Archive for the ‘Good News’ Category

Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany C 2016 (Jan 3)

December 26, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany C 2016 (Jan 3)

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, not a word that occurs often in our own daily lives – unless you happen to be a teacher of James Joyce and use the word in a literary sense. The word itself means “to manifest” or “to reveal”, and what is manifested on this remembrance is that Jesus was made known to be the light of the world, the one who would save mankind, the one who would radiate God’s glory.

For this reason, the imagery of the day is all about light. Isaiah, the prophet, foretells a day when the whole world will know of the glory of God, and will come to worship the one true God. “Arise, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” He foretells of a future when the world seems dark with sin and depression, that the Lord will suddenly appear in light and all nations will work together and come to the Lord. Young and old will come from all across the land bringing gifts of thanks and proclaiming praise for God. A beautiful utopian vision of the last days of the old covenant.

The psalm picks up this beautiful scenario and talks about every nation on earth adoring God through his Son and Savior. This Son, the King,  will judge people with righteousness and give justice tot he poor of the world, and he will not cease until peace abounds. The Psalmist then picks up on the vision of Isaiah and tells him of Kings from the ends of the known earth bringing gifts and tributes to god’s Son. And what is it about this great King? Is he a conqueror? Is he a mighty warrior and military leader? No, what the psalmist picks out as his greatest qualities are that he helps the poor and needy and the week and makes sure that their needs are fulfilled and their lives are saved. What a beautiful portrait of Jesus centuries before his coming.

In the epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, Paul extends the previous concept of a Jewish Savior to one that saves all mankind. He says, “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind as it has now been revealed to his holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit:” And what is it that has been made known by the Spirit? Paul says it is that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and share in the promise in Christ Jesus…”

That is the manifestation we celebrate today, then. That all nations see the light, and that light is the saving grace of Jesus.

Matthew is the only Gospel that mentions the wise men and doesn’t really say that there were three of them. I guess because there are three gifts mentioned, we presume that there were three of them. We also don’t know that they are kings. Nowhere is that mentioned int he Gospels, though tradition has it that they were.

Matthew’s story accomplishes a number of things, however. First of all, because of the light of the new star, the birth of a Savior is made manifest to people across the known land. The wise men seem to have come from different locations but of course, the star could be seen from everywhere on earth. In the Gospel’s story line, the wise men also add to the plot because they stop at the King’s palace as would any foreigner requesting permission to cross a foreign land, and Herod is told by his own people of the prophecy of Isaiah and the coming of a Messiah who would take the throne – at least, that was how they interpreted it. This will lead to a number of bad things happening – though Herod doesn’t indicate that to the wise men. He sends them out to find the child and report back to him so he might know where the child was located.

The wise men head out and somehow find the location of the birth though the child would probably be quite a bit older now since they had come from so great a distance. The child wasn’t in a stable, but in a house now. The gifts they brought could be Matthew’s attempt to bring Isaiah’s prophecy into his story since two of the gifts were what Isaiah foretold – gold and frankincense. One commentator mentioned that the gold might not have been actual gold, but the spice turmeric, which is golden in color. Such gifts of spices and oils would have been medicinal and helpful to a family with a young child.

So the Gentile wise men represent the branching out of God’s chosen people to the whole world. This would no longer just be for the Jewish chosen people, but God’s saving grace would be for all men and women, just as we read the angels proclaiming on Christmas morn. After having a dream or vision that Herod was up to no good, the wis men did not go back to Herod as they were asked but headed off for their own countries.

So what can we draw from these experiences today? Counties have been in turmoil lately because of the refugee immigrations from Syria and elsewhere. Darkness has once again visited our land. I think we need to get our minds around the fact that there is one God for everyone and He is a God for all peoples. Perhaps he manifests differently for different people. Who are we to say we know the mind of God of the ways of God. Surely we know we have been wrong many times before. Instead of criticism and fear, we need to do our best to accept all people as they are, to love them, to help them, to care for them, and thus show that we are really Christian by our love. I know that in a complex world this seems so simplistic and that our fears get in the way of really seeking to get to know and understand others. But if Jesus is really the Savior of all mankind, we need to be ready to do things that help him do his job, since we are his hands and his feet on earth today. Just something to think about as we try to open all the doors and let this great light shine in for all. And this is the Good News the Epiphany brings today.

 

Ronald Stephens 

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16 (Dec 20)

December 13, 2015

HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16  (Dec 20)

As we rapidly approach the end of Advent and the arrival of the incarnated God at Christmas, the readings today center on prophecy and on the woman who was to bring this incarnation into fruition – Mary.

We begin with the prophet Micah who predicts the birthplace of the Messiah as Bethlehem, a tiny city south of Jerusalem. This was also the place that King David had been from, and where he was crowned as the King of Israel. Even earlier, It was the area where it is believed that Rachel, Jacob’s wife in Genesis, was buried and there is a place today called Rachel’s Gate which is at the entrance to the city.

So, it is from this city with a varied and rich history that Micah predicts the Savior would be born, that Israel will not be saved until “she who is in labor” gives birth. Then, this Messiah, this Savior, will bring together the children of Israel. He will be their shepherd and he will give them food and he will be “peace” himself. What a beautiful description and how apt a description of Jesus who so many times tells us: “My peace I bring you.”

