Posts Tagged ‘communal worship’

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 16)

August 8, 2015

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 16)

Once again this week we are invited to look at the continuing teaching on the Eucharist as presented by Jesus in John’s Gospel. And once again, we have an Old Testament reading that looks forward to the eucharistic event. Proverbs says: “”You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense [Wisdom] says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity and live…””

And again we sing in the Psalm: Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Even so, Paul, or pseudo Paul” in a voice that is censuring excess at Eucharistic meals, says don’t taste too much: Do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit”…and that will lead you “to sing and make music to the Lord”.

So today is all about celebration of the fact that the Eucharist is a wonderful, miraculous, freeing, forgiving thing!

The Gospel repeats and then picks up what we heard last week, re-iterating that the bread from heaven, the flesh of our Savior will give us life now, and eternal life after. Because Jesus has been raised and we are “in Jesus” we too shall live because of him. Hopefully, you found time last week to think about some of these things that we often take for granted.

Because today is so celebratory about the Eucharist I would like to take a few minutes to remind you how many times this ‘bread of heaven” comes up in our Sunday Mass.

We start most Sundays by my saying “As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of Christ’s love, let us acknowledge our failures.”  The mystery of Christ’s love is another way for saying eucharist. Christ’s love for us allows him to give himself up for us, and he does this by giving up his body. Each week at Mass we re-enact that great mystery.

When we get to the Offertory of the Mass after we have finished the readings and said our Creed, the people bring the gifts to the altar, the priest takes them and prays over them. Since I am concentrating on “bread from heaven” today I will only talk about the first one. The priest says..”Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.” The bread of life! Jesus has taken something from the earth, it is refashioned by our hands and the refashioned again into Christ’s body. A threefold mystery.

In the Canon of the Mass, just before the consecration, the priest asks that this bread and wine “become the body and blood of Jesus Christ your only son our Lord.” Immediately following we hear the words from the Last Supper repeated: Take this [bread], all of you and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.” This is the moment in the Mass when we most clearly know what is happening and what sacrifice Jesus was going to make for us.

Immediately after when we proclaim the mystery of our faith, one of the responses is that “we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus until you come in glory”. How we proclaim that is, of course, the Eucharist.

After the consecration we are again reminded that what we are doing at Mass is reenacting the perfect sacrifice. We are told “we offer to you, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice: the bread of life and cup of eternal salvation.” Both themes are proclaimed loudly in today’s Gospel – the life-giving effect of the Eucharist and the everlasting effect of it. Then we are reminded of three examples of offerings being given in the Old Testament. We are reminded of Abel who offered up the fruits of the land to God, of Abraham, who was willing to offer the body of his son, and Melchisedech, a Gentile King, who brought gifts of bread and wine to Abram. We see Melchisedech’s gifts as a forerunner of the gifts Jesus transformed.

At the end of the Canon we proclaim that these gifts are filled with life and goodness, and are blessed and holy.

In the Our Father when we say “give us this day our daily bread”, we can hear echoes of the Old Testament and the manna in the desert which was a daily bread and echoes of the Eucharist as well. In this we are asking for the eucharist’s life-giving qualities.

After the Lamb of God litany has reminded us of the fact that sins are forgiven again, the priest takes a piece of the consecrated bread and drops it into the chalice of blood and silently says: May this mingling of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it. So there it is again – the two prominent qualities of the eucharist – forgiveness of sin and eternal life. When the priest consumes the bread, you may not realize but he silently says: ‘May the body of Christ bring me to everlasting life’. In cleansing the vessels the prayer uttered is: May [these gifts] bring me healing and strength.

So you see that in each Mass we have structured our worship and praise of God around the idea of repeating the perfect sacrifice of the bread from heaven and the wine of the covenant.

Coming back to John’s Gospel today we might end by repeating Christ’s explanation to us: “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.

I ask you this week and going forward to watch for the mentioning of the bread of heaven at Mass in attempt to not let us take the Mass for granted, but to make it a real eucharistic meal binding us to Christ and to one another. Then we can echo the final prayer of the priest: Lord may i receive these gifts in purity of heart. May they bring me healing and strength, now and for ever.:

This is Good News, and it is news that bears repeating today.

(Please note that the Catholic Apostolic church still uses the post Vatican II translation of the Canon, which I have used 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”]

Advertisements

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 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Christ the King A 2014

November 16, 2014

Homily for the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Christ the King A 2014

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

I think there are two interesting things at war in our readings and themes of the day. It is the final Sunday of the Church Year and we are in nature coming close to the shortest daylight hours of the year. We are in dark for many hours now. This darkness inspires the liturgy to look at the last days, the end of the world and the final judgment “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the Angels with him.” For many this is a terrifying theme and we have seen a large number of movies recently dealing with the apocalypse and the rapture. This has always been a dominant theme in many Protestant sects.  St. Paul also mentions destruction. he says: “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.” (1 Cor 15:24)

But in contrast to the King coming in fierce judgment, we also see the King as a shepherd, and remember shepherds were thought of as very lowly and on the bottom of the social scale. But John says that this Son of Man will be like a shepherd separating his flock from the goats. And then John goes on to explain just who will be seen as a sheep and who will be seen as a goat and that bar line that is drawn is all about love of neighbor. The sheep are those who give their neighbor something to eat, something to drink, some clothes, shelter, welcome, care and visitation. Are we sheep or goats? If you have been an active member of this parish, you have pretty well been sheep, I think. If you have been active in your community, supported social causes, gave of yourself to charities, then you are the sheep.

