CACINA

Homily March 29, 2015 Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, Eucharist, homily, inspirational, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on March 25, 2015

palm 1After reading the Passion, it is very difficult for a homilist to add to the account of Jesus’s passion, death and resurrection. The whole concept of what he endured would seem foreign to us today for the most part. The founders of our country forbade in our constitution cruel and unusual punishment. Torture, whipping, extreme cruelty and to a degree death are forbidden. In Roman times, paalm2these were seen as ways to control unruly masses of people to make them fear a nation of conquerors, namely the Romans. Their execution by crucifixion was meant to be bloody, painful and a slow dragged out process, sometimes taking days. It is one of the reasons Rome was able to rule for so long.

In today’s world punishment is not supposed to be the ideal, but rehabilitation is what our prisons are called to do. The death penalty is not really common and is now carried out in the US in a sterilized non threatening, non suffering way. Strangely, we carry it out like we are doing a kindness in making it easy for the condemned and our conscience by anesthetizing the person to sleep.

That aside, Suffering and death is something foreign to us. Yet God chose to use the darkest side of humanity’s barbarity to extend his forgiveness and love through his very own Son. No one can miss the singular act of a Father giving his son to make whole what is broken. We heard today the account of Jesus following out the will of his Father, even feeling reluctant as any of us would be, but in the end He said “Your will be done”.palm3

So today, let us reflect that Christ freely gave himself to be taken and condemned by the Jews, sentenced by Pilate and scourged and crucified. This was a giving of himself for all time, for all men and women, for reparation of all sins against God for all time. When we fail, fall short remember to ask Please forgive me.

Homily from Holy Trinity Parish March 22, 2015 the 5th Sunday of Lent

Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year B 2015 (March 29)

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational, scripture, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on March 22, 2015

Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year B 2015

Today’s readings really speak for themselves and touch different parts of each of us, so I will keep this short and briefly say how they affect me.

One of the most difficult things to reconcile in our minds and that has given rise to all sorts of ideas and heresies over the century is the combination of divinity and humanity in Jesus.  Of course, it is a mystery and impossible to totally understand but that hasn’t stopped us from trying to.

One of the questions that our reading of the Passion today brings up is the question did Jesus know that he was going to rise from the dead? It seems to me that if he did, it would make less tragic the event of his death and even ameliorate the depth of suffering he endured.

If we knew we had to go through something physical terrible and painful but that it would mean we would be perfectly cured or fine afterwards, it would be easier to go through, wouldn’t it?

So I don’t think, as a human, that Jesus knew he would be resurrected although his faith in God never wavered. Isaiah description of the suffering servant we read today ends with the line “I know that I shall not be put to shame”. That is Jesus’ hope and trust in in God!

And yet, in the Psalm today we also hear the words spoken by Jesus on the cross as well: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Does’t this indicate that Jesus lost hope in God. In the least it proves to me that he did not know of his resurrection.

But I don’t think that this was a loss of hope in God for Jesus. I think it was Jesus feeling the weight of everything he had been asked to do, perhaps even feeling our continual abandonment of him even after his death. He was giving up his life for a people that haven’t accepted him and still after two thousand years have not fully accepted him or his message. The weight of this is on him at that moment, questioning, as he submits, whether he has given himself up freely for a people who abandon him.

In our lowest depths of depression, we too can feel that the whole world is against us and that we have accomplished nothing in our lives. We may even blame God or feel that God has forsaken us. Perhaps that is the point that people get to in order to kill themselves. But Jesus never lost faith in God – but his humanity was very strong in that final moment of being human – his death.

In our own lives we need to constantly remember that there is something beyond death, something that will help us to get through the lower depths of life and our own deaths. The final result of each of our deaths if we have been true to God is what Paul says in the second reading today of Jesus: “Therefore God highly exalted him.” We will never be as highly exalted as Jesus, of course – “the name that is beyond every name” – but because of Jesus death for us, we too can be glorified. That is the glory of the cross. That is what we celebrate today! 

And that is the Good News I want you keep in your hearts, especially when things go bad.

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 March 22, 2015 The 5th Sunday of Lent

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational, religion, Resurrection, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on March 18, 2015

5 lent 1The time for a new covenant is at hand. Today we see some Greeks want to see or talk to Jesus who had thus far limited his ministry to the Jews in Israel. 5 lent 2His response is to compare himself to a grain of wheat, a small seemingly insignificant item easily missed until it falls to the ground and dies(is planted). In dying, it begins to grow spreading out roots and pushing up to the surface and producing much fruit. Here in John’s gospel, Jesus is foretelling his death, that he must die and that he must be lifted up. This is why he was born and why he is present to them. But only in being lifted up will he draw all things to himself. Christ knew the death he would die and that it was inevitable, but like the grain of wheat, fruit or blossoms would only come after Jesus Christ Crucifixion on Good Friday Silhouettedeath.
In today’s world, we honor similar martyrdom in war and even in everyday life. Nothing is more poignant than to see and hear the valor and often the sacrifice of a medal of honor winner. A risk or possibly even the giving up of life so others might live. We honor people who will stand and sacrifice possibly their life 5 lent 3for a principle or their faith or religion. In the last hundred years, humanity has seen fit to continually wage war or fighting in some form almost if not in every one of these years. Slavery, abuse, suffering are still not eradicated from the plant earth. This doesn’t touch on the people of the world who go hungry.
Yet, Christ has died and he does draw all to himself. His message has yet to be universally spread to all the ends of the earth. In some places his message is obscured because we have 5lent 5westernized it or made it too comfortable to our own time and place. His message was one to draw all to him, to believe and to follow, to worship in his name. Simply, does the grandeur of Christianity today that we see in the so-called first world, fit in out in the highways and byways of the third world and beyond? He died for them too, but how do we reach out and adapt to their understanding. His embrace is of all, his Spirit goes out to all. We must be open and not preconceive or put boundaries on what the Spirit can do. Remember Christ was lifted up not once simply on the cross but also in the triumph of the resurrection.

