CACINA

Homily October 4, 2015 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, ecclesiology, Faith, homily, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 30, 2015

27suToday’s gospel talks of divorce, and in church it seems to always be a controversial topic. Before I talk about that, let’s first think about what marriage is. The quote from Genesis say that man needs a partner, but if we look at history, the partnership was for the most part not an equal one if we look at how women were seen and treated throughout history. Truly, it has been mostly a man’s world with marriage an arranged and bartered relationship falling short of a real partnership, and often an arrangement lacking in true love of the partners. Even in the western world and our own country the equality of women starting 27sin the late 1800’s is still a work in progress. Partnership in marriage reflects equality and the basis for that partnership is love, and as our faith tells us love is a Godly thing and love for ourselves and others is what makes us grow and love each other and bring us to God. Marriage is a special sign or Sacrament that like all the sacraments works in our life. Living and growing in love for one another in this sacrament brings the lovers and those around them and sharing in that love to God. It shares in the relationship of the Trinity itself.

However, humanity is not perfect. Not one of us is without fault or sin. In so 27sundmany ways we can fail as individuals, and unfortunately those failures can be harmful to others and can bring failure and misfortune into life. Personalities, and any number of things can lead to couples separating or going different ways. Divorce is an unfortunate thing, but when a partnership can no longer be, God’s love is still there for all and his love must always be the guide through this and all of life’s trials and times. Jesus quoted the law in the gospel for that was what he was asked. But notice he embraced the children and said accepting the kingdom of God like a child was the important thing. God is the judge, the lover, the one who forgives, always embracing us as we walk the twisted path to his kingdom. Hi love will not ail us.

Homily at Holy Trinity Parish September 27, 2015 – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, Faith, homily, inspirational, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 27, 2015

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Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 4)

Posted in christian, Christianity, Faith, homily, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on September 27, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 4)

Every once in a while we are awakened into seeing Jesus, the loving shepherd, the paragon of peace, the kindest of the merciful, in another paradigm in which he is very challenging, expectant of perfection, and demanding the impossible. Today is one of those paradigms or shifts of perception. To fully understand today’s Gospel we need a little background and Hebrew history. Jews have always been realists and had always accepted the concept of divorce. Generally Jews feel that it is better to be divorced than to be in a constant state of agitation or pain. That said, they also took marriage very seriously and generally made it hard to divorce. The laws were intricate and complex and even following them placed obligations on the couple. So we have a double sided attitude to divorce.

On the one hand, it was very much to the favor of the man who could divorce a wife without her consent for even a small thing, like not having his dinner ready on time, or because he found himself in love with another woman. In fact, he was forced to divorce her, even if he didn’t want to if she committed a sexual act away from him. So the laws favored the men mostly. Except for adulterous wives, the men would have to pay a monetary fee to the woman and could never remarry her.

To divorce a wife, the man would have to issue what is called a “get” which states that this woman is free to marry another man. Without that “get” a woman could do nothing, and even with it, there were some Jews who were forbidden to marry her. If the husband went off to battle and died, but there was no proof of his death, the woman would still be considered married and without a get.

These rules were so difficult for the woman, that throughout the years the rabbis would put addenda to the law which softened it and even allowed in some cases for the woman to be divorced, if the husband were unable to fulfill his duties because of being paralyzed, for example, or if he refused to carry out his marriage commitments. But that didn’t happen very often in Jesus’ time.

Jesus’ comments on divorce today then reflect his understanding of the inequality of the marriage laws of his time, but also the bar of perfection that he brought to every issue – expecting us to be perfect as the father is perfect.

The reading from Genesis today is central to Jesus’  understanding of marriage. Jesus understands that the woman was created to be a partner with a man and a helper. Finding this one person who can fulfill that partnership is what we call a marriage. There is no mention here, by the way, of procreation, but only that that partner who was called “Woman” would become one with the other partner. Only later, in the Psalms do we read that that oneness expands to create children, and many children and fruitful wives were seen to be an ideal.

The Gospel then finds Jesus being tested again by the Pharisees. Apparently the test was to see if Jesus knew what was the Mosaic command regarding divorce. Jesus’ answer to them is simply to quote the Mosaic rule, to show that he knew the Law, but then, as he had so many other times, raise it up a notch and attach it to the conscience, to the intent of the act and to to demand even more than the law offered. He says in essence that if God had joined the couple together, no human being should interfere with that.

In private with the Apostles he is asked again about what he said because even in Jesus day this would be a contentious subject. His words to the Apostles are the ideal: whoever divorces and marries another commits adultery. In Mark, the earliest Gospel, there is not an exception to this as there appears in other Gospels and in Paul’s writings. Immediately on this pronouncement the talk changes to ‘children’ and perhaps this juxtaposition is really what Jesus was concerned about. In a divorce in Jesus’ time, the woman was the one most hurt, and if the women were hurt, especially financially, so could be the children. Jesus in his concern for the poor and outcast could see the results of divorce acted out in poverty and oppression, and it was for their sakes that he found divorce a bad thing.

