Archive for the ‘Homily’ 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 20, 2015

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 tela-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 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 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 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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Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 13)

September 5, 2015

Homily for the Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 13)

The suffering servant of Isaiah that we heard spoken of today in the first reading is all about someone hearing God’s call, and not rebelling from it or turning away. The call involves all sorts of self-sacrifice: the servant is struck, his beard is pulled out, he is insulted and spat upon. Nevertheless this servant has great faith in God and feels no one can judge him but God. In the end he will be vindicated and glorified along with all those who stand with him.

The early Church saw this prophecy as reflecting the life of Jesus and from the beginning the Gospels have looked backward at its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the suffering servant of God. Similarly, the Psalm talks about all the distress and anguish that followers of God seem to have to deal with, though in the end they know their reward will be a great one. The psalmist says that God has delivered his soul from death and when he was brought low, he was saved.

The Gospel reading today is itself a prophecy, and the very early followers of Jesus knew that people responded to Jesus as though he were a prophet. When Jesus asks his disciples who people were saying that he was, the names that he gets are the prophet John the Baptist, the prophet Elijah or at least one of the great Prophets. Only the disciples are able to see him for what he is – greater than a prophet, a Messiah or Savior.

Upon hearing this, Jesus favors the Apostles by giving them a vision of the future of this Messiah, but it was not at first very heartening. This Messiah was to endure great suffering, would be rejected by the Jewish authorities, and be killed by them. This should be immediately apparent that that it is similar to Isaiah’s suffering servant.

But then Jesus adds the glorification: he would rise from the dead after three days. Imagine how startling this must have been to the Apostles. But Peter seems not to have heard it. His only concern, the only thing he seemed to hear,  is that Jesus said he would suffer and die. He forgets that Prophets – and Messiah’s – follow the will of God no matter where it leads. That is why when Peter rebukes Jesus, Jesus can say “Get behind me, Satan.” Don’t try to tempt me to disobey what God has said would happen. God’s ways are not our ways. God has a plan, a purpose, that is different sometimes than ours.

Then Jesus takes his disciples and brings them out to the crowds following him, and again he delivers a very hard message. If you want to follow Jesus’ way, you have to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.

Those are pretty strong words so it would be good to look at them. Basically Jesus is saying that because he was going to suffer and die, they, too, would have to suffer and possibly even die, if they were taking on Jesus’ life as a role model. This is followed up by a paradoxical statement; “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for the sake of the Gospel, will save it. Now this doesn’t mean the Gospel as we have it because it wasn’t even written, but he means Jesus’ own teachings.  Basically Jesus is saying that if we want to be true followers of his we have to commit to him to the extent that we will renounce our own needs for the needs of others, accept and bear our sufferings, and if necessary, offer our lives in sacrifice for others. This is not easy to hear.

Most of us go through our busy lives, some attending church regularly, some managing to pray a little each day, some doing good works as James talks about today in his letter, but we don’t often think of going the whole way – always thinking of others before ourselves, offering up our sufferings and annoyances, standing up for what we believe in, telling others the Good News. This takes guts, it takes commitment, it takes understanding, it takes self-awareness, it takes a developed love of Jesus and his teachings.

This week I urge you to ponder the final paradox of the Gospel today and see how it applies to your life. Are you doing everything you need to do to be a true follower of Jesus or are you just a hanger-on, with no commitment, maybe just trying to pick up a good vibe! We need, Jesus says, to do more than that. We need to do what Jesus says in order to turn this world of ours into the kingdom that it can be, the kingdom that Jesus suffered and died for – a kingdom of peace and love and concern for others. That is the Good News which challenges us today to break from our protective shells and get with the program: the way of Jesus! Now we have to share it.

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept. 6)

August 30, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

All three readings and the psalm today express the same idea: that God protects and cares for the outcasts, the helpless in society. This is a basic premise of Christianity and has been since Jesus walked the earth. Jesus showed us that care in his healings of the blind, the plagued, the lepers, and the deaf, which we read about today. Particularly in his time, the sicknesses we just referred to were seen as punishments by God for sin, so the people who suffered from them multiplied their woes by being outcasts as well.

