CACINA

Homily May 1, 2016 for 6th Sunday of Easter

Posted in Called, christian, ecclesiology, Faith, homily, religion, Resurrection, scripture, Spirit by Fr Joe R on April 28, 2016

6easter2“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all I have told you.” These words are woven into Jesus’ message of love and peace to all his disciples. His followers have received a very special gift and teacher, namely the Holy Spirit, God himself. We see early on the apostles themselves learned a lesson themselves in their first dispute about requiring gentiles to be circumcised. Coming together, it seems that the Holy Spirit invoked common sense in enlightening the apostles that to be a Christian did not mean that someone would have to become a Jew. Their mission was to all, Jew and Gentile, a mission of faith and love, not at all related to nation or race. It was a real first lesson that men should not be too quick to judge and impose beyond what is truly necessary for true faith and love. How quick can any of us be to judge and consider that something is necessary or has to be done when in fact we have no idea of all conditions and circumstances. Laws and rules and traditions are meant to serve humanity and not the other way around. When they get in the way of belief 6easter3there is a problem. The same problem comes about when we forget to respect other’s belief or their conscience. How many men of conscience in history met ignominious judgment only to be exonerated years later because the matter was not wrong. To stand for justice, the poor, or any other things Jesus taught is still not a popular thing. Jesus told us the poor would always be with us and we still need to care for them. Even today, we seem to forget or put aside the marginalized.

Beyond that, the Spirit is present to help and guide us today in ways unknown before. As humanity and knowledge and science advances, so does how we as Christians adapt to the times and circumstances of here and now. Not many Christians today are Shepherds or farmers or fishermen. Economic conditions, actual living conditions vary greatly 6 easterthroughout the world, but how quickly do we judge and relate only by what we see and live ourselves. Violence, war, hatred, thirst for power and all the imperfections of humanity remain and some lessons have been learned. Being open to the spirit means to live and learn and love and assist others without willing or imposing our own ideas and values on others. Learning what Jesus taught and what He said in today’s gospel: “Peace I leave you”, is urgent, but I ask, can we find that peace if we fail to love as he loved?

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Year C (May 1)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on April 26, 2016

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C (May 1)**

       (**2nd Reading and Gospel are taken from the 7th Sunday of Easter)

The early church had its problems much as we do today. The biggest problem stemmed from the admission of the Gentile community. Since Jesus was a Jew and almost all of the early followers, disciples and apostles were Jewish and followed all the Jewish laws and regulations while still believing in Jesus the Messiah, it stood to reason that they would expect everyone to be like them. To be a follower of Jesus would mean that you would also follow the laws and practices of the Jewish faith.

Paul did not see it that way and when Paul went out converting Gentile communities to the Christian faith, he did not have them follow the prescripts of the Jewish law which would involve circumcision, apparel, practices, purity regulations in food and cleanliness, and so on.

Suddenly, missionaries from Judea – Jewish Christians – were visiting and teaching among the new converts and what they were preaching was what they believed to be true – that to be a Christian you also had to follow the law of Moses and the laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

According to our first reading today, Paul had quite a debate and argument with them but neither side would give in. It was decided that Paul and Barnabas would go themselves to Jerusalem and settle the problem once and for all. This was probably the first Council of the Church and it did indeed come to a compromise.

The Gentile converts would not have to follow all the Jewish Laws and customs with just a very few exceptions – they were not allowed to eat food that had been sacrificed to pagan gods, they could not eat blood or strangled animals, and they were to refrain from fornication. They did not have to be circumcised or follow any other of the purity laws than those.

We settle debates much in the same way in the church today, and that is why councils like Vatican 2 were and are so important. It is the spirit working through the whole church as one that is able to influence things or change things and create oneness in the church. In our little community, it is working together to solve problems that makes us one.

That oneness is also the subject of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel today. Jesus prays in the reading today that all may be one – the original followers and those who will come after. The deep theological prayer here is spelled out with logic. Since the Father and the Son are one, the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father. Jesus prays that we can also be one with the Father and Son – in other words, that we be of one mind with them, that we share in their glory and in their love.

That is not always the case, unfortunately. There have been great divisions in the church, many of them based on theological issues that one side or the other could not compromise on. We see it in play today in the Roman church where there is a division on whether or not divorced Catholics can be forgiven and go to Communion, whether or not there can be birth control, whether or not there can ever be women priests. These are divisive issues that are not easily solved or compromised though attempts are being made to bring church members together to look at them. What this has often led to is divisions in the church. While all still call themselves Christian, some groups have moved further away than others.