From the very beginning, though, apostles and church leaders began finding exceptional circumstances and reasons where divorce might be allowable. In the present day, the Roman church issues annulments to get around the idea of divorce, though they still make it difficult a process to go through, which is hopefully under Francis, soon to be more simplified.  We agree that the process should not be easy, and we hope couples will try the ‘perfection’ root and fight for their marriages.

I did a wedding a few month ago where I preached on the line “the two shall become one flesh” and commented that being one flesh did not mean “one personality” and “eradicating differences”. I used the image that to make a salad one mixed oil and vinegar which really don’t mix unless you shake them up. In a good marriage the couple has to always work at it, work at being one, no matter how long the marriage. I asked the bride and groom to make sure they kept working at it, shaking it up.  I think people go the message because all through the reception people would come to me with the line “Shake it up!” I believe that marriages are hard work and that we need to commit to working at it. For those of you who are married, that is perhaps my simple message today: Shake it up! and for those who are not married, know that in choosing to do so, you really need to work at it constantly to achieve that perfect state that Jesus talks about. Something to be aiming for – the perfect marriage.

And that is the Good News I suggest to you today around Jesus’ difficult words on a difficult subject!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Just published! Prepare for next year! Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year Cycle C”]

Forget the Fish and the cucumbers

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture, Spirit by Rev. Martha on September 26, 2015

26th Sunday Year B 9-27-15 Numbers 11: 25-29, Ps 19, James 5: 1-6, Mark 9: 38-48

Moses, as you know, was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, across the desert and into the Promised Land. But it was not a smooth trek through the desert. The Israelites walked in the desert approximately 3,000 years ago, but there were people just like us in a lot of ways – particularly that they complained a lot. Just before our 1st reading starts, they were complaining about food. “Oh, that we would have meat to eat,” they whined. “We remember the fish & cucumbers, the melons & the leeks, the onions & the garlic in Egypt. We are famished and have nothing but this manna.” God had sent them manna, the “food of the angels” everyday, always enough to fill them, but they seemed to be stuck in “nothing-is-ever-good-enough” mode. Entire families stood at the entrance of their tents and cried about the food.

Moses was overwhelmed. Desperate, he prayed to God, “”Why do you treat me so badly? Are you so angry with me that I must be burdened with all these people? They are like babies crying, that I must carry them around! But I cannot carry them; they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you will deal with me, please kill me now so I won’t have to listed to this whining.” So God replied, “Assemble 70 trusted elders, and I will take some of the spirit of leadership from you and give it to them, that they may share the burden.” So it happened. But one little thing went wrong.

Two of the elders somehow missed the memo & had remained in the camp and did not come to the meeting tent along with the others. Despite not being with the rest of the elders, they still received the spirit. They were prophesying in the camp, just as the others had prophesied at the meeting tent. Prophesying was an outward, physical sign of the granting of the spirit. So, Joshua came running to Moses to tell him what was happening and urging Moses to stop them.

This should sound a lot like the passage from Mark. “Jesus, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him.” Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one can do good deeds in my name and malign me at the same time. Even if he only gives someone a cup of water because of me, he will be rewarded.” But Jesus doesn’t leave it there. “If you stop anyone (the term “little one” is not limited to children) from doing good in my name, if you divert their good intentions into sin, then you deserve capital punishment, death by drowning.” This is not said to support capital punishment, but to emphasize the critical importance of small kindnesses, generosity & good works. It’s that serious. If that wasn’t enough, Jesus keeps going.

If something as valuable as your foot or your hand or your eye causes you to sin, or someone else to sin, then rid yourself of that part. Otherwise, your entire body will be thrown into Gehenna. Gehenna had been an ancient site of human sacrifice. In Jesus day, it was a scary burning garbage dump in a valley near Jerusalem. You, yourself, become like trash when you trash someone else’s good deeds. Our actions toward others carry heavy consequences indeed.   Our thoughtless exclusions and self-centeredness can have huge repercussions.

There are many applications of these readings, but I have one particular favorite. This may be the best reason I have ever heard for the ordination of women. “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets” (or deacons or priests).   Would that the Lord bestow His spirit on them all. If only each one was free to act on the call of God, male or female, gay or straight, rich or poor, strong or handicapped. CACINA has taken great steps toward this, but we need to frequently remind ourselves to keep the way open & God’s sacraments available, to remain inclusive & ready to take the responsibility for acting out the Word of God. 

When my son and his wife went to prepare for their first child’s baptism, all they got was castor-oil-style dogma served cold with a frown. It was the last time they entered a church. I thought church history would be really interesting, until I began to read of all the greedy, violent, nasty, underhanded, evil things done in the name of Christianity. No wonder Moses was so exasperated and Jesus was so very harsh in his correction. 

