Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Spirit at Christmas! - Third Sunday of Advent

Reflections on the Readings

Third Sunday of Advent - December 14, 2014 - Year B



The Spirit at Christmas

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-21)

"Just who are you?" they asked John the Baptizer. Throngs of people were lining up to be baptized by him. News of his impact on the people reached the highest religious authorities in Jerusalem. Something new and never seen before was transpiring on the banks of the Jordan river. Looking straight into the eyes of his interrogators John explained, "I am not the Christ."

"Well, who are you then?" they persisted. "We need to give an answer to those who sent us! Are you Elijah or the Prophet? What do you have to say for yourself?" John insisted he was a voice in the desert crying out announcing the coming of the Lord. "One last question," they snarled. "If you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet, why then do you baptize." John looked beyond them as though he saw something no one else noticed. And with the confidence of a prophet John whispered into the air, "I baptize with water; but the coming One whom you do not recognize is greater than me and will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I am not worthy to untie his sandal strap."

From the very beginning, the story of Christ is a story filled with the Holy Spirit. When Mary asks how can she bear a child since she does not know a man, Gabriel's answer is, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." 

It is this same Holy Spirit Paul asks us to embrace and to welcome in the second reading. It is the same Holy Spirit we are promised who will lead us and guide us into all that is true concerning Christ and his love. It is the same Holy Spirit who inspires us to say, "Jesus is Lord!" In all that we say and do we are to invite the Holy Spirit and welcome him for he is the very breath of God. We can no more live in Christ without the Holy Spirit than we can live without oxygen. 

The Holy Spirit gives rise to rejoicing. He helps us to know how to pray and to pray without ceasing. Through the Holy Spirit we give thanks especially in the Great Thanksgiving at the Holy Table. It is the Holy Spirit that Paul says that we should not quench nor despise. Rather we should as the Church did in its earliest days welcome and adore the Holy Spirit. As we confess every Sunday in the creed, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets."

We should resist the temptation to regulate and tame the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of truth leads us into the things of God, or as St. Paul said, the deep things of God. If we are to go deeper into the love of God we will allow the Holy Spirit more space, more control, more movement in our heart. 

Pope Francis in his April 16, 2013 homily spoke about resistance to the Holy Spirit. He said, "To get to the point, the Holy Spirit annoys us, because he moves us…Do not take up resistance to the Holy Spirit: this is the grace for which I wish we would all ask the Lord; docility to the Holy Spirit, to that Spirit who comes to us and make us go forward on the path of holiness, that holiness of the Church which is so beautiful." 

The Holy Spirit gives us strength and courage and fills us with joy. There is a particular kind of joy that comes from tinsel and pretty paper and bright lights. But there is another source of joy. It is a joy filled with the glory and promise of peace on earth and good will toward all. That joy my friend is drawn from that deep well of the Spirit who reminds us always that our faith must not rest on the wisdom of men but in the power of God, in the real Spirit of Christmas. Amen. 

Dennis Hankins, a Catholic Evangelist, is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jesus and the Future (Part II)

Reflections on the Readings

Second Sunday of Advent - December 7, 2014 - Year B



Jesus and the Future
(Part II)

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11-13)

John the Baptist announces that in Jesus the future is full of promise and blessing. "One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals," says John. These words must have been thrilling to hear the first time John's voice pierced the air and set the leaves of the trees to clapping their hands. (Isaiah 55:12) 

Imagine being one of those coming up out of the Jordan and hearing John explain how his baptism is the doorway to even more. He says to his followers, "I have baptized you with water, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

This mighty voice of one crying in the wilderness preached with the insight of a prophet; a prophet much like Elijah whom he resembled in both speech and appearance. He understood that what he did mattered, and that the future he was ushering in has its beginning and conclusion in the 'One mightier than I.' 

John urged those who came to him to receive his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And throngs of people did. They came from Jerusalem and from the countryside of Judea. Moms and dads and children and old people and little people and babies and the sick and the dying came to confess their sins in the baptismal waters of the Jordan. John's baptism was a powerful statement about the future and how to prepare for God's presence, that is, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. 

John's message of promise brought comfort and renewal to all who received his words. Called from his mother's womb to be a prophet of hope, John comforted the people God with the promise of forgiveness and restoration like we hear from the passage in Isaiah today:

"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins." 

