by now, I try to find a way to remind you of the Good News because I feel it is central to our religion and needs to be central in our lives. It brings joy, it brings peace, it brings happiness, it brings hope in a too troubled life.

So that is yet another reminder of the good news of the Good News I bring you again his week.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

March 7, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

Our first reading today is an interesting story, repeated many times in Hebrew Scriptures in many different ages, but essentially the same story. The Jews through intermarriage, through melding with other nations, through forgetfulness of their duty to God and God’s covenant fall into sinful ways. But, God never stops loving them, as the reading says, “because he had compassion his people and on his dwelling place.” I

n English the word compassion is the same meaning as “suffering with”. If Jesus exists throughout all time, God had indeed understood his creation and could suffer with us because he was one of us. I

n any case, God uses or allows outside forces to take away the promises of the covenant for a time. In this case it was the Babylonians who conquered the Hebrews and took them back into slavery in a foreign land. Because they had not observed the Sabbath for seventy years, they had to make up for those Sabbaths in captivity. In their sinfulness they had forgotten to keep the Sabbath sacred and devoted to God. And so in the Psalm today we hear the pleas of the Hebrew people far away from their homeland in Babylon, weeping by the rivers there, unable to sing a song in a foreign land. At the end of that time, however, God sent them a gift in the person of a non-Jew – Cyrus, King of the Persians, who let the remaining Hebrews go back to their land, and even built a new temple for them in Jerusalem. Cyrus was apparently visited by God and told to let the people go and to rebuild this Temple.

Now at the beginning i mentioned that this story was oft repeated because the pattern is the same. The Hebrews forget God, they fall into sinfulness, God punishes them, they repent and God rewards them. We hear this same pattern repeated over and over again. Don’t you think they would learn? We would think so!

But don’t we also repeat this same pattern in our lives. How often do we forget God, forget to keep God in our lives, miss Sunday services, don’t recharge our God battery, and fall into patterns of sinfulness? Maybe it is human nature to do this, to forget and take for granted. The one constant throughout this, though, is God’s compassion towards us. And how does that compassion show itself? Through grace!

In the second reading today Paul concentrates on the mercy and the love of God toward the constantly wavering creation. He tells us that we have been saved by grace, not our own doing, but as “a gift of God.” It is because of God’s compassion through Jesus Christ’s life and death that we merit salvation. And what should our response to this be? Doing good works. This is how we show our gratitude for what God has done for us. Note the difference in thinking here – we don’t do good works to merit a heavenly reward, a kingdom come, but we do good works because we have been given that kingdom and we need to thank God for it.

The Gospel today from John is part of the dialogue that Jesus has with Nicodemus and it includes the very famous lines which helped create atonement theology.. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Atonement theology suggests that human beings, having sinned and lost the right to heaven, are saved and gain back that right through the death and resurrection of Jesus, whose death is the ultimate sacrifice to God. Jesus in essence is a scapegoat for our sins. By his death satisfaction was made to God and we are restored to life and light once again as we were before Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

While there are alternate ways of looking at the God/Jesus story, what we can draw from this most common theological position is that thankfulness and good works are the means by which we can repent. We need to find ways to thank God. The ultimate thanksgiving is, of course, the Mass itself, since it is both a thanksgiving (the meaning of the word Eucharist) and a sacrifice re-enacted, done in memory of him who saved us. So going to Mass more often would be a great way of saying thanks, but the thanksgiving can take many forms in our prayer life, in our attention to the good things God has provided for us and in constant attention to his law of love for others.

The second way was what Deacon Gil talked about in his first lenten homily – doing good works. Choosing, not to take away something in repentance, but to find ways to help another, to do some good work for a neighbor, to be God-like in our compassion to others.  If we can find a way to do these two things during Lent – give thanks and show thanks – then we will better be ready for the great feast of Easter that we are preparing for. Let this be our prayer, then this week, that all of us find ways to thank God and be of service to our neighbor, especially the poor and displaced in society.