The image of the Savior as a shepherd is picked up in the Psalm Response today which is also Messianic in its call. “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel. Stir up your might and come to save us.” So it is this image in the Hebrew Testament of a Savior which stirs their and our imaginations today. The image of the mighty warrior that brings peace was not to be the reality of the sent Messiah, however. The Messiah sent by God was one who would perish to become the sin sacrifice which would save us – not from some military enemy but to save us from Sin and Death themselves. This is the thrust of what Paul tells us in his Letter to the Hebrews. By doing the will of God, Christ was able to abolish the kinds of sacrifices and offerings that were used in the Old Testament and to offer one sacrifice for all time to atone for our sins and to make us holy. This is all accomplished by Jesus through his incarnation as he became human to raise us up.

The Gospel today comes from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and I mentioned to you a few weeks ago that Luke liked to pair things so that there would be two witnesses instead of one. In today’s Gospel, the pairing is that of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Both are pregnant, both are miraculous pregnancies, both were told of their spending pregnancies by supernatural means, both agreed to it, and both have intuitions about what the impending childbirth will mean. Elizabeth’s witness when her child leaps in her womb upon seeing Mary has given us one of the predominate prayers of the Church – the Hail Mary. But if you look closely at what Elizabeth says to Mary when they meet, you can see prophetic signs of what was to come and important witness for Luke of the truth of his narrative.

First of all, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  It was God the Spirit that allowed Elizabeth to prophesy. As with all prophets – it is God speaking through the prophet, and Elizabeth is no different.

Elizabeth first greets Mary with a statement of her “blessedness.” To be blessed means that you have been made holy or have been consecrated by God to do something. So it was quite a greeting to say that Mary, among all women, was the most blessed. Secondly, was that the fruit of her womb, her unborn child was also consecrated by God to do something great. This is an example of the kind of witness that Luke is always concerned with – verification for the Gentiles by other sources that what he is presenting is true and accurate.

There is a second reason that Mary is blessed or made holy, however. Elizabeth adds: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” It is in Mary’s acceptance that we heard sung in the Gospel acclamation: “let it be done to me according to your word”, that Mary’s holiness is seen. Mary had free will. She could have said no, and certainly given the situation, most girls would see the problems that a virgin birth might give her. Fans of the popular tele-novella “Jane the Virgin” have laughingly seen all the problems it has caused her – and they weren’t at all religious in nature. But Mary did not say “no”. She surrendered her will to God’s which is not an easy thing to do. Alcoholics or addicts who follow the twelve steps often have great difficulty following the third step which is turning one’s will over to God. It takes humility, it takes understanding, it takes strength – but the rewards for doing so are peace and serenity.

As we move to the celebration of Jesus’ birth this week let us try to offer ourselves and our wills to God, to pray that his will be done, not ours, trying to develop some real humility in the process. God’s own humility which allowed him to become human as a helpless child should be the very model that we pray for. If we can do that, then we too will have a Christmas which is filled with peace, grace, and serenity. Let us work even harder at our project of doing something each day for others, filling our God box – so that we can offer that to the Christ child this Christmas – a true gift of action towards others which is what the season should be about.

And this is the Good News Mary was bringing to Elizabeth and that Micah prophesied so long ago.

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 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Christ the King of the Universe, Year B 2015 (Nov. 22)

November 15, 2015

Homily for the Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time- Christ the King, Year B 2015 (Nov. 22)

Our theme today is best expressed in the Responsorial Psalm antiphon: “The Lord is King; he is robed in majesty”. This last Sunday of the church year we look at the now and at the future when the kingdom of heaven, here now but veiled, will be seen in all its glory as the King of the kingdom of heaven comes to claim his throne – a throne that will be everlasting and that shall never be destroyed. It is the same kingdom of heaven that the Gospels tells us about over and over.

We start with Daniel’s dream six hundred years before Christ. He uses the term “son of man.” The term “the Son of Man” is a Biblical term that we hear a lot in the Gospels and in a sense it just means “a human being”, someone born of a human. The term is used a great many times in the Gospels, and it has been suggested that it is just a poetic way of saying “myself”.  If you google the term it will tell you that interpretation of this term, son of man, has been divided and there is no one agreed-upon answer to what it means.

It first appears in the Book of Daniel, but it is specified there for the person coming with the clouds of heaven is one “like” a son of man. Looking backwards into the Bible, for Christians, this is an obvious reference to Christ who is both human and divine. He is the son of man, meaning a human being, but he is also Son of God, which allows him to come with the clouds of heaven and be given dominion, glory and kingship. To me, this is an early reference to Christ as an incarnated God. Whether we completely understand the term or not, however, it is clear that Daniel’s vision today is one where this heavenly human was made by God king of all peoples, and that he should be served by all nations, all peoples, in all languages. This was the vision of Daniel hundreds of years before the coming of Christ. It was a vision that came true.

When we get to the New Testament we hear the terms ‘son of man’ and ‘son of God’ quite often.

The kingship of Jesus was something that the Gospel writers  and Paul talked about and tried to prove often in their writings. It also had messianic overtones because the Hebrews believed through the prophets that there would be a great king to rise up from the line of King David who would save them by conquering all other lands. He would be the king of kings. While all of this came true, it didn’t happen in the way that they thought. There was no armed King who would conquer lands and lead them through war and revolution to this new kingdom.

