Archive for the ‘Prophecy’ Category

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

June 6, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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

April 11, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

March 15, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

The reading from Jeremiah today is one of the most beautiful and inspiring in the Scriptures. God is speaking through Jeremiah the prophet and is explaining to the Hebrew people the difference between the Old and the New Covenant to come. In the beginning Israel was treated as a child and God acted as a disciplining but loving Father. Things were very black and white – do this and don’t this.

But as the Hebrews advanced in their knowledge and understanding of God, God became more of a husband, but in the early sense of husband, not in our understanding of the term today. Today we see husband and wife as equal, but when this was written the husband was totally in charge and the wife was a piece of property which the husband often came to love, but was not equal to the husband. It is in this sense that the second phase of God’s relationship with the Hebrews took form.

God says he was like a spouse to the Hebrews. God was the protector that took them by the hand and led them from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the promised Land. He expected their faithfulness, their love, their gratitude, their service, just as a husband in those days would.

But, God says, there is to be a new adult way in their relationship in the near future. In the new Covenant there will be complete knowledge of each other and the relationship will be based on love and equity. God will not remember how they failed in the past, but all will be forgiven, and all shall be one with God.

So what we see God describing is the movement from a childish understanding to a mature understanding of the relationship between God and people. The maturation process which hopefully all of us will go through in our own lives is reflected here as well.

The Psalm picks up on the forgiveness in its prayer to ask God to blot out our transgressions and wash us from our sins. This too is part of the news covenant as the waters of baptism do just that which their prayer is asking. The psalmist also asks “Put a new and right spirit within me “, and again that is part of the promise of the New Covenant that God talks about today. With that new spirit and having been saved, the psalmist goes on to say that we show our gratitude by helping others to know God and getting sinners to return to God.

The Gospel reading today from John sets up the way in which the New Covenant will be made to happen.

Greek speaking Jews come to Philip, probably because he could speak Greek and ask to speak to Jesus. They are probably there to ask him to widen his ministry and perhaps even go to Greece, but Jesus realizes that his time is coming to an end. Jesus seems to understand from all that is happening that his death is imminent. Jesus feels that the chance for expansion is over but that his death will bring an even greater thing to there world. He knows that this will upset the disciples who are still expecting some sort of hero riding in on a white horse to save them from the Romans. He uses a nature metaphor to help them understand that his death will be much like that in nature. A grain of wheat has to die and fall into the earth if it is to be reborn in the Spring. That is how seeds work. Then Jesus says, as he does in two other Gospels, that those who love their life lose it. In the other two Gospels the reference is to us but in John, I think Jesus is referring to himself and the inevitable about to happen.

John does not have an agony in the garden scene, but uses some of the lines from other Gospel accounts. Note how here when Jesus says “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour”? No it is for this reason that I have come to this hour”, note how much this is similar to the Agony in the Garden accounts. John, however, uses it as a help to explain why Jesus is able to accept the inevitable as part of God’s plan.

When God’s voice breaks through as it did at the Baptism and the transfiguration in other Gospels, we are being told that this is in effect the seal of approval on what Jesus is going through and the end result will be one of glorification and Jesus will be held up as light to all the world, not just to the Hebrews, so that Jesus, with his new understanding can see that he will be lifted up from the earth, and “draw all peoples to [him]self”.

This is the last week before Passion Week. We are almost at the end of our Lenten repentance. The events that are set in motion next week as described by the four evangelists illustrate exactly how this happens and how our salvation comes to be. I hope that you will plan to participate in all of the ceremonies of Holy Week. We will again have the triumphant walk of Palm Sunday, our traditional Passover meal on Thursday, our remembrance of Christ’s death on Friday and the most important liturgy of the year on Saturday night where we are reminded of the whole journey of salvation from Adam and Eve to the Resurrection of Jesus. It is a big commitment of time,  I know, but one that will be well worth the effort as we too come to a mature understanding of what all this mean to us as we journey through this life to death and our final victory with Jesus.

And that is the Good News of hope I want to deliver 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 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

February 1, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

The plight of Job is the classic case of the the person who suffers and doesn’t deserve to suffer. At the point when he talks to his so-called friends today, he is pretty low. He has been hit with all sorts of misery over and over again. In his own words he says he has had “months of emptiness” and “nights of misery”. Like a depressed person he sees “no hope” and in his quickly fleeting life, he doesn’t think he will see anything good again.