From early in the Bible, however, we begin to see references to how God is particularly attracted to helping the helpless in society, those who Isaiah says are of a “fearful heart” because of their plight. Don’t be fearful, Isaiah says. God will protect you, will avenge you and punish the people who treat you badly and do not help you. There will be a “terrible recompense”, he says.

After this “recompense”, this repayment, God will open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, strengthen the limbs of the paralyzed, and give voice to the mute person.

Why is God so attracted to the needy? Often, it is because they are the ones with the strongest faith. Think of the times that you have needed something and gone to God, when yourself or someone close to you was seriously ill, and you went to God. It is that kind of time that brings out our faith in God.

Secondly, it is a simple matter of justice. Those who suffer in this life will have that turned around in the next. As the psalm says: “the Lord executes justice for the oppressed.” It is like that folk cliché: ‘what comes around, goes around’. The same psalm from today talks about how God will help the alien (the stranger), the orphan and the widow.

St. James, writing late in the first century, reminds the Christians that God has chosen the poor in the world. They are the ones who are rich in faith, and they will inherit the kingdom of heaven. That is why we are not to cater to the rich or show favoritism to those well-off. Unfortunately, we could give the same message to the many churches today that are so into collection of money, that they do favor the rich and court them. But if we really believe in Jesus as we profess we do, then we cannot ignore the cries of the poor and needy in our society.

Coming from Canada as I did, where there is universal health care, whether or not high taxes are a result, I can only think that that country is acting in a very Christian way. Yes, the rich pay more taxes to support the needy, the unemployed, the outcasts – but isn’t that what Christ would want us to do? I don’t often get political in my homilies, but this is one topic that I can only see as something every Christian needs to wrestle with his or her conscience over, and understand that we have an obligation to share our wealth, to share our good fortune with those who have no fortune, who can barely exist.

The Gospel reading today is unusual in that it is one of the three healings we know about where Jesus used physical matter, mud, in this case, to bring about a miracle. Usually, his simple word was enough. There has been much conjecture about it, and I might be able to summarize the reasons he used mud. First, it may have been a return to the creation story where man was made from the mud of the earth, thus paralleling the creation story. Perhaps he used mud as one of many ways of healing to show that it wasn’t something he did and had a magic method he used, but to show through many different ways that it came from God. Lastly, it could be that the spit or saliva which was often used in Jesus time because they thought it had a healing factor inherent in it, was being used a sign that a healing was going to take place.  For whatever reason, Jesus used the spittle and mud to effect the cure of the man’s hearing and speech. Jesus was the healer that Isaiah was prophesying, and the people began to recognize Jesus first as a healer and gradually to realize that he was more than that. Jesus asked them – ordered them, in fact, to tell no one about the healing. Why was that? It could have been a matter of crowd control. Once every one heard what he could do, people would rush to be cured of all sorts of things and that really wasn’t what Jesus was setting out to do. It was more a by-product of his teaching. Secondly, Jesus or God the Father may have been orchestrating the time Jesus was on earth, and it was not time for him to be arrested and to die, which would have happened because of the criticisms he was making of the Pharisees and the revolutionary teachings he was proposing. Lastly, it could be because he didn’t want to be :”Jesus Christ Superstar”. Ask any celebrity how difficult it is to cope with the kind of public attention a celebrity gets. Jesus would find it difficult to hide from that, to find time to pray, to finish what he set out to do. So there were probably very good reasons for Jesus not wanting anyone outside of the observers to know.

What can we do this week to follow Jesus and the gospel message? ( I know that there are a lot of social works going on in this parish, and so I am not really talking to those of you highly involved in them.  But for those who may not be yet.) Obviously, try to find ways to share what you have with others. I don’t mean just financial, either. Time is a commodity which is worth a lot in our culture, especially in the Northern Virginia area. Giving of your time to help another is certainly a way to act out the Gospel message. I am going to be involved in a committee this month to help get drivers to take cancer victims to their chemo appointments, and will be telling you more about that soon. Once again, I remind you that it doesn’t have to be something very big that we give or do. Just giving or doing some thing could be a reminder for us of how we can bring about the kingdom, and to assure that we will be part of that beautiful city!

And this is the Good News preached by Isaiah, David, James and Jesus today. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

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”]