And this is the Good News that we are prompted to respond to today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

March 1, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent Year B 2015

Today we heard God speaking through Moses as he tells the Hebrew people traveling through the wilderness what he expects of them in return for his promise to them, his covenant, that they will be a great nation in a land of milk and honey. God chose the Jews, as Ogden Nash once commented:

How odd

Of God

To choose

The Jews.

Why the Jews? Why not some other nation?  We don’t know. He just did. It wasn’t for anything they did or did not do particularly, but it was his purpose to bestow a special grace on the Hebrew nation. In return, they were expected to act in a certain way, a way not completely similar to other nations. Other nations did have law codes. We know, for example, that around this time there was a law code called the Law of Hammurabi that the Babylonians followed.

It was probably the most civilized law code of its time and had about 180 laws.

The law code that God prescribes for the Jews to follow has only ten commandments, some of them even the same as Hammurabi’s Code. The difference was that no actual punishment was attached to each commandment, they were simply to avoid doing them. Hammurabi’s code was different in that extra severe punishments were given for each law.

The first three commandments pertain to the Jew’s relationship with God. The other commandments pertain to the Jew’s relationships with each other. Although when we think of a law like “thou shalt not murder” we apply it to all people. the laws were originally taken to be for the Jewish people themselves, their neighbors being relatives and people nearby them – a moral code of conduct for getting along with your close neighbors.

Over the centuries we have extended their meanings and principles, and although most of us follow these laws today as even Jesus said we must, we are not every careful in the commandments that relate to God proper.

We get anesthetized to taking God’s name in vain with all the swearing in TV and movies today, and barely think about what we are saying when we use the name of Jesus or God in daily speech ourselves. We certainly don’t keep the Sabbath the way God seemed to intend us to keep it – even if we have moved it from Saturday to Sunday in honor of the Resurrection. Most of us do some work, and few of us find the time even to give an hour to praise and give back to God each week on Sunday. There are a million excuses and our culture doesn’t make it easy, but the truth is, it doesn’t seem important to many of us any more.

I heard a good image the other day for Sunday Mass. The person said it was like having a cell phone. The battery runs down after a while and needs recharging. Sunday Mass can be like that. It is the charger for our spiritual battery, and just like the Hebrews, when they stopped their Sunday rest, they forgot about God and all sorts of bad things resulted.

The Psalm today comments on the Ten Commandments saying that in contrast to other nations’ laws, the laws of God are perfect, and revive the soul – there is that re-charging image again. The laws are sure, right, clear, pure, true and righteous.

And although the laws are phrased in the negative – Thou shalt not… – the psalmist sees them only positively – sweeter than honey – he says, because they keep us on the right road to God.

The Gospel for the third Sunday of Lent interrupts the Mark’s Gospel we have been reading to give us a little of John’s. It is here to show us the prophecy of Jesus Resurrection – the event that we are preparing for in Lent, but I would like you to also note that the one time that Jesus gets angry that we are told about happens here as well. It happens because Jesus sees the commandments of our relationship to God being damaged. The house of God, the temple where God dwelt was considered sacred. It was where worship was held, it was where God’s name was never taken in vain, but glorified. Yet the porticos of the Temple were surrounded by trade and finance, and indeed, more emphasis was being put on the buying and selling than the worship and sacrifice itself. Jesus’ anger caused the event that did more than any other to upset the priests and Pharisees and directly led to the death he was about to suffer. So it is an important event. In some sense it was foolish of Jesus and because he gave into his human violence, it may have led to his own violent death. But Paul tells us God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” God had a plan, and that plan brought about nothing less than the salvation of all people.

So as we have to come to the middle of our Lenten preparation, let us use the commandments to help us hone our repentance, help us to review our past faults and sins, helps to pledge anew to be worthy of the grace that God has given us, to question more carefully the motives for why we do things, and resolve to give back to God even more than he asked for. Let us make this Lent a truly repentant one, a way of thanking God for all the graces he has shown us and will show us.And let us take the time, find the time, make the time to show God we care and are thankful for his gifts.