These words were first proclaimed to bring hope and the promise of restoration to Israel's exiled multitudes in Babylon about 550 BC. John likewise thundered the message at the dawn of a new era, "Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God…Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care."

Hearing these words in this season of Advent, a time of expectation, reminds us again that the future is now. Now are we to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Now are we to live and work and play under the influence of the new wine of the Holy Spirit. As we wait patiently for the celebration of the birth of Christ we must also, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, be patient for the second coming of our Lord. What we must never forget, as St Peter tells us today, is that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day. The Lord is not delaying his promise of reunion with us. But he's being patient with us, not wishing that any one of us should perish. 

So the day of the Lord will come. He may come at morning, noon, or night. But when he comes, he will come like a thief, and everyone and everything will be open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:13) But rather than be afraid and terrified we are admonished to understand what sort of persons we ought to be, living everyday in holiness and devotion, waiting for and even earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God. For we, according to his promise await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since we await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace. Amen.

Dennis Hankins, a Catholic Evangelist, is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Jesus and the Future - First Sunday of Advent

Reflections on the Readings

First Sunday of Advent - November 30, 2014 - Year B



Jesus and the Future

Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. (Mark 13:33)


Jesus does not ask us to speculate about the future. He asks us instead to embrace it, to look forward to the consummation, to understand that he has plans for us to be where he is. This is called eschatology and is that part of theology that has to do with the final events of history and the destiny of all things culminating in the glorious return of Jesus. Far from a future filled with disaster the end of time is not the end of us.

Scripture describes our future as a blessed hope: For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14)

It's because of this blessed hope that we are not filled with fear about tomorrow. We don't know about tomorrow, about its troubles or trials, about its beginning or its end. Yet he who holds tomorrow in his own care holds our hand. And in fellowship with God's own Son we await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ who will keep us firm to the end; the future filled and running over with goodness, truth, and beauty.

Too often the blessed hope is preached with fear instead of as an invitation. Jesus invited people into his presence. His words, the miracles of healing and exorcism, the children who sat on his lap and the lepers who fell at his feet restored and the hungry who ate with him all found him inviting and approachable. I remember as a kid I heard preaching trying to scare all of us into salvation. But Christ is more than a fire escape policy provider. He is the way, the truth, and the life. The life we now live in the flesh is the life we find in him whose life is alive forever more. 

For now the Lord has left his work in our charge and he will come again. In the mean time he inspires us with hope and invites us to be alive in our faith. Christ challenges us to be alert and awake to the future that he is preparing for all who love  him. This future in Christ is filled with hope for all of us, for the living and the dead. For the dead in Christ shall all rise to meet him in the air and we who are alive shall join them and together we will enter into that heavenly procession to the Father's house, prepared for all who love his appearing. 

For you see my friend, He who is the centerpiece of time is the Lamb in the midst of the Throne of eternity, slain from the foundation of the world. Marked by the signs of our salvation on his back and brow, in his hands and feet, him we love because he first loved us. And that love will bring us home. May our love for him and one another never grow cold. We know not the day nor the hour, but that love that draws us toward him is familiar and endearing and covers a multitude of sins. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. 

Amen.  

Dennis Hankins, a Catholic Evangelist, is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Brethren of the King

Reflections on the Readings

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 23, 2014 - Year A



The Brethren of the King

And the King will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40)

We rightly ask who are these 'least of these my brethren' with whom the King identifies? There surely is an ethical application of meaning to this passage and we do well to take it to heart. There is, however, a oneness of the King with those who suffer for the sake of his name. In my preparation for this reflection I read that scholars see these brethren of Christ as those who are witnesses of Christ.

It is therefore appropriate and pleasing to the Holy Spirit that we should see how closely Christ is to those who bring his light to the darkness in our world. In the news in recent days are reports of those who claim the name of Christ being chased from their ancestral lands of family and faith. Pursued like Israel of old, the new Pharaonic despots of our day pillage the ancient homes and Churches of Christians and then behead those whose only crime is that they love Jesus. Fathers and mothers and their children in Syria and Iraq fleeing these ghastly atrocities are grossly missing from the radar screens of democratically elected officials including our own government.  

