CACINA

Homily August 2, 2015 18th Sunday in Ordinary time

Posted in Called, ecclesiology, Eucharist, Faith, homily, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on July 30, 2015

18 sundayToday’s gospel is again from John. As you might recall, last week Jesus left the crowd and disappeared. We see they regrouped and went looking for him and found him at Capernaum They saw his miracle of the loaves and decided he was the one to come. Jesus was a realist here, as he knew they followed him with full stomachs. Do you realize how central to us and every generation food was. Look today at our lifestyle, our entertainment, our work, recreation, in fact just about all we do somehow touches food. Look at TV and advertising, at our stores, at the number of restaurants and see how central food is to our live. Our celebrations, our family life is in many ways centered on food and eating, It is naturally 18 sundathe center of much of our lives, for without eating, we can not live. To the Agrarian life of old to the present, food and nourishment is very central to our lives, in fact almost to an extreme in our lives.

Christ chose physical food and the loaves to remind that yes we need physical food, but he was the food that came from heaven, a spiritual food that would nourish and feed our souls. He is the living food , his body given to us. His body in a very special way feeds our soul and spiritually prepares us for the way. So we can 18sunsee more clearly that the feeding of the multitude and the discourse on food is not about the miracle, but about Jesus and who he was and what his mission and role was and is for all generations. He truly is our bread of life, the food God prepared for us for the journey. Jesus prepares us in his own way by being our nourishment and sustenance for our life leading to our life to come. What we see then is a clear simple way of understanding Christ as our food and drink as we celebrate the Eucharist.

White, Rye, or Pumpernickel ?

Posted in christian, Christianity, Eucharist, homily, inspirational, religion, Resurrection, saints, scripture, Spirit, Word by Rev. Martha on July 30, 2015

18th Sunday Ordinary Time 8-2-15, Exodus 16: 2-15, Ps 78¸ Ephesians 4: 17-24, John 6: 24-35

Let’s start today by diving right into our second reading.  Behind Paul’s scholarly-sounding language is a deep understanding of real life.  Paul walked thousands of miles, and probably taught the Gospel to more people than anyone else in the ancient world.  He preached in streets, in homes, in cities, in synagogues – anywhere that you could image.  From this came real knowledge of what needs to happen to make faith functional in our lives. 

Paul says we can “no longer live… in the futility of our minds.” He’s saying that we like to cling to what we’ve decided to think, and work very hard to make everything around us match up with what we have decided to be truth. We say, “Don’t confuse me with the facts”. There’s a lot of that in today’s Gospel as the people say to Jesus, “What miracle can you do, that we may see and believe in you?”  They wanted “Jesus’ Drive-thru Quick Bread & Fish”, with no cashier.  “Get a side order of salvation.” They wanted “Easy Street” to be reality. 

But St. Paul says, “That’s not how you learned Christ…you were taught that you should put away the old self, corrupted through deceitful desires.”   We decide we Need more stuff, God doesn’t do enough for us. Paul knows that we lie to ourselves and need to change!  What is the remedy?  “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new self,” Paul writes. 

Paul writes from experience.  He was working to wipe out Christianity when Jesus came to him; he was directly responsible for the stoning deaths of Christians.  He was “breathing murderous threats” when Jesus appeared to him.  He was convinced he was right – and righteous. But, if you recall Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, you know that meeting with real “righteousness, holiness, and truth ” stunned Paul into changing his life, putting on a “new self”, and as a result he truly changed the world.  Remember, Jesus loves us, despite anything we’ve done.

With that background, we come to the Gospel.  Jesus has to tell the crowd, “You were looking for me not because you saw miracles, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.  Don’t work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which I WILL GIVE you.” 

“Ok”, the people say, “What do we have to do?”  But they had only listened up to the part about the food; that was their “reality”.  What Paul called “the futility of their minds” had trapped them.  Jesus was talking about eternity; they were thinking about lunch. 

It’s easy to understand why the people reacted like they did.  Theirs was a culture of constant near starvation.  A full day’s work paid for nothing but a day’s food.   Hunger was very real to them, and I get why their minds were on manna – free food that appeared each day, bread from heaven.  “Sir”, they say, “Give us this bread always.”  I can imagine their confusion when Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

So here is the centerpiece of the entire passage. “I am the bread of life.” Jesus knows full well about hunger and thirst. God created us to be more than animals who stand in the field, eating grass. Life is more than white, rye or pumpernickel. Life is love, community, family, worship, eternity. Drive-thrus sell food, not give life. Jesus sustains the soul in a way that far exceeds bread filling the stomach. “I am the way, the truth and the life” is not a statement about which religion is the best, but an open door to life beyond our imagining. Jesus is the bread of love, community, family, the very substance of the spirit of God, the essence of life.

 The early church understood.  James 2:15-17 “ If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  On page 12, at the bottom, in the Saturday Baltimore Sun, is this one-paragraph article: “The World Food Program announced new cuts…in food aid for Syrian refugees in Jordan…” There are 629,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, and their monthly food allotment is as low as $7.00.  More than half of these are children. There is no money after August for over 3 million children.   The early church may have understood Jesus, but today’s world – not so much.