Another action, equally serious & harmful, is addressed by James, and that is to hoard wealth and goods far in excess of need, particularly at the expense of the poor. I thought of this as I listened to Pope Francis’ speech to Congress. He said, “Business is a noble vocation…producing wealth & improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity…especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.” That is the good side of wealth. However, if we have so many clothes that some are never worn, so much food it rots, so much jewelry that it rusts, use so much energy we deplete the earth & have so much in the storage unit we forget what’s in there, then if we are able but fail to pay our legitimate debts and neglect charity, well, that’s another story. But just when I feel righteous, I compare my wealth and lifestyle to most of the world & I realize how very wealthy I am. The image of Francis’ Fiat among the fuel-guzzling, emissions-spewing SUVs remains in my head. St. James, you warn me how easy it is to guard my own inflated image without considering the consequences to others. 

And that is just the right time to read our Psalm. The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple; the laws of the Lord are true. Yet, in our blindness, who can their detect their own failings? Restrain me from sin, let it not rule over me. Amen

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 4)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on September 26, 2015

Homily for the Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 4)

Every once in a while we are awakened into seeing Jesus, the loving shepherd, the paragon of peace, the kindest of the merciful, in another paradigm in which he is very challenging, expectant of perfection, and demanding the impossible. Today is one of those paradigms or shifts of perception. To fully understand today’s Gospel we need a little background and Hebrew history. Jews have always been realists and had always accepted the concept of divorce. Generally Jews feel that it is better to be divorced than to be in a constant state of agitation or pain. That said, they also took marriage very seriously and generally made it hard to divorce. The laws were intricate and complex and even following them placed obligations on the couple. So we have a double sided attitude to divorce.

On the one hand, it was very much to the favor of the man who could divorce a wife without her consent for even a small thing, like not having his dinner ready on time, or because he found himself in love with another woman. In fact, he was forced to divorce her, even if he didn’t want to, if she committed a sexual act away from him. So the laws favored the men mostly. Except for adulterous wives, the men would have to pay a monetary fee to the woman and could never remarry her.

To divorce a wife, the man would have to issue what is called a “get” which states that this woman is free to marry another man. Without that “get” a woman could do nothing, and even with it, there were some Jews who were forbidden to marry her. If the husband went off to battle and died, but there was no proof of his death, the woman would still be considered married and without a get.

These rules were so difficult for the woman, that throughout the years the rabbis would put addenda to the law which softened it and even allowed in some cases for the woman to be divorced, if the husband were unable to fulfill his duties because of being paralyzed, for example, or if he refused to carry out his marriage commitments. But that didn’t happen very often in Jesus’ time.

Jesus’ comments on divorce today then reflect his understanding of the inequality of the marriage laws of his time, but also the bar of perfection that he brought to every issue – expecting us to be perfect as the father is perfect.

The reading from Genesis today is central to Jesus’  understanding of marriage. Jesus understands that the woman was created to be a partner with man and a helper. Finding this one person who can fulfill that partnership is what we call a marriage. There is no mention here, by the way, of procreation, but only that that partner who was called “Woman” would become one with the other partner. Only later, in the Psalms do we read that that oneness expands to create children, and many children and fruitful wives were seen to be an ideal.

The Gospel then finds Jesus being tested again by the Pharisees. Apparently the test was to see if Jesus knew what was the Mosaic command regarding divorce. Jesus’ answer to them is simply to quote the Mosaic rule, to show that he knew the Law, but then, as he had so many other times, raise it up a notch and attach it to the conscience, to the intent of the act and to to demand even more than the law offered. He says in essence that if God had joined the couple together, no human being should interfere with that.

In private with the Apostles he is asked again about what he said because even in Jesus day this would be a contentious subject. His words to the Apostles are the ideal: whoever divorces and marries another commits adultery. In Mark, the earliest Gospel, there is not an exception to this as there appears in other Gospels and in Paul’s writings. Immediately on this pronouncement the talk changes to ‘children’ and perhaps this juxtaposition is really what Jesus was concerned about. In a divorce in Jesus’ time, the woman was the one most hurt, and if the women were hurt, especially financially, so could be the children. Jesus in his concern for the poor and outcast, could see the results of divorce acted out in poverty and oppression, and it was for their sakes that he found divorce a bad thing.

From the very beginning though, apostles and church leaders began finding exceptional circumstances and reasons where divorce might be allowable. In the present day, the Roman church issues annulments to get around the idea of divorce, though they still make it difficult a process to go through, which is hopefully under Francis, soon to be more simplified.  We agree that the process should not be easy, and we hope couples will try the ‘perfection’ root and fight for their marriages.