I think sometimes we think of the final judgment as a counting of our many transgressions – let’s see – I lied 4,500 times in my life, I had impure thoughts 66,007 times – and so on. But that’s not what John says. Our judgment will be in relation to the law of Love – how have we served someone else.

Ezekiel who is often thought to have contributed to the fire and brimstone idea of the end of the world, also uses the shepherd image though. God says, through Ezekiel, “I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out….I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered.” And then God shows himself as acting in the way Christ says we should act: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” This is the same love that we are asked to show.

The Gospel message is a social message of love for others before it is a recipe book morality – for what is sinful and what is not. The Hebrew Testament is often more about that, and unfortunately through the years, misguided churchmen have made it more about that. But if we get back to the basics and we look at what both Ezekiel and John say we will be judged on, it is very simply on how we treat other people. God says in Ezekiel: “I will feed my sheep with justice.” There it is. There’s the bar we have to reach. And what amazes me is that it is not that hard to do really, and that as so many of us have experienced, it also gives back in joy to the giver.

So my homily is a short one today: I simply want you take a look as the year ends, how much have you done this past year to increase the bank account of love you are developing. Be honest with yourself (only you and God have to know!) and then, see if it is full enough to get you a sheep card!

And this is the Good News that I wish you 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 of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

October 5, 2014

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

Jesus’ addition of the last section to the wedding feast parable can be very disturbing, and is only found in Matthew. Luke has a version without it. I want to start with it today.

In the beginning of the Christ’s parable some were called to the feast but chose not to come.  This traditionally in Christian terms has been applied to the Jewish people who were the chosen and were friends of God, but did not accept the invitation  to come to the feast of the kingdom that Jesus preached about. So the King called everyone else and invited everyone. Traditionally that has been all Gentiles. And notice there was no distinction between the good who were invited and the bad. All were invited to come clothed in their best wedding garments to show respect to the king’s son. In fact there was historical precedence  that Kings would give banquets for all and would provide clothing for those unable to afford it.

But then we have the last section of Jesus’ parable. The King now turns to be a judge.  The King host sees one person who has come in but has not shown respect by wearing the wedding garment. He was there to eat the food and enjoy the party, perhaps, but flaunted the rules of dress which would show disrespect to the King.

The question often asked is what the wedding garment is or means. Most seem to think that it means repentance. When we become Christians we are baptized, but if we come to the sacrament without true repentance and are not sorry for our sins, then we are not showing respect and will be judged and cast out. Coming into the kingdom, Jesus says, may be free, but there are conditions that are attached to it. We must continue to be clothed and not just accept Christianity on our own terms. It is God the King who provides the invitation and the terms. And it is God the King alone who will judge through Jesus.

Some people seem to think that if they are baptized they are saved. Period. But Jesus indicates here that there will still be a final judgment, and that we will be judged on whether we have continued to wear the wedding garment, continued to follow the obligations of that invitation.

I am sure that Jesus is not talking about all the minor rules and even major rules that churches have established, but is talking about true repentance and belief in God, and how we have respected that belief. Have we acted in a way that paid respect to the generous invitation we were given and the grace that came from Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So, a parable like this, still causes us to think, causes us to consider why we are sitting here in our somewhat comfortable pews, and whether we have coming truly wearing the garment of humility, repentance and faith. Many are called but few are chosen, can be very sobering words for us.

We can see how Paul put this into practice today when he talks about the balance in his life: he has experienced being poor and experienced being rich, of being well-fed, and being hungry.  He knows what the extremes are, but the Christian needs to balance all these things in order to live his life at the Christian banquet and to keep the proper perspective.

And, in the end, that banquet, that wedding feast of the parable, will be so wonderful Isaiah tells us. The passage we read today is so beautiful that i want to quote it again: The Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear…. he will swallow up death forever. Then the  Lord will wipe away all the tears from all faces.” This is our faith. As we start to come to the conclusion of our church year, our readings will focus more and more on the second coming – that time when the kingdom here on earth begun will be made complete, but when there will also be a judgment made. Both of those contrasting images will be presented over the last weeks of the year.

It seems to me that Catholics, although we profess belief each week in the Creed to the “resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”, we don’t often have it in the forefront of our thinking as do many Protestant sects. Each year the Church re-introduces it, so that we can have a complete vision of God’s salvation for us, God’s plan for us and the conclusion of that plan. It should be something, though, that we look forward to if we are living our lives wearing the garment. Let us conducer these things this week, but as we say after the Our Father each week, let us live in “joyful hope” and without anxiety, living in moderation in all things, and trusting that we will be the guests in the kingdom Gd has prepared for us.

This is the Good News that should push us forward this week to more faith, hope and love.

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 of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]