CACINA

Homily September 21, 2014 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 18, 2014

worker6Today’s gospel tells us quite clearly today that life is not fair. Jesus’ use of the work place and the hiring of daily workers brings up visions of past times and hourly wages and sweat shops, exploitation, contracts and unions and many other things. Certainly, he wasn’t quite speaking of the group of men at the nearby 7-11 who wait each morning for someone to come along and hire them for a day’s pay. From a western viewpoint we see this from the idea of justice.worker3 It is hard for us to place our self in a different culture and time when work and compensation was a whole different thing. In our context, the landowner fulfilled the “contract” he made with the first workers he hired. To the others he said he would be fair and he must have been trusted as the laborers went off to work. But even still the parable is not about Justice, but is about the Kingdom of God.

Tell me, what can you do to earn the kingdom of heaven? What can you do to earn love, anyone’s much less God? Love is many things but it is freely given and really can’t be compared. What more can we do when asked to do something than to do it? What is more heart-rending when asked who do you love more?workers4 Love doesn’t work that way nor does the kingdom of God work that way, for it is a kingdom of God’s love built up of all the relationships he has with each of us and our relationships with each other. Sure we are called and tasked in different ways, but never can we truly measure up to what is the freely given love of God. If we have love, then what is, is fair. Who are we to question God’s love and what he gives us? What is Good for us will be different for another. What is difficult is what develops the love we have by accepting others and God’s love for them. What marriage has not met a few roadblocks and bumps along the way? It is how we handle the day in, day out, the here and now that determines what God’s love will be for us. I know that as hard as we try or not try that none of us is perfect. Yet in trying we grow strong and receive God’s love more and more. Try as we might we will never truly understand God, at least not in this life. At best, we can discern only that his ways are different and his love and generosity are boundless. He loves each person He created and as they are, not as we would want them to be.

Holy Trinity’s Homily for Sunday July 6, 2014

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit by Fr Joe R on July 6, 2014

Homily February 23, 2014 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, ethics, inspirational, religion, scripture by Fr Joe R on February 19, 2014

eyeFor those of us who are older, we can think back to times when communication and entertainment at home consisted of a radio and possibly a record player. Later there was television with small fuzzy black and white pictures which presented a picture to the whole world such as it was. A decade or so later came color television followed by all the progressions up to the present age of instantaneous news and contact throughout the whole world.

Today’s gospel gives us a similar look at the past and an understanding of the progress we should be making in our journey of loving God and neighbor. Jesus starts by quoting the biblical “ an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. This phrase has so often been quoted to justify so many things over the ages for the need for punishment, revenge to the death penalty. It is easy to forget this prescription was written for a small nation or federation of twelve tribes comprising the Jewish nation. The times were very harsh and the demands made on people were severe and at times odious. This phrase was never meant to prescribe what was to be done, but rather meant to rein in extreme actions by limiting the harshness and extremeness that revenge could take. Like all other things, God prepared the way but humanity was a progression, a work in progress, as they say today. The harshness and violence of ancient times has progressed somewhat today, and that progression is what the sermon on the mount is about.

Loving God and neighbor(which Jesus tells us includes all of humanity) is what it is about. Jesus was here moving from the black and white era of love and morality to the next era which is growing and calling on us today. The measure of our lives is much more complicated than a set of yes or no rules, black and white pictures to behold. We must measure ourselves today on how our love affects first oneself and secondly the other person and those other effected. Facing evil, turning the other cheek, tolerating injustice, or working to change bad or evil things are hard and often gut wrenching things to do. Removing selfishness from our actions is not always easy. Changing people isn’t either. God looks over all of us hoping the best for the bad as well as the good. His patience is perfect, in contrast to our imperfection. His understanding far surpasses ours. Yet Jesus calls us to perfection.

