Posts Tagged ‘Spirit’

Homily for the Feast of the Pentecost, Year B 2015 (May 24)

May 17, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Pentecost, Year B 2015 (May 24)

Last week I spoke about the promises that Jesus made before he left the Apostles and ascended. Those promises were all centre around the coming of the Spirit, a free gift of God to those faithful to Jesus, which would allow them to experience and continue to experience Jesus in their lives.

In Acts today the coming of the Spirit is imaged by violent wind and the appearance of tongues of fire resting on each person. Whether that is a literal image or the best description they could come up with for what had happened, the important thing to note is that it had an affect. It changed the Apostles. The first major change that came about was the ability to speak or be understood in many different languages. It is not made clear whether they actually spoke those languages or the hearts just heard everything in their own languages.

The concept of the spirit of God had been in Jewish writings and beliefs for many years. We read in the Psalm today: “when you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” If you remember back to Genesis it was the breath or spirit of God that originally blew over and created the earth. The Jews looked forward to a renewal of that original creation.

The coming of the Holy Spirit took place on a Jewish holiday – the Feast of Shavuat or in Greek Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. It came to be associated with the giving of the Torah, the Law, to Moses. On that feast God put his spirit into the two tablets of the Law for his people to follow. Now, at the Christian Pentecost, the Spirit comes into their hearts. There are comparisons with both comings. There was a theophany, or visible manifestation of God at Sinai and in the house at Pentecost. Both had fire – one in the form of a burning bush seen by all, the other as tongues of fire given individually. There were many people – non Jews present after both events, and both were accompanied by many tongues or voices. (See Stern, David H.  Jewish New Testament Commentary, p.221). Another word for Torah is teaching and the Holy Spirit was sent also to teach. If Shavuat is considered the birth of Judaism, Pentecost is often considered the birth of Christianity.

The Gospel reading today, however, gives a different interpretation of the coming of the Holy Spirit by having Jesus breathe on the apostles and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Most scholars consider this not the Pentecost experience but Jesus preparing them for that experience. John’s Gospel is often different from he Synoptics because his purposes are more theological, coming longer after the others. The purpose here seems to be one of preparation for the power that they were to receive. John does not concern himself with what happens to the Apostles as much as follow what happened to Christ. So he does not include Pentecost but ends with Jesus talking about coming again.

St. Paul today also expounds about the Spirit. He says that without the Spirit, none of us would be able to believe in Jesus. We see the early signs of our understanding of the Trinity also in Paul today. He talks about the Spirit giving many and various gifts, the many and various services we do in Christ’s name, and the activities we carry out in God’s name. But it is one God activating everything. If we are one body in Christ, the Spirit is our life blood coursing through that body to give life and strength to all the limbs.

So the importance of Pentecost for us today is more than just a birthday; it should be a reminder of our unity through the Trinity and through the workings of the Three Persons in One. Being part of that one body, we should not distinguish any member or part of that body being better than any other member. That is why Paul ends with “we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greek, slaves or free. Arguments about priests being better than lay people, men better than women, rich better than poor, different better than same – should have no place in a Christian’s heart. The Spirit unifies us all. And though we may play different parts, just as the function of the heart is different from that of the right arm, we all work together for the wholeness of the body, and we celebrate the health of each part, since it all affects us in some way.

This way of thinking is a different paradigm than we have in modern society. Can we bring our Christian paradigm to the forefront of our own lives, and convince others by our love and care to do the same. That is the challenge of Christians today, and it all began at Pentecost – the Good News that we celebrate at the end of our Easter season.

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 Pentecost Sunday, Year A 2014

June 1, 2014

Homily for Pentecost Sunday, Year A  2014

If we had celebrated the 7th Sunday of Easter last week instead of the Ascension, we would have read that the Apostles, after witnessing the ascension, went back to Jerusalem as Jesus told them to do, and went to an upstairs room and devoted themselves to prayer for a ten day period. The story in Acts then picks up where we started today. 

“When the day of Pentecost had come….”  This Jewish feast, translated in Hebrew as Festival of Weeks is one of three times a year that Jewish males  go up to Jerusalem, seven weeks or 50 days after Passover. The name Pentecost comes from the Greek word for fifty. For Jews it was time to offer the first of the wheat grains for the year, by offering two loaves of leavened bread. The feast was also associated with a celebration of Moses being given the Torah because the Jews linked each Festival with some aspect of their history. They also linked each Festival with a religious theme and the theme of Pentecost was “Revelation”. 

