Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 26 )

July 19, 2015

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 26 )

We are taking a side trip, sort of a summer vacation, for the next six weeks and listening to the Gospel of John rather than the Gospel of Mark which this year is dedicated to. And there are significant differences between the two Gospels – the two are probably the farthest apart – in intent, construction and theology.

Mark’s Gospel was the first and it is the shortest, most compact and deals only with the active ministry of Jesus. John’s Gospel was the last Gospel written and is theologically packed as there had been time to ponder the questions of who Jesus was, so this Gospel was more about Jesus himself than his teachings. Not that it doesn’t include his teachings, but they are done in a different format.

Mark uses Jesus’ parables while John tends to have longer discourses. The longest discourse comes while Jesus is preaching to the people on the mountain and is tied into the feeding of the five thousand. And that is some of the discourse that we will be listening to over the next few weeks.

When we are reading the New Testament is if often a good thing to ask two questions of each of the evangelists. Why are they writing their story? and who were they writing to? The answers to these two questions might explain why the four stories differ in some ways in detail, and why some things are more important in them than others.

John is writing at the end of the first century to a group that already has faith in Jesus so he isn’t trying to convert them. Instead, he is looking deeper at some of the teachings of Jesus and is especially dealing with the issue of Jesus as God. More than the other apostles he tends to do this with vibrant characters but also with much poetic and metaphoric language. This is a Gospel explaining in great depth who Jesus was and the Gospel is about him more than his teachings.

John appears to be writing to strengthen the faith of his listeners, to combat some heretical thinking that was going around about who Jesus was, and to give a fresh interpretation to the three Gospels that already existed.

The feeding of the five thousand is recounted in all the Gospels with slightly different details given. In John’s version the feeding becomes a catalyst for Jesus’ running away from the crowd’s attempts to make him an earthly ruler and also to set us up for all the bread images that John will use in Christ’s teaching. He can give them earthly bread, but he is also the bread of heaven as we will soon see.

The feeding of the five thousand had some precedent in early Hebrew scriptures as we read in the Hebrew reading today from the book of Kings. Instead of five thousand, it was a hundred, but Elisha managed to listen to God and told the young man to bring out his twenty loaves and feed the people. Somehow, miraculously, all the people were fed and there was some left over.

And our psalm today reiterates the idea that God will feed us, that God satisfies all the needs of the people who love him. Food here can be taken literally or metaphorically: God will also give us what we need when we need it, if we continue loving and having faith in God.

The letter of Paul tot he Ephesians today doesn’t talk of bread or feeding, but it does talk about the oneness – which is what the image of the bread is also metaphorically about.  All the people ate – there was a unity in that. Later, Jesus will talk about that by all eating his body, all will become one with him and each other. So Paul today talks about “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” which John will later incorporate into Jesus teachings on the Eucharist. Remember, in John, the establishment of the Eucharist was more tied to the feeding of thousand than to the Last Supper.  It isn’t even mentioned at his last supper which is about servitude and reversing the power structure.

As we begin, then, reading from John for the next few weeks, I want you to think about food and how it sustains life, how it is pleasurable, how eating together creates unity, because these are all themes that will come up in Jesus’ teaching on the meaning of ‘bread’.  We pray each day: Give us this day our daily bread. Does this have more connotation than just making sure we are nourished by food each day? When you pray the Our Father, think about what that might mean to you. As we picnic with friends – even with our own picnic  next Saturday – ask how this joins us together. What kind of unity does it create?

Then in the next few weeks, we can apply all this to the bread come down from heaven and what it means to us today.

This is the Good News I ask you to ponder over the next few weeks.

