Homily November 15, 2015 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, Faith, homily, inspirational, saints, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on November 11, 2015

33sToday’s readings are similar to the readings at the end of every church year. Apocalyptic and Cataclysmic renderings of events and descriptions used to render a certain fear and consternation of the coming of end times and Jesus’ second coming. As believing Christians, we have faith, certainly, and a sense of uneasiness that at times we fall short of the perfect love we should have, but if we remain positive and work toward that love of Christ, why should we have fear? Christ is with us now. We actively share his body and blood in the Eucharist. He has sent his Spirit among us to guide and help us along the way. At the end of our path, he awaits, loving and welcoming us to be with him and his Father. All of us ultimately meet him, and the end of life, be it individually or collectively is the achievement of life and a new beginning of a whole life which we can not now know but we know it has been prepared for us by our faith. God’s love is an embrace surrounding all of humanity 33sufrom the beginning to the end. Christ’s call to all and his love and concern that all have the chance and opportunity to know and love and share God’s beneficence, should make us more comfortable as we approach our final union with him.

Love is certainly a much greater motivator than fear, although fear is sometimes a better short term solution. But seriously consider, what relationship lasts or is fruitful if it is based on fear alone. In our society, does fear of punishment stop people from doing wrong and evil things? Love at least make people stop and think and consider how and why things are good or evil. That is not to say that people can not make mistakes or wrong decisions, but ultimately only God knows each and every person for who they are and what they do, and he alone can only judge their love or lack thereof.

33sundaMark wrote his gospel about the year 60. We can see in his and other wrings of the time, that the early community expected Jesus’ return to be imminent. The fall of Jerusalem was a real sense of an apocalyptic end to them. Yet Jesus has yet to come. Every century, every age almost has issued warnings and almost pleas for the end. Yet, Jesus said only his Father knows that time, and truly all of humanity will one day be together in God’s embrace and will only then know fully the love of God.

Today’s Homily given at Holy Trinity Parish All Saints and All Souls November 1, 2015

Homily November 1, 2015 All Saints day

Posted in Called, christian, church events, Faith, homily, inspirational, Resurrection, saints, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on October 28, 2015

nov1bThe feasts of All Saints and All Souls brings us to the concept we call the Communion of Saints. In the early scriptures, the faithful are referred to as “saints” and the community was a part of a union of all believers in the love and fellowship of God. Of course, they thought Christ was returning in the very immediate future and thus the reality of that was very real for them. Their communing with the Martyrs and the persecutions of the time strengthened their resolve and the bond of love with each other through Christ and the Spirit. Their nov1dfaith knew they would be united with those who went before them. But as the centuries moved on, and the life and death of fellow Christians were not martyrs or believers who stood out in faith, the mystery of death and the after life became speculative and question. The fact Jesus said the part of following him meant that suffering would come in some form or another. Also, most believers realize that everybody falls short of perfection and must seek out God’s mercy. With this in mind, in the communion of saints, the idea that those who fell short in life had a suffering or preparatory stage to full union with God. Yet, the concept of time and place which heaven and purgatory brings to the fore is not really consistent to time and place we experience. nov1cEven Paul tells us that what we will be has not yet come to light. We know there is eternal fire(Punishment) and union with God but that union is present even now and certainly before we die. Punishment comes from our disuniting or actually failing to love as we are called to do. As believers, we pray and embrace all who are part of God’s love and call for union with him. Thus, praying for those living or deceased is part of an expression of faith in the union of God’s love and mercy and the final and joyous reunion of all for eternity, standing and being with God. And so our prayers today and tomorrow are for all in the Communion of Saints, those walking the path with us now, those who have gone before us. We pray for the well being and love of all in union with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

July 26, 2015 Today’s Homily at Holy Trinity Parish

Posted in Called, Faith, homily, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on July 26, 2015

Homily June 14, 2015 The 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, homily, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on June 14, 2015

11th Sunday in Ordered Time

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion, Resurrection, scripture, Word by Rev. Martha on June 11, 2015

11th Sunday in ordered time year B, 6-14-15; Ez 17: 22-24, Ps 92, 2Corth 5:6-10, Mk 4:26-34

The first part of the Book Of the Prophet Ezekiel is a harsh indictment of the leaders and people of Israel. The Babylonians had killed the king of Judah, and King David’s line had ended. But our reading today is a promise of hope and assurance of God’s continuing promise of a messiah. It uses a poetic symbol of the cedar tree.