Jesus tells the people, “This is the work of God:  that you believe in the one he sent.”  He is teaching priority #1.  First, we believe and love God.  If we do that, then loving each other is a given.  It is a part of loving God.  It is belief itself; the two cannot be separated.  Loving God is believing that God is the source of life.  God brings life to not only our body, but also our soul. This is not different from loving each other and caring for each other, body and soul, stomach and spirit.  Our love of God is based on a risen Christ, and Christ’s love for us was God’s love.  This is all one idea, one belief, one faith.  If the love is real, then the bread comes with it.  

Lord, renew the spirit of our minds, and help us to live in your truth.

 

July 26, 2015 Today’s Homily at Holy Trinity Parish

Posted in Called, Faith, homily, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on July 26, 2015

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 2)

Posted in christian, Christianity, Eucharist, homily, inspirational by Fr. Ron Stephens on July 25, 2015

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 2)

As I mentioned last week, we are taking a mini-sojourn into the Gospel of John and specifically those sections of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. Before we begin that today, though, the Church provides us with the Hebrew background that we need to know in order to put Jesus’ words into the context of Jewish life two thousand years ago.

We begin today with the reading from the Book of Exodus which, as you know, contains the movement of the Jewish people out of their slavery in Egypt and their forty year trip to their new Promised Land.

In our reading today, we hear the Hebrews complaining about their stay in the desert, or what they call the wilderness, and it could not have been very pleasant. There were a lot of people, and because they were traveling, there was no way to grow food. Yet everyone had to be fed. They found there was, of course, not enough food that they could scrounge to feed everyone, so they were starving. It was not an unfounded complaint they were making.

Presumably Moses brings their complaints to God because God sees their hunger and finds a way to feed them. They had apparently brought a few animals with them that they could kill and eat, but they would soon run out and they had nothing else. So the Lord says: “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.”

God then sent quails each night that they could catch and kill, and in the mornings on the ground was a substance much like bread that they could gather and eat. The Israelites named it manna, bread from heaven.

The Psalm today remembers God’s kindness to the Israelites in the desert, and although they never ate or tasted the manna, they remember through the stories that their grandparents and great grandparents passed down to them about it. They thanked God for his goodness for this bread of heaven and this bread of angels.

So the background we need to know is that God took care of his people as God always does, and specifically in this case by nourishing their physical bodies that were starving by giving them the bread from heaven.

Last week in the Gospel, we saw how Christ was able to also feed the hungry with physical bread in the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The crowd had been amazed that they had all been fed, and even though Jesus tried to escape them, they followed Jesus. Jesus says that they had followed him only because he took care of their physical needs, their hunger, not for the reasons that they should have followed him. Jesus is more concerned with their spiritual lives, and feeding their spiritual lives with food that will last forever. He says that they need to work for that kind of bread that will last forever, and the work that they have to do is to believe.

We have seen that idea of the importance of belief in Jesus many times over the last few months, and here John picks up that theme as well as Mark had.

Now our background from Exodus will help us. The crowd tells Jesus that Moses gave their ancestors bread from heaven. They ask, what are you going to do to help us believe? Rather odd, since Jesus had just done a rather major miraculous thing for them by feeding five thousand!

Jesus reminds them that it wasn’t Moses that fed them bread from heaven, but God. God sent them bread from heaven and gave physical life to the world. And now God is sending bread to give spiritual life to the world. And this is where it must have really shocked the people listening to Jesus. They asked where is this bread that God is sending? And Jesus tells them…”I am!”

As Catholics, we were all brought up on this outrageous idea and it doesn’t really seem so foreign to us, but try to imagine what it must have sounded like to the crowd following Jesus. Jesus is bread? Jesus was sent to God for them to eat? If they come to Jesus they will never be hungry spiritually? How crazy must that have seemed to them on the first hearing.

We are lucky, because we know what followed, and we know how Christ’s body becomes present in the eucharist – the bread we consume here each week. But the enormity of this idea, the craziness of this idea, the bizarreness of this idea should have shocked his listeners. And maybe we need to be shocked every once in a while, too.

We have this amazing gift each week – bread that gives life, that allows us never to be hungry or thirsty spiritually and food that will bring us eternal life! Yet, so many people ignore all that and try to be spiritual in their homes and away from the eucharist. If we really understood and believed the immensity of this gift, nothing would be able to stop us from having this pure gift each week. Unfortunately, through unbelief, through repetition, through busy lives, it doesn’t seem all that important or amazing to us any more.

We talk about Good News each week. Well, this news of Jesus today really is good. Let us spend the week reflecting on what a gift it is to us, how by taking the eucharist we can never be spiritually hungry or thirsty, and how we can better prepare ourselves and take advantage of the remarkable powers of this sacrament. Truly good news for a truly good people!

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”]

Get to the Point

Posted in christian, Christianity, Eucharist, homily, inspirational, religion, Resurrection, scripture, Spirit by Rev. Martha on July 24, 2015

17th Sunday Ordinary Time, 7-26-15, 2 Kings 4: 42-44, Ps 145, Eph 4: 1-6, John 6: 1-15

 

Most of us have heard this Gospel many times, and learned that it is a kind of shadow, a figure of the Eucharist that comes later in the Gospel. And we have an even earlier shadow or figure of this back in 2nd Kings, with Elisha. We started today with the prophet Elisha, having “20 barley loaves made from the first fruits” to fed 100 men. “Bread” was typically round like small pita bread; the ground grain was mixed with water and baked. 3 “loaves” was a normal meal for one person.  