And let this be  the Good News we give to God in return this week!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015

February 22, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015

The word “transfiguration” is not often part of our vocabulary today. I can’t image a mother coming to the table with a beautifully done casserole proclaiming that she had “transformed” the macaroni into this exotic dish. We might use it if someone goes to the beauty shop and gets a daring haircut. Look how transformed she is! we might say. Or we might use it in telling fairy tales to our children – someone was transformed into a princess-like Cinderella or a frog was transformed into a Prince. But despite the fact that it isn’t a common word to use, what the word signifies does happen pretty often. Something is changed into something more beautiful or altered in some way, making it more “awesome” to use today’s cliché.

Lent is a transformational season in the Church. This is, of course, why we hear the story of the Transfiguration read to us today. In Mark’s version the Apostles are witnesses to the event, but really didn’t understand it. Nor did they understand the reference to Jesus rising from the dead – the ultimate transformation that was to come. It would be a transformation that would transform the world.

How can we transform ourselves during Lent? What do we have to do to turn ourselves from sin, the part of ourselves that pulls away from God? I directed the play “Godspell” a number of years ago, and the character who was supposed to be Mary Magdalene goes out into the audience and sings a seductive song, coming on to all the men in the audience. But the words of the song belie what she is doing in that she had already been transformed by Jesus. Her words were “Turn back, o man; forswear thy foolish ways.” The seduction which she had used as a prostitute was now a seduction of souls to turn back, repent and come to God. Her movement from prostitute to disciple of Jesus transformed her into an evangelizer in the play.

There are some hints for us in all the readings today about our own transformations during Lent and what we must do. In the first reading Abraham had to turn his back on everything he held sacred. We know how important it was to have a son and heir for the Hebrew people. Abraham had only one son who was a gift from God. But now God wanted to take that away from him, and by Abraham’s own hand. It is a very repulsive thought even, but Abraham had such faith in God that he did not waiver. Perhaps Abraham’s faith allowed him to know that this was a test or that God would somehow make anything that happened right, but he turned his back on everything he wanted and had worked for in order to follow God’s command.

How willing are we to have complete faith in God? You know how many times i have stressed to you the fact that God’s ways are not our ways. Knowing this, are we willing to suffer, to offer up everything we hold dear and put it in God’s hands? Abraham’s reward was a great one for his faithfulness. This “handing over” our lives to God, this ability to trust that God will make all things right in the end, that there is a divine purpose behind everything that happens is one of the things that we need to cultivate in our repentance this Lent.

The Psalm today says “I kept my faith, even when I said “I am greatly afflicted”. Do we keep our faith when we suffer, when our family suffers, when there is death even? That is the kind of faith we are being asked to develop in Lent. Nobody said this was going to be easy!  If we are able to put that faith in God, Jesus Christ and the Spirit, then we can proclaim with Paul to the Romans today that nothing “will separate us from the love of Christ.” No hardship, no distress, no persecution, no hunger, no poverty, no peril or no weapon will be able to get us down or take God’s love away. Faith can move mountains!

So how do we develop this faith in ourselves this Lent? It can seem an insurmountable thing to do, but I would suggest we do it by practice, starting small.  We take something that is worrying us and we place it in God’s hands. We literally say to God: Lord, I give you this, it is out of my control and influence, do what you think best with it. Begin to make this a practice. The immediate reward will be a transformation in itself. You will feel the anxiety or depression lifting because you know you are not alone. “If God is for us, who is against us?” Paul says today. This ability to transform those fears and anxieties won’t come quickly or even easily, but it will come with practice.

At Communion today we will sing a hymn that summarizes this transformational attitude – listen to the words. “Transfigure us, O Lord. Break the chains that bind us; speak your healing word, and where you lead, we’ll follow. Transfigure us, O Lord.”  We ask God to break the chains that are not allowing us to give ourselves completely to God and his will. We ask God to heal that in us so that we can follow wherever God may lead us. Just as Jesus had complete faith in the Father and was led even to death, God’s plan was to use that death in the greatest event known to mankind – our return to God’s grace and kingdom. The last line of the verses for the hymn “Transfigure Us” asks the question: “Shall we journey with you and share your paschal road?” And that is the question I leave with you today as well. Shall you journey this Lent with God, letting God lead the way, giving the direction to God, giving our will to God, even to sharing the sacrificial road that God had taken in Jesus? It takes a great faith, but one that can be developed, practiced and lived.