These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of our kinsmen with whom we are united in baptism, languish in prisons far from their family and friends. In scripture we read: Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3) In Revelation 12:11, the visionary John explains that the dark work and resistance of Satan's kingdom is under attack. How? By those who hearts are drenched by the blood of the Lamb, and who in their witness to Christ love not their lives even unto death. 

Pius XI inaugurated this Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe in 1925. In doing so Pius XI said that there is another King and that there is no part of our lives from which he should be missing. It is first in us that the world sees that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. First, we welcome Christ into our life, into our homes, into our thoughts, into the inner most place of our innerness. Then compelled by that same love we love the world that he gave his life for. Will you give your life too? What sacrifice will you make to make Christ known? .http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html

Will knowing and sharing Christ make you popular? Sometimes maybe not. Jesus said, "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." Do not be dismayed, if they persecuted Christ, they will persecute you who carry his cross. 

Jesus said, "He who receives you receives Christ. He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." (Matthew 10:40-42)

May we hear the King say to us on Judgement Day, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." Amen.

Dennis Hankins, a Catholic Evangelist, is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Growing in Faith

Reflections on the Readings
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ninteenth Sunday After Pentecost
November 16, 2014 - Year A



Growing in Faith

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master replied, "You wicked and lazy slave!"

Today's Gospel comes from chapter 25 of Matthew packed with forty-six verses of Jesus speaking of the need for a robust and vibrant faith. We hear today from a portion of that chapter called the Parable of the Talents. A talent equaled about 15 years of wages. Three servants are given responsibility to keep things going while their master goes away for a 'long time.' To each one, according to his ability, is apportioned the amount of talent the master believes that person can be trusted with.

The challenge given to us today in the readings is one of being faithful. To grow in faith and in the knowledge of our Savior is the consistent invitation given to us. Being sluggish and lackluster is not the sign of a vibrant and effective witness to Christ. The challenge for 21st century disciples of Jesus is the same as it was for 1st century followers of Christ. And that is to be the 'aroma of Christ' everywhere. Going into the whole world of the human experience where Christ's love is needed. If we don't share from the treasures of Christ's life in us then who will know that there is a God of love?

To each one of us is given gifts with which we are to make Christ known. So many do not know the depth, the width, the breadth, the height of the love of God revealed in Jesus our Savior. Letting our light shine is a message Jesus gave his first followers. It is our assignment too. Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and give glory to God."

Growing in our understanding of the measure of faith given to each one of us is how we grow closer to the world Jesus came to save. Being spiritually minded brings us closer not only the Christ but to the lost. 

We had/have our favorite subjects in school. Some do not like math while others bounce off the wall enjoying calculus. But have you heard of Biblical math? St. Peter taught it. It goes like this: For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." Supplement, that is, add to your faith. Grow in grace. Don't hide your light under a bushel but let it out so that the whole world will know and see the light of Christ. Be alive in your life in Christ. Pay attention to it until Christ forms and shapes and inspires the very depth of our being. For just as a city set on a hill cannot be hidden nor should a Christian infused with the Holy Spirit be hard to notice.

St. Paul speaking about generosity of giving is also applicable to what we are hearing in today's readings: For the point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…You will be enriched in every way for great generosity. Generosity is the hallmark of the follower of Christ. Because of the surpassing grace of God in us we are compelled to make Christ front and center. Unless we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can become timid and fearful to even speak of him. 

Let us ask for more. More of Christ's love. To be filled with more of the Holy Spirit. To be able to bring more of the life of the kingdom of heaven to everyone we meet. Let us live with a joyous and energetic faith that imbues all that we do so that when Christ comes again we can go out to meet him with joy!

Dennis Hankins, a Catholic Evangelist, is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com
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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Places of Prayer

Reflections on the Readings
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

November 9, 2014 - Year A



Places of Prayer

He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." ~ Jesus

On November 9th, 324 AD, Pope St. Sylvester dedicated the Lateran Basilica. This Basilica of St. Johns Lateran is the official Church of every Pope since, made possible by the donation of the Laterani Palace by Constantine, remembered as the first Christian Emperor. This place of prayer, first called the Basilica of the Savior at its erection, is considered the 'mother of all the churches in the city and in the world.' As such it is a sign, a symbol of the unity of prayer in the Church.

Of course one can pray anywhere and anytime. But a house of worship particularly is a sign that there is a people there who are one in Christ and with each other and who pray together. As Jesus said, "Wherever two or three are gathered in his name, I am in the midst of them." 