Scholars think this gathering of 100 was a gathering for the prophets of God of the time. It was in the spring, possibly around Passover. Barley is the grain of the poor, the first grain to ripen in the spring, just in time for those who have exhausted their winter food supplies. Out of that 1st ripe barley of the new crop, (the first harvest of the season was called “first fruits”) loaves were made and given to the priests. At God’s direction, Elisha had the 20 loaves distributed, and the miracle was that everyone ate their fill, with bread left over.

 There are often key words that help us move beyond the story line and find the deeper message. For example, our Gospel says: “The Jewish feast of the Passover was near.” It sits there, seeming a little off topic, a little odd, but the writer did that to catch your eye, or your ear, and make you ask, “So what?” 

Well, here’s what. Passover is in the spring, usually just before Easter. Only in spring was there green grass where the people could recline to eat as in our Gospel.   Remember that Jesus and the apostles celebrated a Passover meal on what we call Good Thursday. After the meal, Jesus went to the garden to pray and Judas betrayed him. Jews still celebrate Passover every year with reading the Exodus story, wine, unleavened bread, and the unblemished lamb– all that is Passover. Passover and Crucifixion, the necessary preludes to the Resurrection, all are at the heart of our faith. 

The entire 6th chapter of John has a Passover theme. In fact, John the Baptist proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” in John 1:29. Jesus goes to Jerusalem in chapter 2, for Passover, and that is when the cleansing of the Temple occurs. Our lectionary spends 5 weeks on this chapter of John, working carefully though what is called “The Discourse on the Bread of Life” talking about Moses and miracles, food and faith, and body and blood. This is “heady” stuff that some theologians spend years on, writing books on, trying to understand the details and fullness of it. 

I enjoy all that detail, but for today, I think it is more important to ask, “What is John trying to do here?” and “How does this impact my life?”   I recently read an article by Fr. Dennis Hamm, a Jesuit, and I would like to share some of his ideas with you. Fr. Hamm says that the point of this Gospel is not to just tell us how some people were fed one day nearly 2000 years ago; and that this chapter from John was not meant to be an exact recording of the event. That frees us from worrying about the other 5 similar but slightly different versions of this story in the other Gospels. Many of us grew up thinking it was a word-for-word report, but it’s really more like an icon suggests Fr. Hamm.  An icon is an artistic work, drawn or painted – or in this case written – for the purpose of encouraging meditation and prayer, a way to open us to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. To fulfill its purpose, this reading must connect us to the past, ring true in our lives and worship today, and lead us toward the future with hope. It is to lead us to the living and present Jesus, alive and available to us, who travels with us on a journey to freedom and gives us spiritual food as we go. 

Talking about Elisha and Passover make it clear how this reading is solidly based in the Jewish salvation story. The intersection of Scripture and Tradition is a great place to start a journey. But as Christians, we have not only a continuation, but also an explosive salvation story, for Passover links us to the resurrection of our Lord. John’s point is that, yes, Elisha was a prophet, but Jesus exceeds Elisha in every way, in numbers, in power, in teaching, in divinity, in rising from the dead. Our living Lord exceeds Moses in every way. Jesus eternally leads all mankind, not just one group, and has love instead of law; he is our manna, his mountain is heaven, and his destination is the kingdom of God, not a country. 

The danger, of course, is to draw the wrong conclusion. If our vision of Jesus is just a magician who will fix what is wrong in our lives and fill our stomachs, there’s a problem. If we want to cozy up to the political power of the moment, we have not only missed the point, but we’ll be disappointed. Reducing Jesus to an earthly king is so distorted and divisive that Jesus fled from those who would try to twist his message to increase their own status and control. In the darkest periods of church history, people have tried that, always with disastrous results. 

The purpose of this multiplication of loaves and fish is to show and tell us who Jesus was and is now, to keep us active followers of Jesus, and to feed our souls while keeping us hungry for more teaching, learning and prayer. Without this ongoing relationship with a real Jesus, our stomachs will never be satisfied, much less our souls. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the way to fullness of life  

Homily July 26, 2015 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Faith, homily, Resurrection, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on July 22, 2015

17sundIf you noticed, today we have taken our reading from John’s gospel. The feeding of the multitude is found in each of the four gospels, with two versions in both Mark and Mathew and it appears once in Luke and John. Writing even sixty or more years later, John definitely sees it as a miracle or as a “sign” as he calls it. But I think the important thing here is not to focus on the feeding of the people, or the numbers fed, but the focus in the gospel needs to be on Jesus and who he was, what his mission was and what it meant. Think of the context of the mountain at the beginning and the end recalls Sinai and Moses as leader and prophet. The boy with the five barley loaves is a reminder of the twenty barley loaves that the prophet Elisha fed the hundred with in the first reading. Jesus17sunda used five to feed thousands. Thus Jesus like Moses and Elisha was an agent, a prophet of God. Yes he was the prophet, the one who was to come. Thus we see the whole focus was Jesus was on a mission, the one who was coming, the new Moses come to lead Israel. But John is seeing it through the subsequent death and resurrection of Jesus. The people made the right identification of Jesus but were wrong as to the intentions of God the sender of prophets. Jesus was truly sent to lead and be the new king of Israel but not in the way that they perceived in their own selfish view. Jesus sought no earthly powers or kingdom and thus fled from the people before they could act on their misconception of what Jesus wanted.