Instead, they got a different kind of king, but a king no less. The last book of the Bible, Revelations, is particularly appropriate for reading today because it is all about endings – the ending of earthly kingdoms, the end of time as we know it, the end of Jesus being apart from us for he comes again. The Book of Revelation echoes much of the vision of Daniel, and so we see Christ coming in the clouds. He began all things with his Word and he will now end all things as we know it. He is Alpha and Omega, A and Z, beginning and end. Just as in Daniel our response to Jesus is to give him glory and dominion forever. We know that he has redeemed us and that he loves us beyond any sense of love that we may ourselves know and understand.

So, the first two readings today are prophetic, dream-like and visionary, full of high theology and difficult metaphor and symbolism. But when we get to the Gospel we turn to simplicity itself. Jesus is on trial, presumably for blasphemy because he equated himself with God, and for claiming that he was a king in his own right. Pilate is very direct and asks him specifically about it. “Are you the king of the Jews?”. In other accounts, Jesus is silent, but in John, he answers Pilate at first in the negative because he is more than a king of just the Jews. He answers with the truth: “My kingdom is not from this world.” The kings of the world are temporal, area-bound kings. Jesus is spiritual king receiving his power from God and from his obedience to the Father, and thus his kingdom is over all people and all things.

Then Jesus says that the whole reason he was born and came into the world was to testify to the truth, to which Pilate infamously and possibly sarcastically replies, “What is truth”. For John, the truth is God. He is the essence of truth, and going back to the opening of John’s Gospel we remember that God sent his Word, which would then have to be truth itself. So we, as humans,  can only know the truth by listening to Jesus. The kingship presented by John then is knowing that we are loved, held, cared for, saved, and chosen by a Triune God that we willingly want to serve and thank for the blessings he has bestowed. That we have been freed from our sins by his blood! as Revelations announces today, and which we celebrate as a community each week in remembrance of him.

As we end our church year we need to put kingship, so foreign to Americans, into the perspective of our needing to be grateful and to serve a Creator who is Truth and Love and all Good Things. Having our Thanksgiving so close to this feast is a wonderful reminder also of what we need to be thankful for – physical things, of course – harvest, sunsets, health, family – but also, of what he has done for us in the spiritual realm by humbling himself by becoming human, loving us enough to die for us, destroying the effects of death so that we can live eternally, and all without our having done anything to merit it or deserve it. So much to be thankful for! So let us give thanks to this spiritual King who will someday be a physical resurrected King of the earth as it meets heaven and close our church year with awesome images of the end of the world instead of all the ‘fearful’ terrifying ones we get in the media. Christ is our King, Christ is our Truth, and we know God, by knowing Him.

Just a few things to ponder and really Good News to close out our church year!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Prepare for next year! Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Nov. 15)

November 7, 2015

Homily for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Nov. 15)

I would like to begin today with he short passage from the last chapter of the book of the prophet Daniel. We don’t often get to read Daniel in our liturgies the way they have been laid out, but this week and next we hear two passages from this apocalyptic prophet. The Book of Daniel is a rather strange book in the Old Testament. The first half of it is three really good stories and is an easy read, but the second half is mystic, dream-like, confusing and often about things that have not yet happened that Daniel saw in his visions.

Today’s selection is from the last chapter and is a piece often read at funerals. It shows a distinct change in the theological thinking of the Hebrews because, up to this point, the Jews didn’t have much to say about an after-life. They had a place that we hear about in the Psalm today, Sheol, a place where the dead were gathered with their families. There here-and-now was the important thing, what the Psalmist calls “the path of life”. This after-death place was a vague holding place many Jews believed in, but with Daniel we encounter something new. In this reading Michael, the prince of angels, presumably, will rise up at the end of time during some sort of world-wide catastrophe. At this point, there will be a resurrection of the dead. However, it doesn’t say everybody, but many will rise. There will apparently be some sort of judgment because some of those risen will have everlasting life and others will have everlasting shame. The main thrust of the reading though goes to those who have maintained wisdom and those who have influenced others to be righteous. They will be the real stars! In fact that is exactly the metaphor Daniel uses – shining like the brightness of the sky… like stars forever and ever.

As we near the end of the church year next Sunday, the thought of the liturgy usually turns to the end of time and what the Bible has to say about it. And so, we begin with Daniel’s vision of the last days and then move to Jesus’ own description of that time as Mark writes it.

Jesus describes it in a similar way to Daniel – that there will be some sort of cataclysmic event causing a time of suffering for all people. When that happens and everything seems hopeless, The Son of Man will come from heaven manifesting great power and glory. Jesus will send his angels to collect “the elect”, those who have been judged to have followed Jesus and his two great commandments.

Jesus also indicates that there will be signs that this is going to happen and he uses a fig tree as an example. You know when a fig tree is going to bloom by looking for the signs of its blossoming, and when that happens you know that summer will soon arrive.

Similarly, we will be able, if we watch for it, to determine by signs that this event will be coming soon.

At this point, we hear Jesus say something that just seems like he didn’t know what he was talking about. He got it wrong. He says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” I can say two things about this. Just after that he says that he may be just guessing because only the Father really knows when this will happen – and he specifically says that the Son doesn’t know either.

