CACINA

Homily From Holy Trinity Parish March 1, 2015 2nd Sunday of Lent

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, homily, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on March 1, 2015

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Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent Year B 2015

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on March 1, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent Year B 2015

Today we heard God speaking through Moses as he tells the Hebrew people traveling through the wilderness what he expects of them in return for his promise to them, his covenant, that they will be a great nation in a land of milk and honey. God chose the Jews, as Ogden Nash once commented:

How odd

Of God

To choose

The Jews.

Why the Jews? Why not some other nation?  We don’t know. He just did. It wasn’t for anything they did or did not do particularly, but it was his purpose to bestow a special grace on the Hebrew nation. In return, they were expected to act in a certain way, a way not completely similar to other nations. Other nations did have law codes. We know, for example, that around this time there was a law code called the Law of Hammurabi that the Babylonians followed.

It was probably the most civilized law code of its time and had about 180 laws.

The law code that God prescribes for the Jews to follow has only ten commandments, some of them even the same as Hammurabi’s Code. The difference was that no actual punishment was attached to each commandment, they were simply to avoid doing them. Hammurabi’s code was different in that extra severe punishments were given for each law.

The first three commandments pertain to the Jew’s relationship with God. The other commandments pertain to the Jew’s relationships with each other. Although when we think of a law like “thou shalt not murder” we apply it to all people. the laws were originally taken to be for the Jewish people themselves, their neighbors being relatives and people nearby them – a moral code of conduct for getting along with your close neighbors.

Over the centuries we have extended their meanings and principles, and although most of us follow these laws today as even Jesus said we must, we are not every careful in the commandments that relate to God proper.

We get anesthetized to taking God’s name in vain with all the swearing in TV and movies today, and barely think about what we are saying when we use the name of Jesus or God in daily speech ourselves. We certainly don’t keep the Sabbath the way God seemed to intend us to keep it – even if we have moved it from Saturday to Sunday in honor of the Resurrection. Most of us do some work, and few of us find the time even to give an hour to praise and give back to God each week on Sunday. There are a million excuses and our culture doesn’t make it easy, but the truth is, it doesn’t seem important to many of us any more.

I heard a good image the other day for Sunday Mass. The person said it was like having a cell phone. The battery runs down after a while and needs recharging. Sunday Mass can be like that. It is the charger for our spiritual battery, and just like the Hebrews, when they stopped their Sunday rest, they forgot about God and all sorts of bad things resulted.

The Psalm today comments on the Ten Commandments saying that in contrast to other nations’ laws, the laws of God are perfect, and revive the soul – there is that re-charging image again. The laws are sure, right, clear, pure, true and righteous.

And although the laws are phrased in the negative – Thou shalt not… – the psalmist sees them only positively – sweeter than honey – he says, because they keep us on the right road to God.

The Gospel for the third Sunday of Lent interrupts the Mark’s Gospel we have been reading to give us a little of John’s. It is here to show us the prophecy of Jesus Resurrection – the event that we are preparing for in Lent, but I would like you to also note that the one time that Jesus gets angry that we are told about happens here as well. It happens because Jesus sees the commandments of our relationship to God being damaged. The house of God, the temple where God dwelt was considered sacred. It was where worship was held, it was where God’s name was never taken in vain, but glorified. Yet the porticos of the Temple were surrounded by trade and finance, and indeed, more emphasis was being put on the buying and selling than the worship and sacrifice itself. Jesus’ anger caused the event that did more than any other to upset the priests and Pharisees and directly led to the death he was about to suffer. So it is an important event. In some sense it was foolish of Jesus and because he gave into his human violence, it may have led to his own violent death. But Paul tells us God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” God had a plan, and that plan brought about nothing less than the salvation of all people.

So as we have to come to the middle of our Lenten preparation, let us use the commandments to help us hone our repentance, help us to review our past faults and sins, helps to pledge anew to be worthy of the grace that God has given us, to question more carefully the motives for why we do things, and resolve to give back to God even more than he asked for. Let us make this Lent a truly repentant one, a way of thanking God for all the graces he has shown us and will show us.And let us take the time, find the time, make the time to show God we care and are thankful for his gifts.

