Homily for The Epiphany of the Lord, Year B 2015

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on December 28, 2014

The Epiphany of the Lord, Year B 2015

St. Paul talk to the Ephesians today about the mystery that had been  made known to him by Revelation. It was something that no one ever understood before, and that was that God had now invited non-Jews into what had been the birthright only of the Hebrew nation. All these years God had chosen only one people as his heirs, but now he was opening his kingdom up to all people. This revelation was indeed an ‘epiphany’ for Paul, if by the word epiphany we mean “seeing the light” and coming to a new understanding. As a practicing and devout Jew Paul had taken pride in the fact that he was among the chosen people and had been very strict in his following of the letter of the law of the Jewish commandments, not admitting even free thinkers into that company. That was why he had persecuted the early church. But Paul literally saw the light on one of his journeys, and was thrown off a horse and blinded by it. And in that epiphany, he saw Christ and learned that he was to open the gate to the Gentiles allowing them to become the chosen people of God.

While the feast of the Epiphany we celebrate today isn’t about Paul’s own epiphany, it is quite fitting that this reading was chosen because the Gospel today describes an Epiphany in which men who were not Jews but probably astrologers, saw in the sky a star or a falling star which they believed heralded the birth of someone who would change the world as they knew it. They sought out this person in the story we hear today, following the trajectory of the star and arriving in Judea sought this person. It came to the attention of King Herod who was fearful of someone removing him from the throne, especially since his own counsellors recount the prophecies of the prophets, like Isaiah, telling of this event.

There were, of course, prophets who talked about all the nations worshipping the one Hebrew God. The first reading we have of the prophet Isaiah today is probably the most influential of these. The idea of seeing the light is expressed as God’s glory shining in the darkness, and because of this, kings and nations shall realize that God exists, and all shall come to God.

In the Gospel today the wise men from the East are possibly used by Matthew to express the truth that Christ, by his Incarnation, has started the process whereby all men and women can be the heirs of God. By using the references to Isaiah and creating the Kings who bring gold, frankincense and myrrh to the child, Matthew is able to tie in the non-literal prophecy of Isaiah with he reality that he wants to present – that this child was to redeem all people, and with his death, salvation was open to all nations. It is interesting that Matthew added myrrh to the story – you may have noted that in Isaiah the kings just bring gold and frankincense. The myrrh is an important addition because myrrh was used in the embalming of someone, and it is Matthew’s way of preparing the reader of the death and sacrifice which was to com in his story.

It is not important whether or not we believe there were actually three wise men or not because it is the truth behind the story that we need to get to in order to have the Gospel affect out own lives. The truth is that God has sent Jesus, the light that shines in darkness, to bring about the salvation of all the world. The truth is that we have been saved, that we have been given a gift that we don’t even deserve, all because God has chosen us, and in his infinite mercy and seen fir to reward us this way. It is not that we have been good and so have been rewarded, but actually the reverse. We have been rewarded not for anything we have done, but must now express our thanks by acting in a good way. As usual, God has reversed the human way of thinking and interacting.

If we get anything from the feast of the Epiphany today, I hope it is that we need to express our thanks to God more often, we need to realize that in trying every day to be a better, more perfect human being, we are just reciprocating what God has done to us. It is a different way of thinking about things – and so, maybe we all can have an epiphany of sorts today as well, as we look at our relationship with God in a new light.

And this is the bright and glorious Good News I present to you 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 for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Homily 4th Sunday of Advent at Holy Trinity Parish December 21, 2014

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on December 21, 2014

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Two Homilies for Christmas 2014 (Midnight and During the Day)

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ethics, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on December 21, 2014

1. Homily for the Feast of Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord  (At night) 2014-15

“The Angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.” I read somewhere that the phrase “Do not be afraid” occurs around over 100 times in the Bible. There is a lot of fearfulness going round, and you might think it strange that I would choose the theme of fear to talk about this evening. But I think it is a really important concept with regard to Christmas.

Ancient people, more so than today, were afraid of the dark. Today we protect ourselves from the dark and so we may not be quite as fearful, but darkness was always something to be frightened about throughout history.

