Saturday, November 18, 2006

He Is Near

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 19, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16:5-11
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24:32

He Is Near

There are signs to remind us that Christ is near.

Jesus’ words had contemporary meaning for those of his immediate listeners. The language of prophecy he employs is common in scripture. All of the drama of the lights of heaven going out was poetic language for the end of the Old Covenant. All of the prophets of the Old Covenant prophesied about our Lord’s coming. Even Christ’s cousin, John the Baptist declared his own mission as declining as Christ’s ministry ascended to the forefront of Israel’s life.

This language is graphic in order to highlight the spiritual darkness resulting from Israel’s spiritual leadership’s rejection of the Son of Man. It is St. John who reminds us of the Word made flesh entering this spiritual darkness. But as profound as this darkness and its effects is the darkness does not prevail. Note that all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:5-14)

Our Lord describes himself as ‘coming in the clouds.’ In scripture, descriptive language speaks of God’s presence as clouds. “He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind.” (Psalm 104:3) With Israel God was a “pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.” Jesus similarly states he will be coming to His own ‘in the clouds with great power and glory.’

For the generation Jesus was addressing, the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. was the consummate sign that He is near, even at the gates. The superiority of Christ’s sacrifice is seen in that he has ‘taken his seat forever at the right hand of God.’ (Hebrews 10:11-14, 18) It is this blessed assurance that his one sacrifice for sins is forever efficacious. This is in contrast to the sacrifices under the glorious priestly ministry of the Old Covenant, which could never take away sins.

The signs our Lord left us in the Eucharist assure us that He is near. Today’s readings remind us that we are still in a time of spiritual darkness. Many claim that evil is good and that good is bad. The great prince of angels, St. Michael remains a guardian of the people of God. But in the Holy Food, Christ is near us. Faith assures us that Christ is the Bread and the Wine is His blood. Those who rejected this revelation in Jesus day have relatives in ours. But let us not be distracted by the spiritual poverty on the one hand or the naysayers on the other. Every time the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to come upon the gifts of the altar, Christ is lifted up again and if He be lifted up, He shall draw all men unto himself.

Let us Pray: Dear Jesus, you have promised to never leave us nor forsake us. May we ever be grateful for the Holy Food you have left us. Though we are not worthy of ourselves to receive you, you have healed us and invited us to commune with you as friend with friend. May we in our troubled times take your friendship into the world. Amen.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Message of the Widows

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 12, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
I Kings 17:10-16; Psalm 146:7-10
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

The Message of the Widows

The Kingdom of God is not for sale.

Apparently Jesus had not heard of the gospel of wealth and prosperity. He described the scribes of his day as lovers of themselves. It is dangerous to equate material success with spiritual prowess. Nor is holiness automatic for those experiencing poverty. In Jesus’ day however, in contrast to Elijah, the scribes demanded honor and respect at the expense of the widows. By the word of the Lord, Elijah promised a widow of Zarephath an unending supply of flour and oil until the rains returned. We know from James 5:17, 18 that Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

Jesus condemned those who devoured widows houses and as a pretext recited lengthy prayers. Our Lord is not against prayer or robes or seats of honor in the synagogue. His remarks are about those who love their long robes and love to be greeted in the marketplace and loved sitting at places of honor. Although we may be puzzled by Elijah’s command to be fed first, it was not to deprive the widow as much as it was to bring her out of fear and into faith. Elijah was at the widow’s house in Zarephath by divine appointment. While the scribes preyed upon the helpless and the fatherless, Elijah preached about a God who defends and sustains the widows and the orphans.

We can be grateful for the witness of the widow of Zarephath. Our modern times need to remember the simplicity of her faith. Without wavering in faith she did what Elijah said; and she, and he, and her household ate for many days. This widow like the widow in the Gospel today share something in common. Both make all they have available to God. Concerning the poor widow in the Gospel St. Chrysostom said, “The Lord paid no attention to the amount of her money but only to the abundance of her generosity. When those of limited means respond faithfully to the full extent of their means, they express deeper faith than do those of greater means who respond only in part.”