Jesus’ prayer continues, however, with the wish that everyone could love in the same manner as the Father and the Son love each other. The decisive factor in Christianity, that is, following the way of Jesus, is love. At the end of time, at our deaths, love is going to be the deciding factor. It is God’s love that gives us grace, that forgives us, that opens his kingdom to us. Can we have the same sort of love in our lives that is given freely like grace, that forgives as God has forgiven us, that shares, just as God is willing to share his kingdom with us for eternity. We know Jesus’ prayer for us from the Gospel today. Are we able to be a part of its fulfillment?

And this leads us to the reading from the Book of Revelation today. Revelation is a strange, difficult book because it is visionary, part dream, part symbol. But this section we read today verifies Jesus prayer in that we are told that Jesus is going to return and will “repay each according to their work.” That work which will be repaid is how much we have loved. Those who have loved and shown their love “will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.”

We are not alone in our quest to love, however.  The Father and Jesus have sent the Spirit to us to help us fulfill that goal of love. “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come. And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” In God’s goodness he has shown us the way by sending his Son to us and then the Spirit.

As we end the fifty days of the Easter season today, we need to come to understand that Christianity is not a pile of rules and regulations, although we seem to have a great deal of these. The root of Christianity is love. You will be judged on how well and how much you have loved. I think we can be easily forgiven faults, but the great issue is how much we bear Christ’s love into our world. If we have learned anything from this Easter season, let us know that God raised and glorified his Son to let us know that we can be raised and glorified as well. And Jesus’ prayer today tells us how. Can we begin to measure our days by how much we have loved and shown love?  It is a challenge. It is Christianity.  It is Jesus’ prayer for us. It is Good News if only we will live it.  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Today’s Homily at Holy Trinity Parish, April 24, 2016, the 5th Sunday of Easter

Homily April 24, 2016 the 5th Sunday of Easter

Posted in Called, christian, Faith, homily, inspirational, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on April 19, 2016

5 easterToday’s gospel seems for a moment to be out-of-place. Suddenly we are brought back to Holy Thursday and the last supper. Judas has just left to betray Jesus, and we see he is aware of what is coming. He knows that his death is imminent and would glorify his Father. Like anyone taking leave, Jesus at that moment was troubled and concerned for his disciples. Strikingly, Jesus here in John’s gospel sums up what he has been about before his final discourses at the last supper. With such short time, He gave one command, love one another. Loving each other as he loved them is what makes them his disciples. Faith and love go hand in hand. Love is what sets a person apart and makes them stand out. In 5 easter 3earlier times when Abraham and Moses encountered Yahweh and the commandments were given, love then was the center yet over time and centuries humanity would seek the convenience of making rules and laws to make it “easy” to follow. In Jesus’ time the law had in many ways come to obscure what Yahweh originally intended and possessed an importance above and beyond the good of a person and the people themselves.

Jesus himself condemned the leaders who were bound up in ritual and rules and anything that pushed the people away from God. Their office and position had become so important to them that like their ancestors before them a prophet bringing the word of God was scorned and driven out and even killed. That is why Jesus had to emphasize his command at that most troubling moment for him. The command to love is eternal. Love was present before the world began and it will continue into eternity and never end. It is a seed planted in every being and grows and blossoms only insofar as we nourish it and fertilize and water it, so to speak. God’s love is open to all, at all times and is ready to receive us when we properly dispose ourselves for him.

5 easter 4As believers, we should work to never forget this and remember that loving means many things, but never should it mean that it places something in the believers path to God. Rank, position, function, all are eclipsed by the fact that there is one Lord, One God. We are all called to live and work and pray together for what we seek. God want love, not buildings, laws, unhappiness, or violence or hate. His mark on the earth is love and our mark and seal is that we love one another.

Homily at Holy Trinity Parish 4th Sunday of Easter April 17, 2016

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, Eucharist, Faith, homily, religion, Resurrection, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on April 17, 2016

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter C (April 24)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on April 16, 2016

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter C (April 24)

In the Book of Revelations today which we usually consider a book about the future, we get a glimpse also of the past. In John’s vision, he sees: “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. And [he] heard a voice from the throne saying, “See the home of God is among humans. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be His peoples, and God himself will be with them.” In the Incarnation – God taking on human flesh – this has become true, and is something we might not think about very often. Why would an immortal, all-powerful God take on mortal, powerless humanity? What does it say about God that he so loved us that he willed to become one of us, to experience what we experience, to suffer, to die as we do? His love is so great that he wants a perfect understanding of our human condition, and then to raise himself and us to a godlike state of being. So great was His love for us.

And that is why in the Gospel reading today we also look backward to before the Resurrection when Jesus had yet to die and was still teaching his apostles. He spends a few minutes talking about the concept of glorification. Glorification according to one dictionary is  the process of revealing the glory of God by one’s actions. So in other words, Jesus is saying he is about to glorify God by his actions and as a result will himself by glorified by the action of God in the resurrection. And then, Jesus adds a new commandment to those given by God on Sinai. We are commanded by God to love one another. And what should that look like? Jesus adds: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The Apostles, at this point in the story, have not yet seen how Jesus has loved them, what he will do for them, but they soon will. He will die for them. But he has already shown that love by becoming one of them – but they Apostles were still not grasping that important fact. It would take them a great deal of time to sort that all out. Jesus final statement on the matter is that people will know that you are followers of Christ by the actions of love that you show for one another.