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”]

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

March 7, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

February 22, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

January 18, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B 2015

This week’s Gospel is Mark’s version of the same Gospel we heard last week by St. John – the call of Jesus to follow him and be his apostle. We know that 12 men were called by Jesus, bringing to mind, of course, the twelve tribes of Israel.  In Mark’s version of the story, Jesus just walks up to several people, asks them to follow him, and they do, giving up their livelihood and families. Hardly seems a possibility that that could happen, does it? Mark’s Gospel though is very short, direct and sketchy and he seldom goes into any detail at all, so I am sure that more went into what Jesus said or did, and I am tempted to think that John’s version gives a more accurate picture of Jesus as a charismatic speaker that Andrew was drawn to and then invited his brother Peter to see for himself. In any case, there had to be some connection made between Jesus and these men that they would give up most everything and follow him. Or perhaps, they followed him part-time. We do know that Peter had a wife and mother-in-law, and that Jesus stayed with them on occasion. Perhaps, Peter and Andrew still did some fishing as well.

No matter what the actual story was, it was still impressive that twelve men would follow Jesus this early in his career as itinerate preacher and healer. Surely they got to know the person of Jesus and came to love him in order to follow him.

We too need to have a personal relationship with Jesus. It isn’t everything to have this relationship as many Protestant sects seem to believe, but I don’t think we can really love a person unless we know that person, have a relationship with that person, and completely trust that person. We can know a lot of things about Jesus by our reading of the Bible and other literature, but knowledge alone is not enough. We have to somehow meet Jesus face-to-face. Talk with him. Be with him.

I also want you to note that Jesus picks up on the message and preaching of John the Baptist. When he starts proclaiming the good news of God, Mark says that Jesus proclaims “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” If that sounds a lot like John the Baptist, it is because it is. The focus is a little different in that we are given a distinct reason why we need to repent – we need to repent because the kingdom of God is approaching, and secondly, we have to believe in the words of Jesus which contain the “good news”.

I wonder, too, whether the apostles really knew what they were getting into when they followed Jesus. In their minds they were following a Messiah (at least that is what John said last week), but I wonder if they would have followed had they known that following involves service and suffering. For us, too, it will never be a smooth journey – there will be suffering, and pain, happiness and awe, even death. But through it all we are told by Jesus that he will be with us, he has suffered it, too, and his yoke will be easy and his burden light.

Our first reading which doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with anything in the Gospel is actually a reminder that when people listen to God, and do what God says (again, the people of Nineveh  were asked to repent, and they did – by fasting and sackcloth) that God will save them. It isn’t very often in the Hebrew Testament that we hear people listening to the prophets and doing what they say, but in the case of Jonah, the people of Nineveh did listen and their city was saved. I am not sure that God really changed his mind as Jonah says, since he knows present, past and future, but the point is the same: when we do what God asks, he will find a way to reward us.

St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians today believed that the kingdom of heaven that Christ began on earth was going to be completed very soon and the Second Coming was imminent. What he calls the “appointed time” has not been very short. We are still waiting after 2000 years, and in that amount of time we can forget that it is always imminent. We still need to lead our lives in such a way that we never fear the death that is just around the corner or the coming of Christ, both of which could come at any time. Paul’s advice sounds a lot like giving one day at a time and not letting ourselves get tied to material things, keeping our eyes on the final prize. He was wrong about the timing, but right about the advice.

Let us today then ask the question of ourselves whether we are ready to follow Jesus, follow him through all the ups and downs of our lives, through the suffering and the joy, never losing hope that God is with us and something better is always in store for us. This is the Christian way, the Christian journey, the Christian hope.

And that is the Good News that Jesus brought his first followers and re-iterates to us today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

January 11, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

The theme of today’s reading is obviously how God calls us and what our responses to that call are. This is apparent in all the readings today except for the reading from St. Paul which is usually never thematically connected to the other readings but is simply a weekly continuation of one of the Epistles. We see the theme of “the call of God” in the first reading when Samuel hears someone calling him in the night, and keeps running to his mentor Eli, thinking it must be him. This happens a few times, so Eli eventually suggests that the next time it happens, that Samuel just simple say “OK, I am here.” When Samuel is at rest and hears the call again, he simply says to God – I am here. What do you want? I am listening”, God speaks to him and lets Samuel know what he wants.

If we apply this to our own situations, I think that sometimes we are so busy that we either don’t hear God calling, or we do hear God  and mistake it for something else in our busy lives. If we simply can relax into prayer, and say to God, “OK. I am here. I am listening. Speak to me”, we might actually hear what God is telling us in our lives.

