As we listen to today’s gospel, we get almost a picture of some kind of lesson in hygiene. Through the centuries, the rabbis and the pharisees had developed many types of rituals for the purpose of being cleansed and to properly present themselves in the temple. Many of these rituals they had passed on to the people as laws to live their lives. One of these numerous laws was the notion of washing hands and anything that they were going to eat. In actuality, none of these prescriptions were a part of the mosaic law, and were actually added on by men and were far from the authentic law. Christ was harsh with the Pharisee’s criticism, for they were more concerned by what was the traditions of human origin than what was the actual law and revelation of God.
As an example growing up, I can remember back many years to first communion and the perception and teachings of my youth. I remember going to Mass when maybe twenty or thirty people went to communion out of a congregation of several hundred. People going to communion was so infrequent, that everyone had to be reminded of their Easter duty, which meant that everyone was obligated to receive communion at least once a year which was called their Easter Duty. . If we recall the last several weeks of John’s theology of the Eucharist, and the need for nourishment and food both physically and spiritually for our journey and for eternal life, Some where the authentic message of Jesus came to be seen differently over some centuries, and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist led people to conclude that they were not worth to receive it, when Christ’s message was that the Eucharist is what would make us worthy. It was clearly a case where human perception and human tradition lost the authentic teaching or at least a better understanding of it.
What this tells us is that we must closely look and pray and search out the Spirit to know that what is authentic comes ultimately from Christ and his Spirit who dwells within us. It is important always to avoid putting the human things before the Word and Spirit. Human laws and interpretations, while perhaps necessary, are human and finite. Christ calls for openness to the Spirit knowing truly what calls for our love and attention. Human things, thoughts, desires and other distractions can deprive us of a truly spiritual and fulfilling life. Human refinements and institutions and laws, while convenient for some reasons, are not always faithful to the Law of Christ’s love, nor quick to resolve issues with his forgiveness. History proves that following Christ can be easy, but at the same time it is challenging because it means giving up ourselves to love as he did. Life in the Spirit is hopefully what we do.
Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015
Our first reading today is from the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the books ascribed to Moses and the one dealing with the end of his life and the imminent entry into the God’s Promised Land. Moses and the Hebrews have been wandering through the deserts for forty years and they are about to enter their homeland, but Moses is an old man now and knows that he will not enter it with them. In this reading Moses is talking to his people and reminding them that they have messed up badly over the years, which is why the promise took 40 years too fulfill. Over and over they have forgotten the one true God and the teachings of their God.
In the selection we read today, Moses is being very practical with his people, and giving them good political advice as well as spiritual. In the spiritual or moral dimension, Moses is telling them to remember what God has done for them in leading them out of slavery, and that God has given them a pattern to live by with the commandments. Moses urges them to be diligent in following God’s commands to show their love and gratitude to God, first of all, but that it would also be good for them politically, to show the other nations that they are a cultured, wise nation. At this time there were not many countries that had as civilized a law as did the Hebrews. Moses says that they could be a light to other nations, and make it possible for other nations to see the immanence of Israel’s God – the fact that God is with them, hears them, and answers them.
The Torah, then – or the teachings of God given to Moses – makes the Hebrews stand out to other nations, achieving two great purposes – serving God and presenting the one God to other nations.
The teachings (which we translate as Laws) that Moses gave the Hebrews were the Ten Commandments certainly, but also other teachings that separated the Hebrews or set them apart from other nations. Many of the Laws, especially those of purity came about as comments on the Law, just as today many of the the ideas in the United States Constitution have been ruled on and more laws and amendments have been created over the years.
When Jesus attacks the scribes and Pharisees because they say he is not following these created laws of purity, many of these were traditions and not always Biblically based. Some of them came about for hygienic purposes or to suit the needs of the priests or ruling bodies.
When Jesus was accused of breaking these so-called laws, he reminds them that they are merely human traditions, and that more importance is being placed on these than on the actual teaching words of God.
So Jesus uses this as a way to explain that God created everything as good and that it is what we do with God’s creation is what creates something bad. Evil comes from inside a person. And this is what the original commandments or teachings of God was really about. When we look at the list of things that Christ calls evil coming from the heart of man, we see murder (5th commandment), fornication and licentiousness (6th Commandment), theft (7th commandment), deceit and slander (9th commandment), avarice and envy (10th commandment), with pride, folly and wickedness involved in all ten of them. Jesus was getting back to the basics by reminding them that God’s commandments are more important than the traditions that had become the sole concern of the Pharisees of his day. I think we do the same thing today when we take individual moral problems like abortion, homosexuality, birth-control as ‘the’ most important issues in our religion. We tend to have pet concerns that override the really important issues of loving God and neighbor and sharing with the poor. That isn’t to say they are not at all important or connected – they certainly are – especially abortion – but we enlarge them to be more important issues, honoring God with our lips, as Jesus says, but ignoring the heart.