This theme  of “Revelation” is highly appropriate to what we celebrate today as well. Because God wanted to bring his new Covenant first to the Jewish people, he used a Jewish way to do it – through Jewish Feasts – in order to convey truths which were linked with older truths.  The Ten Commandments were given to Moses on this day and are being given again, but, this time, being written as Jeremiah says “in our hearts”. This is accomplished by the gift, not of tablets, but of the Spirit. If the Torah or Ten Commandments has been the glue that bonded the Jewish people as a society of God’s people for so long, the Spirit now will bond the new community of Apostles and sustain them through the centuries to follow. The Ten Commandments are still valid – Jesus didn’t come to destroy them – but with the Spirit we are able to see things in a different way.

Let us continue to look at the story in Acts. The Apostles were in the upper room, praying when a violent wind seemed to go through the place and tongues of fire rested on each of them.  Going back to the Moses story, when Moses was given the Torah, it was from a burning bush. The presentation of God was communal for Moses – there was one fiery bush, but at Pentecost the fire broke off into pieces to individualize each person. The fact that Jesus made point that he wanted this to happen in Jerusalem is also important for that shows the  continuation of the contract that God had made with the Jewish people. The New Covenant comes out of the Old. In one sense the Jewish people as a people was born on Sinai when Moses was given the Torah. In a very real sense the Church was born on Pentecost when the Apostles were given the Holy Spirit. So happy birthday!

The amazing “power” that was given to the Apostles after they received the Spirit was a reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel.  In that story everyone spoke one language until through their pride they thought they could build a tower to heaven so nothing they wanted would be out of their reach. God punished them and suddenly they could no longer communicate with each other and different languages were born.

The reverse happens at Pentecost – God restores the ability to communicate and each hears the Word of God in his or her own language.

The Gospel today is John’s re-interpretation of the Pentecostal event through Jesus’ breathing on the Apostles and giving them both the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sin, more as a foreshadowing of the actual event itself because John seems to take the ascension for granted.

Finally, in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we get, not a story, but a theological interpretation of the event. It seems that Paul had been writing to Corinth because there had been arguments in the Corinth community about the relative importance of the different graces or gifts given by the Spirit. They thought that some gifts were more valuable than others, and that speaking in tongues was to be most valued. Paul response to this is to lump all the gifts together and describe them in their totality as graces given by the Spirit in order to build up a community. This is also one of the passages where we get some idea of early theology on the Trinity. The one Spirit gives gifts in many varieties; we give service, as a result, in many ways, as Christ did, and there is but one Christ; and we take action and evangelize in many ways, but in the name of the one God. All are given gifts and all are valuable and are not to be rated better or worse, but simply they are to be used for the good of the community and the spread of the Word. The gift is not given a person to inspire pride in it, but it is for the common good of all.

The idea Paul suggests is that being a part of the body of Christ, we each have a function for the common good.  We need to find out what that function is that the Spirit has given us, develop it, trust God the Spirit to activate it, and then appreciate and not be envious of the gifts of others which work to further our own good.

I am suggesting, with Paul today, that each of you has been given a gift to advance the community here. You may not have discovered that gift yet. You may have been afraid to discover that gift. But with your confirmation, it can be discovered and activated. It may even surprise you. This week i would love for you to think about what gift or gifts you may have been graced with, and whether you are using them for the good of this community or in building Christ’s kingdom beyond us. You may want to think of it as a talent for something or just simply something you are good at, but it is important to bring it to our table, to use it, to function as part of Christ’s body.  I promise you, when you use it properly it will feel very satisfying and good and you will know you have contributed to the unity of this parish and this community through the grace of God.

This is the Good News you need to discover within yourself and use, and Happy Birthday to our Church!

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 Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, Year A 2014

May 25, 2014

Homily for the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, Year A  2014

The Feast of the Ascension is one of the five major feasts of the Church year. It occurs in two Gospels and, more fully, in the Acts of the Apostles that we read today. Comments about its celebration exist from the 4th Century.  However, It has always presented some theological problems for me. I used to wonder, even as a child, that if bodies were taken up to heaven, as we profess that Jesus’ was and Mary’s was, certainly, then heaven must be a place. Yet, I was being taught that heaven was a state of being. So how could a body exist there? Did it need to eat and drink? Heavy questions for a child!