I remember singing a song in the Pentecostal Church of my youth that said, Little is much when God is in it, labor not for wealth or fame, there’s a crown and you can win it, if you go in Jesus name. The eternal reward is greater treasure than all of the wealth of this world.

The widows remind us that we must give to God the things that belong to God. Their witness is an indictment of the spirit of this age, which is a ruthless spirit of greed. Let us be vigilant and sure that our heart is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and, with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, sweet Jesus, what a wonder you are. In the midst of hunger you fed the multitudes. In the middle of a storm tossed sea, you spoke peace to the winds and the waves. And on the cross you told the penitent thief, “Today shall you be with me in paradise.” May I, like the widows and this repentant thief, find my life and all that I need in you. Amen.

Friday, November 3, 2006

That We May Love Him

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 5, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Deuteronomy 2:2-6
Psalm 18:2-4; 47, 51
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 12:28-34

That We May Love Him

Without reservation, let us love the Lord our God

The nature of our devotion is experienced with our complete being. Scripture states a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. (James 4:7-8) This accounts for the powerlessness many feel in their lives and relationship with the Lord. The Christian experience is a matter of the heart. In Scripture, the heart is often understood as meaning our entire being and effort. Much like when we say, “His heart’s not in it,” so likewise, we can worship God with our lips, yet are heart is far from him. The completeness of our selves depends on bringing our whole selves to the adoration of the living God.

He whom we worship is the only Lord. These words, originally spoken by Moses are to be taken to heart. He, who was the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, became the babe in a manger. He, who routed the gods of Egypt, reminds us today there are not many gods nor are there many lords. The Church is to hear what Israel heard, that is, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Moses, with his shining face, came down from Mt. Sinai. In a way, Moses’ face became the face of this one and only God to Israel. This prepared humanity to encounter God in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. It is in the incarnation we realize there is no God like our God. Mary, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, conceived in her womb the only Son of the Father. And in her arms she held the Savior of the world; and beholding the face of God, she gently kissed his cheek.

The love that unites the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the same love that unites us to our neighbor. We know that God is love, because God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that we would not perish but have everlasting life. How will our neighbor know that God is love? In what ways do you see those in the pews around you as your neighbor? If God did not remain distant and untouchable, how can you be perfected in love until you love your neighbor as yourself? Our love of God is incomplete without knowing, loving, serving our neighbor as we would ourselves. As we draw near to God we will learn how to draw near to our neighbor. In the story of the man who fell among thieves, it was he who showed mercy and love that proved to be neighbor to the man who had been beaten up by robbers. Such has been the Church throughout the ages. She has been a father to the fatherless, a husband to the widows, a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

Without reservation, let us love the Lord our God.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, teach me how I may love you with my whole heart. Show me how I may love others as myself. Draw me closer to you until my heart beats for you like your heart beats for my neighbor and me. Amen.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Jesus Is Calling You

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 29, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126:1-6
Hebrews 5:1-6
Mark 10:46-52

Jesus is Calling You

Throw aside every hindrance and come to Jesus!

So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” He who is a priest forever responds to the cry for pity. Other voices sought to silence Bartimaeus; but this blind man could not be silenced. His was a cry for help; a cry for mercy. Not only would blind Bartimaeus not be silenced, he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” What a difference it makes to be in Jesus’ presence.

The promise announced in Jeremiah is fulfilled in today’s Gospel. The weeping prophet wipes his tears long enough to announce the inclusion of the blind, the lame, the mothers and those with child. And Jesus and his entourage stop long enough to include blind Bartimaeus in their fellowship. Those who have known trials, tears and tribulation shall return to the Lord with rejoicing!

Those who hear the voice of Jesus understand the necessity to lay aside every weight and every besetting sin. Nothing is important enough to keep us from the saving arms of Jesus. We should not forsake our gathering together unto him each Lord’s Day. When I was a child in the Pentecostal church we would sing, “Lord, you are, more precious than silver; Lord, you are, more costly than gold; Lord, you are, more special than diamonds; And nothing I desire, compares to you.” This is the way I feel when I pray before the Lord in the Adoration Chapel. Nothing I desire, or think I need, compares with my Lord.

