Posts Tagged ‘The Way’

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Nov. 15)

November 7, 2015

Homily for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Nov. 15)

I would like to begin today with he short passage from the last chapter of the book of the prophet Daniel. We don’t often get to read Daniel in our liturgies the way they have been laid out, but this week and next we hear two passages from this apocalyptic prophet. The Book of Daniel is a rather strange book in the Old Testament. The first half of it is three really good stories and is an easy read, but the second half is mystic, dream-like, confusing and often about things that have not yet happened that Daniel saw in his visions.

Today’s selection is from the last chapter and is a piece often read at funerals. It shows a distinct change in the theological thinking of the Hebrews because, up to this point, the Jews didn’t have much to say about an after-life. They had a place that we hear about in the Psalm today, Sheol, a place where the dead were gathered with their families. There here-and-now was the important thing, what the Psalmist calls “the path of life”. This after-death place was a vague holding place many Jews believed in, but with Daniel we encounter something new. In this reading Michael, the prince of angels, presumably, will rise up at the end of time during some sort of world-wide catastrophe. At this point, there will be a resurrection of the dead. However, it doesn’t say everybody, but many will rise. There will apparently be some sort of judgment because some of those risen will have everlasting life and others will have everlasting shame. The main thrust of the reading though goes to those who have maintained wisdom and those who have influenced others to be righteous. They will be the real stars! In fact that is exactly the metaphor Daniel uses – shining like the brightness of the sky… like stars forever and ever.

As we near the end of the church year next Sunday, the thought of the liturgy usually turns to the end of time and what the Bible has to say about it. And so, we begin with Daniel’s vision of the last days and then move to Jesus’ own description of that time as Mark writes it.

Jesus describes it in a similar way to Daniel – that there will be some sort of cataclysmic event causing a time of suffering for all people. When that happens and everything seems hopeless, The Son of Man will come from heaven manifesting great power and glory. Jesus will send his angels to collect “the elect”, those who have been judged to have followed Jesus and his two great commandments.

Jesus also indicates that there will be signs that this is going to happen and he uses a fig tree as an example. You know when a fig tree is going to bloom by looking for the signs of its blossoming, and when that happens you know that summer will soon arrive.

Similarly, we will be able, if we watch for it, to determine by signs that this event will be coming soon.

At this point, we hear Jesus say something that just seems like he didn’t know what he was talking about. He got it wrong. He says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” I can say two things about this. Just after that he says that he may be just guessing because only the Father really knows when this will happen – and he specifically says that the Son doesn’t know either.

Or… perhaps the sign of the coming judgment is Jesus’ own death and resurrection which indeed happened during that generation’s lifetime. Without Jesus death to open the kingdom of heaven, there could be no final judgment because heaven would still be closed to us. And so, when Paul says today in Hebrews: “For by a single offering [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” It is only through the sacrifice of Christ that we have been redeemed and that there is a possibility of our resurrection and being part of the elect who will be brought into a new world order: the complete and fulfilled kingdom of heaven.

In trying to determine what this can mean to us this week, we might turn to the Gospel acclamation today which states: “Be alert at all times, praying that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” As Christians, we need to always keep our end in view. We talk about our lives as journeys, and that is so true. But journeys have destinations. Jesus has given us a way, a path of life. In fact, the early Church uses to call themselves, not Christians, but the Way. By keeping that destination in mind, and having some vague knowledge about our end and the end of time, we need to weigh the individual daily decisions we make with the end we want in view. We need to pray for that wisdom that Daniel says we need in order to shine brightly. We need to pray that we continue to follow the path and to show others the path as well. I know that some of us do ask the question “What would Jesus have done?” when we make decisions, but it might be better to ask: am I following the law of love for God and neighbor in this decision? Am I staying on the path Jesus taught? Food for thought this week as we hear the Good News that we have been saved and that our destination is there, waiting for us to take the right path to get to it!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Prepare for next year! Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A 2014

May 11, 2014

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A  2014

I have always admired this section of the Gospel of John we read today, and, in a way, wished that the name the early church had given to themselves – the followers of the Way – had stuck. All of us are on a life’s journey and there are so many different paths to follow. Through sin, the path to God had been blocked – the bridge was out – so God wanted to find a way to open the way again, and he did it by becoming one of us, and through his death and resurrection opened up the path for us again. Jesus gives us a path to follow, shows us a path to follow, and John reminds us that Jesus, himself, is the path – the way. And if we follow the path or the way of Jesus, we will eventually get to his Father’s house where there will be room for everyone, and Jesus himself will have prepared our guest room for us.