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” part of the Sermon has so often been used to justify the opposite of the very love it calls for. Far from calling for punishment it calls for love and forgiveness. If someone is evil or disruptive we are charged to love and handle it in a loving way. But the question arises whether we should employ those harshest limits that Christ referred to whenlove neighbor he said to love your enemies and those who hate you. Would a person today buy a black and white TV? Well then I ask, are the moral prescriptions of over 3000 years ago with all the antagonisms of place and time and mindsets of culture really what we want to espouse today? Today, they talk of executing people in a way that it doesn’t look brutal. Yet ripping a soul from a body is brutal however you do it. In many ways, humanity has progressed, but I think today as we pause and pray, Christ’s law of love gives us much to think and pray about.

Homily for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Year A 2014

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, ethics, inspirational, religion, scripture, Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on December 21, 2013

Homily for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Year A  2014

[Bishop Stephens’ first collection of Year A homilies may be purchased in e-book format at amazon.com.  It is called Teaching the Church Year]

Families have not changed all that much in two centuries. It is always difficult on a day to day basis to live with others, whether they are husbands, wives or children – and these days, more extended family. In Jesus’ time the families often lived all together in one small living space which always makes day-to-day dealings even more difficult.

The Holy Family was not without its difficulties and problems either. How difficult it would be traveling with a wife who was close to birthing, having trouble finding a place to stay, having a baby away from home and help, being afraid for the life of the new child and fleeing into Egypt. Quite a difficult start to a marriage, don’t you think!

What helps that marriage survive, what helps families who live together, what helped the early church communities staying in close quarters is laid out for us today in the three readings.

Once again, patience seems to be a primary virtue that has to be developed. But we also see other virtues vying for the important place. Sirach, in the First reading, places honor and respect in a primary place. One needs to honor one’s parents, respect them and do what one can for their comfort, safety and help. Many of us in the ‘sandwich generation’ have shown great love and honor for our parents.  As a people, we live longer today and many of us have had parents who lived to a ripe old age. But with that wonderful extension of life comes problems – failing joints, failing balance, failing memory, Alzheimer’s, pneumonias, loss of senses – sight and hearing, and a variety of other ailments. This places a great burden on caregivers and requires a lot of what Sirach sees as a major virtues – the virtue of patience and kindness. “Even if his mind fails, be patient with him; kindness…will be credited to you against your sins.”  Sirach sees all this as a matter of justice. We must be especially just to family members.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, writes about the new family, the community of believers that, as you know, lived together and shared what they had. He then extends his words to the family proper of husbands, wives and children. When we live in a family, he says, there are many virtues that need to be cultivated for success – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. But even more, we need to be able to forgive, and above all, to love. His advice to husbands is to love their wives – this at a time when marriages were often more for convenience or economics than for love. His advice to wives probably bristles many women today – be subject to your husbands – but we have to remember that this was written for the world view of a patriarchal society, and we might say today: Wives, consult with your husbands and understand their point of view; come to joint decisions and support each other. Not what Paul says, but in the spirit of the virtues he describes, I think that is what he might say today.

Even with the children he places a burden of absolute obedience as a duty of children, but he does balance that with advice to fathers not to push things too far or cause a strong reaction in your children so that they are never tempted to disobey.

The Psalm today puts all this in perspective when it says “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord.” In other words, fear of the Lord will cause us to do the right thing in our family relationships. By “fear of the Lord”, which is, by the way, one of seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that we get in Confirmation, we mean the kind of high respect that we have which would cause us not to want to hurt or offend that person. It doesn’t mean we should go around being afraid all the time. But if we have respect for God, enough so that we would never want to offend him, all the other things will fall into place.

The Gospel today continues Luke’s narrative that we began last week. The wise men have come to see Jesus; non-Jews from around the known world have come to pay respect. In this next section Luke uses the Hebrew prophecies to create a story of Joseph being warned in a dream to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. The prophecy is then cited: “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” But Luke also had to show that Jesus came from Nazareth, so he tells a story which shows how Jesus gets to Nazareth from Egypt by way of Canaan.