Today is the day of Salvation. The author of our salvation is still calling us. In the early church, the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them…(Acts 4:32-34a) A similar spirit of generosity and abandonment is necessary today. Instead of possessing our stuff, our stuff dominates us. Take courage! Set aside the stuff, set aside the time, set aside the Lord’s day and come to the Table of Plenty.

Jesus asked blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” It is in sanctified time when intimacy with our Lord is possible. And in such times some of our questions get answers, some of our weariness encounters rest, and more of our inner being resembles the Garden of Eden. It is in the Garden where God communed with man as friend with friend. It is in the deep recesses of our heart we meet with God and find all we need. How much we need this divinization deep within us. How near we are to the peace that surpasses all understanding. And what peace we often forfeit because we do not sanctify time or ourselves. Whether you pray the Rosary, or the Jesus Prayer, or sit in silence before the Lord, all are ways to hear our Lord say, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. You are the Pearl of Great Price, the Treasure hid in a field. Grant me the courage to seek you above all things and honor you above all others. Amen.

Friday, October 20, 2006

If There Be Humility

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 22, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Readings: Isaiah 53:10-11
Psalm 33:4-5; 18-22
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:35-45

If There Be Humility

To be in this world and yet not of it is Christ’s call to us.

We are to resist arrogance. Our witness to the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ is to be accompanied with an attitude of servant hood. After all ‘knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.’ (I Cor 8:1) There will be little notice or care about our belief in ‘the holy catholic church’ if our commitment is marred with arrogant sinful pride. Jesus addresses this attitude with these words: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

In a world filled with Cathedrals and Temples, and big budget church productions that rival Hollywood, it is difficult to remember it all started ‘on a hill faraway’ where there ‘stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame.’ Jesus promised James and John a place in His kingdom through what the early church fathers understood as the ‘cup of crucifixion and the baptism of death (or martyrdom).’ These sons of thunder believed they were up to it. Of course we have the understanding of hindsight. But we can be just as off key as James and John and feel ourselves very important and indispensable.

Jesus teaches us that his kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is a civilization of life and love. We resemble that heavenly kingdom best when we seek to be the servant of all and the master of none. Is it any wonder that men like Peter and Paul, James and John who served their Lord and His church left such an impact? These men loved not their lives unto death. None of these leaders sought such an end. Nor should we. However, they took Christ’s yoke upon themselves and learned from him who is meek and lowly and whose burden is light. As far as I can tell, this still is the way the Holy Spirit leads us in our walk in the Lord.

Isaiah states the LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity. Jesus, who was disfigured because of the violence done to him, nonetheless laid down his life as a ransom for many. He could have called ten thousand angels to save him from his appointed hour, but instead he humbled himself to accept the obscurity and death of the cross for us men and for our salvation. The call we see in Christ’s humiliation is a calling to be in solidarity with others. Parishes need look no further for a church growth strategy. Leaven’s work is imperceptible, but powerful and effective. Leaven gets hidden in the dough and is in solidarity with it. The church’s work in the world is as when a little leaven leavens the entire dough. Some may think this process too cumbersome and unrewarding. St. Chrysostom said, “God wants for nothing and has need of nothing. Yet, when he humbled himself, he produced such great good, increased his household, and extended his kingdom. Why, then, are you afraid that you will become less if you humble yourself?”

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests yet you had nowhere to lay your head. In your poverty you bathed mankind in your love; yet too often we are unwilling to entertain angels disguised as strangers. May we be content with what we have and seek to know you and make you known. Amen.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

That Which Endures

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 15, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Readings: Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30

Theme: That Which Endures

We are to have full affection for him who give us eternal life.

The rich young man addressed Jesus as a good teacher. Jesus responded as the incarnate Word of God. Jesus the Word read the thoughts and intentions of this young man’s heart. Indeed, no creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.