And let this be  the Good News we give to God in return 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 amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Homily March 1, 2015 2nd Sunday of Lent

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on February 25, 2015

2 sun lent 1If we look at today’s readings with a view of current events in the middle east, we have to remind ourselves of the very western point of view that we have. In our world, we speak of families and countries and have a world view very much shaped by all the conflicts of the last century. But really if we look at the middle east, the countries there are constructs of those conflicts and the shifting sands of tribalism that was current in Jesus’ time is there even today. In biblical times, the Peoples there were tribal, and the circle of life for people began with the family and the village and tribe. Outside of that all were strangers and of course suspicious. In the Bible, recall Israel as a tribe spent time in Egypt and in Babylon(Iraq today), subservient to others. The outlook on life was different and certainly even human sacrifice was not unheard of. 2 sun lent 3We must not think that humanity just arrived at the 21st century and reached a measure of civility. Evil was in the world then and it is here now. While the story of Abraham and Isaac is a revelation of faith and trust and God’s care, it is also a reminder of what our ancestors were and what we have become. That hatred and murder and brutality are still in our world makes the point that much needs to be done to bring about a true revelation of God’s will for humanity to be one in his love.2 sun lent 4
Christ came into just such a world and in his one life had the call to bring God’s word to humanity. He knew what lay ahead of him and that his death was inevitable. Yet he knew God’s grace was a living and growing thing that would evolve and spread as time went on. Today’s gospel was meant certainly for his apostles, but also for assurance to him also. None of us starts out on a task without first preparing and assuring our self of making progress. That is what Christ did and he began a way, a path, a journey for all to follow to his Father. Many in the world today follow Christ, yet we see 2 sun lent 2that there certainly are those who don’t. Hatred, violence, mistrust, poverty or just being helpless all lead to the ills and evil we see today.

Our faith calls us to look around and to reach out. We need be careful of exhibiting the comfort and triumphalism of the Scribes and pharisees who thought all was well and that they had all the answers. The only one with all the answers is God and he has bestowed them as he has seen fit and revealing them as he determined we were ready for them. More than anything, this is what we see in our readings today.

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on February 22, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015

The word “transfiguration” is not often part of our vocabulary today. I can’t image a mother coming to the table with a beautifully done casserole proclaiming that she had “transformed” the macaroni into this exotic dish. We might use it if someone goes to the beauty shop and gets a daring haircut. Look how transformed she is! we might say. Or we might use it in telling fairy tales to our children – someone was transformed into a princess-like Cinderella or a frog was transformed into a Prince. But despite the fact that it isn’t a common word to use, what the word signifies does happen pretty often. Something is changed into something more beautiful or altered in some way, making it more “awesome” to use today’s cliché.

Lent is a transformational season in the Church. This is, of course, why we hear the story of the Transfiguration read to us today. In Mark’s version the Apostles are witnesses to the event, but really didn’t understand it. Nor did they understand the reference to Jesus rising from the dead – the ultimate transformation that was to come. It would be a transformation that would transform the world.

How can we transform ourselves during Lent? What do we have to do to turn ourselves from sin, the part of ourselves that pulls away from God? I directed the play “Godspell” a number of years ago, and the character who was supposed to be Mary Magdalene goes out into the audience and sings a seductive song, coming on to all the men in the audience. But the words of the song belie what she is doing in that she had already been transformed by Jesus. Her words were “Turn back, o man; forswear thy foolish ways.” The seduction which she had used as a prostitute was now a seduction of souls to turn back, repent and come to God. Her movement from prostitute to disciple of Jesus transformed her into an evangelizer in the play.

There are some hints for us in all the readings today about our own transformations during Lent and what we must do. In the first reading Abraham had to turn his back on everything he held sacred. We know how important it was to have a son and heir for the Hebrew people. Abraham had only one son who was a gift from God. But now God wanted to take that away from him, and by Abraham’s own hand. It is a very repulsive thought even, but Abraham had such faith in God that he did not waiver. Perhaps Abraham’s faith allowed him to know that this was a test or that God would somehow make anything that happened right, but he turned his back on everything he wanted and had worked for in order to follow God’s command.

How willing are we to have complete faith in God? You know how many times i have stressed to you the fact that God’s ways are not our ways. Knowing this, are we willing to suffer, to offer up everything we hold dear and put it in God’s hands? Abraham’s reward was a great one for his faithfulness. This “handing over” our lives to God, this ability to trust that God will make all things right in the end, that there is a divine purpose behind everything that happens is one of the things that we need to cultivate in our repentance this Lent.

