Homily October 11th, 2015 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, Faith, homily, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on October 8, 2015

28sunOver the past weeks in the gospel of Mark, we have seen Jesus talk of following him and what needs to be done to be in good standing. Who wants to be first, how does sin impede you and so on. Today we meet a rich young man who asks what he must do. Being a good man the commandments were no problem for him. Jesus said he lacked one thing, complete dedication. Give up all he had and follow him. Through the centuries this passage has so often been used for a description and entrance into religious life, was that really Jesus intent? Often he cites the extreme to make a point more relevant to all. Like pluck out an eye etc. What is he saying., what is the meaning? What here can get in the way of eternal life. What roadblock could be here? Wealth, possessions, comfort, being overly satisfied with ourselves. All these distract and make us self-centered, Jesus was about people, about care, looking out, being with others caring. Nothing can or should stand in the 28suway of doing that. Can we not become so concerned with the here and now and what we have that we forget the who is there in and around us. Certainly the commandments not to kill, nor commit adultery, nor bear false witness, nor defraud, nor steal, and yo honor parents in the gospel are boundaries to be followed, but the command to love, the basis for all commands sets no boundary of giving to assist and be there for one another. This unrelenting love is ultimately what Christ asks of us and ultimately is asking for us to give ourselves and our love in a personal and intimate way to God.

Today’s Homily at Holy Trinity Parish October 4th, 2015 The 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, Faith, inspirational, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on October 4, 2015

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 11)

Posted in christian, Christianity, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on October 4, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 11)

We meet a rather melancholy Jesus in the Gospel today, perhaps because of his disappointment in this good man who walked away from him because the man couldn’t give up all he had and give it to the poor. This is the Jesus who makes central his mission to the poor and the spreading of the good news. In Mark’s Gospel, it is the central, core mission. It is also something which goes quite against the capitalist society that we live in in America. I often wonder how the billionaires who claim to be Christian, listen to the reading today and what they must be thinking?  How do they justify the huge amount of money they make, while poor are starving all around them in the world. I guess if we put our minds to it, we can justify anything.

Look at this man who comes to Jesus in all sincerity and asks how he can have some of this eternal life that Jesus has been preaching about. He is a good man, not a sinner, who does everything required of him by the Law of Moses, and does it willingly and with a good heart. He was an honest seeker and was respectful of Jesus when they met, even kneeling before him to show his humility and deference in the face of Jesus, the teacher. We are even told that Jesus loved the man. That could be any of us here today.

The man probably expected Jesus to praise what he had been doing and to tell him to keep on doing it if he wanted eternal life. But Jesus doesn’t say that. Jesus gets down deeper. Jesus looks into his heart and sees what is really stopping him from going all the way – his love for his material things and the money he has saved up or put aside. This was not a new idea in Jesus’ teaching, of course. Jesus basically said the same thing to his own Apostles.

When Jesus tells the man that the added thing he can do to assure eternal life for himself was to divest himself of all his material possessions by giving it all away to the poor, to trust in God that there will still be treasure for doing so, and follow Jesus as a disciple, the man was unable to make that commitment. He goes away “grieving”, dejected because he could not make that big a commitment to ensure his eternal life. Would we be any different?

If I told you right now that all you had to do to get eternal life was to sell your house, cash in your 401K, drain your bank account and give it all to the charity of your choice, to be my disciple, trusting that God will make sure you have enough to survive – could you do it? Would you even want to do it?

Jesus’ melancholy shows in his statement: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” The reason why it will be hard is because their wealth, their love of possessions and money puts a wall up which does not allow them to fully carry out the Gospel message – they want to be the ones accountable for what they have and ensure it will be there when they need, not leave it to God to do so.

Now, in fairness Jesus was saying that this was what a disciple of his needed to do. I guess if you are not a disciple, you have to learn to balance having some wealth with following the teachings of Jesus, by being charitable and sharing some of what you have. But, because most of us in this country have so much, it will still be hard.

In our first reading today, the Book of Wisdom tells of a man who calls on God, in much the same way the man called on Jesus. He is given Wisdom – often a feminine virtue in Scripture – and comes to understand what is important to God. In his new wisdom, the man realizes that following God and following God’s ways are more important than acquiring wealth, having good health, or keeping one’s youth and beauty.

That is so anti-American, it seems to me. Everywhere I look in magazines, on TV, in the other media, all that seems important is up-to-date fashion, cosmetic surgery and steps to keeping one beautiful, playing the stock market to make more money, deifying some Kardashian or rich star. That is what is important to the culture today. So anti-Gospel!  So difficult to reconcile with Jesus’ words!

The Epistle to the Hebrews today is unusual in that it deals with the same topic. Most often it is just a random reading. Paul says that in the end we all have to render an account of how we lived, what our priorities were, and how we acted. Even if we have justified all these actions, in the end God can “judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare.” And how hard it will be for those who have put their love into fleeting things, inappropriate things, material things.