Our reading ends there leaving us rather depressed and hanging. Surely there is hope for everyone. Why would God allow such suffering as this? Most of us have been there, at least a little. Those of us who have had serious illness, or lost a spouse or child, or suffered job loss or bankruptcy have all been down the same path as Job.

But, although we don’t read about it today there is hope for Job, especially because he stays faithful to God. Now, he does get a little gutsy after his entire family dies and he is a little sharp with God, but he never renounces God.

The whole point of the Book of Job though, it seems to me, is that pain and suffering are part of the human condition. God allows it but God is not punishing anyone. The point is how we react to pain and suffering in terms of our faith in God.

Job’s suffering runs the whole gamut of pain. That is why he is an ‘everyman”. He has physical pain in rashes and sores, blisters and boils. He has mental pain in that his reputation has been shattered and his social standing taken away. He has emotional pain in the death of most of the people he knows, including his whole family, and he has spiritual pain because he thinks he must have done something to deserve all the pain.

Through it all, however, even at the end, Job says that ‘he came naked from his mother’s womb and will go back their naked. God gave, and God took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord’. In other words, who are we to question why God allows such suffering and pain? God has a wider plan both for us and for civilization. Through his suffering, Job and we learn a lot by our questioning, In the end Job is restored and rewarded because of his faithfulness to God.

This is why in Psalm 147, after that depressing first reading, we can shout “Sing praises to the Lord who heals the brokenhearted.” And also “God’s understanding is beyond measure.” And all this is related to “How good it is to sing praises to our God.” In other words, if we continue to sing praises to God, even in our misery, somehow good will come of it.

In the second reading, Paul suffers all sorts of things in his life as well, but he does it all for the Gospel, he says, so that he may share in its blessings. He also says that “If I do this of my own will, I have a reward.” This is similar to Job’s understanding – if we stay faithful to God, if we carry out his will for us (Paul uses the word “commission”) then we will somehow be rewarded.

We know that God does intervene to help people, although from our point of view, it may seem unfair or very random. Some get cured, others don’t. On earth, though, Jesus showed his God-like nature by healing (physically and spiritually) all sorts of people. Perhaps it was because Jesus was also human, and so was able to cry at Lazarus’ death and feel great sympathy for so many of the suffering people he came up against. In any case, Jesus was first achieving fame as a healer.

Very early on in his career he was healing. Today we read of how he went to Simon Peter’s house and Peter’s mother-in-law was ill with a fever, an infection probably, of some sort. Jesus took her hand and cured her. We also learn that John says early on ‘the whole city” came out to Peter’s house with the diseased people of the city and the mentally ill. And Jesus took care of them all. It is that empathy that comes with Jesus’ humanity that allows God to interrupt the chain of random events and change natural law. So our prayers for the ill should not stop. It may be there there is a greater good in some illness that we can’t see, but we should still cry out to God, who through Jesus was able to suffer along with us and knows what it feels like.

Although he was a healer, the healings were interrupting what Jesus had actually set out to do, and that was preach and tell the Good News of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus took time to pray alone in deserted places to prepare himself, and then moved to the next town to preach, where likely he was interrupted by the pained and suffering people there.

What I see the readings today reminding us of, then, is that we must never give up our faith in God, we must never give up our cries to God to stop suffering and pain, but we also need to realize that their is a greater purpose, one that we are not in on. And so, we place our trust in God, and by doing that, hope that God will reward us in some way. And this is the Good News of trust that we need to be reminded of today, as we continue our constant pleas to the God of healing.

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”]

Two Homilies for Christmas 2015 (Midnight and During Day)

December 21, 2014

1. Homily for the Feast of Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord  (At night) 2014-15

“The Angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.” I read somewhere that the phrase “Do not be afraid” occurs around over 100 times in the Bible. There is a lot of fearfulness going round, and you might think it strange that I would choose the theme of fear to talk about this evening. But I think it is a really important concept with regard to Christmas.

Ancient people, more so than today, were afraid of the dark. Today we protect ourselves from the dark and so we may not be quite as fearful, but darkness was always something to be frightened about throughout history.