The Psalm today says “I kept my faith, even when I said “I am greatly afflicted”. Do we keep our faith when we suffer, when our family suffers, when there is death even? That is the kind of faith we are being asked to develop in Lent. Nobody said this was going to be easy!  If we are able to put that faith in God, Jesus Christ and the Spirit, then we can proclaim with Paul to the Romans today that nothing “will separate us from the love of Christ.” No hardship, no distress, no persecution, no hunger, no poverty, no peril or no weapon will be able to get us down or take God’s love away. Faith can move mountains!

So how do we develop this faith in ourselves this Lent? It can seem an insurmountable thing to do, but I would suggest we do it by practice, starting small.  We take something that is worrying us and we place it in God’s hands. We literally say to God: Lord, I give you this, it is out of my control and influence, do what you think best with it. Begin to make this a practice. The immediate reward will be a transformation in itself. You will feel the anxiety or depression lifting because you know you are not alone. “If God is for us, who is against us?” Paul says today. This ability to transform those fears and anxieties won’t come quickly or even easily, but it will come with practice.

At Communion today we will sing a hymn that summarizes this transformational attitude – listen to the words. “Transfigure us, O Lord. Break the chains that bind us; speak your healing word, and where you lead, we’ll follow. Transfigure us, O Lord.”  We ask God to break the chains that are not allowing us to give ourselves completely to God and his will. We ask God to heal that in us so that we can follow wherever God may lead us. Just as Jesus had complete faith in the Father and was led even to death, God’s plan was to use that death in the greatest event known to mankind – our return to God’s grace and kingdom. The last line of the verses for the hymn “Transfigure Us” asks the question: “Shall we journey with you and share your paschal road?” And that is the question I leave with you today as well. Shall you journey this Lent with God, letting God lead the way, giving the direction to God, giving our will to God, even to sharing the sacrificial road that God had taken in Jesus? It takes a great faith, but one that can be developed, practiced and lived.

And this is the Good News I leave you to ponder and maybe even find an answer to today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily February 22, 2015 First Sunday of Lent

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, Eucharist, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on February 18, 2015

1 lent 3As we begin lent, we once again recall Jesus going out into the desert to pray, to prepare for what lay ahead of him as he began the mission of calling all to repent and return to God. Realistically, all of us have been called and baptised into Christ’s blood and have the Spirit within us. We are followers of Christ, who have professed our belief and been baptised. However, at the same time, we are human and are open to the weaknesses of being human. 1 lent 4Christ himself was subject to the temptations incumbent to his humanity. Even he could see that there were possibly shortcuts he could take to make his life easier. As Son of God, he knew his uniqueness and abilities. Yet, he never presumed to do anything that was contrary to what he came for or that was for his own comfort or ease.
This time we share is 40 days of lent which started on Ash Wednesday and goes through Holy Thursday. 40 is a recurring number throughout salvation history and is very much identified with the idea of preparation. The Israelites waited 40 years in the desert to prepare a new generation for the land promised because those who left Egypt had betrayed God’s trust and thus were held back. That experience and Jesus’ time of preparation and the liturgy of the church have long emphasized the penitential nature of lent. Certainly, it is a good time to step aside and in the presence of God examine who we are and ask where we as all humans do, fall short of doing things in the best way. Our biggest challenge is to remain faithful without being satisfied that we are all ready set because the 1 lent 5structure, the law makes us right. Remember, Jesus condemned the leaders because they could not see beyond the law to the people who the law was supposed to serve. As believers, we come and share Christ’s Body and Blood regularly, but as we receive and are strengthened, it is so that we can do just a little bit better. It is as if we know and feel we could possibly give that little bit more to complete who we are.
We can not forget that the seed of weakness and self-interest lie within us. We must prepare and be vigilant that we not give in and lose sight of ourself and fellow humans. Perhaps none of us are destined to reach out to great multitudes of people, yet each day we in one way or another touch the lives of many people. This is the love and life we give to each other and those around us. 1 lent 6That is what we need to prepare, the ability to overcome our weakness and reach out to others and share the love of God we have received. If depriving ourself of things is what does it, then fine. But giving, sharing God’s love, Jesus’ gift of death and resurrection, that is what is most important as we share this lent together. Giving your time or talent to someone in need, whether it simply be to listen or to share a few minutes of time, both of you will share God’s love in a special way.
It truly is one of the ways to rid yourself of those inner temptations and doubts that sometimes attack us.

