CACINA

Homily from Holy Trinity Parish for the Baptism of Jesus January 11, 2015

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Fr Joe R on January 11, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

Posted in Called, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture by Fr. Ron Stephens on January 11, 2015

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

The theme of today’s reading is obviously how God calls us and what our responses to that call are. This is apparent in all the readings today except for the reading from St. Paul which is usually never thematically connected to the other readings but is simply a weekly continuation of one of the Epistles. We see the theme of “the call of God” in the first reading when Samuel hears someone calling him in the night, and keeps running to his mentor Eli, thinking it must be him. This happens a few times, so Eli eventually suggests that the next time it happens, that Samuel just simple say “OK, I am here.” When Samuel is at rest and hears the call again, he simply says to God – I am here. What do you want? I am listening”, God speaks to him and lets Samuel know what he wants.

If we apply this to our own situations, I think that sometimes we are so busy that we either don’t hear God calling, or we do hear God  and mistake it for something else in our busy lives. If we simply can relax into prayer, and say to God, “OK. I am here. I am listening. Speak to me”, we might actually hear what God is telling us in our lives.

The Psalm picks up on this theme as well. “I waited patiently for the Lord.” If we can take the the time to listen and be patient, if we can say “Here I am, Lord: I come to do your will”, God will, as the psalm says, “incline” to you and put a new song of praise into your mouth.

So far we have learned that we have to do is calm down, be patient, listen intently, and tell God we are there to do what God wants, if we want to hear God. But the Gospel adds even more to this today.

First of all, this is the Gospel of John, not the Gospel of Mark, which we are normally using this year. And this same story in the Gospel of Mark, and for that matter in the other two Gospels, is different than John’s telling of it. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus walks around calling people to follow him. The event of today as described by the Synoptics, has Jesus doing the seeking out. He goes to the shore where he observes Andrew and his brother Peter fishing, and he says, “Follow me”, and they do.

John’s account is a little different because it tells us that Andrew (the patron of our parish) is a follower of John the Baptist. Jesus walks by where John is preaching and baptizing. When John the Baptist announces that Jesus, this person who is walking by, is the lamb of God, Andrew and his companion, who is never named, take the initiative and follow Jesus. It is the reverse of the other Gospels. When Jesus realizes he is being followed, he turns around and asks the two men, “What are you looking for?” 

The two men do not answer Jesus’ question but instead ask another question in response: “Teacher, where are you staying?”

Now let us put ourselves into this situation and pretend we are the one with Andrew. We have just been listening to John the Baptist proclaiming a messiah, and that to get ready for a messiah, we had to repent, turn around and change ourselves. Then John points to someone walking by and calls that person a Lamb of God. What an odd thing, we think, to hear someone, a man, referred to as a lamb – and not just any lamb, but God’s lamb. If John thinks this person is important and yet puzzles us about his identity, we decide that we are going to follow this lamb and see what we can find out. We are curious.

So we do, but then,  this man turns around and asks us a question: “what are you looking for?” What are we looking for in our lives? Normally we might have turned that question around and asked God what he wants  or is looking for from us in our lives, but no. He asks us what we are looking for?

What would be our answer to such a question? . Would it be something minor? “I just wanted to see why John called you a lamb?” Would it be something selfish? “I just wanted to see how important you were so I could follow the best leader.” Would it be something selfless? “I just want to be of some help if you are the person John is telling us is coming.”

Now, today if we sat down to pray and we heard: “What are you looking for?”, would we have a good answer?

So, in this Gospel story we have placed ourselves in, we don’t have an answer, or are afraid to answer, so we simply throw a question back at Jesus. And our question is “Teacher, where are you staying?” This could be a simple response asking where Jesus was living, where his house was. But, of course, this is a Gospel, and it is never that simple. In Greek, the question implies, “Where can you be found, or where are you residing?” What we might be asking today is “Where can I find Jesus? Where can I find God?” Throughout the Gospels Jesus gives a variety of answers to that question, telling us that he stays with the Father or that he stays “in us”. Where do we find him today? In the tabernacle? in holy communion? in other people? in ourselves?