So when Isaiah calls us a people of darkness in the first reading, one of the images that connotes is that we are a fearful people. And though now we have night lights to protect us from the dark, we are today still a very fearful people. Our world has become very complex in its global boundaries. We find ourselves being drawn in by the exaggerations and fear mongering of the media, for example. Ebola was one such issue this year.

And if we don’t worry about dying from some horrible disease or catching it when we travel, we may worry about the state of the economy, the loss of our jobs, the fear of a penniless retirement, constant anxiety about our health and the high cost of maintaining it. God knows there are so many things to be fearful of today.

The world was smaller for Mary and Joseph, yet they had their worries in the Gospel stories: what would Joseph do when he discovered Mary was pregnant, how would they get all the way to Bethlehem to be registered, and where would they stay, what if she delivered the baby wile they traveled, and even after tonight’s section, would the child be murdered by Herod, how could they leave everything and flee into Egypt?

Fear can occupy our minds and the media preys on that. But what message are we constantly hearing from God’s word? “Do not be afraid”. “Do not be afraid!”

Listen again to some of the beautiful reminders of this in Scripture:

In Genesis we hear: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)

Moses answered the people in Exodus: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance…” (Exodus 14:13)

Again in Deuteronomy we are told: “Do not be afraid; for the Lord God goes with you.” (Deuteronomy 31.6)

“Then the Lord said to Joshua, in the Book of Joshua: “Do not be afraid of them. I have given them into your hand.” (Joshua 10:18)

And in Chronicles we are admonished: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you” (1 Chronicles 28.20)

The Psalms use it many times. “Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Ps 23)

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom should I fear? (Psalm 27.1)

“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. (Psalm 118.6)

Especially in the Prophets like Isaiah we hear: “So do not fear, for I am with you.” Isaiah (41:10)

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you (Isaiah 41:13)

Moving into the New Testament Paul tells us: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear… (Romans 8:15)

And Peter says: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” (1 Peter 3:14)

And finally John summarizes: “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1 John 4:18

I could go on and on, and still haven’t gotten to the many times in the Gospels that Jesus himself tells us not to be afraid and offers us his peace.

So, all through Bible history, this recurring theme has been one of casting aside our fears because we walk with God, and that is why on this Christmas Eve we celebrate the actuality of the promise and the request made of us by our God: Do not be afraid.

Why? Why do we no longer need to be afraid? Because to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. God has provided because he is now incarnate, God is with us in the person of Jesus. This little child, this wholly dependent person, this God who has chosen to become one of us because he loves us. And one of the purposes of this is to take away our fear.

And that is one reason that Christmas is for me such a joyous season. If we recognize the immensity of the incarnation, of God becoming a human, we can cast aside our fears, and trust that a ‘history’ of promises has been fulfilled, that Christ is Emmanuel – God with us – and we no longer need to be fearful of anything.

Whenever you look at the image of the Christ child this week, think about how giving yourself up to trust in God’s Son can free s from the many fears that surround us today, and to help us live as Paul has said to Titus today: self-controlled, upright and godly… a people who are zealous for good deeds. If we can do that, we will have no fear for we will know that our reward will continue in the world to come.

A blessed Christmas to all of you, and help spread the Good News, not to be afraid.

2.

Homily for the Feast of Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord  (During the Day) 2014-15

There are four Masses composed for Christmas Day, which really shows how important this feast is to the Church. The first three, the Vigil, Midnight Mass and Mass at Dawn all use the Nativity story that we are so familiar with regarding the birth of Christ. The fourth, the one we are celebrating during the day today, does not tell that story.  Instead, it draws from the Gospel of St. John, written a decade or so after the other three Gospels, and which takes for granted the birth narrative. What this Gospel does, is raises the story of Christ’s birth to the level of symbol and archetype, and looks at the theological meaning behind the Incarnation, the becoming human, of Jesus.

It is the beginning of his Gospel and is exceptionally poetic in its language. In this prologue John sets out to establish the natural and supernatural, the human and the divine origin of Jesus.

John symbolically says that Jesus is the Word of God. If you remember, the very opening of Genesis in the Bible starts the same way with the words “In the beginning…” and the first thing God does is “says” something. Jesus is then equated with that act of saying, that “word”. He is God, he has always existed with God – Jesus existed before God created, and he was involved in the creation.