So when Isaiah calls us a people of darkness in the first reading, one of the images that connotes is that we are a fearful people. And though now we have night lights to protect us from the dark, we are today still a very fearful people. Our world has become very complex in its global boundaries. We find ourselves being drawn in by the exaggerations and fear mongering of the media, for example. Ebola was one such issue this year.

And if we don’t worry about dying from some horrible disease or catching it when we travel, we may worry about the state of the economy, the loss of our jobs, the fear of a penniless retirement, constant anxiety about our health and the high cost of maintaining it. God knows there are so many things to be fearful of today.

The world was smaller for Mary and Joseph, yet they had their worries in the Gospel stories: what would Joseph do when he discovered Mary was pregnant, how would they get all the way to Bethlehem to be registered, and where would they stay, what if she delivered the baby wile they traveled, and even after tonight’s section, would the child be murdered by Herod, how could they leave everything and flee into Egypt?

Fear can occupy our minds and the media preys on that. But what message are we constantly hearing from God’s word? “Do not be afraid”. “Do not be afraid!”

Listen again to some of the beautiful reminders of this in Scripture:

In Genesis we hear: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)

Moses answered the people in Exodus: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance…” (Exodus 14:13)

Again in Deuteronomy we are told: “Do not be afraid; for the Lord God goes with you.” (Deuteronomy 31.6)

“Then the Lord said to Joshua, in the Book of Joshua: “Do not be afraid of them. I have given them into your hand.” (Joshua 10:18)

And in Chronicles we are admonished: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you” (1 Chronicles 28.20)

The Psalms use it many times. “Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Ps 23)

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom should I fear? (Psalm 27.1)

“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. (Psalm 118.6)

Especially in the Prophets like Isaiah we hear: “So do not fear, for I am with you.” Isaiah (41:10)

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you (Isaiah 41:13)

Moving into the New Testament Paul tells us: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear… (Romans 8:15)

And Peter says: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” (1 Peter 3:14)

And finally John summarizes: “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1 John 4:18

I could go on and on, and still haven’t gotten to the many times in the Gospels that Jesus himself tells us not to be afraid and offers us his peace.

So, all through Bible history, this recurring theme has been one of casting aside our fears because we walk with God, and that is why on this Christmas Eve we celebrate the actuality of the promise and the request made of us by our God: Do not be afraid.

Why? Why do we no longer need to be afraid? Because to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. God has provided because he is now incarnate, God is with us in the person of Jesus. This little child, this wholly dependent person, this God who has chosen to become one of us because he loves us. And one of the purposes of this is to take away our fear.

And that is one reason that Christmas is for me such a joyous season. If we recognize the immensity of the incarnation, of God becoming a human, we can cast aside our fears, and trust that a ‘history’ of promises has been fulfilled, that Christ is Emmanuel – God with us – and we no longer need to be fearful of anything.

Whenever you look at the image of the Christ child this week, think about how giving yourself up to trust in God’s Son can free s from the many fears that surround us today, and to help us live as Paul has said to Titus today: self-controlled, upright and godly… a people who are zealous for good deeds. If we can do that, we will have no fear for we will know that our reward will continue in the world to come.

A blessed Christmas to all of you, and help spread the Good News, not to be afraid.


Homily for the Feast of Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord  (During the Day) 2014-15

There are four Masses composed for Christmas Day, which really shows how important this feast is to the Church. The first three, the Vigil, Midnight Mass and Mass at Dawn all use the Nativity story that we are so familiar with regarding the birth of Christ. The fourth, the one we are celebrating during the day today, does not tell that story.  Instead, it draws from the Gospel of St. John, written a decade or so after the other three Gospels, and which takes for granted the birth narrative. What this Gospel does, is raises the story of Christ’s birth to the level of symbol and archetype, and looks at the theological meaning behind the Incarnation, the becoming human, of Jesus.

It is the beginning of his Gospel and is exceptionally poetic in its language. In this prologue John sets out to establish the natural and supernatural, the human and the divine origin of Jesus.

John symbolically says that Jesus is the Word of God. If you remember, the very opening of Genesis in the Bible starts the same way with the words “In the beginning…” and the first thing God does is “says” something. Jesus is then equated with that act of saying, that “word”. He is God, he has always existed with God – Jesus existed before God created, and he was involved in the creation.