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Homily at Holy Trinity Parish March 15, 2015 the 4th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on 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 March 15, 2015 4th Sunday of Lent

4 sun lent 1As we continue towards easter, our readings again look at the harder and darker times in Jewish history and of Jesus being a light, being lifted up both on a cross at a very dark moment and ultimately his resurrection. First we see Israel’s punishment for falling into darkness and evil by ignoring God’s word and prophets. They are dragged off to Babylon. Their time there was even longer than before their return from Egypt and their forty years in the desert. This time it was seventy years, a length of time that very few would survive to return home. But while God turned and allowed the Babylonians to prevail, it was the Israelites who had turned away and took a different course than what the law and prophets asked.
4 sun lent 5In John today we see one of the themes is Jesus as light of the world. We see Nicodemus come to Jesus in the darkness of the night. It is interesting because Nicodemus became a believer but for a long time a secret fearful believer, hiding his faith from the Jews. Yet his secret wasn’t evil but simply embarrassing to him or to his professional life. Even today, I think many of us are motivated by what others think and do and are fearful like Nicodemus to shine the light on their actions and plans. If you consider it, such considerations make it easy for all kind of behind the scenes activities and sometimes bad and evil things come into our lives and society. It seem to be almost inherent in our nature that we are afraid of what others might see and find out, yet we pursue what we want in the dark or under the radar where people can’t see and judge. Look at the difficulties of the so-called sunshine laws today. Certainly privacy is an issue, but when does our privacy impugn another person? Christ is the light and in him there should be no fear, no gossip, no retribution for faithful actions and beliefs. When we retreat into darkness, what do we fear? Jesus came to dispel that fear with the light of his word, and by being lifted up, dying that all 4 sun lent 3might live rising and once again lifted up for all. He was born and grew up and lived among us. He felt all the passions and joys of life as well as anxieties and suffering and death. What could have been worse than the darkness of that night in Gethsemane, knowing and facing what was the inevitable end of his life? Yet through it all, he remained faithful, a light, a way for others to see and follow. His strength and death even brought Nicodemus to the fore to claim his body for burial. Such a light dispelling the darkness around us, confounds and challenges those around us, often in a positive way, other times making them strike out in ways 4 sun lent 4we do not fathom or understand. Yet with Jesus our light, our love, our faith, we should always be ready to reach out and embrace even those who wish us evil things. This is how we become a people of light, of love, shining Christ’s love in every corner of humanity. In Jesus time, the day was the time for work, the time of light and seeing clearly. The night was dark and a time to refresh and stay still. What was out and beyond the home was unknown and questionable and not seeable. Remember we only have two centuries or so that we have electricity to somewhat dispel the darkness. What we can’t forget is that the darkness of evil is still around and Jesus is the light that dispels that darkness. As a people of light we should always try to stay in the light.

Homily from Holy Trinity Parish March 8, 2015 3rd Sunday of Lent

Posted in Called, Christianity, church events, ethics, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit by Fr Joe R on March 8, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on March 8, 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”]

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Homily March 8, 2015 3rd Sunday of Lent

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, Eucharist, homily, religion, Resurrection, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on March 3, 2015

3 sun lent 1Today we see Moses present the decalogue or the ten commandments or the directions or teachings for the Israelites to get along. Certainly they were not taken as absolutes but as guides to the will of God. They in no way could address every moment or direction in a person’s life. Even today we have a tendency to water down and justify and make excuses and exceptions to absolutes with all kind of circumstances and reasons for making things less absolute. Jesus set a whole new meaning to life with his law and direction to love. If we truly believed in loving as the direction 3 sun lent 2of our life and our actions, the world would be a different place to live in. If we could really love others as much as we loved ourself much would change. Unfortunately, there are many who don’t even know how to love themselves much less care for others. This is why sometimes directions or guidelines are needed.
In the gospel today, we see a different Jesus. The Temple for the Jews was a holy place, meant to house the Ark of the covenant and God’s very presence. Money changers, animals, and all kinds of sellers and businesses were there looking to make a profit off the worshipers coming to the temple. It was really a marketplace. We so often picture Jesus as a mild loving man, gentle and loving, touching the poor and sick and healing. Yet today we see him scattering coins around, turning tables over, chasing animals3 sun lent 4 out of the temple courtyard. He was even using a whip to chase away the men. Imagine the chaos and consternation of the people. His zeal and righteousness for his Father’s temple was complete. But when he was challenged, he referred to a new different temple, the temple of his body. Suddenly we see that now there is a different temple in Jesus’ church. It is his body and to be resurrected body, present and given to us in his Eucharist. He has told us he remains with us and has given us his Spirit, but also we have his body and blood in the Eucharist to have and to share.
Think of the irony of that. We build churches, cathedrals and monuments, all to house our faith, but 3 sun lent5the real temple or building is Jesus himself sealing and uniting and embracing us in his very body and blood. The time, the place matter not, for he said where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, there am I. And there it is, our zeal, our care for God’s presence is in how we love and how we share and consume Christ’s body and blood together. The truth is that the more we love the more we become like him. We have to learn to find Jesus in the person of others, and dispose of our money changers and distractions that get in the way of our faith driven love. In a small way we then share and bring Christ’s love to others.

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