Homily at Holy Trinity Parish February 15, 2015 – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on February 15, 2015

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

Posted in christian, Christianity by Fr. Ron Stephens on February 14, 2015

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

First, a parable. Johnny had not been a very good boy this week. He had gotten into trouble at school and had not done the chores at home that had been assigned to him.

His father sat him down at the end of the week, and said: “Look, Johnny, I am going to buy you the bike that you have been dreaming about. Not because you have been good this week, because you haven’t, but just because I want to do it. However, after you get the bike, I expect some things to change around here. I want you to pull your socks up at school, and I want you to be regular in doing your chores to help your mother.  Understood?” Johnny couldn’t believe his good luck. Over the next few weeks after he got his new bike he did start doing better in school and was pretty regular in his chores. But then he started to slack off. He fell into the old patterns and spent more time on his bike than he did doing his chores. One morning he opened the garage to get his bike to go off to school, but his bike wasn’t there. He ran back into the house upset and told his dad his bike must have been stolen! But Dad just said, “You didn’t keep your part of the bargain, boy! I have hidden the bike away and you are going to have to work to get it back!”

What this story is about is “covenant”, a word we hear a lot about in the Scriptures. A covenant is a free gift that we don’t merit from our behavior. But certain behaviors of thankfulness are expected. In Exodus, when the Jews were led out of Egypt, God made a conditional covenant with them, made them his people and gave them the Promised Land. But in return they had to follow certain moral codes, and not worship other gods. When Israel broke that covenant, the Promised Land was taken from them, not forever, because God always keeps promises, but they had to work for it.

In the opening reading today from Genesis, we are given part of the story of Noah, but we also need some context.  God created the world, and after Adam and Eve  left Eden, the population grew. But the didn’t show any thankfulness or keep their part of any moral code and the world became corrupted and ungodly. God could only find one family that kept the covenant. God sent a flood which destroyed everyone except the family of Noah. But God, still in love with the human race despite their turning away, made another covenant with Noah without any expectations – an unconditional covenant that God would never again destroy the world with a flood. And just to remind them of this promise, this covenant, God created the rainbow as a visible sign  of it.

The difference between a conditional and an unconditional covenant is simply that in an unconditional covenant we are not expected to do anything in response, while in a conditional covenant such as at Mount Sinai, we have obligations and so does God.

The Psalm today reflects the Sinai covenant because the response is “Your paths are love and faithfulness for those who keep your covenant.” In other words the Hebrews needed to show faithfulness and love to God and neighbor as a result of the conditions of the Mosaic covenant.

The other major covenant in the Bible is the Davidic covenant, an unconditional covenant where God says  that David’s family line will be blessed and an everlasting kingdom would come from that line. Jesus is from the family line of David and Mark says in Chapter 10 that Jesus is the Son of David and fulfills that covenant because God always keeps promises. Mark’s Gospel is really all about proving that Jesus is this fulfillment of the covenant to David.

This Davidic covenant also has a sign like the rainbow, and St. Peter in the Epistle today describes that covenant sign as baptism. Peter explains that God saved eight persons through water, and that baptism is a saving sign and action which frees us from sin. Peter describes this as “An appeal to God for good conscience” because when sins are taken away that are no longer on our conscience, and we no longer have to worry about them.

So two covenant, two signs! In the Gospel today, in Mark’s direct and uncomplicated way, he explains that Jesus was baptized, showing us what we need to do as well, and then Mark goes on to show the qualities and signs which begin to show that Jesus is Son of God. He was driven by the Spirit, he was tempted by Satan unsuccessfully, and Angels waited on him. We are again told the secret that it will take a while for everyone else to figure out – that Jesus is the promise of the Davidic covenant promised to us.

The reading ends with Jesus beginning his preaching of the good news of God – that God’s kingdom is near. And what must our response be… what is the one condition that we have to fulfill to get in on this covenant…?  We have to repent and believe.

And THAT is what Lent is all about. It is our response to the covenantal promise of our being saved by Jesus Christ. We have to turn around, examine our lives and state our beliefs. This Lenten response leads to Holy Saturday when we renew our baptismal vows and celebrate the fact that we have been part of an covenant in which God has sent a Savior to us, God’s self in the flesh and we are at the beginning of living the kingdom of God.