It was through the Word, Jesus, that life came to be, including human life. Then immediately, John moves into one of the great themes of his Gospel, the theme of light. In Jesus “was life and the life was the light of the human race .The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

So now what John has done is establish the divine origin of Jesus and so, he moves into the human origin of Jesus. But again, he does not tell a story as do Matthew and Luke, but he talks about Jesus coming into the world as light, a theme which was often in Isaiah when Isaiah talked about a Messiah.

John treats John the Baptist very quickly, only saying that his purpose was to let people know that the light was soon coming. And this light comes into the world as a human being: “and the Word became flesh and lived among us”. God becomes human in order to enlighten the world. Before Jesus they only had the law, but now, John says, with the light they will be able to see that they also have grace and truth, and the way we come to know God, because no one has ever seen God, he says, is to see Jesus – God made visible.

Paul in the letter to the Hebrews says the same theological teaching even before John did: Jesus “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word”. So the Incarnation for both Paul and John is a cosmic event, an event like no other. That is why for them the celebration of Christ’s birth would be so important a feast.

I was never really very good at science but I thought to look up in a lighting book I had, what were the physical qualities of light according to Physics. There were five listed: Intensity, Form, Color, Direction and Movement.

If ‘intensity’ refers to the strength of a light source, we can see that this metaphor in John says that the strength of Jesus’ light is very great for it shines over the whole universe. Isaiah today and our Psalm response says: all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. It is that intensity of light which allows for all people to see and recognize Jesus.

The second quality of light was ‘form’ which allows us to see things in depth and in dimension because it has variances in shades. It is why the whole world can see Jesus but don’t all accept him. They didn’t allow themselves to see his form clearly but allowed interference and shadow, so that John can say: yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him.

The third quality is “color”, and light is made up of all the colors, just as Jesus is everything to all people. We used to speak years ago of “glorious” Technicolor. This is the “glory” of which John and Paul speak: “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only begotten son…”

The fourth quality is ‘direction’, so for example, if you walk around a candle, it sheds light in all directions. John is very clear in terms of direction that Jesus was “the true light, which enlightens everyone.”

And finally, light has ‘movement’ which means it can change. Perhaps it is that metaphoric quality of light which allowed God to change – to become a human child, helpless and insignificant. For John, this becomes the fact that no-one has ever seen God, but the reflection of this child will make known the heart of God the Father.

So it is significant that this fourth Mass of Christmas raises the birth event to new theological heights and puts a perspective on it that has made this prologue to John’s Gospel one of the most stirring and beautiful documents in the Bible.  It may not have the sentimentality and story line of the other two Evangelists, but it can make us better understand why Jesus is the true light and why his coming into the world today is such an important event and always be.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas celebration and hope that the light of Christ can enlighten your hearts and your homes today. And this is the very Good News of the Incarnation that or Gospel writer gives 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 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

December 14, 2014

Homily for the Fourth  Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# )

Today in the book of Samuel we get the story of David who was rewarded for his faithfulness to God and his wanting to build a place to house the traveling ark of the covenant. God declares that he will in return build a house for David as well, but it is a house that will be established after David’s death,  but from his children that house will produce an offspring whose reign will never end. Again, looking backwards as does Paul in the writing to Romans today, the early Christians saw this as the reign of Jesus, A son of David, the secret for long ages which has been disclosed..

The psalm re-iterates this prophecy and promise: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.”

So that, of course, is the background for our Gospel reading today and why Luke chooses to show the Davidic line of Jesus through Joseph. We have today the familiar story of the angel Gabriel visiting the virgin Mary with the startling announcement that she is to conceive a son, and tells her what to name the child. Gabriel then prophesies that this child, this offspring of David’s line will be great and will be called the Son of God, the offspring of God. He will be the inheritor of David’s throne and covenant, and, in the same words that God used to Nathan, Jesus will be forever the ruler, and his kingdom will never end.

The angel Gabriel appears only three times in Scriptures. He appears to Zechariah in Luke’s Gospel, and to Mary, and in the Hebrew Testament he appears to Daniel. Because the Book of Daniel is so eschatological, which means dealing with death, judgment and the final destiny of mankind, it is appropriate that Gabriel appears here as well since Jesus will reign forever and be the one to come at the end of time.