John certainly sees Jesus as messiah, but certainly not an earthly king. Sure, Moses led the people to a land

Moses

Moses

to call their own and ultimately a kingdom, but Jesus was leading people to a place Moses could only point towards. So, the feeding of the multitude for John is kind of a tieing up of loose ends of Jesus ministry, placing him in the context of the prophets, showing he is the one to come and as resurrected 17sunday1Lord is the leader to a place with his Father that no one else could lead .The importance of this miracle is underlined by its appearance in all the gospels and obviously identified by early believers who either experienced the event or knew someone who passed it on to them. It is early witness to who Jesus is and that he provides food not only physically but Spiritually for life and prayer and our journey for eternal life.

Today”s Homily at Holy Trinity Parish July 19, 2015

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, Faith, homily, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on July 19, 2015

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Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 26 )

Posted in christian, Christianity, Communion, Eucharist, homily, inspirational by Fr. Ron Stephens on July 19, 2015

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 26 )

We are taking a side trip, sort of a summer vacation, for the next six weeks and listening to the Gospel of John rather than the Gospel of Mark which this year is dedicated to. And there are significant differences between the two Gospels – the two are probably the farthest apart – in intent, construction and theology.

Mark’s Gospel was the first and it is the shortest, most compact and deals only with the active ministry of Jesus. John’s Gospel was the last Gospel written and is theologically packed as there had been time to ponder the questions of who Jesus was, so this Gospel was more about Jesus himself than his teachings. Not that it doesn’t include his teachings, but they are done in a different format.

Mark uses Jesus’ parables while John tends to have longer discourses. The longest discourse comes while Jesus is preaching to the people on the mountain and is tied into the feeding of the five thousand. And that is some of the discourse that we will be listening to over the next few weeks.

When we are reading the New Testament is if often a good thing to ask two questions of each of the evangelists. Why are they writing their story? and who were they writing to? The answers to these two questions might explain why the four stories differ in some ways in detail, and why some things are more important in them than others.

John is writing at the end of the first century to a group that already has faith in Jesus so he isn’t trying to convert them. Instead, he is looking deeper at some of the teachings of Jesus and is especially dealing with the issue of Jesus as God. More than the other apostles he tends to do this with vibrant characters but also with much poetic and metaphoric language. This is a Gospel explaining in great depth who Jesus was and the Gospel is about him more than his teachings.

John appears to be writing to strengthen the faith of his listeners, to combat some heretical thinking that was going around about who Jesus was, and to give a fresh interpretation to the three Gospels that already existed.

The feeding of the five thousand is recounted in all the Gospels with slightly different details given. In John’s version the feeding becomes a catalyst for Jesus’ running away from the crowd’s attempts to make him an earthly ruler and also to set us up for all the bread images that John will use in Christ’s teaching. He can give them earthly bread, but he is also the bread of heaven as we will soon see.

The feeding of the five thousand had some precedent in early Hebrew scriptures as we read in the Hebrew reading today from the book of Kings. Instead of five thousand, it was a hundred, but Elisha managed to listen to God and told the young man to bring out his twenty loaves and feed the people. Somehow, miraculously, all the people were fed and there was some left over.

And our psalm today reiterates the idea that God will feed us, that God satisfies all the needs of the people who love him. Food here can be taken literally or metaphorically: God will also give us what we need when we need it, if we continue loving and having faith in God.

The letter of Paul tot he Ephesians today doesn’t talk of bread or feeding, but it does talk about the oneness – which is what the image of the bread is also metaphorically about.  All the people ate – there was a unity in that. Later, Jesus will talk about that by all eating his body, all will become one with him and each other. So Paul today talks about “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” which John will later incorporate into Jesus teachings on the Eucharist. Remember, in John, the establishment of the Eucharist was more tied to the feeding of thousand than to the Last Supper.  It isn’t even mentioned at his last supper which is about servitude and reversing the power structure.

As we begin, then, reading from John for the next few weeks, I want you to think about food and how it sustains life, how it is pleasurable, how eating together creates unity, because these are all themes that will come up in Jesus’ teaching on the meaning of ‘bread’.  We pray each day: Give us this day our daily bread. Does this have more connotation than just making sure we are nourished by food each day? When you pray the Our Father, think about what that might mean to you. As we picnic with friends – even with our own picnic  next Saturday – ask how this joins us together. What kind of unity does it create?

Then in the next few weeks, we can apply all this to the bread come down from heaven and what it means to us today.

This is the Good News I ask you to ponder over the next few weeks.