As I grew older, this became even more of a problem as I learned that the Biblical and medieval view of the three-tiered universe obviously didn’t exist as described. To me, it remains a mystery, one that I haven’t been able to figure out, but it is part of our Creed, so the most I can do is look for clues in the Gospels and Acts which help me understand its meaning for us today.

The Ascension joins together the work Jesus did on earth and his work as exalted high priest in heaven. Redemption has happened and Christ returns to the Father and we have been redeemed. The Gospel of John particularly uses the imagery of the lifting up on the cross and Jesus being lifted up to heavenly glory after sending the Spirit to remain with us. John has Jesus tell us that he is going away to prepare a place for us, and that it is good that he does – for if he goes away, he can send the Spirit to us. As we know he does this 10 days later on the feast we celebrate next Sunday – Pentecost.

The bookend readings of Acts and Matthew today are both important. The Acts we read today is the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. Luke tells that he is writing to a person, Theophilus, though it may not be a person since that name Theophilus means ‘lover of God’, and it could be a word that describes any new Christian.  The first book he mentions is his Gospel, the Gospel of Luke, and Luke says he wrote that to tell the reader all that Jesus did from his birth to his ascension, and what instructions he had given to his disciples to carry on. Luke tells us that he wanted the Apostles to remain in Jerusalem where they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit. 

The Apostles, despite everything that happened, still did not understand that the Messiah was not going to be a political leader who would restore Israel to self-government. When Jesus spoke of the ‘kingdom’, that was still the kingdom they were thinking he must have meant. It had been ingrained in Jewish thought that the Messiah, the Savior, would be the conquerer, so the Apostles ask Jesus if this is the time that he will restore the kingdom to Israel. Note, however, that Jesus doesn’t correct them, and in fact implies that Israel will become free again, by simply saying that the Father has all that in control and nobody knows when it will happen. The implication is that it will happen because that is one of the truths of the Old Testament, part of the original covenant God made with Israel and we know God keeps his end of the bargain.

But Jesus adds to that that the Spirit will give them a new power and through that power they would be able to witness him to the ends of the earth. Matthew’s Gospel today expands on this very theme. The 11 apostles go up to a mountain that Jesus has asked them to climb, and there he appeared to them. Most knelt and worshipped him but some were still doubtful apparently. Jesus tells them – his last words, and the last words of the Gospel of Matthew – “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  So the first part of this final speech of Jesus in Matthew is really saying the same thing as Luke in Acts. The disciples were to go out and witness – that is teach what Jesus had taught and commanded us to do.

The very last line of Matthew deserves special attention though, and the second reason why we are to be joyful about Jesus leaving us – “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” How can Jesus both leave us and be with us? 

One way, of course, is in the Eucharist – that special gift that he gave us. This is our Catholic belief in the real presence of Jesus in the bread and wine. But there are other ways he is present as well. The Constitution on the Liturgy in Vatican II puts it succinctly and beautifully: 

“Christ is always present to His Church, especially in liturgical actions. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass in the person of the priest; ‘He is the same one, now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered Himself on the Cross [citing the Council of Trent].’ But He is most greatly present under the Eucharistic species. He is present by His power in the Sacraments, so that when anyone baptizes, Christ Himself baptizes. He is present in His word, for He speaks when the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, finally, when the Church prays and sings the Psalms, He who promised ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst'”(Matthew 18:20)

At this point Jesus was lifted up – this could be metaphorical or Biblical reference (note our Psalm today – “God has gone up with a shout”) – but more important, a cloud took him out of their sight. In other words he disappeared into a cloud. The disciples gaze up perhaps to see where he went, perhaps to worship, when angels tell them to stop staring, get to work and that Jesus will come back again someday in the same cloudy way.

The story has meaning despite whether we can understand its mystery or not. We know that Christ is always with us, will return someday the same way he left, will send and now has sent the Spirit to us so that God and He can be within us, and that he will give us power to follow his word and teach others to do the same. That is our Christian hope, our Christian faith, and our Christian joy! As St. Paul puts it today: “[God] seated him at his right hand in heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” and we, the Church, are now his physical body – he resides in us as well.

When we leave the walls of this church this Sunday, we need to recognize that we carry Christ within us, and that we are witnesses, signs, to all the world of that twofold Christian command to love God and love each other. How do we achieve that, how do we integrate that into our daily lives, how do we become Christ for others in our daily journey to the kingdom? 