Or… perhaps the sign of the coming judgment is Jesus’ own death and resurrection which indeed happened during that generation’s lifetime. Without Jesus death to open the kingdom of heaven, there could be no final judgment because heaven would still be closed to us. And so, when Paul says today in Hebrews: “For by a single offering [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” It is only through the sacrifice of Christ that we have been redeemed and that there is a possibility of our resurrection and being part of the elect who will be brought into a new world order: the complete and fulfilled kingdom of heaven.

In trying to determine what this can mean to us this week, we might turn to the Gospel acclamation today which states: “Be alert at all times, praying that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” As Christians, we need to always keep our end in view. We talk about our lives as journeys, and that is so true. But journeys have destinations. Jesus has given us a way, a path of life. In fact, the early Church uses to call themselves, not Christians, but the Way. By keeping that destination in mind, and having some vague knowledge about our end and the end of time, we need to weigh the individual daily decisions we make with the end we want in view. We need to pray for that wisdom that Daniel says we need in order to shine brightly. We need to pray that we continue to follow the path and to show others the path as well. I know that some of us do ask the question “What would Jesus have done?” when we make decisions, but it might be better to ask: am I following the law of love for God and neighbor in this decision? Am I staying on the path Jesus taught? Food for thought this week as we hear the Good News that we have been saved and that our destination is there, waiting for us to take the right path to get to it!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Prepare for next year! Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Nov. 8)

October 31, 2015

Homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Nov. 8)

It is pretty easy today to come up with the connection between the first and Gospel readings. Both concern the charity of widows who had very little for themselves but were willing to share what they had with those even less fortunate. I love the story in 1st Kings that we began with today because I actually find it a little humorous. Imagine the scene. This woman was a widow who was left with a child when her husband died. She was in dire straits because she had to take care of her boy and there was no way that she could earn any money. When Elijah sees her, she is out gathering twigs in order that she might have a fire to cook the very little she had left. She hoped to make a little bread with the food remaining in the house.

Now it seems pretty forward of Elijah to call out to her – first of all, she is a woman and most male strangers would not put themselves int he position of talking to a strange woman to begin with. But Elijah does and is even quite demanding by our standards. He doesn’t  introduce himself; he just asks for a little of her water, and when he sees that she is amiable to give him some, goes further and asks for a piece of bread.

Now we have talked before how important it was in this time period for travelers to ask for the help of people in villages when they were passing through, and how Jewish custom asked people to be kind to these strangers who were traveling because it was so difficult.

So the woman who would probably like to give him a piece of bread tries to explain to him that she hadn’t baked any yet, and in fact, she was just gathering wood to do so. Unfortunately, though she didn’t have much grain or much oil left. I find it almost humorous the way she adds that she was just going to bake the last of it and then sit down and die. But she probably meant it.

Elijah asks her to bake the bread with what she has left, but to trust in God that a miracle would happen and she would never empty the vessels of grain and oil till the next rainfall. If someone told you that, would you think he was crazy? The woman must have been very trusting or had a great faith in God because she went and did what he said – giving up what was to be the little she had left. But the miracle occurred!

The other story of the widow in the Gospel does not contain a miracle at all, but shows a picture of someone whose faith in God is so strong that she was willing to sacrifice the little she had because it was what God had asked her to do. Tithing was specified in the Bible. If she gave that away, how would she live. She didn’t know, but she did what she felt was the right thing and left the rest to God. Jesus admires her great faith.

What he doesn’t admire so much is the great show that people were making of the large amounts that they gave. The offering of rich people was more to inflate their own egos or make them look great in the sight of others. Their motive was not pure like the poor widow’s.

The story of this widow began with an admonition to watch out for the scribes who loved to put on a show and fought to be respected and given the best place. Scribes were a later addition to Hebrew life and were men who were educated scholars whose job it was to interpret the Old Testament. Their actions show what they are really like. Jesus says that they devour widow’s houses. As if the widows of this period don’t have it bad enough, the scribes were finding ways to take their property from them for non-payment – all very legal, but leaving the widows destitute. We see examples of this all the time today when people call senior citizens on the phone and try to dupe them out of money, or when  tele-evangelists make pleas for them to give up their money for ‘better” causes or by intimidating them with guilt or fear. The Scribes apparently had the same thing down pat. Jesus remarks only that “they will receive the greater condemnation.”

It might be good to note that I don’t think Jesus was indicating that we should give more than we have to the point of suffering. He was using the woman as an example of someone who had been duped into that way of thinking by the scribes. Immediately after these verses Jesus indicates that the very thing she has been giving her money to was going to be destroyed. And the Temple was destroyed not long after.

The real sacrifice that was greater than either widow is the one talked about by Paul to the Hebrews today. Jesus didn’t just give up his livelihood, but he gave up his godhead, becoming human like us, and then gave up the very human life he had taken on in order to remove sin and bring forgiveness. What do we do that could compare with that kind of love? The widows showed love and faith in God, but Jesus went the whole way for us, Paul says.

There has been a lot of talk over the last month of the message that Pope Francis has brought to America, and I find it interesting to read what our “scribes” today have been saying about it, as they try to justify their economic way of life. But the Pope’s message was clear, Jesus’ message today is clear, and the Psalm is a wonderful summary today of the message: the Lord executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets the prisoners free, upholds the widow and orphan and brings to ruin the way of the wicked. We need to be as aware as possible of our Christian obligation to the oppressed in our society, and each of us needs to try to find our own way to help – in money, in time, in friendship, in prayer – in love!