This is such a hopeful theology presented in such a brief passage. “ I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Jesus is the way to God, and possessing God we will know all truth, and we will have eternal life. Although Jesus was trying to instill hope, the poor apostles didn’t quite get it. They seldom do in the Gospels. Thomas, who we already know is a doubter, is probably thinking in moment-to-moment terms when he asserts – “We don’t know where you are going”.  He is probably questioning whether they are on their way to Jerusalem or to the next town or to Samaria. Jesus’ vision is the journey to God the Father.

Have you ever wondered at what point the Apostles had their eyes opened and were able to figure out that Jesus was actually God? We have a lot of people today who insist he was just a man like another man, that there was no divinity in him, that he may have been a great man, but hardly a God! John’s Gospel was written, we believe, some 50 years after the death of Jesus. In those 50 years from Pentecost, when their eyes were truly opened by the Spirit and they began to understand, the theology – the question – of Jesus’ identity – was one of the first things that the believers began to grapple with. By the 90’s, we can see in the Gospel of John that they had grappled with the question, so the identification of Jesus with God was pretty complete. In the passages today, after Philip asks Jesus to show them God the Father, Jesus, through the words of John, very clearly indicates that he is God. “You know God, because you know me.” He adds, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

The statement “No one comes to the Father except through me” needs, I think, to be taken in that context. I don’t think Jesus is saying that only Christians will get to heaven here; I think this statement means that since Jesus is God, if you are following Jesus, you are on the path to God, following God. There may be other paths that lead to God as well – I don’t think he is ruling that out here, but Christians can be sure of where their path leads. Maybe that is why there are so many room there waiting for us!

All of these statements are pretty revolutionary in their thinking, and you can see how a Jew might be upset that a man is identifying himself with God. We often lock up people today who think they are God. But most revolutionary are the final words of the passage, and those words that are applicable to us today. “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these…” Can we really believe that we are able to do greater works than God can! And yet that is what Jesus tells us. Perhaps it is because God has taken on humanity that he has limited himself. Perhaps it is because of the “I am the vine – you the branches” allegory that he has used just previous to this passage, that we can do unimaginable things because we are part of the vine, part of God…. but how wonderful that we can assist in the actions of God, partake of the works of God, create as can God, and do even greater things than Jesus himself did. That is why our prayer life is so important – remember Jesus did these miraculous things by always prefacing them with prayer to God. Why we have seen so many cures, remissions and comfort as a result of our combined parish prayers. That is why we can feed 20,000 people in a few hours of work. Isn’t that rather like the loaves and fishes – and Jesus only fed 5000 that day!!

From the earliest times of Christianity, as we saw in our first reading from the Acts, Christians were doing such works of charity and feeding the poorer members of their communities – so much so that they had to organize a bit better, and get some help. Deacons were created so that more people could be served. Already, in earliest times, the concerns of Jesus were being met and greater things were happening.

So what I really would like us to consider today is how can I contribute to the work of the church?  How can I do ever greater works than we already do. Jesus has not set any limits on this – he has simply said that we will do greater works than he did. Please keep this in mind and set goals for yourselves. As Peter told us today in his epistle: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light. Let’s continue to let our light shine in the things we do, and aspire do even greater things. Let’s dream it and do it!