I did a wedding a few month ago where I preached on the line “the two shall become one flesh” and commented that being one flesh did not mean “one personality” and “eradicating differences”. I used the image that to make a salad one mixed oil and vinegar which really don’t mix unless you shake them up. In a good marriage the couple has to always work at it, work at being one, no matter how long the marriage. I asked the bride and groom to make sure they kept working at it, shaking it up.  I think people go the message because all through the reception people would come to me with the line “Shake it up!” I believe that marriages are hard work and that we need to commit to working at it. For those of you who are married, that is perhaps my simple message today: Shake it up! and for those who are not married, know that in choosing to do so, you really need to work at it constantly to achieve that perfect state that Jesus talks about. Something to be aiming for – the perfect marriage.

And that is the Good News I suggest to you today around Jesus’ difficult words on a difficult subject!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Just published! Prepare for next year! Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year Cycle C”]

Homily September 27, 2015 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, Communion, ecclesiology, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 23, 2015

26suThe gospel today should teach us a lesson that many of us just don’t understand. Someone was driving out demons in Jesus’ name and the disciples wanted to stop him. Jesus said leave him alone. He said if the person wasn’t against him he was for him. It is a lesson we need to learn today in an age when Christianity has become so split and divided that it is hard to know who belongs to whom. Centuries of pettiness and misunderstanding and jealousy and many other faults and flaws of humanity have left a very divided and disparate world of Christians. Christ’s word and teaching has been split and divided and taught in many different ways. Some take ownership of Christ’s word, yet interpret that word to their own advantage or point of view. Christ’s arms embraced the whole world and all of humanity, yet even today that embrace has been tempered and trimmed to fit one person or 26sungroup or another. For centuries we have seen Christian against Christian and ignore the people who have not heard Christ’s word yet believe and follow the God who embraces even them. Condemnation comes Christ told us when one causes a believer to sin. This might sound strong, but what is the opposite of loving if not sin? He called on all of us to love as he loved himself.
Suspicion, jealousy and all the other negative things transpiring among the men and women of the world that breaks and injures individuals and our society truly stand in the way of a true union with him. Jesus made it clear that no one owned him to his disciples, and it is so today that following him is not ownership or exclusivity. Christ’s love includes us but those arms of his also include all who wish to reach out to him. What we need to remember is that if we truly love him we love also those whom he loves. It is after all He who determines those who belong to him. Our task is to love one another as he loves us. Christ died for all and he knows who are his own. It is not ours to judge but to love and show mercy.

Today’s Homily at Holy Trinity September 20, 2015 The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Faith, homily, inspirational, Resurrection, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 20, 2015

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 27)

Posted in Christianity, religion, Spirit by Fr. Ron Stephens on September 20, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 27)

The First Reading and the Gospel today are both about jealousy. It is a particular type of jealousy in which a person has a gift of some sort and becomes noted for it, and suddenly someone else seems to be doing the same thing and doing it better or worse than the original person did. I used to see it when I taught high school. Some athlete would be the best on his team, became captain and was looked upon by others as the best. Suddenly someone moves into the area and into the school who is also a great athlete. Instead of becoming good friends, the athletes vie with each other to see who is better.

I  have seen it in my English class when a girl who was a great writer, who always got A+’s and was always given praise by the teacher, suddenly faced a new student who was just as talented. She was very mean to the new girl, jealous of her talent and fearing she would no longer be the best.

In the Book of Numbers from the Old Testament, we hear such a story about Moses, but it doesn’t end the same way. The Hebrews saw Moses, not only as a prophet but a great prophet. The Holy Spirit decided to share Moses’s gift with seventy elders in the tent where the Holy of Holies was.  Because they were elders, and because he retained the leadership, Moses didn’t feel jealous or challenged. Also, it was part of the religious experience of the tent. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit decided to descend on two common men in the camp outside. They also were given the gift of prophecy and began to do so.

When they were heard, one young man ran to Moses and Joshua to tell them that this was happening outside the tent. Joshua was upset about it and told Moses to stop them from prophesying. But Moses, instead of being jealous of having to share his gift, told Joshua that he needed to stop being jealous for his sake. He didn’t mind sharing the prophetic gift at all and wished everyone had the gift.

Similarly, in the Gospel of Mark, the apostles run to Jesus with the news that someone was doing exactly what Jesus was doing – casting out devils. Not only that he was doing it in Jesus’ name, which was exactly what Jesus had been trying to teach the apostles to do.  Jesus tells them that it is all right, especially because the man is casting out in his name, since the man would always have to respect Jesus name since the devils had been cast out. In both cases, the followers of Moses and Jesus were the ones jealous – not Moses or Jesus.

Perhaps we can take the lesson that we should never be jealous of, and, in fact, should team up with, people who have the same talents and gifts as we have, not see them as threats.

The rest of the Gospel today is filled with exaggerations which we call hyperboles. Hyperboles exist to make a strong point about something. For example, I tell people I got thousands of tomatoes out my garden  this year. Well, I didn’t really, but I got a huge amount of tomatoes – and people understand that exaggeration. Or we say of a restless night – I didn’t sleep all night! – when we probably did fade off a little bit at least – but we get the point!