One of the reasons I joined the Catholic Apostolic Church was because I was tired of hearing guilt-inducing sermons that made me feel worse when I left church then when I came in. But when we have readings like these there is a certain amount of guilt it provokes in us, I am sure. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t really do that. He doesn’t make the man feel guilty. He just tells the man what he has to do if wants eternal life. When the man decides he can’t do it, Jesus doesn’t say “Shame on you! You better change or you’ll never get to heaven!” He simply watches him go and then makes a comment to his disciples at how sad a thing it is that the man couldn’t do it.

So that is how I would like to end with you today. You haven’t come asking to be disciples or priests. Yet, you hear Jesus talk about how difficult it is to balance material things with a spirituality. And that leaves us with a decision as well. Can we balance our lives so that money, material goods, fame, power, sex – all those American dreams – become less important than your relationship with God, and what can you do to make that balance a little more top heavy on the spiritual side each day, so that maybe at the end of life, we won’t have to justify why we haven’t done enough for the poor or the sick or the troubled around us. No guilt – just a path that I suggest might lighten the burden at the end. And this is the continuing Good News I bring you today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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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 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 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.

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  ]

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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 for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

Posted in Christianity, church events, inspirational, scripture, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on August 23, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

Our first reading today is from the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the books ascribed to Moses and the one dealing with the end of his life and the imminent entry into the God’s Promised Land. Moses and the Hebrews have been wandering through the deserts for forty years and they are about to enter their homeland, but Moses is an old man now and knows that he will not enter it with them. In this reading Moses is talking to his people and reminding them that they have messed up badly over the years, which is why the promise took 40 years too fulfill. Over and over they have forgotten the one true God and the teachings of their God.

In the selection we read today, Moses is being very practical with his people, and giving them good political advice as well as spiritual. In the spiritual or moral dimension, Moses is telling them to remember what God has done for them in leading them out of slavery, and that God has given them a pattern to live by with the commandments. Moses urges them to be diligent in following God’s commands to show their love and gratitude to God, first of all, but that it would also be good for them politically, to show the other nations that they are a cultured, wise nation.  At this time there were not many countries that had as civilized a law as did the Hebrews. Moses says that they could be a light to other nations, and make it possible for other nations to see the immanence of Israel’s God – the fact that God is with them, hears them, and answers them.

The Torah, then – or the teachings of God given to Moses – makes the Hebrews stand out to other nations, achieving two great purposes – serving God and presenting the one God to other nations.

The teachings (which we translate as Laws) that Moses gave the Hebrews were the Ten Commandments certainly, but also other teachings that separated the Hebrews or set them apart from other nations. Many of the Laws, especially those of purity came about as comments on the Law, just as today many of the the ideas in the United States Constitution have been ruled on and more laws and amendments have been created over the years.

When Jesus attacks the scribes and Pharisees because they say he is not following these created laws of purity, many of these were traditions and not always Biblically based. Some of them came about for hygienic purposes or to suit the needs of the priests or ruling bodies.

When Jesus was accused of breaking these so-called laws, he reminds them that they are merely human traditions, and that more importance is being placed on these than on the actual teaching words of God.

So Jesus uses this as a way to explain that God created everything as good and that it is what we do with God’s creation is what creates something bad. Evil comes from inside a person. And this is what the original commandments or teachings of God was really about. When we look at the list of things that Christ calls evil coming from the heart of man, we see murder (5th commandment), fornication and licentiousness (6th Commandment), theft (7th commandment),  deceit and slander (9th commandment), avarice and envy (10th commandment),  with pride, folly and wickedness involved in all ten of them. Jesus was getting back to the basics by reminding them that God’s commandments are more important than the traditions that had become the sole concern of the Pharisees of his day. I think we do the same thing today when we take individual moral problems like abortion, homosexuality, birth-control as ‘the’ most important issues in our religion. We tend to have pet concerns that override the really important issues of loving God and neighbor and sharing with the poor. That isn’t to say they are not at all important or connected – they certainly are – especially abortion – but we enlarge them to be more important issues, honoring God with our lips, as Jesus says, but ignoring the heart.

The letter of James today really summarizes what I have been trying to say when he defines a “pure and undefiled” religion in a way that seems very simple and narrow. Purity of religion is caring for others, loving your neighbor, especially those who can’t care for themselves like widows and orphans, and not following the ways, the traditions of the ungodly world. James also adds that we need not to just listen to God’s word, but we have to follow through and do it.

So how can we be doers of the word this week? First of all let us focus on the two great commandments this week. Find a way to let God know of your love, spend some time with him, talk with him. He is both immanent and transcendent. We acknowledge his greatness and vastness, God he also became one of us and so we can talk with, complain to, beg, and thank God. Then, find a way to focus on our neighbors in need. Perhaps donate time or food to a mission or food bank, or donate to a cause that helps others. Bring extra peanut butter in for next Sunday’s peanut butter drive. Do “something” to remind yourself of the Word of God presented to us this week.

And that will be really Good News for God and for the recipients of our love this week.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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