It was through the Word, Jesus, that life came to be, including human life. Then immediately, John moves into one of the great themes of his Gospel, the theme of light. In Jesus “was life and the life was the light of the human race .The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

So now what John has done is establish the divine origin of Jesus and so, he moves into the human origin of Jesus. But again, he does not tell a story as do Matthew and Luke, but he talks about Jesus coming into the world as light, a theme which was often in Isaiah when Isaiah talked about a Messiah.

John treats John the Baptist very quickly, only saying that his purpose was to let people know that the light was soon coming. And this light comes into the world as a human being: “and the Word became flesh and lived among us”. God becomes human in order to enlighten the world. Before Jesus they only had the law, but now, John says, with the light they will be able to see that they also have grace and truth, and the way we come to know God, because no one has ever seen God, he says, is to see Jesus – God made visible.

Paul in the letter to the Hebrews says the same theological teaching even before John did: Jesus “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word”. So the Incarnation for both Paul and John is a cosmic event, an event like no other. That is why for them the celebration of Christ’s birth would be so important a feast.

I was never really very good at science but I thought to look up in a lighting book I had, what were the physical qualities of light according to Physics. There were five listed: Intensity, Form, Color, Direction and Movement.

If ‘intensity’ refers to the strength of a light source, we can see that this metaphor in John says that the strength of Jesus’ light is very great for it shines over the whole universe. Isaiah today and our Psalm response says: all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. It is that intensity of light which allows for all people to see and recognize Jesus.

The second quality of light was ‘form’ which allows us to see things in depth and in dimension because it has variances in shades. It is why the whole world can see Jesus but don’t all accept him. They didn’t allow themselves to see his form clearly but allowed interference and shadow, so that John can say: yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him.

The third quality is “color”, and light is made up of all the colors, just as Jesus is everything to all people. We used to speak years ago of “glorious” Technicolor. This is the “glory” of which John and Paul speak: “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only begotten son…”

The fourth quality is ‘direction’, so for example, if you walk around a candle, it sheds light in all directions. John is very clear in terms of direction that Jesus was “the true light, which enlightens everyone.”

And finally, light has ‘movement’ which means it can change. Perhaps it is that metaphoric quality of light which allowed God to change – to become a human child, helpless and insignificant. For John, this becomes the fact that no-one has ever seen God, but the reflection of this child will make known the heart of God the Father.

So it is significant that this fourth Mass of Christmas raises the birth event to new theological heights and puts a perspective on it that has made this prologue to John’s Gospel one of the most stirring and beautiful documents in the Bible.  It may not have the sentimentality and story line of the other two Evangelists, but it can make us better understand why Jesus is the true light and why his coming into the world today is such an important event and always be.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas celebration and hope that the light of Christ can enlighten your hearts and your homes today. And this is the very Good News of the Incarnation that or Gospel writer gives us 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 for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Carry the Word with you

Posted in scripture by Mike on December 20, 2014

40a8beeb0b264c5bbdcb7b30b1cc1e75_w600Saturday of the Third Week of Advent, Cycle 1

First reading of the day:

Isaiah 7:10-14

The LORD spoke to Ahaz: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” Then Isaiah said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

tumblr_inline_mgo9e5PyT31qggdq1But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Reflection on the readings: God is tricky: the Lord of surprise and master of the expected. When Isaiah uttered his prophecy, he almost certainly did not appreciate the deepest meaning of what he was saying; he was telling Ahaz that God was faithful and a new king, Ahaz’s son Hezekiah, was to be born. But the words echoed in a small town of Galilee centuries later when a young girl said yes to God’s plan. God is the God of the big picture. Pointillism is a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image. When viewed close up, the points are indecipherable, but viewed at a distance, the painting is intelligible and full of meaning. God is the great pointillist. Isaiah, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Mary, you, me–we are dots of color on this huge canvas God is painting. What we shall become is only to be revealed at a distance: we cannot know now what surprise God is creating. Advent is the season of expectancy: what we are waiting for is coming but all we can know is that it will surprise us when it arrive.