So, when Jesus says that if you do anything to threaten the faith of a child, it would be better if a great millstone were hung about your neck and be thrown into the sea – he is exaggerating – but we get the point. It would be a really, really bad thing!

Similarly, if you steal things with your hands, cut off your hand! Jesus doesn’t really want you to cut off your hand, but he wants you to treat the inclination to steal very seriously! In the same way, if you have trouble with liquor but find yourself constantly walking into bars, just cut your feet off so you can’t. I mean, Jesus can’t be serious. He is using hyperbole. This, of course, is one of the reasons we can’t take everything we read in the Bible literally. There has to be some common sense interpretation. If we followed Jesus’ instruction here we would all be limbless, and blind. It simply means that we must take these matters seriously – probably where the Catholic church got the concept of “mortal sin”.

The last line of the Gospel today may be difficult to understand: “…be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” Jesus is not necessarily saying that hell is a place with fire but is actually using a metaphor here. Hell would be better translated as Gehenna, which was the local garbage pit of Jerusalem. Maggots would be there all the time because of the food scraps, and the fire would always be burning because there was always more trash. So hell is like the maggot-ridden, perpetually smoking garbage dump – a slightly different metaphor of hell than most of us grew up with.

This brings me then to the middle reading today from James once again about how hard it will be for rich people to get to heaven. In fact, James uses the image that the riches themselves will rust when you have died and left them behind, but that rust will also be evidence against you as having so many riches, and “it will eat your flesh like fire”. Again we get that garbage dump kind of image with the smoldering fire consuming the refuse.

So there is a lot packed into the readings today, but what can we take home with us? Take sin seriously and do your best to avoid it.

At some point, you will be called to justify your lifestyle.

Don’t strive for power, but share your gifts and talents with everyone, especially those who have the same strengths as you. Work with them.

Don’t store up too many riches for yourself for they will come back to haunt you.

Little proverbs or mottos or clichés that maybe you can think about this week as we try hard to reach that state of perfection that Jesus tells us we can reach.

And this is the snippets of Good News I give you from the readings this week!

[Bishop Ron’s new book containing a full year of 73 homilies for Cycle C which begins Nov. 29th will soon be available on Amazon.com  ]

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Homily September 20, 2015 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

25sundayToday’s gospel has Jesus telling his disciple for the second time that he must suffer and die at the hands of the chief priests and scribes. The idea of suffering and an angry God is a notion that somehow became prevalent and the notion that suffering was very much a necessity for a christian the whole concept of redemption. Taking up one’s cross came to mean to suffer in some painful way to make up for our sinfulness. It became almost that Jesus came only to suffer and die. But then, what of his teaching and preaching, his love and his service and God’s mercy shown through him? God sent his son into the world to confirm his relationship and love for us, especially the lowly, the deprived, the ones who most 25sunneeded his love. Love certainly involves sacrifice, as in giving of yourself to another you are sacrificing some of what you are and giving it to another. God in giving Jesus was giving his very son, love itself so fully, that the inevitable abuse of that love would lead to his suffering and death. Jesus knew the inevitability of his death, yet, he did not desire it or seek it out, but as we know, he accepted it for the carrying out of His father’s will and for the service of God’s love and mercy to all. While love ad mercy might at time lead to suffering and even death, god is not angry or vengeful but loving and merciful for all who reach out to him. Those who call out to him are the poor, the suffering, the marginalized. The self-sufficient don’t need God, wouldn’t recognize him if he reached out to him. In Jesus’ time the chief priest, the elders, the scribes were so self contained that they could not see God acting in their midst. Their eyes could not see.
A way to understand God’s love is to look at the love in marriage. The love is a 25sugiving, a sacrifice of self to become a we, one in a new union with love as the center and reason for life together. In sacrifice and love and giving, two grow and mature and live together in a new and different way. The joys out weigh the sorrows for the most part, but in the end, love holds it all together. Their relationship is steeled and strengthened through many good things and through the hard and bad things as well. So it is God’s love reaches out and shares itself with us in all things, God’s love never fails, unless we fail in our love for him.

Homily at Holy Trinity Parish September 13, 2015 The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, Faith, homily, inspirational, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 13, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 20)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on September 13, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 20)

We continue today our study of faith. With this reading of St. James, the second reading today, we enter one of the biggest unresolved theological arguments since the Protestant Revolution.  To summarize it as succinctly as I can, St. Paul has told us that we are justified, forgiven, not through any merits of our own but simply because God loves us. Nothing we can do or any sin we commit can change that fact. Yet, James today seems to indicate that we can’t be justified unless we do good acts.

According to St James today, it is hard, if not impossible to show anyone your faith. It is an abstract quality. How do you hold it up and show it, evaluate it, compare it? You can’t.  The only way, James says, that you can see faith is through good works. They go together, James says.