So we need to know a little about cedar trees. The cedar tree is a picture of strength. Cedar is beautiful red hardwood, highly prized for building, used for beams, pillars, ceilings and furniture. Cedars grow up to 150’ or higher (2 or 3 times taller than oak tree), with a circumference of 40’ or more. Cedars are evergreens, deeply rooted, and the spread of their branches exceeds their height creating a refuge for birds and other animals. Cedars are an Old Testament image of a powerful kingdom sheltering its people.


God tells Ezekiel that he will take just a tender shoot from the very top of a cedar tree, and he will plant it in on top of a mountain (a holy place) in Israel. From this tiny shoot will grow a majestic cedar tree (an image of a messiah who brings eternal life, ending sin and suffering). This tree will provide shelter for “birds of every kind” (people from every nation). From this we are to understand that God is Lord of all creation. God is the God of all trees, all life; God is in control. So when the world of the Israelites seems out of control, when their last hope for a new Kingdom of David (the promise of “forever”) seems out of reach, God acts. God takes a small shoot, like a tiny baby, seemingly insignificant, and makes something strong to protect and to provide for his people.


We seem to have a kind of inborn “memory loss” – we seem to need God to regularly remind us of the Promises we have been given. Most of the harmful things we do to each other and to ourselves are based in the fear that it won’t “all work out.” But God does not, cannot forget us. God promises to hold us in the very palm of his hand, to have us as the “apple of his eye”, to dwell with us for eternity. Look at the last two chapters of Isaiah, when God says, “ I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create.” God also gives us the ability to create anew, to change our actions and choices when things go badly.


Because we must feel our way through life with faith, without clear sight to guide us, we must guard against that “memory loss”. Paul adds incentive for hope. Paul says that God’s promises give us courage in bad times. Paul chose to act in ways that were right and holy, ways that would please God. One of Paul’s memory aids was to think of the final judgment. We must watch our behavior mindfully; we are held accountable.


Two short parables in the Gospel bring all this together. In the Growing Seed parable, seeds grow independently of humans. The ministry of Jesus began a sequence that will lead to the fullness of God’s Kingdom just as surely as sowing seeds begins the spontaneous process leading to harvest. Even if the Kingdom seems hidden now, it is present. In spite of appearances, we can be confident that what has begun will lead to its glorious revelation. While we live our daily lives, the Kingdom is at work. What we know and see is not all that will happen before the promised coming of the Kingdom of God. We do not bring in the Kingdom; we are servants of the Kingdom, not its cause. Patience; all is in God’s hands.


As to the Mustard Seed parable, 750 mustard seeds weigh about 1/28th of an ounce; but a mustard seed can germinate in 5 days and grow to a height of 10 feet, with large leaves. The visual point is that a mighty plant grows from a tiny seed.


This parable illustrates the presence of the Kingdom in Jesus’ own ministry, even if others do not recognize it, and Jesus’ expectation of the certain and full revelation of the Kingdom to come. Like a mustard seed, God’s Kingdom starts as something insignificant but becomes large. Never forget that Jesus knew the Jewish scriptures intimately, he knew the image of the cedar tree shading and sheltering and protecting, and this parable reminds us of the Ezekiel passage. Inherent in the phrase the “Kingdom of God” is all of God’s care for us, and more.  


Both parables respond to a question that was asked of Jesus then and that we ask now. Wasn’t the Kingdom of God supposed to slay evil like a dragon and remove oppression from nations like Rome and Babylon? The Apostles’ expectations were incorrect if they expected a bomb to vaporize Rome. They, like us, thought violence could bring peace; but if the image of peace is birds sheltered in a tree, then a bomb cannot create peace. Miracles and healings are great, but people often demand impressive action, without delay. The promise of the Kingdom’s fulfillment is certain, but frustrating. No timetable is provided, except to know that the timing will be perfect.


Have you ever reached out to grasp God by the lapels, to scream and shake him, when a child suffers, when a loved one has a frightening diagnosis for which there is no cure, when everything goes in your life goes wrong?   Then these parables of hope are for you. In the worst times of our lives, we look to the Cross for answers. The Cross was considered the spoiler; on Good Friday, it was seen as a death of shame and finality, an end to hope, a crushing loss. Like the cross, the mustard seed challenges the way we view and judge what is small and what is significant. When God is at work, we come to understand that our ways are not God’s ways. We must develop “mustard seed memory”; never doubting the unexpected ways God acts to fulfill the promises given to us.   In the Words and Love of Jesus, the Kingdom – God’s coming to rule all things – has made its entrance into our hearts and into our lives and into our messed up world. Let the mustard seed of hope and faith grow tall in your life.