Carry the Word with you

Posted in scripture by Mike on December 18, 2014

Daily-Prayer-GospelFriday of the Third Week of Advent, Cycle 1

First reading of the day:

There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren and had borne no children. An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Though you are barren and have had no children, yet you will conceive and bear a son. Now, then, be careful to take no wine or strong drink and to eat nothing unclean. As for the son you will conceive and bear, no razor shall touch his head, for this boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb. It is he who will begin the deliverance of Israel from the power of the Philistines.” The woman went and told her husband, “A man of God came to me; he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed. I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name. But he said to me, ‘You will be with child and will bear a son. So take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For the boy shall be consecrated to God from the womb, until the day of his death.’” The woman bore a son and named him Samson. The boy grew up and the LORD blessed him; the Spirit of the LORD stirred him.

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 1:5-25

In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years.

Once when he was serving as priest in his division’s turn before God, according to the practice of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense. Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense. Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but remained mute.

Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home. After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”

Reflection on the readings: Advent is nothing if it is not the season of hope. The central figures in both of the readings today are women who have aged too far to give birth to children. In both readings, an angel announces that God has chosen these women to bear offspring with special missions. In both these cases, God defies every natural expectation and turns lives that were winding down into fresh and unexpected adventures.

All of us enter periods in our lives when our creativity diminishes, and we are certain we have nothing more to give. The readings, and the season of Advent itself, tell a very different story about our temptation to despair. When we are sure that time has passed us by, and we are certain we are finished and nothing more will change, God is always prepared to make everything new again. God is never finished with us until we have breathed our last, and even then, God continues to renew the world we have left behind with the lessons inherent in our lives.

Saint of the day

Posted in saints by Mike on December 18, 2014

alice domon y léoni duquet Léonie Duquet and Alice Domon were French nuns who were arrested in December 1977 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and subsequently disappeared. Léonie Duquet was born in 1916 in France, where she grew up in a Catholic family. Interested in service in the Church, Léonie joined the Institute of Sisters in Foreign Missions Notre-Dame de la Motte. After taking vows as a nun, she traveled and worked as a missionary internationally. She was assigned to work in Argentina in the early 1970s and dedicated herself to helping Argentina’s poor. She worked among them in Buenos Aires province as well as in the capital city.

Alice Domon was born in in 1937 in Charquemont in France’s Doubs region. As a girl she entered the Sisters of the Foreign Missions. Sister Alice moved to Argentina in 1967, where she lived in Hurlingham and Morón, of the industrial corridor of Buenos Aires. She taught catechism to handicapped persons and worked with the poor. Domon was dedicated to her social work with the inhabitants of shanty towns. In 1971 she went to Corrientes to collaborate with the Ligas Agrarias organization, which was formed by the small producers of cotton.

Following the military coup of March 24, 1976, the junta began extreme repression of political opponents and state terrorism. Domon decided to get involved with human rights organizations. Upon Léonie Duquet and Alice Domonher return to Corrientes, she lodged at Léonie Duquet’s house. In December 1977, Sisters Alice and Léonie, along with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and other human rights activists, prepared a request for the names of those who disappeared and for the government to divulge their whereabouts. Between Thursday, December 8 and Saturday, December 10, 1977, a group under the command of Alfredo Astiz, a Marine captain and intelligence officer, kidnapped a group of 12 people connected with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Among them were Sisters Alice and Léonie. Astiz had infiltrated the group, posing as a family member of a desaparacido and using a false name. Either on December 17 or December 18, 1977, the two Sisters and the rest of their group were “transferred” (a euphemism used by the military when murdering dissidents) to the military airport in Buenos Aires. They were put in a Marine plane and thrown out of the plane while still alive, landing in the sea off the coast of Santa Teresita, where they died as soon as they hit the water.

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Carry the Word with you

Posted in scripture by Mike on December 17, 2014

10603744_910808098953561_1111979689989480458_nThursday of the Third Week of Advent, Cycle 1

First reading of the day:

Jeremiah 23:5-8

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name they give him: “The LORD our justice.”

Therefore, the days will come, says the LORD, when they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives, who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt”; but rather, “As the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of the house of Israel up from the land of the north and from all the lands to which I banished them”; they shall again live on their own land.