Christians in the earliest days of the Church sometimes gathered at the site of a martyr of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist, the source and summit of prayer as Pope St. John Paul II taught us. To this day embedded in the altar in a Catholic parish is a relic of a saint. This is a powerful reminder to us that those saints known and unknown, marked with the sign of faith, remain in prayer with us. And if the truth be understood properly, they not only continue to pray with us, but pray for us. "Any scripture for that Dennis?" you might ask. I think so. In Hebrews 12:22 we read: 

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. 

In our Eucharistic prayer life we come to the Body and Blood of Christ which speaks of forgiveness. The blood of Abel was spilled by his brother, Cain. Abel's blood, spilled in spiteful violence, marked Cain forever. Unlike Abel whose prayerful offering was accepted, Cain's was not. And God said, "Make things right and reject the sin that is 'couching at your door,' and I will receive you." Instead Cain chose envy and jealousy and killed his brother. The gracious message of the sprinkled blood of Christ is a message of forgiveness for all us who in some way bear the mark of Cain.

The message of the first reading is the hope that is restored when the place of prayer is rebuilt. As I said earlier, one can pray anywhere and anytime. But the picture of a restored Temple in Ezekiel's prophetic heart is one of the life and rhythm of prayer bringing newness of life. This is uniquely fulfilled in Jesus who declared that his Father's house is a house of prayer for all nations. The prayer life and outreach of the family of God is one of touching the world - its wounded, its sick, its hungry, its naked, blind and dying. The mission of every community of prayer is to bring the healing streams of the city of God into all the world. 

Paul's insight into the life of the believer is that we also are a temple of the Holy Spirit; another place of prayer. The Holy Spirit indwells us and inspires us to pray and makes our prayers effective. May we never cease to place ourselves in God's presence and invite the Holy Spirit to lead us and to guide us into all the ways of prayer. As St. Paul said elsewhere, to "Pray without ceasing."

When Jesus comes to our hearts will he find a place of prayer? Or will he find a 'marketplace?' A place where stuff and things occupy our attention and distract us from being aware of the promptings of the Holy Spirit. If there is confusion in our inner most place of holiness about what is treasure and what is not, let us begin this day praying, "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner." And thereby will our hearts be restored as a place of prayer and where prayer in the Spirit flows freely again. May the Spirit rise up in us as a spring of living water, bringing the joy of the Lord, making glad our hearts, and creating a dwelling place of the Most High; our heart once again a place of prayer. Amen.

Dennis Hankins, a Catholic Evangelist, is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Mystery of Faith - All Souls Day

Reflections on the Readings
The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls)
November 2, 2014 - Year A



The Mystery of Faith

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. (Romans 6:8-9)

Jesus loves us and wants us to be with him forever. He came all the way from heaven to tell us that God is love and then proved it by dying for us. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. In his death on the cross Christ reconciled us to God justifying us by his Blood. 

We receive Christ's love through baptism. Paul asks, "Are you aware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized in his death?" What does that mean? In the waters of our baptism we left behind the 'old self' and were raised as a new creation in Christ. In baptism we were buried with Christ. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too have newness of life in Christ and not just for now, but forever!

The Holy Spirit fills our hearts with the love of God and with a hope that is immortal. We embrace a future that is filled with the friendship of God. Therefore our hope is not a speculation about things we are not really sure about. For the Friend of sinners has set us free from the deception of sin and the power and fear of death.

Dear friend, we have been saved, we are being saved, and we shall be saved. Christian hope purifies us and prepares us for that day when Christ shall appear. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1:3)

Beloved, we are God's children now and we will still be his children when he calls us home. Jesus explained he was going away to prepare a place for us. Like a bridegroom building a home for his bride where they will live together, Christ our bridegroom is preparing a place for you and me. And one day soon Christ shall present us to the Father in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind. (Ephesians 5:27)

This hope, this faith, is the treasure of the Church. Let no one rob you of this treasure entrusted to us his children. Let us always proclaim with joyful expectation the mystery of our faith—"In dying, Christ destroyed our death; in rising, Christ restored our life; Lord Jesus come in glory! Until that day we stand in the presence of our Redeemer with all the faithful departed, keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. Amen. 

Dennis Hankins, a Catholic Evangelist, is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com