That is the Good News that challenges each and every day of our lives, and that I leave you to ponder today and all this 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 of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Year A 2014

May 18, 2014

Homily for the  6th Sunday of Easter, Year A  2014

As we rapidly approach the Feast of Pentecost, the event that Jesus promised the Apostles would happen and would complete his mission on the earth, the readings we have today all concern themselves with the Spirit. In our first reading today, as we continue through the history of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke gives us what we would consider evidence today for the sacrament of confirmation.  As you know, the sacrament of confirmation is the full receipt of the Holy Spirit that traditionally comes for a person that has been baptized as a child, when the child reaches the age of reason and has the ability to choose to follow his or her faith.  With adults the sacrament of Confirmation usually accompanies Baptism.  In the story we are told today, we hear about the preaching of the disciple Philip that brings about the beginning of the Samaritan church. Philip obviously makes a great impression on the Samaritan people who seemed to be quite eager to hear his message to them. Along with his preaching there were many miracles and healings that took place which convinced many of the people there to accept the word of God that Philip was preaching. Philip apparently baptized a great number of the Samaritans.  It is interesting if you remember here that the Samaritans were considered enemies of the Jews, even though they believed in the same God and followed the same Scriptures. It would have been quite an event for people considered sinners and enemies to become part of the emerging Christian communities. It shows us how accepting we need to be in our own church today.

After this event, the Apostles Peter and John went to the Samaritans to pray for them, laying hands on them and allowing them to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. We still use this model today when we ask the local Bishop or his representative to come and confirm at each parish.

The Second Reading from First Peter also is about the Spirit. The author is concerned with giving suffering some meaning, because many of the followers of Christ were being persecuted at this time. Peter suggests that if one suffers even though they are doing good works or for being a Christian then they become part of the sacrifice that happened for us when Christ suffered and died. They are able to join in with his suffering, suffering that leads to something good or something better. Peter says we are not to be afraid to profess our faith and our hope, and that we should be gentle and reverent in preaching the Good News. The last lines of this section bring us to the Spirit. Peter says that Jesus was put to death in the flesh but was made alive in the spirit. The Spirit is Jesus alive with us today. The Spirit works with us, through us and is in us.

This is the Spirit that Jesus today in John’s Gospel calls the Advocate. An advocate is someone who pleads for another in court or who intercedes for others when they can’t speak for themselves. This theologically dense section of the Gospel today is the best description we have of the working of the Holy Spirit. Jesus first indicates that he himself is our advocate to the father in heaven. He has taken the case of men and women and pleaded to the Father. Because he cannot be with us forever, since his advocacy involves dying for us, God the father will send another Advocate who will always be with us till the end of time.  Jesus tells the Apostles that this advocate will be the Spirit of truth, and will be someone that the world does not understand because it cannot know the Spirit. Once again the will of God is not like our own. The world neither sees the Spirit or knows it.

But Jesus tells the Apostles that they will know the Spirit because the Spirit will come to them, be in them, and abide with them. Jesus knows that he must leave the Apostles physically, but he does not want to abandon them – to leave them orphans. 

He and the Spirit are one and so through the Spirit Jesus will be with us. In worldly terms, Jesus will not be physically present and the world will not see him, but he tells the Apostles that they will see him, and because he live-in the Spirit, they will live also. The we have the beautiful sentence which ties the Trinity to us: “On that day you will know that i am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” God will be present in each of us. We are indeed temples of the Lord.

Finally, Jesus stresses and re-iterates his law of love. We love Jesus by carrying out  his double commandment of loving God and neighbor. Because of that love, God will also love us and Jesus will reveal himself to us. This is really a high theology that John is describing, hard to understand in human, earthly terms, but in spiritual terms is so hopeful, so beautiful, so loving. 

Next week we will celebrate the Ascension of the Lord – the moment when Jesus goes back to the father and sits at his right hand. After just a few days in our time, the Spirit, promised by Jesus, will be present for the first time as the Apostles receive it at Pentecost. All the readings today look forward to that event as we near the end of our Easter season. This week let us look at how we are able show our love of God and neighbor, find ways to show that love and prepare for the two great feasts that are soon coming.

Let us continue to celebrate and hear this Good News as we approach the birthday of the Church, the coming of God’s Spirit to us.

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”]