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 1:18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a mary-and-joseph-with-jesus.jpgdream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Under Jewish law, Joseph as Mary’s betrothed had a right to sexual relations with Mary. Mary is pregnant, and though the neighbors likely suspect nothing, Joseph knows he is not the baby’s father. Joseph, of course, is horrified, and within his cultural milieu, marrying a woman capable of such a thing is unthinkable to him. But Joseph is a good man, and he doesn’t want harm to come to Mary. Accordingly, he decides to quietly end the engagement with Mary and move on with his life.

God, of course, has other ideas. He sends word to Joseph in a dream that the baby has a unique origin. Joseph now must put faith in his dream. Joseph, the man of faith, does that. And out of Joseph’s faith comes the fertile ground for the world’s salvation; indeed, the name given the baby by the angel in the dream, Joshua (rendered Jesus in Greek, the language of the New Testament), means, Yahweh saves. And thus it is, as the Prophet Jeremiah foretold, that in his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security.

And so it is true with us that whenever we choose to put our faith in God we dwell in security.

Homily December 21, 2014 The 4th Sunday of Advent

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr Joe R on December 17, 2014

annunToday’s gospel is the story of the Annunciation by Gabriel to Mary. But today I would like to talk of two Annunciations, Mary’s and the one to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. What we see are two different responses to a messenger of God. Zechariah was the skeptic and supposedly the realist who said his wife was old and barren well beyond the age of child-bearing. For him it was open and shut, impossible. On the other hand Mary had an open heart and mind. She was curious as to how it could happen. She could accept that God could do it, even though much of her wonderment and curiosity went unanswered. She basically said what in our parlance would be “whatever” and went on to face the eventualities that would occur. Zechariah was struck dumb as a reminder of his inability to speak to God and probably for his demeanor in the holy of holies where he Annunciation_Zechariah_Ivanovwas at the time.

Much throughout history has been made of Mary being a virgin. Yet when all being said and done, it was not an issue of sexuality, but ultimately a question of fatherhood of Jesus the Savior. Jesus was fully human, a man like any other, yet he was conceived and fathered by God himself who chose a young virgin, untouched and faithful and open to God. She was the first to fully contain the very body and blood of Jesus Christ. She was new and fresh and young and ready. Her consent and God’s action showed Christ’s uniqueness and humanity as well as his divine nature. His conception was to be fully human, yet it was an act of God, not of man. Even we, when we begin something new, prepare and clean and start afresh whatever we do. Sexuality was not really a question to God. Our vision of it is often shaded by a sense that something is shameful or wrong about it. Humanity so often has taken and twisted what is truly God’s gift to the expression of human love. How could this be since God gave us nothing bad, only we by our own choice can make it bad. Human love is founded in God’s love and is a good thing unless we somehow abuse or twist it ourselves.

Like Mary today we should have a simple faith and open heart ready to hear God’s call. Christ comes to us probably not as Gabriel came to Mary, euchbut through the Spirit we have received, he is in us and calls us and guides us. Just as Mary received Jesus, so can we receive Jesus not only as we celebrate Christmas, but he comes to us in each Eucharist we celebrate. We too can receive him often and make him part of our body and our blood in the Eucharist we receive. Let us not forget He with us now. He is present to show us the way.

Saint of the day

Posted in saints by Mike on December 17, 2014

kaszap3Venerable István (Steven) Kaszap was born the third of five children, on March 25, 1916 in Szekesfehervar, once the Roman town of Alba Regia, southwest of Budapest, Hungary. His father was chief supervisor at the local post office. Steven was sent to a Lycee, a school run by Cistercian monks. Until his graduation from the Lycee, Steven was an active member of the Boy Scouts. At the Lycee, Steven had an excellent gym instructor and excelled in gymnastics becoming a champion. As was customary in his high school, a Jesuit priest led one of the student retreats. A classmate of Steve’s arranged for Jesuit Fr. Kovacs to see them; the meeting took place; and then on June 21, Steven visited the Jesuit Novitiate, Manresa and was subsequently admitted to the Society of Jesus.

