Sisters and brothers!
For you who are in the United States, I wish each of you a happy Thanksgiving, and for you who are around the globe, I give thanks for your faith and hope (and your visits to this website.) I started writing, “Carry the gospel with you,” every day about five years ago. I feel now, as I did five years ago, called to do this. I apologize I haven’t posted in the last few weeks. I’ve been traveling in California and Arizona since November 11 visiting family and completing some work. When I left D.C., I didn’t intend to take a break from, “Carry the gospel with you,” but it just kind of happened. I think I needed a break to refresh a bit. I get home to Washington on December 3, but I will start publishing again, “Carry the gospel with you,” on the first day of the new liturgical year, the first Sunday in Advent, December 1.
Grace and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ!
As we begin December, the new liturgical year begins and the gospels cycle to the readings of year A, with the gospels switching from Luke to Matthew. At the same time the season of Advent begins as we rapidly approach Christmas. Typically you would think that the beginning of a new year would be a big celebration similar to what we do January first. However, the church calendar singles out the theme of Christ’s second coming and the end of the world. Matthew tells us to be watchful and be prepared as like a thief in the night, we have no idea when Christ will come. The expectation of Christ’s return was expected soon by the early Christians, but as Matthew wrote the wars and other signs of the end such as storms and earthquakes even including the destruction of the temple had happened and still Christ had not come. Christ’s contemporaries were dieing Certainly death was the end and Christ was there to meet them with his Father. Certainly the message to be prepared and ready always was one that is pertinent even to today. All of us face God’s judgment, but the how and when and the mysteries of time and space and the Spiritual is really beyond our comprehension now save for the eyes of faith. Losing a loved one or even facing death itself is terrifying to some and welcome to others depending on their faith and their disposition to God. Hopefully, our earthly life is only a mirror or preparation for a future life. How we are now certainly is going to be what we will be. If we ignore God’s call now, What can we expect for the future. But then, remember that all is not lost. God’s love is never-ending and faithful and is always ready to embrace us. Until the moment we have no more earthly life we can surrender to that love, we can seek forgiveness and still be with Him. The thing is it must be sincere and timely. Procrastination can be dangerous as we could be too late. If we don’t know the day or the hour, why do we wait. When we go to an important event, we go in plenty of time. We prepare and we wait so as to share in all the event’s happenings. Yet, what is more important than our eternal future? What have we done to prepare? If we are living our lives right, then we are prepared and there should be no fear. Only you and your God know your readiness. Only you can judge yourself and only God knows you as well as you know yourself and can judge you also. So today we are reminded to look at ourself and if there is anything we need to change, now is the time and opportunity to do so.
Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent, Year A 2013-14
Please consider buying Bishop Ron’s collection of Year A homilies: Teaching the Church Year, available on Amazon.com.
Happy Church New Year! Many of my homilies this year are going to be about a theme that I think is very important and that is certainly part of Matthew’s Gospel, which is the prominent Gospel that we will be reading this year. That theme is the the mandate that we have been given to spread our faith throughout the world. This “evangelizing” is quite different than proselytizing, however. Most Catholics are turned off and even horrified by the attempts of some Christians to attempt to convert. Throughout the year we will come to learn the difference.
As we do each year, however, we begin the year with Advent. In Latin the word “adventus” signifies a coming, much similar to the “coming attractions” that we get when we go see a movie. We don’t see the whole new movie, but we get a taste of what it is to be about in order to prepare ourselves for it, to attract us to it. So it is with the season of Advent. We begin to prepare for an event which, of course, has already happened, but which happens again each year in celebration, so that the Incarnation can be constantly made new and kept in our hearts.
Secondly, we are asked to prepare for that coming attraction. The readings are carefully selected to do just that – they aren’t the whole readings, but snatches of themes and sentiments and truths that help us get ready. If we do our job, if we pay attention, actively get ready, spiritually turn ourselves around, we can best make use of the Advent experience and make Christmas a really new beginning and a fresh start. The hustle and bustle of the season can become more peaceful, and we will tend to think of others more than ourselves.
So, how do we begin? We begin by going up to the house of the Lord. This theme, expressed both in Isaiah and the Psalm set up our journey over the next four weeks. Like a commercial for a new movie, the themes of Advent and Christmas are flashed before us – the establishment of the Lord’s house, the coming of all the nations, the word of the Lord being given to us, peace instead of war, and mostly the image of “light” coming into the world. Both the Psalm and the first reading are filled with these quick images.