My prayer for you this week is that we use today’s widows as examples of faith and concern for others and that we be very wary of becoming scribe-like ourselves, all too easy to do in our capitalistic society that can brainwash us with the wrong motives.

And this is the Good News of Jesus, Mark, the widows and Francis I remind you of today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Prepare for next year! Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for All Saints Day (replacing the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time), Year B 2015 (Nov. 1)

October 24, 2015

Homily for All Saints Day, Year B 2015 (Nov. 1)

At a recent New Testament Study group, someone asked the question “Did the idea of praying to saints come about as to appease  those converts who had come from religions with many gods and many holidays for them?” A good question. While I imagine that praying to the saints might have been appealing to new non-Jewish converts because they were used to praying to different gods, the Christian use of ‘saints’ in our prayer life and in the life of the church really more stems from the idea of the Mystical Body of Christ, a term for the idea of the Church being the body of Christ with Christ as the head. Those who have died in the state of grace and have achieved that perfect union with Christ are the body of Christ who have achieved the state of heaven with God. These are the martyrs, the miracle workers, the pious, the men and women of simple faith who have gone before us into eternal life with God. Some of these we have recognized ourselves, but the wonderful things they have done while on earth, their complete faithfulness to the Gospel, and our surety that they are with God, is why we give them the name of ‘saint’, acknowledging their virtuous lives and our belief in their closeness to God and Christ. We do not worship these people – they are people, just like we are, not gods, but they have fought the good fight, to quote Paul, and because they are so close to God, we pray to them to intercede for us if they are so able.

There are, of course, many saints who are not acknowledged by us or whom known about. That is why we celebrate this feast today. It is a to publicly acknowledge all those who have lived and died in Christ through the centuries, known and unknown, but who are close to God now.

So, in preparing the liturgy for today, the Church has chosen readings which reflect these teachings. In our first reading from the book of Revelation, John has had a vision of heaven. Now when we try to describe something which is totally unknown to us, we have to use a metaphor, because we have no actual words for that description. A person from the past who was able to visit us today and saw a television or a cell phone would have no words to describe those things, and so they would have to say it was like something else that people might be familiar with. So here with John, we get a metaphorical description of what he saw in heaven. In this vision, he saw a great number of people who wore seals on their foreheads- one hundred and forty-four thousand – who wore what looked like a seal that a king or important person might put on a letter, etched into their heads. This number is not an exact number; it just means a lot of people, as though we might say we went to a park and there were thousands of people there that day. The seals meant that they were of God – “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…robed in white” who bowed down and worshiped the Lamb, symbolic, of course, of Christ. When John asked who all these people were, the answer he is given is that “they have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”, and interesting paradox in itself, and who had come out of the great ordeal – which may have meant persecution, but which I think is just life itself. The wonderful thing about this from my point of view is that although there are people there from the tribes of Israel in heaven, there are others too – from every country and language. We can all hope to be saints one day!

In the second reading, John also gives us hope in that we have become, through our baptism, children of God, and at the time of our deaths or at the end of time as we know it, we will finally understand, and we will see God as God is. We will become saints, too. It is our hope in God that purifies us, says St. John, and that purification is the same as the white robes that the saints wore in Revelation.

So how do we get to become saints? Well, the Gospel states this very clearly in Matthew’s description of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gives his strongest teaching on what it takes to be a Christian, and it is not a list of “Do not’s” like Moses received with the Ten Commandments, but more a list of “Do’s”. We know these as the Beatitudes, and we are very familiar with them because we read them many times during the church year and we sing them in our hymns.

So Jesus tells us what to do to be blessed, to be a saint: be poor in spirit, mourn for the dead, be meek in our actions, be passionate about righteousness and justice for all, be merciful, have pure minds, strive for peace, and if you are persecuted, know that God will be with you. That’s what it takes to be a saint, and that’s what we celebrate in the many men and women over the centuries who have lived their lives in such a way that they exemplify those beatitudes. We honor these men and women, we pray to them to make a case for us, we strive to become like them. Their reward is great in heaven right now and we trust it is ours is to come.  It should give us all great hope that we too will wear the white robes, washed in Christ’s blood. We need to go out today, remembering what we have to do. And being a saint  is possible – we have the saints today who have proved it to be so in great number.

And that is the really Good News that our honoring the saints reminds us of today. Work on those white robes!

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 18)

October 11, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 18)

The thing that joins the two integrated readings today, the Old Testament reading and the Gospel, is the very early theology of Jesus as a servant taking on the sins of us all and offering himself in sacrifice in our place. Isaiah talks about the righteous one, who is God’s servant, making many right with God by bearing their iniquities, carrying their wickedness. Isaiah says that this servant’s life is an offering for sin, not his own, but others’ sin. Not only that he will be in pain – he will be a suffering servant.

Very early on these prophecies of Isaiah were seen by the early church to be referenced to Jesus, and that the prophecies had come true. It helped them especially to make some sense of the senseless death of their friend and teacher. By looking backward to the prophecies of Isaiah they were able to piece together a theology of redemption – where one divine person was to suffer and die to compensate for the sins of the world.

I am sure that the initial death of Jesus had to throw the followers into more than panic that their leader had been killed. More, what was going to happen to them, what would happen to his teachings, what disappointment over the expectant messiah, what craziness to kill such a gentle, miracle man!