What we need to see in this story, though, is that a young family is being pulled apart, asked to many things which were upsetting, scary and destructive of family. What we see in Joseph, though, is the perfect obedience and trust in God that we have also seen in Matthew’s accounts of Mary’s perfect trust in God. Joseph hears the words of the Angel, he immediately obeys them without question.  He has given himself up to the Lord. So that is the last piece of the puzzle. Families need to know that often they are helpless in some of the problems that life throws at them, and that they can survive it all, simply by placing their trust in the Lord, listening to what he tells them to do, follow of their hearts and move on.

So, in summary, we can see that our family life will be strengthened by trust in God, by patience, by respect of God (fear of the Lord) and respect for others, and by developing an array of helping virtues, the most important of which is love. Not bad advice back then, nor is it today. Not much has changed in two centuries!

And this is the advice we hear in the Good News today on this Feast of the Holy Family.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese

Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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Homily December 15, 2013 Third Sunday of Advent

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, inspirational, religion by Fr Joe R on December 10, 2013

Back in June of this year, there was an interesting story and video on the Today show. A three-year old deaf boy named Jason Clamp had a device implanted in his brain stem and was able to hear his Father’s voice for the first time. It was a marvelous thing to see and reminds me of today’s Gospel. Jesus was enabling the blind to see and the deaf to hear, the lame to walk and even the dead to rise. What Jesus did was certainly not explainable by his contemporaries, and the results of seeing and hearing and walking and other medical miracles are rare even today. Certainly even with scientific breakthroughs and the advanced learning of today, we have not matched the doings of Jesus. He cited these signs and wonders to answer the query from John wanting to know if he is the “ONE” who is to come. john in prisonEven in prison, John was indirectly teaching his disciples by sending them to Jesus. Seriously, John had to know that one way or another he was finished. He gave no slack to anyone who came to hear him, and he even condemned Herod the king for marrying his brother’s wife. Even today that would forebode trouble. Yet even as he awaited judgment, John still inquired of Jesus. Perhaps, he was expecting Jesus to be more combative, to be more of an organizer of the people to lead Israel back to the time and glory of King David. Regardless, the disciples went and encountered Jesus and some did eventually follow him. Also we see the uniqueness of John as Jesus points out none greater had ever been born. John stands as the last of the prophets and the messenger presenting the messiah.

So, you might ask how does this relate to Christmas and Advent? As the gospel unfolds, Jesus is in his thirties and we are preparing for a celebration of his birth. I think the point of the liturgy today is patience and preparation. Advent means coming and the time of preparation take patience to prepare and be ready. As the story of John is the preparation for Jesus to appear, so advent is the time for us to prepare and be ready for Jesus to come again as he did on that first Christmas. Our faith and baptism has formed us and made us Christians but certainly we are not yet complete or perfect. foodAdvent is he time to work on this more intently than we usually do. It is a time for us to turn our thoughts and works to the poor and slighted of our own time just as Jesus did. While we can not perform the wonders and miracles that Jesus did, we can start to look after our Sisters and Brothers and see that they can in one way or another be comforted and find rest and peace in their lives. It seems we all become more sensitive to the needy at Christmas but now is a good time to find a more permanent way to help these people. Didn’t we just hear Jesus say that the least of these could be the greater? It is not so important as to what we give, but that we love and act on it by giving out of love.

Be there, be ready to give not only gift and things, but be ready to give time and self and to listen and interact especially with those who are alone and without family. This I think is the call and preparation John the Baptist calls for in Advent.

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A 2013-14

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, ethics, inspirational, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on December 7, 2013

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A  2013-14

[Bishop Ron’s past homilies for Year A have been collected in the the book “Teaching the Church Year”, available in ebook format on amazon.com]

Advent is a time of waiting. I thought about this as I waited at the doctor’s office this week for an appointment, and I thought about it again as I waited at the longest traffic light in the world to get on the Dulles Toll Road. I thought about it as I waited for my students to come to me for class. I thought about it as I waited for the rain to stop so I could get to more raking, and as I wait for the last tree leaves to fall from the tree over the house that refuses to give them up. Waiting is really part of our lives and we spend a lot of time doing it. Often, in our culture, which is so busy and rushed, it leads to anger, to road rage, to general anxiety. That isn’t what the waiting in Advent is about, though.