Only two of the four Gospels have a birth story. Mark was not concerned with the issue and John treated it symbolically. Matthew and Luke retain the same basic facts though the stories are really quite different due to what each wanted to point out. As I stated earlier, Luke’s genealogy goes all the way back to Adam and not just to David. Many of the incidental events around the birth are also different fro each writer as well. Matthew was writing for a primarily Jewish audience while Luke was writing for a Gentile one. This alone shaped what they wanted to show in their stories, and so their emphases are different. Luke also feels that it is important to point out that nothing is impossible with God, especially because the story of the virgin birth is so scientifically absurd.

In just a very few days we celebrate the birth that Mary so amazingly agreed to, with a complete trust in her God. “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to thy will.”

As we make our final preparations for Christmas, let us ponder those words of Mary. For some people Christmas is a difficult season as they remember relatives who have died and won’t be present, or who are alone, or who get upset with all the media hullabaloo going on. Let’s just give in to Jesus this year. Let us be servants of the Lord, accepting the will of God for us. If we can develop that all-encompassing trust of God, knowing that out of all the chaos, misery, suffering, depression, unhappiness that sometimes make up our lives, God has a plan for us, and the ending will be good, despite what it may look like to us now. Trust in his infinite mercy and love. God sent his Son in human form, lowered himself to experience what we experience. He knows our humanity, he partakes of our humanity, and he will empathize with us, and carry us through. That really is the gift we celebrate each Christmas, as we focus on the child, the helpless God in the manger, about to born again in our memories and our liturgies. Let this thought give you peace and a little bit of joy in these hectic last few days, and let us experience the mother’s joy after birth as we welcome the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And this is the Good News message of trust and peace I want to  leave you with today.

In just a few days we will celebrate the birth that

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B, 2014-15

December 7, 2014

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

“REJOICE!”,  the reading from Paul to the Thessalonians begins today! – one of the reasons we wear rose vestments today and light the rose candle, and this seems an odd word in a season of repentance. But Advent is not Lent and the kind of turning back we do in Advent is much different that the sojourn we take with our single lives in Lent. We turn back to prepare ourselves in order that we can welcome the Messiah and welcome the “day of the Lord” that he brings with him. In that world we can, as Paul says, rejoice, not just today but always, pray unceasingly and give thanks for everything. That is the life of a Christian after the coming of Christ. The advise of Paul to day today to us is wonderful advice: let us not quench the Spirit inside us, let us not throw away the Hebrew Testament but take what is good from it, and try our best to stay away from every type of evil. We will have Jesus’ help in doing this. Very hopeful words.

And Jesus will help us with this. One of the verses of Isaiah that Jesus quotes is the opening verse today is: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me” and “he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives…to release the prisoners and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The spirit of God was in Jesus and it is in us as well, his gift to us to help us as we struggle through our lives, trying to ready for the day of the Lord which has begun but isn’t totally here yet. Some days we feel getting to that day has a long way to go, don’t we!

In place of the Psalm today the liturgy gives us the beautiful prayer of Mary who was facing a whole lot of trouble, a birth when she was unmarried, fear of what would happen. But she doesn’t get down. In fact, she trusts God’s plan for her, and her Magnificat is reminiscent of the person that Isaiah has described, and that Jesus becomes. “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” I wish the translators could use a different word than fear, which in English has all sorts of negative connotations that it doesn’t really mean. Better would be: his mercy is for those in awe of him from generation to generation.We might fear that we are not good enough, but we are in awe of the Creator of all things.

The Gospel today is John’s version of the story that we read from Mark’s earlier Gospel last week, and staying true to John’s very metaphoric and symbolic Gospel, he presents Jesus as ‘light’. Later on he even has Jesus say that he is the light of the world. John the Baptist’s job is to give testimony that Jesus is the light, the Messiah. The gospel writer presents John the Baptist using the words we read last week in Isaiah, and John describes himself as the one crying in the wilderness begging people to make straight the path for God. He again states that his baptism is just a symbol of the washing away of sin, but there is someone coming who will actually wash away sin, and who is so great that John is almost a nothing in comparison. The two versions, though written many years apart, are very complimentary.