When Steven entered the novitiate, he appeared to be in excellent health but the medical check-up at the time detected fever. On the warm summer afternoon of July 30, 1934, he entered Manresa, the Jesuit novitiate. As a Jesuit novice, Steven reflected an inner maturity, coming across as a warm, calm, reserved individual who was, at the same time, informal and friendly. After recurrent illness and a surgery, the Jesuits had to send him home in his second year because he could not fulfill the requirements of the novitiate; even so, the Jesuits invited him to return as soon as his health permitted.

kaszap_istvanOn December 16, 1935, the doctor diagnosed a tumor in Steven’s throat and admitted him to the hospital. At five o’clock in the morning on the day after he was admitted, the night nurse was relieved. The patient wrote: “I have great difficulty breathing,” then, “I would like to be washed. The nurse brought him water and washed his sweat-soaked face and hands. Steven wrote again: “I cannot make my confession, but I request absolution for I am repentant. I cannot take communion either because I cannot swallow. I would like the last rites.” He underlined the last sentence. The nurse nodded that she understood. She arranged his bed. Steve was grateful, “The fresh water feels good on my hands,” he wrote in appreciation. The nurse went to fetch the priest. What happened after the nurse left him will remain a secret forever. By the time she came back with the priest, Steven Kaszap was no longer conscious, but his last message lay beside him! “God be with you! We will meet in Heaven! Do not weep, this is my birthday in Heaven. God bless you all!” Steven Kaszap’s eyes were still open, fixed on the crucifix and the Marian medal in his hands, but he no longer saw the nurse nor priest. The priest gave him absolution, anointed him with the sacrament of the sick, and gave him the papal blessing. In less than half an hour, at ten minutes past six on December 17, 1935, he stopped breathing. The townspeople came to believe he was a saint. An investigation into his virtues commenced in 1994, and in 2006, he was declared venerable.

Carry the Word with you

Posted in scripture by Mike on December 16, 2014

indexWednesday of the Third Week of Advent, Cycle 1

First reading of the day:

Genesis 49:2, 8-10

Jacob called his sons and said to them: “Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob, listen to Israel, your father. “You, Judah, shall your brothers praise-–your hand on the neck of your enemies; the sons of your father shall bow down to you. Judah, like a lion’s whelp, you have grown up on prey, my son. He crouches like a lion recumbent, the king of beasts–who would dare rouse him? The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs, While tribute is brought to him, and he receives the people’s homage.

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 1:1-17

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king.

David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph. Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah. Uzziah became the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amos, Amos the father of Josiah. Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian exile.

After the Babylonian exile, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok. Zadok became the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud, Eliud the father of Eleazar. Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations.

Reflection on the readings: When Jesus entered human history, he entered it with all its ambiguities. The list of Jesus’ ancestors as Matthew presents it suggests that Jesus’ ancestors include not just holy men and women but also people who had committed sins as serious as murder and acted out of weaknesses as great as adultery. This list tells us that when God entered human history, God used both what is best and worst about us to do that. And that is the breathtakingly elegant and poetic commencement God’s redemption of humanity.

Carry the Word with you

Posted in scripture by Mike on December 15, 2014

47674d6b9cc1f9a0a4296bc752ba3267_w600Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent, Cycle 1

First reading of the day:

Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13

Thus says the LORD: Woe to the city, rebellious and polluted, to the tyrannical city! She hears no voice, accepts no correction; in the LORD she has not trusted, to her God she has not drawn near. For then I will change and purify the lips of the peoples, that they all may call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one accord; from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia and as far as the recesses of the North, they shall bring me offerings. On that day, you need not be ashamed of all your deeds, your rebellious actions against me; for then will I remove from your midst the proud braggarts, and you shall no longer exalt yourself on my holy mountain. But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD: the remnant of Israel. They shall do no wrong and speak no lies; nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue; they shall pasture and couch their flocks with none to disturb them.

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 21:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. Vineyard-croppedThe man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

Reflection on the readings: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus observes that it is not those who cry out, “Lord, Lord,” who are saved. Neither are those who do mighty works in Jesus’ name. Rather, the people who are saved are the people who do the Father’s will. So which of the two sons did his Father’s will, Jesus asks in today’s gospel. Zephaniah says it is the one who became humble and low, taking refuge in the Lord: the one who was authentic and spoke no lies, the one who was naked before the Lord in the totality of reliance on God’s mercy.

