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  ]


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.