So how can we apply this to our own lives this week. I would ask you this week to concentrate on being in awe of God. Think of creation, nature, beauty, art, and face the realization that God is over all these things. He really is, to use the phrase of many today, “awesome”! In appreciating the things of God, the wonders of God, the enormity of God and his universe, we might seem very tiny and insignificant. But, then realize that God really cares for each and every one of us – he goes after the one lamb who has strayed. We just need to repent, turn around and he will be there. So rejoice always, as Paul says, and keep in mind the really wonderful season we are almost through, as we await and awaken to that light that we remember each Christmas day, and that we await to lighten our lives again when Jesus comes in glory.

And that is the Advent Good News the Biblical writers suggest 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 of Advent, Year B 2014-15

November 30, 2014

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# )

The beautiful Advent readings today are all about anticipation of the coming of God prophesied by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, in one of the most imagery laden and colorful passages in the Scriptures, and again by the New Testament prophet, John the Baptist. Even the second reading from 2nd Peter anticipates with patience the second coming of the Messiah waiting for the “day of the Lord”. So much anticipation, so much hope, so much excitement for what is to come. That is the true spirit of Advent and what should happen in the season of expectation.

We begin our church year devoted to the reading of the Gospel of Mark with the very first chapter of Mark today. As I have mentioned before, Mark’s Gospel is my favorite, perhaps because I was an English Lit teacher and I am impressed with how he has written his story – both the deceptive simplicity of it and the rapid movement of it leading to his climax. In the original language it moves very quickly as every sentence seems to be “Then this happened, and then this happened, and immediately that happened, and then….” It is also a bit of a detective story or mystery story, except that we are in on the mystery and we watch everyone else trying to solve it. And trust me, the apostles in mark are not very good at it!

Right from the first line of the Gospel, though, we are let in on the secret of who Jesus is: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”! Mark pulls no punches but tells us straight on that Jesus is the Son of God. Then he proceeds with the rest of this identity story which builds when Jesus asks: but who do you say that I am? and is answered by the Gentile centurion at the foot of the cross who realizes “Truly, this man was God’s own son.”

So for Mark, the anticipation is the wonderful discovery of who Jesus is Mark does not go into any genealogy of Jesus or give us any birth narratives, but jumps right into the beginning of the public life of Jesus. First we meet the prophet John the Baptist, himself prophesied by Isaiah as the messenger of God sent to announce the Messiah and prepare the people for his coming. Right away Mark ties the Gospel story to the Hebrew Scriptures, letting us see that this is the culmination of the Scriptural anticipation.

And what was John supposed to be doing? According to Mark he was first of all, proclaiming the message and vision of Isaiah: getting people ready and fixing up the road so that God had a straight path to us. Secondly, John was asking us to turn ourselves around, the meaning of “repent” and look at our lives and ask for forgiveness, so that we too will be on this straight path to receive the Lord. In the first verses of Mark, John the Baptist did not know who the Messiah would be, but that he would be someone much more powerful than he, and who would baptize not only with water but with the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God would be in him, part of him.

So this first few pages of Mark sets up the movement of the whole Gospel of Mark and even though we now know who Jesus is, we anticipate what will happen when the others find out and look forward to seeing how they do find out.

I do have to say a few more words about the Isaiah reading today, as well, because it is such a moving piece of prophetic literature. God, seen here, is a God of comfort who wants only to speak tenderly to us, to forgive our sins. Isaiah wants the messenger of God to stand on a high mountain and announce the coming. And although he notes that God is a mighty God, and a strong God, we are not to fear God because he is more like a shepherd than a warrior, and he will gather us in his arms and carry us next to his breast, and gently lead us where we need to go. These are the images of God that I hold dear, that give me hope, that allow me to anticipate the second coming and am not afraid of the world being “dissolved” by fire, as Peter describes today. Instead I am filled with peace, which is what Peter asks us to be, because the coming of the Lord then and to come is ‘good news’ and we will be comforted and held in the arms of our God. And that is the anticipation we should be thinking about as Christmas approaches. The Christ child is that image of peace, and so, in the next few weeks of hectic readying-ness, we need to put aside some time to center ourselves, breathe a little, repent for anything getting in the way of that peacefulness and feel God’s arms around us, comforting us and helping us on our journey. That is the peace I wish you this week as we all anticipate God’s first and second coming and the Good News that this implies. God bless.

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”]