Words of a church song say All to Jesus, I surrender; all to him I freely give. According to today’s Gospel, nothing given or given up is ever lost. However, we can be worse off than the poor when we allow our possessions to possess us. Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man highlights the difference between knowing what is right and doing what is right. An enlightened mind thinks more clearly with an enkindled heart. Everything will be clearer and dearer to us when we have full affection for him who gives us eternal life.

We will give an account for everything we have said and done. Better to start getting the account settled now by embracing the truth, defending the helpless, and befriending the poor. And don’t forget, the poor are not fully clothed or fully fed until you have prayed for their eternal well-being. Poverty of Christian witness is as inexcusable as neglecting the cry of the poor.

By all definitions, the rich young man had an impeccable and respectable life. From his youth up he had kept all of the commandments. No one would have thought that he lacked anything. Any of us in his shoes would not have ever dreamed that we needed any spiritual improvement. But he who loves us and therefore knows us calls us to have undivided affection for him in the face of the hungry, the thirsty, and the naked.

The rich young man’s countenance dropped at the words he heard from Jesus. He left the presence of Jesus very sad. How close he was to eternal life! Only one thing he lacked. Let us not fail to take St. Paul’s words to heart: Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you are disqualified. (2Corinthians 3:5)

It should always be our prayer: “What must I do to inherit eternal life.” Even after many years of following the Lord, these words are a reminder to not take grace for granted and communion with the Holy Trinity as a given. This is not an invitation to fear. Rather we are called to honest reflection and prayerful determination to do whatever He tells us to do. The holy mother of God experienced those words before she spoke them.

As long as we remain enamored with the accumulation of riches the true riches of eternal life will remain outside of our possessions. If power, prestige and prominence hold our heart’s affection, it is little wonder how powerless we are before magistrates, princes and Cesaer St. Augustine said, “One who gives up both what one owns and what one desires to own, gives up the whole world.”

We are reminded that one cannot serve God and Mammon.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, only you have the words of eternal life. Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain wisdom of heart. Our Lord, you were born in a borrowed stable, buried in a borrowed tomb. Help us to be satisfied with what we have and give what we can. May we love you without dissimulation. Amen

DISSIMULATION, n. [L., to make like; like.] The act of dissembling; a hiding under a false appearance; a feigning; false pretension; hypocrisy. Dissimulation may be simply concealment of the opinions, sentiments or purpose; but it includes also the assuming of a false or counterfeit appearance which conceals the real opinions or purpose. Dissimulation among statesmen is sometimes regarded as a necessary vice, or as no vice at all. Romans 12 Let love be without dissimulation. From the 1828 Noah Webster’s Dictionary.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

It Was True Love From the Beginning

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 8, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-6
Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-12

It Was True Love from the Beginning

t is only hardness of heart that keeps us from God’s love for us.

Love is not measured by acquisition. Adam’s exclamation of joy upon seeing Eve is born out of feeling complete and entire and now lacking nothing. This is a mystery and too many fail to plumb its depths.

Included in this wedding ‘made in a garden’ is the picture of the future of humanity. Just as from Adam’s side, created from his rib, came Eve, so from Christ’s side born of blood and water, came the Church. A sense of divine life and order is heard in these words of Adam, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Just as there is to be only one wife for Adam, so Christ shall have only one bride. It is the Church, which Jesus in his incarnation espoused to himself. And as Adam and Eve were not ashamed in each other’s presence, the second Adam is not ashamed to call us his people.

The hardness of heart, which produced the opportunity of divorce, is the same hardness of heart that has given us 40,000 denominations and counting. But from the beginning of creation it was not so. Our separation from one another is not good for us nor good for the life of the world. To allow ourselves to be content with things as they are is not good either. He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. And in His high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed that we would be one as He and His Father are one. What a glorious hope! What a glorious mystery! What blessed contemplation!

Marriage has taken a terrible beating. Wrecked homes and ruined lives strewn along the path of life suggest a wasteland of despair. Far from the environs of the Garden of God, humanity imagines new definitions of marriage. Where does divorce, abortion on demand, and gay marriage come from? Laws are created to accommodate the hardness of our hearts. But the wounded side of Adam of the Garden of God testifies against our multiple lovers. Deep in the hollow caverns of our heart there is a faint memory of a time when love was exciting, rewarding, and loyal.