Carry the Word with you

Posted in scripture by Mike on December 14, 2014

200_20Monday of the Third Week of Advent, Cycle 1

First reading of the day:

Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17a

When Balaam raised his eyes and saw Israel encamped, tribe by tribe, the spirit of God came upon him, and he gave voice to his oracle: The utterance of Balaam, son of Beor, the utterance of a man whose eye is true, the utterance of one who hears what God says, and knows what the Most High knows, of one who sees what the Almighty sees, enraptured, and with eyes unveiled: How goodly are your tents, O Jacob; your encampments, O Israel! They are like gardens beside a stream, like the cedars planted by the LORD. His wells shall yield free-flowing waters, he shall have the sea within reach; his king shall rise higher, and his royalty shall be exalted. Then Balaam gave voice to his oracle: The utterance of Balaam, son of Beor, the utterance of the man whose eye is true, the utterance of one who hears what God says, and knows what the Most High knows, of one who sees what the Almighty sees, enraptured, and with eyes unveiled. I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel.

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 21:23-27

When Jesus had come into the temple area, the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him as he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them in reply, “I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. Where was John’s baptism from? b03d23995fae721f0b4296bb83fc4895_w600Was it of heavenly or of human origin?” They discussed this among themselves and said, “If we say ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we fear the crowd, for they all regard John as a prophet.” So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” He himself said to them, “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Reflection on the readings: Both of the readings invite the hearers of the prophetic word to consider how we see Jesus. Balaam sees clearly that Jacob will yield a son who will be a great king over the nations. In the gospel, when the chief priests and the elders of the people refuse to see God’s hand in the work Jesus is doing, Jesus asks them if they can at least see God’s hand in the work that John did. Full of calculation and guile, they claim they do not know. The readings ask us to take a stand, to say whether we are for Jesus or against him, but a noncommittal shrug of our shoulders, such as the one the chief priests and elders gave, does not engage the Lord.

Homily Holy Trinity Parish 3rd Sunday of Advent December 14, 2014

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on December 14, 2014

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, Eucharist, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on December 14, 2014

Homily for the Fourth  Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

Today in the book of Samuel we get the story of David who was rewarded for his faithfulness to God and his wanting to build a place to house the traveling ark of the covenant. God declares that he will in return build a house for David as well, but it is a house that will be established after David’s death,  but from his children that house will produce an offspring whose reign will never end. Again, looking backwards as does Paul in the writing to Romans today, the early Christians saw this as the reign of Jesus, A son of David, the secret for long ages which has been disclosed..

The psalm re-iterates this prophecy and promise: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.”

So that, of course, is the background for our Gospel reading today and why Luke chooses to show the Davidic line of Jesus through Joseph. We have today the familiar story of the angel Gabriel visiting the virgin Mary with the startling announcement that she is to conceive a son, and tells her what to name the child. Gabriel then prophesies that this child, this offspring of David’s line will be great and will be called the Son of God, the offspring of God. He will be the inheritor of David’s throne and covenant, and, in the same words that God used to Nathan, Jesus will be forever the ruler, and his kingdom will never end.

The angel Gabriel appears only three times in Scriptures. He appears to Zechariah in Luke’s Gospel, and to Mary, and in the Hebrew Testament he appears to Daniel. Because the Book of Daniel is so eschatological, which means dealing with death, judgment and the final destiny of mankind, it is appropriate that Gabriel appears here as well since Jesus will reign forever and be the one to come at the end of time.

Only two of the four Gospels have a birth story. Mark was not concerned with the issue and John treated it symbolically. Matthew and Luke retain the same basic facts though the stories are really quite different due to what each wanted to point out. As I stated earlier, Luke’s genealogy goes all the way back to Adam and not just to David. Many of the incidental events around the birth are also different fro each writer as well. Matthew was writing for a primarily Jewish audience while Luke was writing for a Gentile one. This alone shaped what they wanted to show in their stories, and so their emphases are different. Luke also feels that it is important to point out that nothing is impossible with God, especially because the story of the virgin birth is so scientifically absurd.

In just a very few days we celebrate the birth that Mary so amazingly agreed to, with a complete trust in her God. “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to thy will.”