We see human condition since the Fall as a sinful condition. How many of us have not sinned in some way? We all have. Despite that, God has seen fit to show mercy and to send to us a savior who offers forgiveness from sins. We didn’t do anything to merit it, in fact, just the opposite really. But God in his divine mercy has forgiven us, “justified” us as Paul says. This comes from nothing that we have done.

Our response to that needs to justify (there’s that word again, with a different meaning) or give evidence to the faith we have been given. And we do that by doing good works. It is a way of thanking God, and showing our faith and gratitude for what he has done for us. Seen this way, both the Protestant and the Catholic point of view can be combined, I believe, and there is no controversy between Paul and James. To say that you are Catholic or to walk by the begging street person and wish him good day is sweet, but it doesn’t show your faith or show gratitude for the gifts that you have been given, no matter how we justify it (there’s that word again) ourselves. That is the point James is making today.

I started with the reading from James today because it has been highly controversial in church history and one of the reasons for the split in the Catholic church around the time of Luther. But how does it relate to he Gospel today? I would suggest that we center our attention on Jesus last words in the Gospel today: “Whoever wants to become my follower, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.” We become followers of Jesus because we have faith. Jesus, too, indicates along with James, that to show that faith, to be a follower, requires that some action be taken.

What does it mean to deny oneself, the first of the two things Jesus says we must do? Is he talking about fasting? not buying the latest TV or computer? giving up candy for Lent? No, he is talking about putting trust in God rather than oneself. Jesus models this in the agony in the garden when he says: Not my will, but yours be done.” Basically, it is submitting our will to God’s will. When someone makes us angry, we don’t lash out, but we turn the other cheek, that is, we humbly submit to the censure. It doesn’t mean that we are punching bags. We can still stand up for ourselves, but we do it with humility and with the understanding that God or someone else could be right.

The second is the action that we must take when we have submitted ourselves to God. We must take up our cross. This is a scary concept. Crucifixion was a terrible ordeal and perhaps Matthew uses this image after the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion to remind us of that. It means that we need to die to our selfish ways, to our sins, to our pride, to think of the other and the other’s needs first. Notice that the image is not of dying on the cross, but of carrying the cross – think of the weight of it, the purpose of it, the shame of it. We bear all this with a happy heart because we know that there is resurrection after the cross.

We follow Jesus because we see something better, and we give up ourselves in order to get to that something better. And that is the Good News that we are begged to follow!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Bishop Ron’s new book containing a full year of 73 homilies for Cycle C which begins Nov. 29th will soon be available on Amazon.com  ]

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Homily September 13, 2015 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, Faith, homily, inspirational, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 9, 2015

24 suWho do people say that I am? This is a question I think we all ask of ourselves in one form or another from time to time. How do people see us, what kind of person am I? In today’s Gospel, Jesus is doing more than that in his question. His disciples have been with him for some time, they have witnessed many of his healings and miracles and listened to his words. They have seen and heard the crowds and heard the gossip and rumblings in the crowd. So Jesus asks, what is the crowd saying? In reply different ones spoke up saying John the Baptist, one of the prophets, Elijah and so on. But the Jesus turned it on them and said but who do YOU say that I am? Notice, only one spoke up and that was Peter, who proclaimed You are the Christ! From here on, Jesus began to teach them what it meant to be the Christ. Who he was and what his mission and life were about was far from what was the popular perception of who the Christ would be and what he would do for Israel and for all of humanity. The glory of past times and the days of David and Solomon were not the idea of what God intended for humanity. The understanding of life and living in a Godly way was a long process starting from the beginning of human life and continuing through 24sunevery generation even to the present day. Our imperfect nature means that we must struggle to find the way even as our ancestors did. The only difference is that we have the accumulation of knowledge that should at the same time help us but also burden us to do better than the mistakes of the past.

So, when Jesus says to follow him we need to deny ourself. Harsh? Yes in a way, but let step back a moment and look at two lovers. In love, in giving and receiving it The other becomes all important. As love deepens the denial of self is actually the deepening of the relationship, losing in a sense individuality for something far better in a relationship of love. So it is Christ is telling his disciples, that to follow him they must give themselves over to a bigger and more loving relationship with him and his Father. Jesus himself did that by giving himself to be born, live and die. The cross, suffering, sacrifice all seem so foreign to human comfort and life. To love, to give to look out for each other seems so hard, yet that message remains the same and the suffering of men and women even today throughout the world proves that we still have not got his Word and life completely settled in our hearts and mind. Certainly, we can not by ourselves resolve all the world problems, but at least we can reach out of our shell and show the love of Christ to others in a real and self-giving way. Giving our self, our life for the gospel, is what saves our life.

Homily at Holy TrinityParish September 6, 2015 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Faith, homily, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 6, 2015

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Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 13)

Posted in homily, inspirational, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on September 6, 2015

Homily for the Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 13)

The suffering servant of Isaiah that we heard spoken of today in the first reading is all about someone hearing God’s call, and not rebelling from it or turning away. The call involves all sorts of self-sacrifice: the servant is struck, his beard is pulled out, he is insulted and spat upon. Nevertheless this servant has great faith in God and feels no one can judge him but God. In the end he will be vindicated and glorified along with all those who stand with him.