And this is the Good News that Jesus leaves us with 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 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A 2014

April 27, 2014

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A 2014

 “Lord, you will show me the path of life” is what we repeat in our psalm antiphon today. The idea of the path or the “way” was such a strong theme in the new Testament that the early Christians adopted it as their name – the Way. And we know in John that Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Similarly in today’s first reading we hear again David’s words: “You have made known to me the way of life”, applied to Jesus.

The quest archetype is a story that occurs in all literatures. Usually, though, the quest is undertaken by a hero, sometimes a hero that doesn’t yet know that he or she is heroic, and goes on a physical journey fighting off all sorts of enemies or demons, but is at the end triumphant.

The “way” that is described in our Gospel today is a type of quest also, a journey. But the quest archetype so often seen in fairy tales and myths is quite turned around.

The questers in the story of the road to Emmaus are two disciples of Jesus. Their quest, their journey could have been simply to escape the strange goings-on surrounding the death and disappearance of Jesus. They may have been afraid and were simply trying to leave the area and put it behind them. Another possibility is that they were on a quest to find others that followed Jesus and see if they knew any more about the strange and frightening happenings.  In either case, the two men were on the road having a discussion about what they had heard and seen and were trying to piece together the truth of all that was going on.  Their quest simply may have been for the truth.

It is interesting to note that Luke says “their eyes were kept from recognizing [Jesus].” Most commentators find this problematic.  Wouldn’t these two disciples have recognized Jesus? Had he changed that much physically? Luke says simply that they didn’t recognize Jesus because Jesus did not want them to. Perhaps in Jesus’ mind, the only way to clarify their questions and fears was through discussion and enlightenment, and not through miracle. It is by talking to the two men that Jesus is able to clarify the reversed idea of a Messiah who suffers and dies, and then enters his glory. Only through “opening up the scriptures”, letting the two see what the words of the prophets meant, were they able to understand intellectually what the truth was and what it meant for all of us. How ironic that the way and the truth was walking right alongside them all along.

After walking with the disciples all day and expounding on the meaning of Scripture in relationship to Jesus and what had just happened to him, it was becoming night and the two men invited Jesus to stay with them for the night. The recognition scene takes place at supper, and most commentators see this as a reference to the Eucharistic meal: “he took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.” These are the same words we hear at Mass each week, when Jesus also becomes physically present to us as well. Do we pay enough attention to that moment? Has repetition dulled the miraculous thing that happens at each Eucharistic meal. Do our eyes become opened to see Jesus? These are all questions I would like you to consider today. 

We, too are like the disciples going to Emmaus. We too might be escaping, or seeking answers. We too are on quests for truth in our lives. 

After the moment of recognition Jesus disappears. In Eucharistic terms we might say that Jesus is now within them through the eating of the bread. There was no need for his physical body to be present to them.  Jesus had stirred their minds to understand, he had fed them, and he remains with them in spirit.

The truth having been made known, the disciples no longer needed to go to Emmaus and instead took a different path – the path to Jerusalem and to the other apostles and disciples. And they shared their good news, their new understandings with them, and showed how Jesus had been made known in the breaking of the bread.

How blessed we are to have this event recreated each week for us, allowing us to understand a little more each week. The Mass is our journey to Emmaus and the Eucharist is our recognition of Jesus and what God has done for us. St. Paul says that Christ was “ destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.”  For your sake! Whether Jesus is still blinding you toward who he is and the truth, and still in process of helping you to understand, or whether your eyes have already been opened to the miracle that is Christ visible, the story of the road to Emmaus should give us hope and confidence, and we can say with David as quoted in the first reading today: I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.

As we continue our Easter journey, my wish for you is that you discover that abiding hope, that you become increasingly more aware of the ritual that is the Eucharistic Mass, that Jesus becomes present to you each week in a wide variety of ways, and that my words may be Jesus’ words in an attempt to help you understand the Scriptures, and open them up for you. 

Then, like the two disciples, we can talk to the other disciples and share their stories – the stories of how they found that Truth who was walking beside them all along.

May the Good News of today be good news for you each week as we celebrate the risen Lord who helps us when we are on our journeys.

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”]