The letter of James today really summarizes what I have been trying to say when he defines a “pure and undefiled” religion in a way that seems very simple and narrow. Purity of religion is caring for others, loving your neighbor, especially those who can’t care for themselves like widows and orphans, and not following the ways, the traditions of the ungodly world. James also adds that we need not to just listen to God’s word, but we have to follow through and do it.
So how can we be doers of the word this week? First of all let us focus on the two great commandments this week. Find a way to let God know of your love, spend some time with him, talk with him. He is both immanent and transcendent. We acknowledge his greatness and vastness, God he also became one of us and so we can talk with, complain to, beg, and thank God. Then, find a way to focus on our neighbors in need. Perhaps donate time or food to a mission or food bank, or donate to a cause that helps others. Bring extra peanut butter in for next Sunday’s peanut butter drive. Do “something” to remind yourself of the Word of God presented to us this week.
And that will be really Good News for God and for the recipients of our love 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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]
Saturday of the Twentieth Week of the Year (August 22, 2015) Inclusive Lectionary Texts
Readings- Ruth – Chapter 2 verses 1- 3, 8-11 & Chapter 4 verses 13-17 / Psalm 128 verses 1-5 /
Matthew – Chapter 23 verses 1-12
Friends, oh, my goodness that’s it again. There is nothing I can say more that is not said best by the Master, Jesus. Just some thoughts of how the scripture touched me today. “They love respectable greetings in public, and being called ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, avoid the title ‘Rabbi.’ For One is your Teacher, and you are all sisters and brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your ‘Mother’ or ‘Father.’ Only One is your parent – the One in heaven. Avoid being called leaders. Only One is your Leader, the Messiah.”
Friends, recently on retreat at a monastery, I observed an Auxiliary Roman Catholic Bishop, who I am aware of, at the monastery also on retreat. I was impressed that this individual was not, at any time, in any clerical garb or sit in any place of prominence. The Bishop was, for all intent and purposes stated, a person, a human being as all of us seeking the way to God. When I introduced myself to the gentlemen, I think he was surprised that anyone recognized him. I was most impressed by that.
This had also brought to mind, when my wife and I were in the Roman tradition, our home community had two Roman Catholic deacons, who as I observed would serve there mass as deacons, at later masses, but would either come and sit by themselves or attend with their spouses, never giving the suggestion that they were any different. They were different to some degree but not separate from the rest of us.
When I worked for a city agency where I was a community affairs person working as a religious outreach specialist, I worked for the agency I was representing to the city’s vast and grassroots religious and clerical community. I once had to attend a meeting in a city in Connecticut where I was helping, along with my supervisor to help build a program similar to our city’s relations with said religious leaders.
Accompanied by a well known Baptist pastor of a well known congregation, needless to say, between the three of us, he noticed how my supervisor was treating me. He observed my supervisors insecurity and his need for prominence and the need to be addressed by his rank/title.
Weather I agreed with it or not, that pastor told me that my supervisor was my master and that only for this time or when I dealt with him, was when I had to give him obedience and no other time. This reminds me of the Rule of Saint Benedict. The rule gives me the ability to give up my will, not out of control of others or myself, but in the control, I exercise my free will to be able to decide my nature which in essence makes me free.