Jesus never really answers Andrew’s question, but simple says “Come and see.” Is this the “Follow me” that the other evangelists use? The reality is that we have to meet Jesus wherever he is, and that could be in a wide variety of people, situations, places and times.

So the result of these simple two questions and a Jesus statement was that Andrew and his companion went with Jesus, stayed with him (and the word stay here implies the patience in prayer we talked about earlier) and were so impressed, so sure that this was the Messiah whom John the Baptist had been preaching about, that they themselves became disciples and evangelizers.

The next thing Andrew did was to evangelize by going out and convincing his brother that he had found the Messiah and he brought Simon Peter to Jesus.

So, if we look closely at this pattern we can also apply this to our lives. We need to find Jesus, stay with him – through prayer, listen to him and by listening coming to know Jesus, and then we need to share that experience with others. That is what the CALL of Jesus is all about for the Gospel writer John.

This, I suggest to you is the pattern that is being given to us if we wish to become followers of Jesus and hear that call. Just something to think about this week, and very Good News if we have an answer to Jesus first question: “And what are you looking for?”

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 for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year B 2015

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, Eucharist, homily, inspirational, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on January 4, 2015

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year B 2015

{using Isaiah 42.1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34 and Mark 1.7-11)

Christmas is now quite over and once again we begin the story of the public life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ as we continue in what we call Ordinary Time. I am oftentimes frightened by how many times we have to preach each year on elements of this same introductory story. We get it in Advent, we get it on this feast, we get it on other John the Baptist’s feasts, and it comes up each year in whatever Gospel we are concentrating on. I always wonder whether I can find anything new or relevant for you in the story. But simply because the story is read to us so many times in its different versions in the four Gospel, I realize the import of it, and always manage to find something to say about it.

The opening reading today from Isaiah is not about John the Baptist as we saw in the Christmas readings of Isaiah.  This is not about the man who announces the servant of the Lord, but is about the servant himself, so the focus of today’s feast is not on John but on Jesus himself.

There are four “servant” songs in Isaiah, and today we hear one of them. We often think of Christ’s sayings about being a servant to others, his washing of the feet of his apostles, his dying on the cross to serve as a sacrifice to redeem us. Isaiah talked about a servant who was to come – a chosen one of God, one in whom God puts his Spirit. Those first two qualities Isaiah foretells are picked up by Mark today in his telling of Jesus’ baptism. Being chosen, and being filled with the Spirit are the same two themes Mark uses. God chooses Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”, and in the baptism the Spirit of God descends on Jesus like a dove. So it is clear, then, right from the beginning that for Mark, Jesus is the servant of God that Isaiah foretold.

It will follow then that the rest of the prophecy will also be carried out by Jesus, so if we look at the list of things that Isaiah proclaims about this servant, we should see exactly the same things played out in the life of Jesus. Isaiah says that “he will bring forth justice to the nations.” He will do what he has to do quietly, not like some preachers who cry out and rant and scream. Both of the these qualities we see in Jesus.

The image of the bruised reed and dimly burning wick probably refer to our own weakness and proclivity to sin. Or it may be an image of the poor or derelict in society who delicate and bruised. Isaiah says that the servant will not break the reed or quench the fire that still burns on the wick. It is an image of gentleness, of care for those who are suffering or in pain.

The servant will faithfully bring forth justice. Certainly that is an image of the Christ. Social justice issues are all through the New Testament, in the sermons of Jesus and in his actions.

Lastly, the servant will carry through his job till the end: “he will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.”

All of these prophecies of the servant fit Jesus so perfectly, and give us much to meditate on in our own dealings with people and problems.

Lastly, the Isaiah passage talks about what the servant will mean to us. Most important is the idea of our having with a God New Covenant. God says: “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.

If you haven’t noticed the dominant imagery of “light” over the Christmas season, you really haven’t been listening or singing our hymns.  It has been a major theme during our Christmas celebrations. Christ is our light, just as God says his servant will be a light to all the nations, again opening up the covenant, creating a new covenant that enlarges the scope of the older one.