As we make our final preparations for Christmas, let us ponder those words of Mary. For some people Christmas is a difficult season as they remember relatives who have died and won’t be present, or who are alone, or who get upset with all the media hullabaloo going on. Let’s just give in to Jesus this year. Let us be servants of the Lord, accepting the will of God for us. If we can develop that all-encompassing trust of God, knowing that out of all the chaos, misery, suffering, depression, unhappiness that sometimes make up our lives, God has a plan for us, and the ending will be good, despite what it may look like to us now. Trust in his infinite mercy and love. God sent his Son in human form, lowered himself to experience what we experience. He knows our humanity, he partakes of our humanity, and he will empathize with us, and carry us through. That really is the gift we celebrate each Christmas, as we focus on the child, the helpless God in the manger, about to born again in our memories and our liturgies. Let this thought give you peace and a little bit of joy in these hectic last few days, and let us experience the mother’s joy after birth as we welcome the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And this is the Good News message of trust and peace I want to  leave you with today.

In just a few days we will celebrate the birth that

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 for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Carry the Word with you

Posted in scripture by Mike on December 13, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent, Year B

First reading of the day:

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.

I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. prayerAs the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.

Second reading of the day:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.

May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.

Gospel of the day:

John 1:6-8, 19-28

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.

And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.” So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’” as Isaiah the prophet said.” Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, 4434a5d02a37411e21279ab40bb9202c_w600“I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Reflection on the readings: People do not typically think of baptism when they think of Advent, but evidence from the history of the ancient church in Syria suggests the proper time for those faith communities to baptize was at the Epiphany. In the days and weeks leading up to the Epiphany, catechumens in the Syrian church who sought baptism fasted and prayed to prepare for initiation into the body of Christ. Advent might be a relic of this period of preparation for baptism. As time passed and baptism lost some of its association with Epiphany, people still had a sense that the period leading up to Christmas and Epiphany was a period of reflection, prayer, and fasting. When we do things like people who are preparing for baptism do-–things like prayer, fasting, almsgiving, or other spiritual disciplines-–we’re essentially preparing for baptism, and for those of us who already are baptized, we’re seeking to deepen the meaning of our baptisms in our lives. The basic vocation of each baptized person is to help bring heaven’s reign to the world. The first reading from Isaiah includes the passage that Jesus reads when he unrolls the scroll in the synagogue of Nazareth as a sort of mission statement at the start of his ministry. But it is also a statement about who Jesus calls us to become in fulfilling our baptismal promises: people inspired by the empowering, liberating, eye-opening mission of Jesus for society and the world. The passage challenges us as baptized people to become alive, compassionate, merciful, honest, just, and authentic. Being women and men of action, however, is not our entire baptismal commitment. Paul counsels us to pray, and not just to pray but to pray unceasingly: As we renew our baptismal promises in Advent, we are to cultivate an awareness of God’s presence from moment to moment in our lives.

Saint of the day

Posted in saints by Mike on December 13, 2014

costanza_starace_01Costanza Starace was born at Castellammare di Stabia, Naples, Italy, on September 5, 1845, to Francesco Starace and Maria Rosa Cascone. As a young girl she attended a boarding school run by the Daughters of Charity. This atmosphere prompted her to consecrate herself to the Lord. Poor health, however, required her to return to her family and continue her studies at home. Along with her studies she also began to cultivate a strong prayer life. When her health stabilized she announced to her parents her desire to enter a cloistered religious community; they, however, remained opposed to it.

In June 1867 she made her profession in the Third Order of the Servants of Mary, taking the name Sister Maria Maddalena of the Passion. Bishop Francesco Petagna then asked her to direct the Daughters of Mary and teach the faith to the local children. This experience coupled with the cholera epidemic that afflicted the area led the young sister to found the Compassionist Sisters Servants of Mary in 1869; their charism was “to share the compassionate Jesus and the Sorrowful Mother, to assist one’s neighbor in all his needs, spiritual or corporal.” Her life then focused on activism, generosity, and tireless work; after the First World War, although old and weakened by disease, she devoted herself to assist orphans, the sick, and war veterans. She died on December 13, 1921. She was declared venerable in 2003 and beatified in 2007.

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