A measure of forgiveness would go a long way to heal our wounded hearts. When a husband leaves his father and mother to cleave to his wife ‘they are no longer two, but one flesh.’ If this is what God has joined together, then let not anything nor anyone separate us from one another. Grow old together and forsake bitterness. Marriage of this sort is a mystery, but I speak of Christ and his Church. Christ is human and divine. In his humanity he received our sufferings and became one with us. All of humanity is touched by his all-embracing love. On the cross Christ defeated the shame of our alienation from God. Through baptism we partake of his divine nature and exchange a heart of stone for a heart of flesh. This is joy unspeakable and full of Glory.

Let us return to our first love and to the love that first loved us.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you invite us to your banqueting table and your banner over us is love. May we grow in our love of you and live in love with one another. Amen.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Generosity of God

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
17th Sunday After Pentecost
October 1, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Readings: Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19:8-14
James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-48

The Generosity of God

The generosity of God creates in us an unselfish heart.

It should strike us that there is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time. This season of the church, in its readings, reminds us of the great work of God in us and through us. It is in that order. Too often we desire to do the works of God without first allowing God to work in us. The readings today make us ponder anew how generous our God is.

Jesus is serious when he says we should radically remove whatever keeps us from a large and abundant relationship with God. Of course our Lord is not telling us to chop off hands, pluck out eyes or sever our feet from our legs. But the language of our Lord is clear. To be less than wholly the Lord’s is to say there is nothing abundant about abundant life, or nothing eternal about eternal life, or nothing generous about God who has freely given us all things.

Gregory of Nyssa on the Simplicity of Service sees the strength of our testimony in this comment: God never asks his servant to do what is impossible. The love and goodness of his Godhead is revealed as richly available. It is poured out like water upon all. God furnishes to each person according to his will the ability to do something good. None of those seeking to be saved will be lacking in this ability, given by the one who said: “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.

Our God is the God who knows the number of hairs on our head and takes note of each sparrow that falls to the ground. The heart of this God who without measure has poured out his Spirit upon us desires communion with our hearts. Those who fatten their own hearts have limited their participation in the goodness of God. Providing for ourselves bigger and better ways to contain our wealth diminishes God and makes us selfish and self serving.

Jesus taught his disciples the extraordinary need to expand and expend themselves. The offensive and neglectful attitude toward others ends in a place called hell, ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ It is Jesus who said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Gregory of Nyssa stated there is a great difference between fire which is quenched and that which cannot be put out. And again from the sainted father, “When a person hears the word “worm,” the analogy must not be misapplied directly from the creature we know to the eternal. For the addition of the phrase ‘that does not die’ suggests the thought that this worm is not simply the creature we know.”

Let us not be afraid to let the Lord open our hearts and give us an abundant entrance into his love. The Holy Trinity is in itself an abyss of love. (From Morning Litany in St. Augustine’s Prayer Book.) It is this love, this generous love that changes our hearts into a fruitful garden of God. And everywhere we see signs of that garden of God flowering in others, we must not be disinterested or envious.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, no one can call you Lord except by the Holy Spirit. No one can claim your Lordship in their lives except by the Holy Spirit. O Lord, only the Holy Spirit can renew the hearts of the faithful. By the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, restore to us dependent creatures the haven of the beautiful garden of God. And there will we commune with Thee as friends. Amen.

****Side Note****

St. Augustine in On Baptism, Against the Donatists 7-39 (76) said:
“There may be something catholic outside the Church catholic. The name of Christ could exist outside the congregation of Christ, as in the case of the man casting out devils in Christ’s name. There may by contrast exist pretenses within the church catholic as is unquestionably the case of those “who renounce the world in words and not in deeds,” and yet the pretense is not catholic. So as there may be found in the church catholic something which is not catholic, so there may be found something which is catholic outside the church catholic.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The War Within

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
16th Sunday After Pentecost
September 24, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; Psalm 54:3-6, 8
James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

The War Within

We must not allow our passions to win the battle for our heart.