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”]

Between the Desert and the Meadow

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Rev. Martha on July 18, 2015

16th Sunday Ordinary time, 7-19-15, Jeremiah 23: 1-6, Ps 23, Eph 2: 13-18, Mark 6: 30-34

 

I suppose I shouldn’t be, but I am always startled when I read an Old Testament passage that could have come from the newspaper tossed into my driveway this morning.  Newspapers seldom miss a church scandal, and scandal is what the passage from Jeremiah is talking about. “You have scattered my sheep and driven them away,” God declares. The clergy and the lay men and women of the church who make the headlines are most often those who bring scandal to the church, who embarrass the church, who cause us to drop our head into our hands and moan. It is of little consolation that this, apparently, is not a new problem. Some 600 years before Christ, Jeremiah’s “church” needed reform and integrity. 

The church where I came to love the Lord seemed to be, like this passage says, a “meadow”. It was a place where I found delight in the faith, where I learned the Bible stories that never grow old, and where I felt safe. Later, I took my children to a similar church, another piece of the “meadow”. But when the new pastor was arrested by the vice squad, that meadow became yet another piece of desert. Even if the shepherd/ sheep metaphor doesn’t do anything for you, we all know how it feels to be deceived, lied to, and left in the desert. 

Which is why the 23rd Psalm is the favorite Psalm of all time. There’s none of that more recent business of “smelly, stupid, downright dumb sheep” here, no, none of that. The 23rd Psalm makes us feel valuable, precious, loved, and protected. Our Lord leads, restores, guides, accompanies, feeds, and anoints. He gives tender care, ceaseless vigilance, presence and protection, and provides a feast! The images are of restful calm, well-being, and affection – affection not necessarily earned, but nevertheless, lavished on us, unconditionally. 

St. Paul is no poetic psalmist, but writes something similar in the prose of every day life. He says Jesus found us “far off” (in the desert), and brought us “near” (back to the meadow). Jesus brings an end to anxiety and fear. His peace makes our enemies into our brothers and sisters. He ends the threat and pettiness of the Law, replacing it with love of neighbor equal to love of self. He overcame death by dying and rising. He came to us, created unity among us, children of One God. Paul says that Jesus has lavished unconditional love on all of us, not just some of us, just like in Psalm 23. 

Then Mark tells a story of Jesus acting out this love. Jesus shows us how to love by actually loving (loving the unlovable!). He sends the twelve apostles out to teach, to preach repentance and heal. What a thrill for them to be sent out with such authority for the first time! 

But then comes news that Herod had beheading John the Baptist. This was Jesus’ cousin, the man who baptized Jesus. What loss and senseless violence! Jesus has no time to grieve; the apostles return with crowds of people following them, and Jesus and the 12 were so busy they didn’t even have time to eat. “Come away by boat to a quiet place and rest a while,” Jesus tells them. But news spread quickly, and more people were waiting for them when the boat landed. At that point, I’d have hired crowd control or posted a schedule of office hours. I’d have been overwhelmed, perhaps even angry. 

But with surpassing tenderness, Jesus reflects the compassionate of God. “His heart was moved with pity,” Mark writes. Jesus recognized these people had no one who cared, no one taught or modeled for them the love of God. Remember the words from Jeremiah? “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock…and bring them back to their meadow.” Emmanuel, God-with-us, Jesus, the Son of God, does just that. 

The press of people who need to be loved, who have never found the love of God as portrayed in the 23rd Psalm, who are frightened and lost and scared – their numbers seem to grow daily. We need honest balance in our lives. We need time to eat and pray and rest. We also need to give time, teaching and sharing the love and compassion of Christ, face-to-face. It is easy for that balance to be forgotten or distorted. We also need to balance our efforts to share our material wealth with sharing the emotional and spiritual wealth that Jesus brought us. Teachers know that hungry children don’t learn well. Christians know that bread alone does not satisfy the hunger of the soul. 

Balance becomes real when we spend a portion of our time with those who are like sheep without a shepherd, when our hearts are moved with pity. This week you can expect an opportunity to lead someone beside restful waters and help them restore their soul. That is when we act as God’s hands, bringing back the scattered sheep to the meadow.

But your homework is to prepare yourself for next week’s reading. Today’s Gospel is immediately followed by the feeding of the multitude. While a message in itself, this week’s reading begs us to prepare our hearts and minds for the fullness of that miracle – and I do believe it to be a miracle- of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Take 15 minutes and read it in the other Gospels*, too, and you will have a better and fuller glimpse of this altar & of the heavenly feast that the 23rd Psalm promises. 

 

*John 6: 1-15, Mark 8: 1-10, Mark 6: 34-44, Matthew 15: 32-38, Luke 9: 10-17

Homily July 19, 2015 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Faith, homily, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on July 16, 2015