Do we see actions of love in the political arena today? Do we see it in our workplaces? Do we see it in our neighborhoods? Do we see it in our church community? I know that we do see it in this church community. I have never been part of a community that does show so much love for each other – and it is not be talking, it is by action toward each other and the surrounding community. Anyone who spends time with us will be able to see that we do love each other through our actions.

Jesus may have been referring to his disciples when he remarked that they will know they are a Christian community by their love, but we also know that Jesus died for everyone, and so that love which we express in this community needs to spread out, and indeed, those are our attempts to do so with Stop Hunger Now and the many other things we do in our community. Is it ever enough?  Probably not, but we should constantly strive to reflect Jesus’ love in all our actions and in all the places we inhabit – church, work, home and in the community.

Our psalm today says that “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord.” Our God is a God of action and his love is expressed in action – from our creation to his incarnation, to his saving us from ourselves. We give thanks to God also by our actions of loving.

In the Acts of the Apostles today, Paul has gone to a number of churches but his message to them is always that he is relating “all that God had done with them.”  Notice again the active verb “to do”. Our God is an active God who is always taking action to show His love for us. Again the Psalm says: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. the Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.”

The two themes of glorification through action and love through action dominate the readings today. When we love each other we glorify God because we do the work of God.

This week I ask you to consider thanking God for the actions God has taken in your lives and to give back to God – to glorify God – by giving and doing for others when they are in need.  This is the essence, I believe, of all religion, all worship. It is the important thing – all the rest is decoration. The Good News I preach today is glorification through the action of love, and it is truly the fundamental Good news of the Gospel. God bless you for all you do, and for how you honor God in doing it.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter April 17, 2016

4easterThe readings today are interesting and kind of mixed in themes. They deal with life after death, the Jews and their relationship to God and the beginning of the Apostles’ ministry in the persons of Paul and Barnabas to the Greeks and Gentile world. For centuries, the Jews considered themselves unique as the worshiped only one God, Yahweh, and were the chosen people following the prophets sent to guide them. But even in their tradition, we see that the messiah was not only to be there for the Jews, but also as Isaiah said he would be a light for the Gentiles. When Jesus came, he was rejected by the rulers and leaders of the Jewish people, and as such was subsequently seen as a scandal to them. So when Paul and Barnabas were rejected by the Jews in Antioch, they turned their ministry to the Greeks and so began the opening up of the faith to all humanity.4easter1
The second reading from Revelations, is a picture of judgment where not only the 12 tribes of Israel will be, but also “a great multitude”. After all the time and turmoil of the beginning of the church through the first century until the writings of Revelations made it clear that Christ had come for all humanity and intended his words to reach to all the ends of the earth.
Finally today, is the simple passage of the Good Shepherd. It is not the long version but the reminder that Jesus is the good shepherd who puts his life on the line for his sheep. In our world today, it is hard to understand the ways of life in the Mediterranean country in the time of Jesus. Fishermen, shepherds, village life, and in many ways tribal life. Sheep were a valued commodity and important to the ebb and flow of life itself. Caring for them was primary and the shepherd would take great lengths to 4easter4protect and care for his flock. His knowledge of them and their response to him would be very clear. Thus Jesus as the Good Shepherd means he stands as protector and provider of his flock. Jesus spoke in stories and language and values familiar to his listeners. His sayings and meanings were meant to be seen and heard and understood in light of the here and now, what we see and hear. God was a mystery, yes, but his love and understanding and forgiveness was able to be seen and grasped if only we open our hearts and minds to it. The scandal of the cross was in actuality his giving his life so that all might live. It is a simple but clear message, his resurrection and subsequent presence in his church through out the centuries leaves open the way for us. He calls us and leads us by name.

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter C (April 17, 2016)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on April 11, 2016

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter C (April 17, 2016)

As we have noticed before, the Gospel of John, because it was written last, is heavier in its theology and also in its interest in Jesus himself, both as man and God. The last statement of the gospel today: “The Father and I are one,” is likely not a direct quote from Jesus but a reflection of the direction that the new Christian theology had been taking. Although cut from this shortened passage, after Jesus says this the Jewish leaders want to have him stoned to death. Why?

The most important phrase in Jewish theology which is repeated by Jews each day is translated: “Adonai our God, Adonai is One.” The most distinctive feature of the Jewish religion from the beginning has been its insistence that there is only one God. When Jesus says that he is one with God, they are thinking equal to God. How can God be divided? And so for the Jew, this is heresy of the highest order.