I am sure it took time and the influence of the Holy Spirit for the group to sort it out. The fact that they stayed together and still believed in what Jesus said was a real tribute to his followers. Often when a leader is killed, the others run off in all directions.

Writing the first Gospel, Mark has had the time, twenty years or more, to reflect on this situation, to go back to the Word of God in the Old Testament and notice the prophecies which seem to have been written with Jesus in mind. He then incorporates this throughout his Gospel so that that others can see that the story of God is a progression that moves toward and away from Jesus till he comes again.

We see this in the Isaiah reading today which seems to a Christian to be an apt description of exactly what Jesus life had accomplished. “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities,” Isaiah foretold.

In today’s reading Mark shows Isaiah’s ‘servant’ comment with the little power struggle going on with the Apostles. We have seen again and again in Mark that the apostles were rather clueless and often just didn’t get the paradigm shift that Jesus was preaching. James and John ask, metaphorically perhaps, to sit at Jesus’ table in heaven. This is basically a power grab. The people who sit at the right and left of the host are the most honored guests, and of course, James and John knew that.

Then Jesus asks if they are up to letting what happens to Jesus happen to them. At this point, they don’t know he will be crucified, of course. They reply that they can take it, whatever.  Jesus explains that though he would do what he could for them, it was not his decision to pick the most honored guests – it was God’s. But they would share in his drink and his baptism. Little did they know that this meant his death and his suffering. Well, they got half their wish, anyway!

When the other Apostles heard what they had asked, they got pretty upset – they saw it for what it is was – a grab for power and favoritism in the group. They were pretty rough and tough men, and I am sure they made their feelings clear to James and John.

Time for an object lesson, saw Jesus! He called the group together and explained for the first time his theory of power and greatness. It must have made very little sense to the apostles when they first heard it because it was revolutionary – totally against the thinking of the time.

The powerful men that they knew – the Roman rulers and the Jewish leaders all lorded it over each other, doing what they wanted and thought best, and maintained a tight control over everyone.

But Jesus turns it around as he will once again at the Last Supper.

If you want to be great, Jesus said, you must lower yourself to be the servant of everyone – in fact, not just a servant, but a slave. The concerns of others must be your concern. Pleasing others must be your concern. Doing the wishes of others must be your concern.

Not the usual way of looking at power and greatness, even today, though it seems to me democracy should come close to it if the leader really does listen to his electorate and try to act on their needs and wishes. That’s the theory, isn’t it?

What does this mean for us this week? How can we be better servants to others, particularly those we have some control over. Many parents are able to balance this need to be a parent with knowing and understanding the needs of the children as well. But, if you are in charge of anyone – in an office, or as head of a committee, or as a Board member – how can you increase serving the needs of others and thinking of your own needs less. When I came in as the new principal of a large high school, I knew that the person I replaced had been a bit of a dictatorial leader. At my first staff meeting, instead of talking at everyone, I asked them to break into groups and discuss what were their greatest priorities for the school year. No one even moved. Finally, one of them got up and said, “We don’t do things like discuss here! Just tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.” It took me bout three years to get them to see that I really was interested in what they had to say and would move in the directions that the group needed and wanted. I think they actually ended up liking it – though I lost a few in that paradigm change.

I also want you to consider being a servant to other church members here. At base, what this means is that you don’t come to church for yourself – you are here because it is important to the others here. Without you, there is a gap…something is missing. Just coming as regularly as you can is being a servant to the others in the congregation.

Look around this week and see if there are ways to put Christ’s servant-leadership into practice in your life. You might be amazed at what happens, and how freeing it actually becomes for you as well.

This is some Good News that we can all work at and I wish you well in trying it.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Prepare for next year! Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct. 11)

October 3, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 11)

We meet a rather melancholy Jesus in the Gospel today, perhaps because of his disappointment in this good man who walked away from him because the man couldn’t give up all he had and give it to the poor. This is the Jesus who makes central his mission to the poor and the spreading of the good news. In Mark’s Gospel, it is the central, core mission. It is also something which goes quite against the capitalist society that we live in in America. I often wonder how the billionaires who claim to be Christian, listen to the reading today and what they must be thinking?  How do they justify the huge amount of money they make, while poor are starving all around them in the world. I guess if we put our minds to it, we can justify anything.

Look at this man who comes to Jesus in all sincerity and asks how he can have some of this eternal life that Jesus has been preaching about. He is a good man, not a sinner, who does everything required of him by the Law of Moses, and does it willingly and with a good heart. He was an honest seeker and was respectful of Jesus when they met, even kneeling before him to show his humility and deference in the face of Jesus, the teacher. We are even told that Jesus loved the man. That could be any of us here today.

The man probably expected Jesus to praise what he had been doing and to tell him to keep on doing it if he wanted eternal life. But Jesus doesn’t say that. Jesus gets down deeper. Jesus looks into his heart and sees what is really stopping him from going all the way – his love for his material things and the money he has saved up or put aside. This was not a new idea in Jesus’ teaching, of course. Jesus basically said the same thing to his own Apostles.

When Jesus tells the man that the added thing he can do to assure eternal life for himself was to divest himself of all his material possessions by giving it all away to the poor, to trust in God that there will still be treasure for doing so, and follow Jesus as a disciple, the man was unable to make that commitment. He goes away “grieving”, dejected because he could not make that big a commitment to ensure his eternal life. Would we be any different?