The Psalm picks up on this theme as well. “I waited patiently for the Lord.” If we can take the the time to listen and be patient, if we can say “Here I am, Lord: I come to do your will”, God will, as the psalm says, “incline” to you and put a new song of praise into your mouth.

So far we have learned that we have to do is calm down, be patient, listen intently, and tell God we are there to do what God wants, if we want to hear God. But the Gospel adds even more to this today.

First of all, this is the Gospel of John, not the Gospel of Mark, which we are normally using this year. And this same story in the Gospel of Mark, and for that matter in the other two Gospels, is different than John’s telling of it. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus walks around calling people to follow him. The event of today as described by the Synoptics, has Jesus doing the seeking out. He goes to the shore where he observes Andrew and his brother Peter fishing, and he says, “Follow me”, and they do.

John’s account is a little different because it tells us that Andrew (the patron of our parish) is a follower of John the Baptist. Jesus walks by where John is preaching and baptizing. When John the Baptist announces that Jesus, this person who is walking by, is the lamb of God, Andrew and his companion, who is never named, take the initiative and follow Jesus. It is the reverse of the other Gospels. When Jesus realizes he is being followed, he turns around and asks the two men, “What are you looking for?” 

The two men do not answer Jesus’ question but instead ask another question in response: “Teacher, where are you staying?”

Now let us put ourselves into this situation and pretend we are the one with Andrew. We have just been listening to John the Baptist proclaiming a messiah, and that to get ready for a messiah, we had to repent, turn around and change ourselves. Then John points to someone walking by and calls that person a Lamb of God. What an odd thing, we think, to hear someone, a man, referred to as a lamb – and not just any lamb, but God’s lamb. If John thinks this person is important and yet puzzles us about his identity, we decide that we are going to follow this lamb and see what we can find out. We are curious.

So we do, but then,  this man turns around and asks us a question: “what are you looking for?” What are we looking for in our lives? Normally we might have turned that question around and asked God what he wants  or is looking for from us in our lives, but no. He asks us what we are looking for?

What would be our answer to such a question? . Would it be something minor? “I just wanted to see why John called you a lamb?” Would it be something selfish? “I just wanted to see how important you were so I could follow the best leader.” Would it be something selfless? “I just want to be of some help if you are the person John is telling us is coming.”

Now, today if we sat down to pray and we heard: “What are you looking for?”, would we have a good answer?

So, in this Gospel story we have placed ourselves in, we don’t have an answer, or are afraid to answer, so we simply throw a question back at Jesus. And our question is “Teacher, where are you staying?” This could be a simple response asking where Jesus was living, where his house was. But, of course, this is a Gospel, and it is never that simple. In Greek, the question implies, “Where can you be found, or where are you residing?” What we might be asking today is “Where can I find Jesus? Where can I find God?” Throughout the Gospels Jesus gives a variety of answers to that question, telling us that he stays with the Father or that he stays “in us”. Where do we find him today? In the tabernacle? in holy communion? in other people? in ourselves?

Jesus never really answers Andrew’s question, but simple says “Come and see.” Is this the “Follow me” that the other evangelists use? The reality is that we have to meet Jesus wherever he is, and that could be in a wide variety of people, situations, places and times.

So the result of these simple two questions and a Jesus statement was that Andrew and his companion went with Jesus, stayed with him (and the word stay here implies the patience in prayer we talked about earlier) and were so impressed, so sure that this was the Messiah whom John the Baptist had been preaching about, that they themselves became disciples and evangelizers.

The next thing Andrew did was to evangelize by going out and convincing his brother that he had found the Messiah and he brought Simon Peter to Jesus.

So, if we look closely at this pattern we can also apply this to our lives. We need to find Jesus, stay with him – through prayer, listen to him and by listening coming to know Jesus, and then we need to share that experience with others. That is what the CALL of Jesus is all about for the Gospel writer John.

This, I suggest to you is the pattern that is being given to us if we wish to become followers of Jesus and hear that call. Just something to think about this week, and very Good News if we have an answer to Jesus first question: “And what are you looking for?”

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”]