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Homily for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, Year A 2014

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on June 22, 2014

Homily for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, Year A  2014

The Feast today of Saints Peter and Paul takes precedence over the Sunday Ordinary Time, but only falls on a Sunday ever so often. In some countries this is a holy day of obligation, but certainly in its celebration the Church is honoring the two people that had most to do wight he spread of early Christianity. It is also true that they may have butted heads many times, so it is interesting that we celebrate them together.

The main differences in the two men seem to involve the people to whom they felt sent.  Peter was the apostle to the Jews and Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Historians and scholars tend to agree that Peter had more authority than the rest of the Apostles, though James seems to be the actual leader of the Church in Jerusalem. The Acts of the Apostles shows Peter in his leadership position, preaching and deciding to elect an apostle to replace Judas. About half way through the Acts, however, the author, Luke, follows the exploits of Paul, and we don’t hear anything of the later life of Peter.

The Acts today begins with the death of James, one of the original Apostles, being put to death by King Herod, the grandson of the Herod from the Gospels. Because he got positive feedback from killing James, he had Peter arrested, but did not want to do anything with him yet due to the holy Passover season. So, he had Peter imprisoned and guarded. The very simple line: “…the Church prayed fervently for him” really indicates the approach to prayer that the early church took. We might be able to apply it to our prayer life today as well. First of all, we must pray fervently or intensely. The verb “prayed” in Greek is a tense that implies continual praying – so we must pray constantly. We must pray to God, that is develop a personal relationship with God. Prayer should also be as specific as possible. They prayed “for him”.  We do this in our prayers for the sick at the Prayer for the Faithful. We are as specific as possible. Lastly, we should not forget the communal aspect of prayer – the Church prayer for Peter. They believed that all united in prayer would be more efficacious. If we pray this way, we are praying in the same manner as the early church, and as we see, God listened to the prayer and helped Peter miraculously escape. The Psalm reflects this answer to the Church’s prayer with he words: The Lord set me free, the Lord set me free from all my fears”.

Continuing with an emphasis on Peter, the Gospel reading today from Matthew, portrays Peter as one of the first to public acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.  He is praised by Jesus for this because Jesus indicates that there is nothing earthly that would bring Peter to this conclusion, but sees it as a revelation from God to Father to Peter.  The oft-quoted lines: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” have been debated for years. The play on the word rock might come across a little better if we were to say “You are Rocky and upon this rock I will build my Church.” It is word play on the solidity of Peter’s belief, and how the Church will be built on the foundation like rock that Peter represents. The Church will be built on the belief and faith of people like Peter. But Peter is more singled out when Jesus says that he will give Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. We have seen that the “kingdom of God” is something that Jesus has been preaching about his whole public life, and it is a metaphor of the type of world that Jesus preached about – a world of justice, peace, humility, healing, restoration and redemption. Peter, and some would say all the apostles,  is being given administration over the kingdom that Jesus has instituted after he is gone from them. Central to the kingdom is love of God and neighbor.

Do we really understand that the kingdom of heaven exists now, not completely in its fullness, but is here right now. How do we spread the kingdom? Do we continue to restore all things to God, do we continue to forgive others, do we try to heal, to preach the good news that Jesus preached? All valid questions coming from Jesus’ intimate moment with Peter.

St. Paul, as we know, was the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Because of his vision of Jesus and mandate from Jesus, Paul was totally focused on bringing the Good news to the world. And if you follow his travels, they were quite amazing for that time in history. Our reading today is taken from the end of life when he is reflecting on what he has accomplished in the earthly kingdom and he oohs forward to being with Jesus in the kingdom after death. His greatest accomplishment – from his words – is “I have kept the faith”, and that he has “fully proclaimed” the Good News. This is indeed similar to Jesus’ praising of Peter for his “faith” and belief in him. Like Peter, Paul has been helped, rescued and redeemed by Jesus, and his words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” will I hope be echoed on the death beds of each of us here. What more wonderful thing could we hope for. 

So let us use Peter and Paul today as inspirations for our own lives, men who had weaknesses, who fell from grace many times, but picked themselves up and carried on with that vision of a beautiful world, truly a kingdom of God, to guide them, and the inspiration of Jesus to know what to aim for. All saints are role models for us – I think that is the purpose of canonization – but some truly human persons who have failings and still achieve sainthood can be the best role models for us as we struggle to create God’s kingdom now and forever.

And this is the Good News that Jesus preached, the Paul preached, that Peter preached and that I preach 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 of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]