But it is in the second reading that the dominant theme of light shines through clearly. St. Paul tells us in Romans that we need to wake from our sleep, that morning light is arriving, and we too need to cast off the night and put on the clothing of light, the armor of light. This is the preparation that we need to make according to Paul. This new clothing is Jesus Christ himself, and so we need to prepare to wear these clothes by living as honorably as we can – and we remember how important honor was to the Hebrew! – we prepare by subduing the things in our life that get in the way of light – constant partying, drunkenness, inordinate sexual pleasures, promiscuity, fighting and jealousy. These things must be purged in order to dress in the clothing of light – the clothing which is Jesus Christ. And it is our job of preparation to get our bodies ready for Jesus’ birth once again.
Even though this is the first of the Church Year, our first reading from Matthew’s Gospel is not from the beginning but is the 24th chapter. The point it is referencing is not the Nativity for which we prepare in Advent, but the second Coming of Christ, and there are similarities, of course, in both. Coming the first time, Jesus still had to do the work and die for us. He has already done that, and we have already been saved. His second Coming also needs preparation, and we can learn from our preparation in Advent, that the same things are required of us throughout life in awaiting Jesus’ coming again.
We recall that the early Christians thought that the coming was going to be very soon. When this Gospel was written, many felt that it could be any day – and they were right – it could be any day, and it still could be.
Similar to Paul’ words – Jesus says that we must stay awake to the possibilities of that Coming. We must keep our bodies prepared to meet Christ, to put on Christ. Nobody knows when this is going to happen. Just as we could die any time and meet our Maker before Christ’s Second coming, we need to be prepared for both eventualities.
So it seems rather clear that Advent is a time when we examine our lives, when we sort out our weaknesses and our sins, and we attempt to cast those aside, ask for forgiveness and begin again. We want to have our bodies ready to take on Jesus at Christmas. We are to “prepare the way of the Lord” as we so often hear in Isaiah and John the Baptist’s words.
Today, also, we have the first ‘evangelizing’ reference when Isaiah says “all the nations shall stream” to the “mountain of the Lord’s house.” The message to go out to all the world and spread the Good News that Christ came for all, is one of the continuing messages of the Gospels. I would like you to begin to think about how your life might be a preview or coming attraction for another person to see. When someone observes your life, sees you in action and in contemplation, do they see you wearing Christ. This is the first step in evangelization – living our faith so that all nations can recognize it. More about that in the weeks to come!
I would also like to suggest that an Advent calendar is a great way to keep focused on the time of Advent and to look forward to Christmas. It is not just for kids, but can be useful for all of us, to daily bring our attention to the fact that we must prepare ourselves and cast off sins and weaknesses. We must try to find something that will help us to keep this in mind. If an Advent calendar doesn’t work – how about we try a simple reading each day. Our parish website can direct us to the National Church CACINA website which has a daily prayer to keep us focused, for example. Then there are Advent programs that we can purchase online – daily meditations, that can help us focus.
Whatever we decide, let us make a New Year’s resolution today to try to find something to center our attention on how we can prepare for the coming of Christ. We’ve just heard the coming attraction for Christmas in our fours readings – now we have to decide whether and how we will get ourselves ready for it.
And this is the Good News that always helps us to see the light of any season!
Bishop Ron Stephens
Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity diocese of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA.
I’ve been traveling, and getting the daily reflections done has been a problem. As soon as I can, I will be back with “Carry the gospel with you.” Peace.
Gospel reading of the day:
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Then they asked him, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
“Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: The gospel passage that we read today was written at a particular moment in history when a lot was going wrong in the world and especially for the Christian community. Jesus spoke during his ministry about troubles that would come down the road, and Luke believed that the things that Jesus foretold had already come to pass. In recording this passage, Luke is essentially telling us, “See, you can trust Jesus’ word. He foresaw our present impasse, and the things that Jesus said which haven’t yet come true are therefore also reliable.” Every age has troubles. Human suffering from natural and human-made causes is not the unique property of any given time. A sense that the end of the world and Jesus’ return must be imminent has been the experience of Christians across the two millenniums since the Lord’s lifetime among us as a human. But whatever the eschatological dimensions of this passage may suggest about Luke’s day, our own, and the final one, there is a consistent lesson that Christians may draw from this gospel reading, and that is that Jesus’ word is entirely trustworthy, and we do well to rely
on him. We should not fear the future. History must run its course, and we need to live the gospel of love as we wait upon our Lord.