But the whole Gospel of John, right from the beginning with “the word made flesh” is very high Christology in that its interest is in the divinity of God as well as his humanity. That Jesus is God is a major theme of John’s Gospel because the understanding of Jesus by the end of that first century had developed in that direction. That is not to say that it is not in all the Gospels – it is – but by John’s Gospel it becomes part and parcel of the theology of Christ.

The second theme in John’s Gospel today is of Jesus the shepherd of his people, the Church. The congregations at the turn of that first century hear Jesus’ voice and they follow after him. Jesus says he knows each of his sheep and takes care of each one so that no one will snatch a sheep out of his hand. He will protect them, and he will be the judge who will grant his flock eternal life.

This is picked up in the Book of Revelations as well. The Lamb has become the shepherd, however. An odd image in itself, isn’t it? But this Lamb knows the sheep as well and will give them shelter. “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more’”; they will be protected from the heat of the sun, guided to running waters, and their tears will be wiped away. Such beautiful, protective images of how Jesus will take care of his flock. If you hadn’t figured out that we are the flock he is protecting, the Psalm spells it out for us in the refrain: “We are his people, the sheep of his flock.”

The original flock of Jesus was to have been the chosen people, the Jews. In the first reading today, we sense the frustration of Paul and Barnabas who go from synagogue to synagogue proclaiming the Good news, and each time get put down by the Jewish leaders of the community for preaching blasphemy – that Jesus was God. The leaders would rile up the Jewish people and they would be ejected from the synagogues.

In today’s reading, Paul strikes back verbally and warns the Jewish congregations that they were to have been the first to receive the Good News of eternal life, but since they had rejected it, it was going to go to a different flock – the Gentiles. This angered the traditionalists, of course, because the Jewish religion had often been closed and separate and did not welcome non-believers, even those who wanted to believe. So Paul and Barnabas were driven out and began their mission tot he Gentile nations.

What does all this have to do with us this week? We are the flock, the ones who have accepted Jesus as God and his offer to us of eternal life. We need, then, to be comforted by the fact that Jesus, our shepherd, will protect us, will feed us, will take away our thirst, will shelter us, will give us life. This is such a great cause for hope in our lives. Because we believe, which is faith, we can have hope that Jesus will judge us favorably and take care of us eternally. And we reflect this in the love that we can then share with others. We need to take time this week to reflect on how our belief strengthens us and gives us so much hope for the future that we can live our lives in love today.

I look around at the political situation today and all I see is chaos, anger, fear, racial division, violence, and negativity. We need desperately to see a little hope and love moving to the front. So, my prayer this week is that we cast aside all those negative things and work on the two virtues which Christ as shepherd wants us to have and put those into practice in our own lives. Let us be, in the words of Acts, a light for the Gentiles, a light for those who are angry, a light for those who fear, and like Paul, not be afraid to speak “boldly” about our hope and our love.

This is the challenge of today’s Good News. God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily at Holy Trinity Parish April 10, 2016 the 3rd Sunday of Easter

Homily for 3rd Sunday of Easter April 10, 2016

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, Faith, homily, religion, Resurrection, scripture by Fr Joe R on April 7, 2016

3rd easter 3Today’s readings help us understand the importance and the centrality of the resurrection to what it is to be a believer and lover of God. Christ’s death showed the complete love of God for his creatures but the Resurrection raised that love to heights unimaginable to humanity in the condition that their nature had taken them. Humanity at the time of Christ lived more in terms of survival and looking out for self and what was their own. Justice was harsh and “eye for an eye” was one of their rallying cries for justice. Even today this idea and reality exists in the world and certainly 3rd easter 2has led to war and violence and suffering throughout the ages. The reality of God’s love was certainly in the world before Jesus came, but his physical presence and teaching brought a whole new dimension. His message of love looking out for the poor, the downtrodden, in fact anyone unable to look out for themselves. Embedded in that love and most strongly coming forth from the resurrection was forgiveness. Love is giving and not taking. It looks out for those we meet, we come across, even those who scorn or hate or revile us. Understanding, compassion, yes, these and all the actions God’s love calls us to share. Forgiveness is not always easy. Hurts and slight can seem to be wounds to the center of our being, yet who are we to deny forgiveness, if God and our Risen Christ were able to forgive the total morass of the evil side of all humanity?3rd easter 4
What really is the benefit of revenge? Does injury to another make our injury less? Certainly, life is complicated, but we profess to believe and act out of God’s love. I do not claim the answer is simple to evil and to unjust force, but after thousands of years, shouldn’t we have learned about reason and intelligence in a world so obsessed with power and force? Love will always win out, even as Christ’s love of dying on a cross was the ultimate act of love’s triumph.