16sunI find today’s gospel interesting, as it follows upon the sending out of the apostles. After their return, they reported all they experienced, and probably with much enthusiasm. Remember they traveled by walking, and how far and how long they were gone we do not know, but even in their excitement, they must have been tired. We see Jesus invited them to seek out a lonely place and rest a while. Even in ancient times,people knew the need to refresh the body and mind. Yet, we see the crowds saw them go and anticipated their destination and preceded them there. Jesus, being good and compassionate person, saw them as being like sheep looking for their shepherd to lead them. He put aside the apostles’ physical needs and taught and ministered to the crowd. And so it goes with possessors of the spirit, our time, our witness is virtually never ending. We are called to serve and witness as soon as we see the need to act. The spirit generates the love and the strength to reach out even at our inconvenient moments. While rest, convenience, solitude, even prayer all matter, what matters more the a person reaching out for help. It is not always easy to determine what help or need a person might have. We need to take the time to listen, to the person, and to the Spirit in our own heart. What measure will be given to us if we simply take for granted and just categorize people instead of knowing them? Sure we can not solve the problems of everyone we meet, but we can be loving and understanding and open to be the witness the spirit calls us to be.
16sundSeveral times in the gospels, Jesus went off to quiet lonely places. When he could he prayed and communed with his Father. But as we saw today, he responded to those who sought him out and taught and healed despite what was his original intention. I think that this can be a reminder to us who are called to remain open and flexible in our lives as we meet and live out our lives among others so that even in our weariness we continue to witness. In actuality, what could be more refreshing than bringing peace to another.?16sunda

Homily July 12, 2015 at Holy Trinity Parish for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, Faith, homily, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on July 12, 2015

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 19 )

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on July 12, 2015

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 19 )

I have had to preach about shepherds quite a few times for it is one of the dominant metaphors in both the Old and New Testaments, and thus comes up in our liturgical worship quite often. But, I thought I would take a little break from that, even though we still celebrate it in song and psalm and readings today, and spend a little more time on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Because the second reading is usually continuous, picking up where we left off the week before, and not thematically based on the first reading and the Gospel, it is often ignored, or it is so dense that a simple reading of Paul doesn’t always make a lot of sense to most people.

So, I’d like to start with an overview of the letter to the Ephesians. First, it isn’t really a letter, it is more like an encyclical, and it probably wasn’t written by St. Paul, but written in his style and using his name, which was very common in early times. It was seen as showing admiration for someone. Quite different than we would think of it today.

But it was written by someone who was close to Paul or understood the themes Paul often talked about, even though there are elements of contradiction with Paul’s earlier work.

Usually Paul’s letters are written to solve problems at individual churches  yet this “letter” could be for any church – it is more universal in content. Paul’s theology in his undisputed letters, that is letters we are sure he wrote, talk about grace through faith, how Jesus’ death on a cross saved us as when he today talks about reconciling “both groups to God in one body through the cross”, and how the Spirit gives us great gifts. This letter also talks about these things. But there are differences from Paul’s early letters, too. Early Paul talks a lot about death, judgment and the end of time. This letter rather ignores all that and concentrates on the now – that Christ is enthroned now and we, as believers,  are already living the “heavenly life”. Salvation for early Paul occurs at the end of time – we will be saved, in the future. Present or future – which is correct?

In this letter the writer says we have already been saved through faith. It says this just before the reading we heard today. In the section we read today this is confirmed when he says that Jews and Gentiles are already united into one. There is no dividing wall or hostility, the writer says. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, though, he says that the process of unification has started but will continue in the future.

The writer today then states that “[Christ] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances” which is basically throwing out the Old Testament, while Paul in Corinthians clearly states that Christ did not abolish the Law.

In the passage today the writer is explaining how the Christians, who were Gentiles before, managed to come under God’s covenant with Israel. This happens through the sacrifice, the death of Jesus who created in this death “one New Man in place of the two” which Paul claimed also in Galatians when he said “there is neither Jew nor Greek”.  In other words, we have become one with Israel, and the end result of that is going to be ‘peace’. Peace comes by getting rid of differences. When you think about it, most of the world’s problems are caused by “differences”. We don’t like people to be different, and we see ourselves as the norm. So Paul or his imitator says here that peace came through Christ’s death which united all of us under one covenant.

The problem in this passage, though, is the abolishment of the Law, which takes away much of the identity of the Jewish half of the equation. Elsewhere Paul has said that God will continue to be faithful to the Jews .

When there are parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other, how do we handle it? I want to suggest to you that studying the Bible will both puzzle you at times, but also give you a chance to put things into context. Knowing that Paul did not write Ephesians allows the historian and theologian to evaluate the things we know are Paul with the things that do not sound like him. In context we can resolve what the original thought was, and sometimes dismiss the contradiction. But we don’t dismiss everything because often the newer writings are deeper insights into the original teachings. Yet, that is why it is also dangerous to take the Bible literally and out of context. Terrible things have happened as a result of that.

So what should we draw from Paul’s letter today? I would like you to concentrate this week on the idea that peace comes through unity, and unity often comes through understanding. When we are upset by someone different from us, or an idea that is different than what we have been brought up with, try to keep an open mind, evaluate and then make a decision.

Let’s look at an example. The gay marriage issue has been a complex one and both sides have staunchly held to their beliefs. By reading openly both sides of the argument, understanding why the Roman church opposes it, which is different from the reasons the fundamentalists oppose it, might just allow you to make a decision of conscience.

There are many such issues today which take away peace and cause conflict. Most of them are peripheral to the core content of Jesus’ message. But, let us be reminded of the third part of Paul’s teaching which is preserved in Ephesians – the Spirit will help us if we are open to what the Spirit is saying to us.