St. Paul’s antidote to waiting which he mentions a number of times in our second reading today is “patience”. He recognizes that we might have to suffer while we wait, but he says that the virtue of patience will be what gets us through it. St. Paul was speaking about the second coming of the Lord in this reading, and stressing that we have hope that Christ is coming, so we need to develop patience. Certainly this is good advice for all us whether it is patience in waiting for the Lord or waiting for a traffic light. The result is the same: we trust that what we wait for will come in time, and we must use our waiting time productively by caring for our neighbors.

St. Paul tells us to look to the Prophets for examples of those who became role models of suffering and patience. The Prophets all had hope that things would get better and it was their job, their destiny to point out the way to others by giving them hope. Consider our reading from Isaiah today. The prophet uses the most optimistic and beautiful language to describe what will happen if we have patience in the Lord. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom…rejoice with joy and singing… they shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” Oftentimes we think of prophets as predictors of gloom because they chastise the people for what they are doing wrong and point out their faults. But very often these corrective measures lead to beautiful imagery and stunning visions of a triumphant God and the people of God. And that vision particularly includes people who are most suffering in the present time – the poor, the blind, the mute, the prisoner, the lame.  In today’s we reading we end with such a beautiful vision of hope:

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,

And the ears of the deaf unstopped;

Then the lame shall leap like deer,

And the tongues of the mute sing for joy…

They shall obtain joy and gladness,

And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Is 35:10)

This hope is re-iterated in today’s Psalm, Psalm 146 which also deals with the outcasts – the poor, the blind, the lame, the widow, the prisoner and the orphan. Does this perhaps give us a key to how we should be conducting ourselves in Advent, the time of waiting.Should we be devoting our attention to those less fortunate than ourselves as a way of preparing for the joy of Christmas. It would seem to be the direction of the prophets, the psalmist and Paul!

Our Gospel today is a continuation of stories about John the Baptist, though it jumps eight chapters from last Sunday. And guess what it is about?  John, now imprisoned, asks a question of Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” (Matt:11:3) Again it is a question of waiting and whether we need to have even more patience.

Jesus’ answer draws on the Prophets and the Psalmists we heard today. Basically, he says, you don’t have to wait any longer – the blind are receiving sight, the lame are walking, the lepers are healed, the deaf are hearing, the dead are being raised and the poor are getting good news.  In other words, you don’t have to wait any longer, the time is here now. Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies and all the beautiful prophetic images are happening right now.

Two thousand years later, we know that. We know that Christ was the fulfillment of the prophets and that he brought us all salvation and opened up the possibility of heaven to us, to all of us. And yet we still wait. Karl Rahner said in one of his homilies that we are an Advent people, that we live in the future. But we are able to have patience because we know, we believe, that we have been saved. We know what our end will be. We wait for the return of Christ so that the kingdom will come and be the only kingdom, and that all divisions will cease. We should have an even greater hope because we know that the initial work has been done. We are saved. But we await an even greater extension of the kingdom and the complete fulfillment of the justice issues that began with prophetic preaching and continue to this day.

We need to recognize today that although we have all been ransomed, there is still quite a lot of injustice and evil in the world, even though we can see signs of the kingdom in the action of others and hopefully ourselves. But we want the complete fulfillment. We want Christ to come again. And all this we are reminded of when we celebrate the first coming, and we prepare patiently for the remembrance of that event of the Incarnation. And again, how can we best be patient and prepare for that coming? By finding ways to get out of ourselves and give ourselves to others; to do charitable works; to find ways to help another in need; to comfort those who have little or are alone.  It is only in this way that you will have a spiritual Christmas.  Put as much time into this as you put in selecting Christmas gifts for others, and I promise you, you will truly feel the peace and joy of Christmas. Let the rose vestments I wear today, remind you of the virtues of patience and charity which together lead to the joy which comes at the end of the Advent season.

And this is the Good News that we need to practice and spread every day of the Advent season.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese

Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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