This is Good News. This is the Good News of Lent, and this is what Jesus proclaims today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily February 15, 2015 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, homily, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on February 10, 2015

6 sun ord 6Measles, Ebola, these would be the leprosy of our time. Like ancient times, we still use quarantine, exclusion, isolation to protect the population at large. When modern medicine identifies a threat even now, sometimes their solution is one of those choices when they don’t have answers. It seems so hard that when a person in such need is forced into a situation foreign to him, In ancient times right up to Jesus’ time, skin disease, sores visible scabs were reasons of concern and meant a person was put out of the community, forced to fend for themselves usually out in the wilderness totally removed from their loved ones. Certainly there is nothing normal for a person to be forced to live outside of their community 6 sun ord 4and away from family and friends. Women and men seek friendship and community to live life in a normal way. In a time of sickness and need, it seems cruel to exclude them from the care and love they have worked to build up all their lives. In the case of leprosy, there was a distance required and absolutely no contact was allowed.

If we think back the past few weeks, we saw Jesus after his baptism called his first apostles and went to the synagogue and even to Peter and Andrew’s home. But we see the crowds and their expectations of Jesus as miracle worker forced him to move on from Peter’s to the next town and environs to preach and deliver his message. His healing and curing was something added to that ministry from His compassion at his very core. It drove him to reach out to those in need of healing. As time went on, he was outside the towns and villages. He desired to be heard, to preach God’s word, not to be a person idolized or held up to popularity.6 sun ord 3 Also we see, that he was looking not just to the towns, but to everybody, even those who had been cast out because of illness or what ever. He identified with those who would listen, who would believe. Those who seek God are on a journey seeking him and realize it is a journey. Some, like the priests and elders in Jerusalem, thought they had all the answers and were so satisfied that they were secure. Jesus came for those not so sure, those seeking God, those cast out, anyone who would hear his word. The sick, the desperate stirred up his compassion leading to their healing and inclusion once again. Our mission today is to teach and preach, to find those who hear but may have somehow been excluded or pushed away from community or family or friends. Christ is living, and it is through you and me and how we speak and act.

Homily at Holy Trinity Parish Sunday February 8, 2015

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on February 8, 2015

Homily February 8, 2015 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on February 5, 2015

5sun ord 1Suffering and sickness is something that is a very real part of humanity and life itself. We see it today in Job and in the gospel. Job has lost his family and fortune and is bombarded with suggestions that he needs to plead for forgiveness for what he has done wrong. Even today we look at failure as if something wrong was done that a person is somehow being punished. 5sun ord2We see in the gospels, that Jesus is constantly reaching out and healing the sick, or driving out demons. We forget that he lived in a simpler time when sickness and death came at a much earlier age than today when we have grown in knowledge and advanced in understanding how to treat sickness and extending the ability for living with less sickness for a much longer life. Consider that less than a hundred years ago 50 million people died from the flu that today we can pretty much control with vaccines and medications developed since then. What we can say is that suffering, loss and depression are not really a result of doing something wrong. In all of us, there is a built-in lifespan, a built-in obsolescence if you will. None of us is made to live our human life for ever or to be free for our whole life from pain or sickness or suffering. What is important is how we handle all the things that come at us day-to-day. Yes Jesus left the synagogue and went to Simon and Andrew’s house and cured Simon’s mother-in-law. And after the Sabbath had passed and evening came, the whole town was at the door not to just hear him but to be cured of illness and possessions.
5sun ord3But notice, Jesus went out at dawn to pray. Being pursued by his disciples, he doesn’t go back to Capernaum for he doesn’t wish to become a spectacle, a healer or miracle worker, but rather he came to teach and preach. Sure he healed when it was of service to the poor and sick, but it was not what he was about. His mission, his life was to pass on his knowledge and love of his father. He knew his life and mission was to be short. He knew that all the prophets and his predecessors suffered and faced opposition and rejection. 5sun ord4In the end he faced death and suffering himself. It was part of his acceptance of becoming human. If He suffered so, it helps us understand what part suffering plays, but why is harder to understand for it is somehow tied to how death entered into the cycle of creation. As believers we are called to love and support each other, but to know all the whys and mysteries of life and creation is for another time and place.

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