And this is the Good News I hope to get you thinking bout more today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily July 12, 2015 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on July 7, 2015
Amos and Amaziah

Amos and Amaziah

Today, again we meet those who prophesy or witness. But first we meet Amaziah, the priest to the king of Israel, that is the Northern kingdom. Amaziah was an appeaser, a status quo, a statesman more than a priest. His service was to the king to the status quo, to maintain the peace and prosperity of the times, which ignored the covenant and led to decadence and God sending Amos to warn that they were putting their trust in the wrong place. Who was Amos? He was a simple shepherd and dresser of sycamores. As we said previously, God chose who he wanted, not who we would expect. Amaziah the priest, blinded by riches and a king who supposedly provided all his needs, could not see the voice or spirit of God. In fact, he drove him away. 15 sundayIn the gospel, we see Jesus choose and send out his apostles, two at a time to witness and drive out spirits and to anoint with oil and heal those who were sick. While we know possession by spirits was not an uncommon thing, we also know that those who were sick were often called possessed by one spirit or another. But note that Jesus sent them as witnesses who were plain and simple men without food or money, or extra clothing but simply open to hospitality and recipients of the good will their message generated. When they were received they were supposed to stay in one place and preach an witness before moving on. If 15 sundarejected, they were to shake the dust and remnants of where they were off and move on forgetting that they were ever there.

Like old time, rejection of God’s word brought on it own results from their abandonment of God. One thing to remember as we share the stories of Amos and the Apostles, that their mission of witness whether to the king and court of Israel or the people of the countryside in Jesus’ time, was a success that was best measured by the sender and not the messenger or the prophet or the witness. The spirit uses real men and women to witness and remind, yet ultimately only he knows the results. A word, a thought, a gesture, a kindness might be a moment the spirit acts through us and fulfills a witnessing we are called to give.

Remember as God acts, he sees the results and knows success even if we never see or experience what has resulted. We are to witness, to be faithful to his word, stand apart from what doesn’t belong to that.

July 5, 2015 Homily today At Holy Trinity Parish for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Faith, homily, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on July 5, 2015

Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on July 4, 2015

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 

We continue today with readings that deal with Prophets or Apostles.If you remember from last week, prophets were inspired by the Spirit to speak God’s words. We also learned that it didn’t matter who you were or how much knowledge a person had, if God wanted you to prophesy, you did.

We see that again in todays reading, not from Ezekiel as last week, but from the prophet Amos who was surprised to get a calling from God, told to him by the priest Amaziah. He says that he isn’t a prophet or isn’t the son of a prophet. Why would the king think that he could go and earn his living prophesying. He was just a simple herdsmen and horticulturalist. What was he even thinking?

Again God works in ways that confound us. Amos must have had something that God saw because he indeed call him to be a prophet, and to make his living at it.

We need to be open to God. The Psalm today expresses it well when it says “Let me hear what the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.” We have to learn to listen to God – God could be calling any one of us, even if we think we are not worthy, not knowledgeable enough, not brave enough. God’s Spirit will come to us and work through us. We simply have to let it happen and be open to it.

As we move into the New Testament in our readings we hear Paul preaching some really good news to us of redemption and forgiveness of sin, and Paul seems to think that we have all become Prophets because the Spirit is in us, and the grace of God has been given to us. “With all wisdom and insight,” he says, “God has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ.” In order for this to happen, he says, we have been “marked with he seal of the promised Holy Spirit.”  We saw last week that that was the first thing that happens to a Prophet – God’s Spirit enters one. So in that sense we are all prophets, and that is why in the Gospel today we see Jesus sending out his disciples to continue his work of healing and preaching of repentance.

It is interested that the new prophets are sent out not alone, but two by two. Unlike Amos, who was paid for his prophesying, the Apostles are to ask nothing in return, and they are to go out with nothing. They will be taken care of in welcoming homes – they will not starve. It is true that in this period there was a great deal of generosity toward visitors – there were no motels – so the traveller was at the mercy of the good will of others. And visitors were treated with care, often more than family.

But Jesus also says that if they don’t listen to your words of repentance, simply leave the house and shake the dust off their feet and move on.

The idea of sending the Apostles two by two intrigues me. We have echoes of Noah’s ark, and even of the Genesis statement – it is not good for a man to be alone.” Certainly the company on the long journey would be good, might also help keep them safer on the road. Probably though, the idea was that two people could witness the truth for each other, showing that they agree on the doctrine of repentance. Two saying and believing the same thing makes a better case perhaps. They were more reliable witnesses to what Jesus had said and done.Many Protestant groups take this literally and send out their members two by two even today.

Finally, Jesus gave the gift of exorcism to the Apostles.  What this indicates is that first and foremost they were fighting Satan, and so they were able to cast out many demons. It isn’t popular for us today except in horror movies to believe in exorcism, but the church right from the beginning of Christianity has always seen it as a fight against Satan in the same way that Christ was tempted by the devil, though he was able to win the fight by himself. We also see here an early example of the Sacrament of the Sick when the Apostles anointed someone with oil and cured them of disease. When most of us were younger this sacrament had morphed into a sacrament for those who were dying, and was even called Extreme Unction – given only in extreme cases. This was never its true use, however, and Vatican II brought back the idea that anointing is for any sick person. So if I come and anoint you, don’t have a heart attack because you think you are about to die!