The early Church saw this prophecy as reflecting the life of Jesus and from the beginning the Gospels have looked backward at its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the suffering servant of God. Similarly, the Psalm talks about all the distress and anguish that followers of God seem to have to deal with, though in the end they know their reward will be a great one. The psalmist says that God has delivered his soul from death and when he was brought low, he was saved.

The Gospel reading today is itself a prophecy, and the very early followers of Jesus knew that people responded to Jesus as though he were a prophet. When Jesus asks his disciples who people were saying that he was, the names that he gets are the prophet John the Baptist, the prophet Elijah or at least one of the great Prophets. Only the disciples are able to see him for what he is – greater than a prophet, a Messiah or Savior.

Upon hearing this, Jesus favors the Apostles by giving them a vision of the future of this Messiah, but it was not at first very heartening. This Messiah was to endure great suffering, would be rejected by the Jewish authorities, and be killed by them. This should be immediately apparent that that it is similar to Isaiah’s suffering servant.

But then Jesus adds the glorification: he would rise from the dead after three days. Imagine how startling this must have been to the Apostles. But Peter seems not to have heard it. His only concern, the only thing he seemed to hear,  is that Jesus said he would suffer and die. He forgets that Prophets – and Messiah’s – follow the will of God no matter where it leads. That is why when Peter rebukes Jesus, Jesus can say “Get behind me, Satan.” Don’t try to tempt me to disobey what God has said would happen. God’s ways are not our ways. God has a plan, a purpose, that is different sometimes than ours.

Then Jesus takes his disciples and brings them out to the crowds following him, and again he delivers a very hard message. If you want to follow Jesus’ way, you have to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.

Those are pretty strong words so it would be good to look at them. Basically Jesus is saying that because he was going to suffer and die, they, too, would have to suffer and possibly even die, if they were taking on Jesus’ life as a role model. This is followed up by a paradoxical statement; “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for the sake of the Gospel, will save it. Now this doesn’t mean the Gospel as we have it because it wasn’t even written, but he means Jesus’ own teachings.  Basically Jesus is saying that if we want to be true followers of his we have to commit to him to the extent that we will renounce our own needs for the needs of others, accept and bear our sufferings, and if necessary, offer our lives in sacrifice for others. This is not easy to hear.

Most of us go through our busy lives, some attending church regularly, some managing to pray a little each day, some doing good works as James talks about today in his letter, but we don’t often think of going the whole way – always thinking of others before ourselves, offering up our sufferings and annoyances, standing up for what we believe in, telling others the Good News. This takes guts, it takes commitment, it takes understanding, it takes self-awareness, it takes a developed love of Jesus and his teachings.

This week I urge you to ponder the final paradox of the Gospel today and see how it applies to your life. Are you doing everything you need to do to be a true follower of Jesus or are you just a hanger-on, with no commitment, maybe just trying to pick up a good vibe! We need, Jesus says, to do more than that. We need to do what Jesus says in order to turn this world of ours into the kingdom that it can be, the kingdom that Jesus suffered and died for – a kingdom of peace and love and concern for others. That is the Good News which challenges us today to break from our protective shells and get with the program: the way of Jesus! Now we have to share it.

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God’s Makeover

Posted in christian, Christianity, ethics, Faith, homily, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Rev. Martha on September 5, 2015

23rd Sunday 9-6-15    Isaiah 35: 4-7a, Psalm 146 6-10, James 2: 1-3, Mark 7: 31-37       God’s Makeover

There is one thing you can be sure of when you read scripture about healing of blindness or deafness: and that is that you’d better be looking & listening for a spiritual application. When Jesus talked about washing hands and dishes you knew he was not talking table etiquette, right? And today we really have message thrown at us, if we can only figure out what it is…..and choose to hear it…and act on it.

 

The passage from Isaiah describes the return of the people from the Exile in Babylon. The people have lost everything- their land, their homes, their way of life, their leaders, their hope. But now God comes to save them, to open eyes, ears, and mouths. It is a complete makeover. We think of a “makeover” as a beauty treatment of eyes, hair, face, & skin. God thinks of a “makeover” as restoration of soul, emotions, mind, and relationships.

 

Psalm 146 picks up this theme. It tells us that this makeover will set us free. We don’t like to think of ourselves as captives, but we are. “Captives of what?” you ask. God is the God of faithfulness and justice. We are captives of faithlessness and injustice. God frees the oppressed and feeds the hungry. What do we do? I have been overwhelmed this week, hearing about the heartbreaking plight of thousands of Syrian refugees and their desperate needs, some dying in attempt to reach safety. We can be both the oppressed and the oppressors, you know. Yet whose side is God on? The fatherless and the widow, the Psalmist says; you know, the frail, the fragile, the vulnerable, the sick, the elderly, the helpless, and the powerless. Our society prefers to keep those children of God in institutions, in nursing homes, in homeless and refugee centers, out of sight and mind, viewing them as liabilities. We may try to close our eyes and ears to their cries.