Sisters and brothers in our society today, we ourselves give in sometimes to wanting that place of honor or title. What we achieve yes is good, as long we offer it to God for the betterment of humanity. We have to be very careful and aware even at the slightest times we give in to this. We have to be mindful of our ego and pride. How we address others can make a difference on how we may help bring someone to the path of God’s love or we can be the ones helping to turn them away. It’s about humility and the reward that we do for others. We should not want the thank you or the acknowledgement that what I did for you today, allows me now to run the other’s life. I do this, I do that, I work in this shelter, I do that. We can accept praise, but be humble in regards to it. (We must also be mindful of having a false sense of pride)
We need not remind others what we have done for them. Friends we are only as good as the last act we performed. It is not about reminding others of what we have done but has that act of love brought them closer to God. Peace
michael (aka- rev. Theogene)
Friday of the Twentieth Week of the Year (August 21, 2015) Inclusive Lectionary Texts
Readings- Ruth – Chapter 1 verses 1, 3-6, 14-16, & 22 / Psalm 146 verses 5-10 /
Matthew – Chapter 22 verses 34-40
Friends, that’s it. These scripture readings seem to say it all. It’s all about the unconditional love that God has for us. The love shown to us by God is a deep immensity that we try to imitate. A love that is shown in the same way Jesus shared in his love to the Father. We can most definitely find this difficult at times. We see the example of Ruth towards her mother-in-law Naomi. In this same instance God does the same with us. Wherever we go, wherever we dwell and where we will die, Jesus ensures us that God will always be with us. To come to worship God in God’s presence everywhere and anywhere, God meets us where we are. God touches us when we least expect it. Hopefully, if we are really doing what is required of us and loving our family our neighbor as we would ourselves, sums up the entire Bible, in my opinion. Being challenged to love unconditionally, even those whom we may have conflicts with is what the message is about. The God who comes to us in the good and bad, when sad, depressed, and lonely, excitedly happy and overjoyed, God suffers and laughs with all of creation. God will always be with us, on our side, just the way we are, not the way we think we should be. God will take care of whatever has to change in us. All we have to do is say “yes Lord” and God will do the rest.
rev. Michael Theogene
Thursday of the Twentieth Week of the Year (August 20, 2015) Inclusive Lectionary Texts
Readings- Judges – Chapter 11 verses 29-39 / Psalm 40 verses 4-9 /
Matthew – Chapter 22 verses 1-14
Friends, although the readings seem to be harsh, the message I get from them is that Jesus shows us that God deals with us compassionately and we should be dealing compassionately with others. God invites us to be in relationship with God. Our relationship with God can be seen through so many different lights. God always takes the opportunity to reach out to us speaking to us through people, situations or events. God relentlessly seeks us. It is not God, for God’s sake that we pray and seek God, but it is for our sake, for our salvation that we pray to God. We pray to God by any of the many different paths that bring us to the Light. God yearns for us to be part of God’s creation, as a parent wishes to be involved with their child. The Creator of course leaves us with free will. The Great Source of all Being, the lover of the living. Here is a story that was told to me by my First Testament studies professor. He shared that there was a Rabbi that was talking to God. The Rabbi asked God, “God do you pray?” God responded that “…of course God prays.” … “I pray that my need for mercy is outweighed by my need for justice.” Sisters and brothers let us deal with each other mercifully, truly living the kingdom now and not later.
rev. Michael Theogene
In many ways, if we look at Christian art and how it depicts Jesus, we see a very idealistic and westernized Jesus in most of the art. What we forget is that he didn’t have his own home and he traveled from town to town making Copernican a place He went most often. Sleeping out under the stars was probably not uncommon for he and the twelve. As a group of men, they probably were rough looking and a group that could take care of themselves. Jesus became known for being outspoken and for performing signs. His preaching and message were different and presented differently than by the teachers of the law. He taught with authority that was hard to fathom for the average person. He appeared and spoke in a prophet like way, but he left the choice of following and belief up to the individual. So as we finish the bread of life section today, we find the crowd and at the same time the people of John’s time of writing the gospel perplexed and questioning the whole idea of the bread from heaven and the eating and drinking the flesh and blood in the sacrificial offering of the cross. How can we eat his flesh?
The question or belief in the Eucharist is a faith question that all deal with one time or another. Clearly Christ said this is my body and blood, The how and the why is simply that it is for us for our journey here and for life to come. In life, we do not question love and someone’s looking out for us, so why should we question or doubt what he has done and continues to do.
Yet, in today’s gospel, we see that many walked away, many who could not open their hearts to the word and the embrace of God’s love, either through selfishness, or because they shut themselves within themselves, In his love, Jesus let them go, free to choose, free to believe, free to go where their choices took them. No harsh words or condemnation, but simply he let them go, always ready to welcome them again.
And so it is our bread of life, our bread for now and the future is here for us to share and to live out in our world today and to prepare for the time to come. Like Peter we say, “Lord to whom can we go?”