What I would like you to leave with today, however, is the idea that you are a prophet, and you need to listen to what God is calling you to do or say. We don’t listen enough – we are always thinking of replies to a person today. Just listen. You might be surprised what you hear, and you might even be as terrified as some of the prophets to find out just what God is calling you to. Remember, though, as Paul said last week: ”his grace is enough!” and if God calls you, he will help through whatever it is God asks you to do.

And that is the Good News of our prophetic vocation today. God bless.

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”]

Prophets and the Progression of Mark

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit by Rev. Martha on July 4, 2015

14th Sunday Ordinary time, 7-5-15, Ez 2: 2-5, Ps 123, 2 Cor 12: 7-10, Mark 6: 1-6

Prophets and the Progression of Mark 

I hear two messages in today’s readings. The first message is about prophets and the demands of being a prophet.   Last December, Pope Francis offered a great working definition of a prophet: “A prophet is someone who listens to the words of God, who reads the spirit of the times, and who knows how to move forward toward the future.” He went on add a real zinger, “All those who are baptized are prophets…let us not tire of moving forward.” That’s us! We’d better look at this more closely.  

First, a prophet must listen to God. Next a prophet reads the spirit of the times, and finally a prophet moves toward the future. Just three easy steps! Ok! So, how do we listen to God? This isn’t news to us: we listen to God in the scriptures; we listen when we pray and we meditate; we listen when we study the teachings of faithful Christians; we listen when trusted friends and advisors talk with us. Naturally, this takes dedication. Listening to God is not just an occasional thought, but daily scheduled time of focused attention.  

The spirit of the times is found by stepping back from that one-sided, shallow political rhetoric & by disengaging from the sound bites used by those seeking to sell products or ideas. Reading the spirit of the times requires a sense of history, discernment, and attending to the undercurrents of our society. We pay attention to the bold events and the subtle ones, too. 

Moving forward toward the future takes willingness to change and re-create our life-styles, taking on new information, willingness to admit errors. It takes ending the pretense that we’re in control. We must let go of pre-conceived limits and barriers to make room for thoughts and ideas beyond our experience.   

Hmm, This is sounding very idealistic, isn’t it? It sounds like the diet I never go on or the fitness program I never get beyond day 2 with. Is it possible that I may be failing to listen, not reading the times, and resisting moving forward? Even worse than that, am I like the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day who God described as “rebellious, hard of face and obstinate of heart.” Later in that passage from Ezekiel, God told the prophet he would find the people to be like scorpions, meaning Ezekiel would face bitter and painful opposition. If you want some other, more contemporary names, think about how Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and Archbishop Oscar Romero were treated as prophets.  

Of course, the people of Jesus’ time knew about prophets. The saying, “ A prophet is not without honor except … in his own house” was common in both Jewish and Greek literature even then. Could we write this off this bad trip back to Nazareth in our Gospel to a little jealousy? Why should our neighbor be given a gift of healing or wisdom or teaching? Who does he think he is? But, they are astonished at his teaching. His wisdom and power for mighty deeds are quickly acknowledged. Then we find the real problem. If Jesus is simply a carpenter, just a guy from the neighborhood, and his divine authority is denied, where, then, does the teaching and wisdom and power come from?  

If the people of Nazareth do not believe this supernatural power comes from God, then is it from evil? Are “offended” because they assume he brought something deceptive or dark to them? Are they that blind? Jesus was amazed at their lack of belief. They were just like Ezekiel’s people, stubborn, refusing the evidence standing in front of them of the power and presence of God. That is why Jesus could not perform any mighty deeds there. The people of Nazareth rejected the blessings of God because they would not listen, they refused to read the spirit of the times, and they would not move a single inch into the future, as if their feet were in cement. It is an appalling and painfully sad story of eternal love distorted and distained. It is a warning to those who will not listen or read or move. It is in stark contrast to Jesus telling the woman in last week’s reading, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace, and be cured of your affliction.” She had listened, read, and moved into the future.   

The second message in today’s readings is the continuing message of the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes Mark seems like just a collection of parables, healings, teachings, miracles of Jesus, all one after the other. But that is not the case.   

Earlier in Chapter 3 of Mark (vs 6), the Pharisees have discussed killing Jesus for healing a man in the Synagogue on the Sabbath. They closed their minds to God, and told themselves that they, not God, were in control.   In vs 21 of the same chapter, his relatives are quoted as saying, “He is out of his mind,” speaking of Jesus as if he were devil-possessed. In the very next verse, the scribes who had come from Jerusalem say, “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” That is shockingly hard thing to say. The scribes had blasphemed against the Holy Sprit, the spirit of God working in Jesus. Jesus responds, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”   

This is no flippant theological discussion, but rather a shadowing of what is to come. Mark is building for that day in Jerusalem when the leaders and people join together and call out, “Crucify Him!” Mark not only asks “Who do you say that Jesus is?” but he also asks if we can stand in faith as prophets when others will not.   

When we proclaim ourselves as Christians, we proclaim ourselves as prophets of Almighty God. We must be busy listening to God, reading the spirit of the times, and moving forward into the future.