Spiritual reading: Divine action is always new and fresh, it never retraces its steps, but always finds new routes. When we are led by this action, we have no idea where we are going, for the paths we tread cannot be discovered from books or by any of our thoughts. But these paths are always opened in front of us and we are impelled along them. Imagine we are in a strange district at night and are crossing fields unmarked by any path, but we have a guide. He asks no advice nor tells us of his plans. So what can we do except trust him? (Abandonment to Divine Providence by Pére Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J.)
Gospel reading of the day:
Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Yesterday’s gospel suggested that while we go about the humdrum of daily life, the presence of God can so transform our existence that even while we perform very simple acts, like sleeping or accomplishing a monotonous chore, our lives become transcendent. Today’s gospel, the passage which follows immediately on yesterday’s reading, tells us how. Jesus counsels us to pray always. I do not believe this is an idle teaching. For most of us, prayer seems like a mechanical activity which we may do just at certain times and certain situations, like while standing or kneeling in the pews on Sunday. Jesus in today’s gospel is telling us that prayer is as essential to our lives as breathing. We, however, are really busy, and creating space, both physical and temporal, for prayer, given all the pressures exerted on daily existence, is difficult. Jesus also was very busy, but his counsel that we pray always suggests he had an attitude and outlook on prayer which was not the same as ours. For Jesus, to pray meant living continually in God’s presence. As Blessed Charles de Foucauld observed, “Our entire person should breathe Jesus. All our actions and our entire life should proclaim that we belong to Jesus.” Even our smiling can be a song of praise to God. Praying in the broadest sense means that our whole lives tell, as Charles concluded, “Jesus lives within us, by the way that our actions are Jesus’ actions, working in and through us.” Prayer, in the sense of unceasing prayer, is cultivating an awareness of God’s presence from moment to moment in our lives. Jesus is inviting us in this gospel passage to become incarnate prayer.
Saint of the day: In the early hours of November 16, 1989, US-trained commandos of the Salvadoran armed forces entered the campus of the Jesuits’ university, the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), and brutally murdered six Jesuits together with two women who were sleeping in a parlor attached to their residence. The Jesuits were: the university rector Ignacio Ellacuría, 59, an internationally known philosopher; Segundo Montes, 56, head of the Sociology Department and the UCA’s human rights institute; Ignacio Martín-Baró, 44, the pioneering social psychologist who headed the Psychology Department and the polling institute; theology professors Juan Ramón Moreno, 56, and Armando López, 53; and Joaquín López y López, 71, founding head of the Fe y Alegría network of schools for the poor. Joaquín was the only native Salvadoran, the others having arrived long before from Spain as young seminarians. Julia Elba Ramos, the wife of a caretaker at the UCA, and their daughter Celina, 16, were eliminated to ensure that there would be no witnesses. Ironically, the women had sought refuge from the noise of gunfire near their cottage on the edge of the campus. Julia Elba cooked for the Jesuit seminarians living near the UCA.
As early as the 1990s, the UCA massacre became the crime that would not go away. Thanks to international pressure, including a US Congressional Task Force, we learned who the real killers were. Outraged US citizens, especially Catholics, pressured their government to cut off the military aid that was indispensable for the conduct of the war. By then, it was becoming more difficult to justify the war as a defence against the international Communist threat. The massacre at the UCA took place at exactly the time that Berliners began knocking down their famous iron curtain wall. In El Salvador, the scandal generated by the murders helped to speed up the peace negotiations and later, by discrediting the Salvadoran military, to consolidate the peace. Like many others, the UCA martyrs were killed for the way they lived, that is, for how they expressed their faith in love.
Spiritual reading: May my soul bless you, O Lord God my Creator, may my soul bless you. From the very core of my being may all your merciful gifts sing your praise. Your generous care for your daughter has been rich in mercy; indeed it has been immeasurable, and as far as I am able I give you thanks. (Gertrude the Great)
As Thanksgiving approaches and thoughts turn to family and holiday celebrations, the church liturgical year is again coming to an end with the next to last passage of the readings cycle from Luke. It is good to keep in mind that when we read today’s passage, the events described have all taken place as Luke was written about 80 AD. The Christians have seen persecution, wars, the betrayal of Jesus, his death and resurrection. They saw the temple being destroyed and Israel completely dominated by Rome. Persecution of the Christians was a common thing in their time and the gospel was encouraging them to not be fearful and to carry on. They should not be anxious over their immediate place and condition. God in the Holy Spirit would be with them to enable them to continue on in their belief and practice of Christianity and would help them in any persecution they might have to endure. The only fear they should have is fear in the other sense, a sense of awe or respect that we have when we are in the presence of another who is in one way or another greater or more important than ourself, such as God or an employer for instance.