If I told you right now that all you had to do to get eternal life was to sell your house, cash in your 401K, drain your bank account and give it all to the charity of your choice, to be my disciple, trusting that God will make sure you have enough to survive – could you do it? Would you even want to do it?

Jesus’ melancholy shows in his statement: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” The reason why it will be hard is because their wealth, their love of possessions and money puts a wall up which does not allow them to fully carry out the Gospel message – they want to be the ones accountable for what they have and ensure it will be there when they need, not leave it to God to do so.

Now, in fairness Jesus was saying that this was what a disciple of his needed to do. I guess if you are not a disciple, you have to learn to balance having some wealth with following the teachings of Jesus, by being charitable and sharing some of what you have. But, because most of us in this country have so much, it will still be hard.

In our first reading today, the Book of Wisdom tells of a man who calls on God, in much the same way the man called on Jesus. He is given Wisdom – often a feminine virtue in Scripture – and comes to understand what is important to God. In his new wisdom, the man realizes that following God and following God’s ways are more important than acquiring wealth, having good health, or keeping one’s youth and beauty.

That is so anti-American, it seems to me. Everywhere I look in magazines, on TV, in the other media, all that seems important is up-to-date fashion, cosmetic surgery and steps to keeping one beautiful, playing the stock market to make more money, deifying some Kardashian or rich star. That is what is important to the culture today. So anti-Gospel!  So difficult to reconcile with Jesus’ words!

The Epistle to the Hebrews today is unusual in that it deals with the same topic. Most often it is just a random reading. Paul says that in the end we all have to render an account of how we lived, what our priorities were, and how we acted. Even if we have justified all these actions, in the end God can “judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare.” And how hard it will be for those who have put their love into fleeting things, inappropriate things, material things.

One of the reasons I joined the Catholic Apostolic Church was because I was tired of hearing guilt-inducing sermons that made me feel worse when I left church then when I came in. But when we have readings like these there is a certain amount of guilt it provokes in us, I am sure. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t really do that. He doesn’t make the man feel guilty. He just tells the man what he has to do if wants eternal life. When the man decides he can’t do it, Jesus doesn’t say “Shame on you! You better change or you’ll never get to heaven!” He simply watches him go and then makes a comment to his disciples at how sad a thing it is that the man couldn’t do it.

So that is how I would like to end with you today. You haven’t come asking to be disciples or priests. Yet, you hear Jesus talk about how difficult it is to balance material things with a spirituality. And that leaves us with a decision as well. Can we balance our lives so that money, material goods, fame, power, sex – all those American dreams – become less important than your relationship with God, and what can you do to make that balance a little more top heavy on the spiritual side each day, so that maybe at the end of life, we won’t have to justify why we haven’t done enough for the poor or the sick or the troubled around us. No guilt – just a path that I suggest might lighten the burden at the end. And this is the continuing Good News I bring you today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Prepare for next year! Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, is now available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 27)

September 19, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 27)

The First Reading and the Gospel today are both about jealousy. It is a particular type of jealousy in which a person has a gift of some sort and becomes noted for it, and suddenly someone else seems to be doing the same thing, and doing it better or worse than the original person did. I used to see it when I taught high school. Some athlete would be the best on his team, became captain and was looked upon by others as the best. Suddenly someone moves into the area and into the school who is also a great athlete. Instead of becoming good friends, the athletes vie with each other to see who is better.

I  have seen it in my English class when a girl who was a great writer, who always got A+’s and was always given praise by the teacher, suddenly faced a new student who was just as talented. She was very mean to the new girl, jealous of her talent and fearing she would no longer be the best.

In the Book of Numbers from the Old Testament, we hear such a story about Moses, but it doesn’t end the same way. The Hebrews saw Moses, not only as a prophet but a great prophet. The Holy Spirit decided to share Moses’s gift with seventy elders in the tent where the Holy of Holies was.  Because they were elders, and because he retained the leadership, Moses didn’t feel jealous or challenged. Also, it was part of the religious experience of the tent. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit decided to descend on two common men in the camp outside. They also were given the gift of prophecy and began to do so.

When they were heard, one young man ran to Moses and Joshua to tell them that this was happening outside the tent. Joshua was upset about it and told Moses to stop them from prophesying. But Moses, instead of being jealous of having to share his gift, told Joshua that he needed to stop being jealous for his sake. He didn’t mind sharing the prophetic gift at all and wished everyone had the gift.

Similarly, in the Gospel of Mark, the apostles run to Jesus with the news that someone was doing exactly what Jesus was doing – casting out devils. Not only that he was doing it in Jesus’ name, which was exactly what Jesus had been trying to teach the apostles to do.  Jesus tells them that it is all right, especially because the man is casting out in his name, since the man would always have to respect Jesus name since the devils had been cast out. In both cases, the followers of Moses and Jesus were the ones jealous – not Moses or Jesus.

Perhaps we can take the lesson that we should never be jealous of, and, in fact, should team up with, people who have the same talents and gifts as we have, not see them as threats.

The rest of the Gospel today is filled with exaggerations which we call hyperboles. Hyperboles exist to make a strong point about something. For example, I tell people I got thousands of tomatoes out my garden  this year. Well, I didn’t really, but I got a huge amount of tomatoes – and people understand that exaggeration. Or we say of a restless night – I didn’t sleep all night! – when we probably did fade off a little bit at least – but we get the point!