 

James gives us example closer to home. Church visitor A has had his beauty makeover. He wears the latest fashion, well accessorized with expensive jewelry. He is offered a chair and fawned over. Church visitor B wears clothes not fit for sale in the Salvation Army thrift store. He is directed to sit on the floor. “But, clothes make the man,” we say. My son told me when he testified at a Senate hearing, “You can’t be credible on Capital Hill in a cheap suit.” James charges us, “Have you not become judges with evil designs?” Ouch! You can count on James getting right to the point. Like it or not, we are in danger of losing our ability to see the worth and worthiness of a person. When we judge on appearance, we are not open to truths other than what we first see or hear.

 

Then we come to Mark and find Jesus in the Decapolis region, among the non-Jews. Last week, we read of his frustration with the Pharisees and their traditions, and now we find amazing faith among the Gentiles. The people bring a deaf man to Jesus. The community is compassionate – they bring him their most needy resident. Mark purposefully ties this story to Isaiah, using the same word for “mute” as in Isaiah. This story is a real makeover, a release from the Exile of an isolating disability. Mark reminds us that Jesus is the Messiah foretold by Isaiah. Remember in Luke, John the Baptist’s followers ask Jesus if he is the One. Jesus responds, “The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear.” That answered their question.

 

So, in a counter-cultural move, Jesus takes the deaf man aside; in those days people found “private consultation” highly suspicious. But this lessened the sense of a public spectacle and allowed the deaf man time to better understand what was happening. Jesus also used two actions that the people would have found very familiar– to touch the man’s ears and use spittle on his tongue. It was a culture of touch, and spittle was used to ward off evil. This allowed the people to better understand what was happening. The deaf man’s ears were opened & people’s mouths were also opened. They were astonished, understanding this was an act of God; they were in the presence of divine power. They could not be restrained from proclaiming “He has done all things well,” a praise that would be inconceivable for a mere human being.

 

Ears are opened so we understand the fullness of what is being said; speech is given to praise God, to ask for and grant forgiveness & to express love. As we become less imprisoned in ourselves, we become more able to hear the Word & speak of God. Thomas Merton wrote of his experience at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, KY. He suddenly became aware of the strangers around – their innate beauty, the goodness in their hearts. He saw them as God saw them. Having our senses opened, truly opened to each other, can only create an outpouring of love and compassion.

 

I think that much of the “busy-ness” that we both brag and complain about in our lives is a barrier to seeing and hearing what is happening around us. It insulates us from feeling compelled to act on behalf of the “widows and orphans” of our day. It also keeps us feeling helpless to confront those things that we need to change in our society. Like one with a speech impediment, we fail to speak the truth and accurately label what we see. But God can heal and open us, freeing us to do what is right. To quote the One who was to come, and who will come again, “Ephphatha” (ef-uh-thuh). “Be Opened.”

 

 

Homily September 6, 2015 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Faith, homily, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 2, 2015

23 suToday’s gospels interesting as Mark tells us that Jesus traveled from Tyre to Sidon to the Sea of Galilee to Decapolis, a part of the gentile world outside Israel. The trip was a fairly long one considering they walked and Sidon was 26 miles north of Tyre before heading southeast to the Sea of Galilee and Decapolis. In Mark’s gospel, to this point there have been numerous signs and miracles done by Jesus. From this point on, Mark only records today’s miracle and four more in his gospel. Jesus in today’s gospel chooses a deaf man with speech problems to cure, and he is a gentile. For Mark, many think there is a symbolism here that Jesus is showing He is present for all and at the same time, by taking the man aside and opening his ears and allowing him to speak, that he is prompting his apostles and others to listen and hear his word. Certainly they have seen enough to hear and believe in him. Here is a moment he indicates that he is not a mere wonder worker, but a Man with the Word and a message to be heard and believed.

“Ephphatha”, be opened, figuratively Mark is speaking to all.. Listen is what he says, as the voice at his baptism said Listen to him. All through biblical history, all were 23 suncalled to listen, to hear God’s word. Jesus was sent to once and for all bring God’s love for all. But, that doesn’t mean that God
s word stopped, or that he doesn’t speak to us today. Jesus remains present in the world today in many ways and to all believers and even to non-believers. He speaks even in how we live and how we respond to others around us. How we treat and care about those around us, especially those on the fringes of our society, those vulnerable to the powerful, those helpless to defend against injustice. These are the things Jesus prepared us to listen to and respond with the love that God has shared with all of us. As Christ took his long journey to heal the deaf man, a foreigner, a gentile, so we are called to open our own hearing and listen to all and look for God;s love in all who speak to us.