In the final few lines we hear the lines that Jesus himself so often uses as a description of his mission on earth – his purpose, his goal: “to open the eyes off the blind, to bring prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” And these are both actual and metaphoric . Actual, as we see in the second reading from Acts when we are told that Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” and metaphoric since we are often blind to the spiritual realities of life, often held prisoner by our habits and our misunderstandings.

Jesus is the servant of God foretold by Isaiah, and at his Baptism, Mark sees the beginning of the servant’s role announced and played out. If we are to follow Jesus as he asks us to, we must also be servants to others, develop a social justice awareness and act on it, and realize that we too have God’s Spirit within us to help us achieve that state of perfection. It won’t be easy – we will all have crosses to carry – but that is what the readings today suggest to me that the Good News is all about.

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 for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

“REJOICE!”,  the reading from Paul to the Thessalonians begins today! – one of the reasons we wear rose vestments today and light the rose candle, and this seems an odd word in a season of repentance. But Advent is not Lent and the kind of turning back we do in Advent is much different that the sojourn we take with our single lives in Lent. We turn back to prepare ourselves in order that we can welcome the Messiah and welcome the “day of the Lord” that he brings with him. In that world we can, as Paul says, rejoice, not just today but always, pray unceasingly and give thanks for everything. That is the life of a Christian after the coming of Christ. The advise of Paul to day today to us is wonderful advice: let us not quench the Spirit inside us, let us not throw away the Hebrew Testament but take what is good from it, and try our best to stay away from every type of evil. We will have Jesus’ help in doing this. Very hopeful words.

And Jesus will help us with this. One of the verses of Isaiah that Jesus quotes is the opening verse today is: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me” and “he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives…to release the prisoners and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The spirit of God was in Jesus and it is in us as well, his gift to us to help us as we struggle through our lives, trying to ready for the day of the Lord which has begun but isn’t totally here yet. Some days we feel getting to that day has a long way to go, don’t we!

In place of the Psalm today the liturgy gives us the beautiful prayer of Mary who was facing a whole lot of trouble, a birth when she was unmarried, fear of what would happen. But she doesn’t get down. In fact, she trusts God’s plan for her, and her Magnificat is reminiscent of the person that Isaiah has described, and that Jesus becomes. “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” I wish the translators could use a different word than fear, which in English has all sorts of negative connotations that it doesn’t really mean. Better would be: his mercy is for those in awe of him from generation to generation.We might fear that we are not good enough, but we are in awe of the Creator of all things.

The Gospel today is John’s version of the story that we read from Mark’s earlier Gospel last week, and staying true to John’s very metaphoric and symbolic Gospel, he presents Jesus as ‘light’. Later on he even has Jesus say that he is the light of the world. John the Baptist’s job is to give testimony that Jesus is the light, the Messiah. The gospel writer presents John the Baptist using the words we read last week in Isaiah, and John describes himself as the one crying in the wilderness begging people to make straight the path for God. He again states that his baptism is just a symbol of the washing away of sin, but there is someone coming who will actually wash away sin, and who is so great that John is almost a nothing in comparison. The two versions, though written many years apart, are very complimentary.

So how can we apply this to our own lives this week. I would ask you this week to concentrate on being in awe of God. Think of creation, nature, beauty, art, and face the realization that God is over all these things. He really is, to use the phrase of many today, “awesome”! In appreciating the things of God, the wonders of God, the enormity of God and his universe, we might seem very tiny and insignificant. But, then realize that God really cares for each and every one of us – he goes after the one lamb who has strayed. We just need to repent, turn around and he will be there. So rejoice always, as Paul says, and keep in mind the really wonderful season we are almost through, as we await and awaken to that light that we remember each Christmas day, and that we await to lighten our lives again when Jesus comes in glory.