So, when Jesus says that if you do anything to threaten the faith of a child, it would be better if a great millstone were hung about your neck and be thrown into the sea – he is exaggerating – but we get the point. It would be a really, really bad thing!

Similarly, if you steal things with your hands, cut off your hand! Jesus doesn’t really want you to cut off your hand, but he wants you to treat the inclination to steal very seriously! In the same way, if you have trouble with liquor but find yourself constantly walking into bars, just cut your feet off so you can’t. I mean, Jesus can’t be serious. He is using hyperbole. This, of course, is one of the reasons we can’t take everything we read in the Bible literally. There has to be some common sense interpretation. If we followed Jesus’ instruction here we would all be limbless, and blind. It simply means that we must take these matters seriously – probably where the Catholic church got the concept of “mortal sin”.

The last line of the Gospel today may be difficult to understand: “…be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” Jesus is not necessarily saying that hell is a place with fire but is actually using a metaphor here. Hell would be better translated as Gehenna, which was the local garbage pit of Jerusalem. Maggots would be there all the time because of the food scraps, and the fire would always be burning because there was always more trash. So hell is like the maggot-ridden, perpetually smoking garbage dump – a slightly different metaphor of hell than most of us grew up with.

This brings me then to the middle reading today from James once again about how hard it will be for rich people to get to heaven. In fact, James uses the image that the riches themselves will rust when you have died and left them behind, but that rust will also be evidence against you as having so many riches, and “it will eat your flesh like fire”. Again we get that garbage dump kind of image with the smoldering fire consuming the refuse.

So there is a lot packed into the readings today, but what can we take home with us? Take sin seriously and do your best to avoid it.

At some point, you will be called to justify your lifestyle.

Don’t strive for power, but share your gifts and talents with everyone, especially those who have the same strengths as you. Work with them.

Don’t store up too many riches for yourself for they will come back to haunt you.

Little proverbs or mottos or clichés that maybe you can think about this week as we try hard to reach that state of perfection that Jesus tells us we can reach.

And this is the snippets of Good News I give you from the readings this week!

[Bishop Ron’s new book containing a full year of 73 homilies for Cycle C which begins Nov. 29th will soon be available on Amazon.com  ]

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 20)

September 12, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 20)

We continue today our study of faith. With this reading of St. James, the second reading today, we enter one of the biggest unresolved theological arguments since the Protestant Revolution.  To summarize it as succinctly as I can, St. Paul has told us that we are justified, forgiven, not through any merits of our own but simply because God loves us. Nothing we can do or any sin we commit can change that fact. Yet, James today seems to indicate that we can’t be justified unless we do good acts.

According to St James today, it is hard, if not impossible to show anyone your faith. It is an abstract quality. How do you hold it up and show it, evaluate it, compare it? You can’t.  The only way, James says, that you can see faith is through good works. They go together, James says.

We see human condition since the Fall as a sinful condition. How many of us have not sinned in some way? We all have. Despite that, God has seen fit to show mercy and to send to us a savior who offers forgiveness from sins. We didn’t do anything to merit it, in fact, just the opposite really. But God in his divine mercy has forgiven us, “justified” us as Paul says. This comes from nothing that we have done.

Our response to that needs to justify (there’s that word again, with a different meaning) or give evidence to the faith we have been given. And we do that by doing good works. It is a way of thanking God, and showing our faith and gratitude for what he has done for us. Seen this way, both the Protestant and the Catholic point of view can be combined, I believe, and there is no controversy between Paul and James. To say that you are Catholic or to walk by the begging street person and wish him good day is sweet, but it doesn’t show your faith or show gratitude for the gifts that you have been given, no matter how we justify it (there’s that word again) ourselves. That is the point James is making today.

I started with the reading from James today because it has been highly controversial in church history and one of the reasons for the split in the Catholic church around the time of Luther. But how does it relate to he Gospel today? I would suggest that we center our attention on Jesus last words in the Gospel today: “Whoever wants to become my follower, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.” We become followers of Jesus because we have faith. Jesus, too, indicates along with James, that to show that faith, to be a follower, requires that some action be taken.

What does it mean to deny oneself, the first of the two things Jesus says we must do? Is he talking about fasting? not buying the latest TV or computer? giving up candy for Lent? No, he is talking about putting trust in God rather than oneself. Jesus models this in the agony in the garden when he says: Not my will, but yours be done.” Basically, it is submitting our will to God’s will. When someone makes us angry, we don’t lash out, but we turn the other cheek, that is, we humbly submit to the censure. It doesn’t mean that we are punching bags. We can still stand up for ourselves, but we do it with humility and with the understanding that God or someone else could be right.

The second is the action that we must take when we have submitted ourselves to God. We must take up our cross. This is a scary concept. Crucifixion was a terrible ordeal and perhaps Matthew uses this image after the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion to remind us of that. It means that we need to die to our selfish ways, to our sins, to our pride, to think of the other and the other’s needs first. Notice that the image is not of dying on the cross, but of carrying the cross – think of the weight of it, the purpose of it, the shame of it. We bear all this with a happy heart because we know that there is resurrection after the cross.

We follow Jesus because we see something better, and we give up ourselves in order to get to that something better. And that is the Good News that we are begged to follow!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Bishop Ron’s new book containing a full year of 73 homilies for Cycle C which begins Nov. 29th will soon be available on Amazon.com  ]

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