And this is the Good News I leave you to ponder and maybe even find an answer to today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

February 15, 2015

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

First, a parable. Johnny had not been a very good boy this week. He had gotten into trouble at school and had not done the chores at home that had been assigned to him.

His father sat him down at the end of the week, and said: “Look, Johnny, I am going to buy you the bike that you have been dreaming about. Not because you have been good this week, because you haven’t, but just because I want to do it. However, after you get the bike, I expect some things to change around here. I want you to pull your socks up at school, and I want you to be regular in doing your chores to help your mother.  Understood?” Johnny couldn’t believe his good luck. Over the next few weeks after he got his new bike he did start doing better in school and was pretty regular in his chores. But then he started to slack off. He fell into the old patterns and spent more time on his bike than he did doing his chores. One morning he opened the garage to get his bike to go off to school, but his bike wasn’t there. He ran back into the house upset and told his dad his bike must have been stolen! But Dad just said, “You didn’t keep your part of the bargain, boy! I have hidden the bike away and you are going to have to work to get it back!”

What this story is about is “covenant”, a word we hear a lot about in the Scriptures. A covenant is a free gift that we don’t merit from our behavior. But certain behaviors of thankfulness are expected. In Exodus, when the Jews were led out of Egypt, God made a conditional covenant with them, made them his people and gave them the Promised Land. But in return they had to follow certain moral codes, and not worship other gods. When Israel broke that covenant, the Promised Land was taken from them, not forever, because God always keeps promises, but they had to work for it.

In the opening reading today from Genesis, we are given part of the story of Noah, but we also need some context.  God created the world, and after Adam and Eve  left Eden, the population grew. But the didn’t show any thankfulness or keep their part of any moral code and the world became corrupted and ungodly. God could only find one family that kept the covenant. God sent a flood which destroyed everyone except the family of Noah. But God, still in love with the human race despite their turning away, made another covenant with Noah without any expectations – an unconditional covenant that God would never again destroy the world with a flood. And just to remind them of this promise, this covenant, God created the rainbow as a visible sign  of it.

The difference between a conditional and an unconditional covenant is simply that in an unconditional covenant we are not expected to do anything in response, while in a conditional covenant such as at Mount Sinai, we have obligations and so does God.

The Psalm today reflects the Sinai covenant because the response is “Your paths are love and faithfulness for those who keep your covenant.” In other words the Hebrews needed to show faithfulness and love to God and neighbor as a result of the conditions of the Mosaic covenant.

The other major covenant in the Bible is the Davidic covenant, an unconditional covenant where God says  that David’s family line will be blessed and an everlasting kingdom would come from that line. Jesus is from the family line of David and Mark says in Chapter 10 that Jesus is the Son of David and fulfills that covenant because God always keeps promises. Mark’s Gospel is really all about proving that Jesus is this fulfillment of the covenant to David.

This Davidic covenant also has a sign like the rainbow, and St. Peter in the Epistle today describes that covenant sign as baptism. Peter explains that God saved eight persons through water, and that baptism is a saving sign and action which frees us from sin. Peter describes this as “An appeal to God for good conscience” because when sins are taken away that are no longer on our conscience, and we no longer have to worry about them.

So two covenant, two signs! In the Gospel today, in Mark’s direct and uncomplicated way, he explains that Jesus was baptized, showing us what we need to do as well, and then Mark goes on to show the qualities and signs which begin to show that Jesus is Son of God. He was driven by the Spirit, he was tempted by Satan unsuccessfully, and Angels waited on him. We are again told the secret that it will take a while for everyone else to figure out – that Jesus is the promise of the Davidic covenant promised to us.

The reading ends with Jesus beginning his preaching of the good news of God – that God’s kingdom is near. And what must our response be… what is the one condition that we have to fulfill to get in on this covenant…?  We have to repent and believe.