And that is the Advent Good News the Biblical writers suggest to us 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 December 8, 2013 Second Sunday of Advent

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, inspirational, religion by Fr Joe R on December 3, 2013

Once again as advent begins, we meet up with John the Baptist. He was a stark figure dressed in baptist3-227x300camel-hair and leather, living in the desert. Obviously he was cantankerous since he was challenging the Pharisees and Sadducees as vipers and shouting their need for repentance. He was far out of anybody’s comfort zone in that desert not presenting anything but his words and his baptism. Word of mouth must have been strong because he quickly drew all kind of people to hear him and experience his words. Today, we would go to our computers or TV’s and search out the far out and unusual and never leave the comfort of food and home. Yet, I think the change to today is exactly the challenge Christians have today and have to recognize that as John called out the satisfied comfortable Jews in his day, so we are being called out to get uncomfortable for we have yet to bring about the kingdom of God to our world. Complacency can destroy all most any undertaking, and satisfaction is probably one of the greatest temptations to keep moving on and achieving new heights. Since the Catastrophe of World War II the world has moved as never before with human achievements exponentially expanding everyday.

Certainly God has kept up with this, but have we. Like in the dark ages of the church, are we making judgments based on limited human understanding of things as was done with the limited sciences of the middle ages? Christ is coming, but Christ has come and HE IS HERE in His Spirit. Everyday he challenges us to hear his voice, to see our fellow humans as kindred spirits, caring for them as He Himself did in His time. Face the fact you can never do enough, but don’t find comfort in it. Oftentimes, it is easy to accept the maxim that this is the way it is. It is the nature of human beings to institutionalize and organize and make rules and laws in the name of order and right. However, is it right to impose what we think and don’t often do. How easy is it for prejudice and other emotions to sway our thinking and concerns. These often are things we learned and not absolutes. In fact Jesus taught only one absolute and that was love.

smoke bench HRLove is the challenge that really challenges us today. It calls for us to give and then give more. It looks at the person and and their good, how the love of God can be brought to them. That is the challenge and the constant call: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Are we ready for this Advent challenge? It is not new, but it needs to be refreshed for all of us need to be reminded that we get distracted, get into schedules, concerns, work and all kind of things that take up our daily life. Now is the time to get aside and reflect and in a sense disconnect from the daily to our virtual desert and hear the words of John to make ready and renew and prepare and have a really loving unfrazzled Christmas.

Homily December 9, 2012 Second Sunday of Advent

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, ethics, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture by Fr Joe R on December 6, 2012

Today, again we are reminded to prepare. Baruch was writing from a point of view of exile. He had a vision of a great procession of Peoples heading for Jerusalem. It would be a time when sins and transgressions would be forgiven. This cavalcade of people meant that no denomination or people had a monopoly on God. It would be presumptive to think it, but how often in history have people thought they had their own special inroad to God? Baruch’s call today was to put off mourning and return from exile to their home in Jerusalem, where they would find forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation. His is a spirit of messianic anticipation.

For the other two readings, it is good to note that Luke has divided history into three parts, the time before Christ, the time of Christ, and the time of the Church or after Christ. Mark puts John the Baptist in the time of Christ, but Luke puts him in the time before Christ. Thus we see today in Luke’s presentation, that he rolls out the details of the times and puts Jesus in the “middle of History”. John comes before him and connects to the bridge touching all time before and after. Even today we are experiencing the saving power of God and his love in the world. Jesus survives and calls us to continue and to spread his word even today. His work is incomplete in a sense until each one of us completes it in ourselves. Love is an ever-growing thing and thus will forever be a growing all-embracing thing. Paul prays today that our love may forever be increasing our knowledge and perception so as to discern whatever is of value so that we be pure and blameless for the day of Christ filled with righteousness coming from the same Jesus Christ.

Clearly then this time of History is the Church according to Luke. We are called to love and seek out and grow in knowledge and perception as time and science and all knowledge moves on. Paul is telling us the we must seek the value in what we learn as we grow and use it in such a way to remain righteous in Jesus Christ. As humanity moves forward then it becomes our task to sort out and learn what is of value to ourself and to humanity. Only through prayer and God’s help can we know these things. As John today is preparing the way for Jesus, so has Jesus prepared the way for us. He has given us the map to find our way, his Love. It is with this love that we must boldly move forward and keep going. Didn’t he tell us he is the way, the truth and the life. This is where we are called. His Words, the gospels, are the beginning of a journey a guide book, a map. Ours is to follow it and live the reality of that map.

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