In every century, there have been present the signs mentioned in the gospel. There have been wars, famines, earthquakes, storms and every other kind of disasters. There is climate change and earth warming, but as yet the world continues on. However, these signs and happenings are very real for some of our sisters and brothers who have gone before us. For them the end of their time on earth has come. What is to come for us and when the finality of creation will come or even what it means is really beyond what we could know or understand. As our knowledge grows we become more aware of death and war and disasters and all the harmful distressing things happening in our world. Yet Christ’s message to carry on, to endure every hardship and condition and to be faithful remains and gives us assurance and comfort as we seek to live out our daily life in the peace and love bestowed on us. Certainly, in subtle ways, our faith and our solidarity are tested by unbelief and disdain. A cynicism and indifference to religion seems to have arisen in our time, but by this we are even more strongly called to endure and be faithful and witness. Every day is a new beginning for us with every evening concluding and bringing us a new day. Living this cycle keeps us in the love of God and places us with him now and for all time to come. The time and turmoil of this world in one way or another will end and our passage to a life that really matters will put us standing before God our Father with the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit advocating for us.
As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: While the gospel yesterday suggested God owes us no debt of gratitude, today’s gospel suggests that our gratitude to God heals and saves us. We sometimes feel gratitude as a natural impulse, as the Samaritan in today’s story did. But we are not powerless in our feelings of gratitude. Gratitude is a choice we can make from moment to moment, and we can make it, if we choose it often enough, a habit of life. When things are rough, and we feel anguish, we can become quiet for a few minutes, mindfully attending to our breaths, and then think of some great benefit that came to us in one moment of our lives or another and try to experience the emotion we felt in that instant of blessing. Doing this at different points in the day, several times a day, will make gratitude the choice elect, smooth our hearts, and make them supple to feel God’s loving presence as we make our way.
Saint of the day: Carl Lampert was born in Austria on January 9, 1894, the youngest of seven children of farmers Franz Xaver Lampert and his wife Maria Rosina Lampert. Though his father died when Carl was young, he was able to continue school because of an uncle who cared for him. Carl Lampert was ordained as a priest in Brixen in 1918. After studying canonical law in Rome, he was appointed in 1935 director of the ecclesiastical court in the Apostolic Administration of Feldkirch. In 1939 he became pro-vicar of Innsbruck.
Carl Lampert was arrested several times for his protests against Nazi church policy and finally imprisoned in Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. After his release in August 1941, the Gestapo compelled Lampert to take up residence in Mecklenburg-Pomerania. He found accommodation in Stettin and assisted in ministry in the vicinity of the city. Even in exile, Lampert retained his critical attitude to the regime, unaware that he was under Gestapo observation. His discussions, telephone calls, and correspondence were under surveillance. In February 1943 Carl Lampert was arrested again along with 40 others and accused of high treason, espionage, undermining army morale, and aiding the enemy. He was severely maltreated during interrogation. The Gestapo accused him not only of expressing his opinions on the deportation of Jews and the murder of patients from psychiatric clinics but also of listening to foreign radio stations and “giving aid and comfort” to forced laborers
Together with two other priests, Father Herbert Simoleit and Father Friedrich Lorenz, he was beheaded on November 13, 1944. He died speaking the names of Jesus and Mary. He was beatified in 2011.
Spiritual reading: If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough. (Meister Eckhart)
Jesus said to the Apostles: “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus teaches that God owes us no debt of gratitude when we do what God asks of us. God’s generosity to us is so great that we are not able to make even the slightest restitution. Jesus asks us to keep this in mind so we don’t become puffed up in pride. What Jesus does not say here but does say elsewhere is that God loves us and that when we carry the gospel with us in our daily lives, does indeed rejoice for our union with God.
Saint of the day: Blessed Bishop Gregory (Hryhorii) Lakota was born on January 31, 1883 in the village of Holodivka, in Lemko Region in the Ukraine. He studied theology in Lviv and was ordained to the priesthood in 1908 in the city of Przemysl. In Vienna, in 1911, he received his Ph.D. in theology. In 1913, he became a professor at the Greek Catholic seminary in Przemysl, later becoming its rector.
On May 16, 1926, he was ordained to the episcopacy and was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Przemysl. On June 9, 1946, he was arrested for his faith and sentenced to be imprisoned for 10 years in Vorkuta, Russia. He died in prison as a martyr for the faith on November 12, 1950, in the village of Abez, Vorkuta, Russia. He was beatified in June 2001.
Spiritual reading: People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It never was between you and them anyway. (Mother Teresa)