Wednesday of the Twentieth Week of the Year (August 19, 2015) Inclusive Lectionary Texts
Readings- Judges – Chapter 9 verses 6-15 / Psalm 21 verses 2-7 /
Matthew – Chapter 20 verses 1-16
Dear friends, we see that Jesus shows us the example that blessed is the one who lives without expectation, for they won’t be disappointed. We see this so much in the secular world. Even in my place of employment, I hear coworkers say that they should be paid more comparing themselves with workers of equal status who they feel have less work obligations then they do. Instead of being so jealous or resentful, we should rejoice in the fact, that yes our neighbor has been granted something equal or better than us. This reinforces Gods unconditional love for all of us and helps us to be open for the many blessings that are waiting for us. This is what makes us children of the Kingdom of God that is here and now.
rev. Michael Theogene
Tuesday of the Twentieth Week of the Year (August 18, 2015) Inclusive Lectionary Texts
Readings- Judges – Chapter 6 verses 11-24 / Psalm 85 verses 8 & 10-13 /
Matthew – Chapter 19 verses 23-30
Dear friends, God speaks to us over and over again through people or situations. God wishes to give us God’s peace. God’s peace surpasses all understanding beyond our own knowledge. Peace comes with letting go of our idea of what true peace is. It is within. When we let all the walls down and listen to the small voice within, peace gently enters our heart.
If we are truly poor in spirit, worldly possessions will not faze us. We will be able to share everything we have without feeling we need those things. If we place all our hope in material things then we will never understand about the kingdom of heaven. It is easy to say, but letting go of our possessions is difficult for most people because it is a false security. Holding on to things, people, places, ideas etc, prevent us from truly being poor in spirit. When Jesus was talking about the rich person’s difficulty attaining heaven, he was not saying we couldn’t have things, he was saying that if we let those possessions rule our life; they would block us from having true peace. So let us open our hearts and free ourselves of all that prevents us from loving and sharing.
rev. Michael Theogene
Monday of the Twentieth Week of the Year (August 17, 2015) Inclusive Lectionary Texts
Readings- Judges – Chapter 2 verses 11-19 / Psalm 106 verses 34-37, 39-40, 43 & 44 /
Matthew – Chapter 19 verses 16-22
Friends, I don’t know about you, but I have asked myself that very question of myself from time to time. I never seem to get a response either of myself or from somewhere else. What must we do to inherit eternal life? What must I do in order to be good? If we have been doing the required works of what we believe is expected of us, then what must we do then to be complete?
I think it goes beyond what is presented before us. In Jesus’ infinite wisdom he spoke of these things as a stepping stone, probably knowing full well that it would always eventually include more things. Of course, if we do not love God by not loving our neighbor, or giving up what keeps us loving fully, (i.e. possessions) then we ought to work on it. We have to find the necessary tools in order to work with.
I think sometimes it’s us who can’t give up our old ways, our old thoughts, and our old self. I think it can be me sometimes sayings I can’t change now, I am not ready, I will change later. A lot of us sometime say that we are not ready now. We are so afraid to change, we are so afraid of the unknown, we choose to stay the way we are.
In my life, I am finishing school course work that has taken me six years. I was going to be on the ten year plan. I certainly was not going to complete it as most do in three to four. I remember even while working secular employment, the pressures and deadlines for assignments were difficult. In my earlier years in this study, I would get so paralyzed in writing a major paper, would end up not doing it, asking for an extension and then suffering still in doing the assignment. All I did was delay my suffering. I would become so fearful in doing the paper that I hurt myself and others around me.
My wife has taught me a saying that she would always say to her students. Fear, what is fear? Fear, F.E.A.R. is false evidence appearing real. It is when we allow fear to enter our lives and take hold, paralyzing us, keeping us away from all that is good is when we are not doing what is required of us. Doing the corporal works of mercy, fully loving ourselves and others, living with compassion and mercy and being non judgmental is then and only then that we truly give up ourselves. Not just hearing this, but doing this as best we can is why we don’t go away sad.
rev. Michael Theogene
Inclusive Lectionary Texts
Readings- Proverbs – Chapter 9 verses 1-6 / Psalm 34 /
Ephesians – Chapter 5 verses 15-20 / John – Chapter 6 verses 48-58
Sisters and brothers wisdom in this passage is referred to as a woman who has built her house, prepared food and drink and set a royal table. She sends out an invitation to those who are simple to come and share her food and drink and discuss how to walk the path of understanding Gods ways. The discussion continues with Paul’s guidance about how to conduct oneself by using your time well, allowing yourself to be open to the Holy Spirit, meditating on psalms, hymns spiritual songs, being joyful in your heart. He goes on to say always give thanks to God for everything. It concludes with Jesus saying He is the bread of life and we must eat his body and drink his blood in order to have life. What controversy this caused. What does it mean? I believe Jesus was trying to tell us that we must feast on the example of Jesus life. He lived every second of his life serving God. It was never about bringing attention to him. It was about how much God loves us unconditionally. Jesus wanted us to feed on his life so that we were nourished in God and in turn others can feed on our lives and experience Gods love and pass it on. So let us feast on the richness of God’s beauty and love found in others and in ourselves. We are the body and blood of Christ.
rev. Michael Theogene