And THAT is what Lent is all about. It is our response to the covenantal promise of our being saved by Jesus Christ. We have to turn around, examine our lives and state our beliefs. This Lenten response leads to Holy Saturday when we renew our baptismal vows and celebrate the fact that we have been part of an covenant in which God has sent a Savior to us, God’s self in the flesh and we are at the beginning of living the kingdom of God.

This is Good News. This is the Good News of Lent, and this is what Jesus proclaims today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

February 8, 2015

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

I am sure it seems odd to us today and quite cruel to treat someone with a severe disability by kicking them out of the community and isolating them outside the town, leaving them to fend for themselves. We are told that what the Bible calls leprosy really isn’t the leprosy that we call Hansen’s Disease today, although some of it may have been, but included any kind of infectious skin diseases including rashes and skin discolorations caused by things like mildew.

But this was a time before medicine, a time when infection meant there could be spreading of disease and separation was, in effect, the way to save the whole community. So when we read the Law regarding lepers in Leviticus we must understand that context. It was not meant to be cruel but to be a protection for the uninfected people.

And they weren’t always cast out forever. Someone with Hansen’s Disease who was wasting away would be, but many other infections simply cleared up and there was a way for dealing with that and bring a person back into the community.

The other problem with the early Jewish understanding was that there was a strong relationship between the external and the internal in the mind of the Hebrew. Leprosy was a sign of sin, a sign of uncleanliness both of which separated the person from the Jewish community.

When we look at the Gospel reading, the first amazing thing I want you to note is that Jesus was approached by a leper. This was forbidden since they were to stay apart and be alone. Jesus doesn’t run away from the man but is moved with pity for him. This is even more true because the man puts complete faith in the ability of Jesus. One wonders how he even heard of Jesus, but as anyone with a bad disease like cancer can tell you, the sick person is often looking for ways to get better, for the newest findings on the disease or for other doctors who claim to be able to heal it. The leper probably had his ear opened to find out about one of the healers who were quite common at the time.

The leper’s faith is such that he asks for his cure in a very unique way. He doesn’t just say “cure me, please!” but he puts it in the way that gives Jesus choice in the matter. “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Jesus responds in a like fashion: “I do choose.”

As the man is immediately made clean, we learn what a person has to do to be admitted back into the community. He or she has to go to a priest to be checked out, and make an offering to God for the cleansing, usually a sacrificial animal.

When Jesus asks him not to tell anyone about it, I am not sure he knows he is not being realistic in that people were going to want to know how this man with torn clothes and disheveled hair was made clean, if only so that they, too, could take advantage of such a person. What Jesus didn’t want, at this point, was his 15 minutes of fame as a healer, because that wasn’t what he was really about. Healing was something he could do, and it strengthened people’s faith in him, but what he really wanted to do was preach the Good News of the kingdom of heaven, eventually knowing that he would die to bring that about. Too much success too early would not allow the message to be spread.

Unfortunately for Jesus, however, the man told everyone, so that Jesus couldn’t preach in the towns any more because of the number of people wanting cures, and he was confined to preaching in the countryside where people still came to be cured, but where he could also spread them out and work in his preaching.

In most of the cures of Jesus, although not in this one of the leper, Jesus also forgave sins. Perhaps with the leper he wanted to show that there was not a relationship between disease and sinning, and that one was not a sign of the other. In many of his healings though, he tried to cure both the outer and inner person, and the psalm today expresses that with the beautiful words: “‘I acknowledged my sin to you…, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” This same healing is still available to us today, one of the most hopeful and remarkable things about our Christian heritage. Each Sunday at the beginning of Mass, if we are truly sorry, we confess our sins and we are given absolution for them. And in our Prayer of the Faithful we say to God, “If you choose to you can cure…” And often he chooses to.

Let me close then  today with St. Paul’s words: whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Let us try to make God part of our everyday life and actions, so that when we are in trouble or bad health we can come to God, like today’s leper, and God will know our faith and belief, and cure us if God so chooses.

Hopeful thoughts that come from the Good News we hear today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]