Jesus explains his destiny to his disciples: “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. It is an important teaching moment for those closest to Jesus. But rather seeking clarification the disciples embark on a discussion of who is greatest among them. To observe these nearest to Jesus to be so far from the heart of Jesus gives us pause.

As is so often the case, it takes a child to bring us back to reality. In fact, Jesus takes a child and places him in their midst to remind us of life not yet ruled by the passions. The war within us is a fight worth winning. Lest we continue to allow jealousy and selfish ambition to rule us Jesus says, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” We can make receiving Jesus complicated. Indeed, the way of Jesus and the way to Jesus is only complicated to the degree we insist self-preservation. And that war is waged deep in our heart.

If this conflict is permitted to continue unabated, the results are catastrophic. Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? To be triumphant in life we must be more than conquerors over the self-deception that demands control over us. If there’s to be peace among us there must be first that peace that passes all understanding within us. The empty achievements of self-promotion are apparent. Coveting leads to motivations that ruin relationships, despises authority, and leaves us as empty and unsatisfied as we were.

So what should be the testimony of our heart? Let our confession be, “God will take care of me.” And, “God is my helper, the Lord sustains my life.” The wicked, dominated by their passions will test those words. Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same attitude (for whoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin), so as not to spend what remains of one's life in the flesh on human desires, but on the will of God. For the time that has passed is sufficient for doing what the Gentiles like to do: living in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and wanton idolatry. They are surprised that you do not plunge into the same swamp of profligacy, and they vilify you; but they will give an account to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. (I Peter 4:1-4)

Will I be willing to be misunderstood and maligned? Surely the contented heart desires the will of the Lord. Because godliness with contentment is great gain, he who has been faithful in the day of the battle within will be granted an abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.

The prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus is to know the wisdom that is from above. The way of the world is dismal and is a manifestation of the hearts of its subjects. Be we are not our own, we have been bought with a price. To change the wasteland within to be a garden of God is to encounter the wisdom from above which is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.

There are three things to do to be successful in our war within.

1. Give no place to the devil. Avoid the very appearance of sin. Be ruthless in refusing to let Satan have a foothold.

2. Avail yourself of the rite of reconciliation. You cannot confess anything that will
alarm the priest. Where 2 or 3 are gathered together in Christ’s name, Jesus is present. Be reconciled to God.

3. Don’t neglect to meet together…but encourage one another. (Hebrews 10:25)
Holy Eucharist is indispensable to being victorious over illicit passions. Taste and see that the Lord is good and good
for you.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus be strong in us. Be mighty in us to defeat the enemies within; the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. Allow us not to be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. Then will our hearts be the Garden of God. Amen.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A True Heart For Jesus

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
15th Sunday After Pentecost
September 17, 2006 Catechetical Sunday
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Readings: Isaiah 50:5-9a; Psalm 116:1-9
James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

A True Heart for Jesus

Faithfulness to the teaching of the church is a lifestyle.

The minute we embrace who Jesus is, we encounter a radical lifestyle. We know it is radical because Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

There is not any notion in Jesus’ words that we will remain unchanged when we follow him. Somehow we see previewed here Jesus’ prayer, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” This is the great surrender; a surrender that births the life of Jesus in us. Truly this transformation is daily and should continue until our earthly end. We enter into greatness and true life when we abandon self-affection and self-exaltation. Therefore, perfect charity is the result of embracing the will of Jesus, first, last and always.

Do you wish to follow Jesus? Jesus invites us to take up our cross. The servant is not greater than his master. Jesus himself lived in the shadow of the cross until he hung from a cross for the salvation of the whole world. As the catechism states: Jesus enjoins his disciples to prefer him to everything and everyone, and bids them “ renounce all that [they have]” for his sake and that of the Gospel. (#2544) Loving your spouse and children, your church and your friends through the cross of Jesus will transform you, your family, your church and your friends. The only agenda we should have is whether what we do will please the Lord. Please remember that only one man ever hung between heaven and earth as the everlasting example of how to demonstrate you faith by your works.

Faithfulness in following Jesus is a lifestyle. We discover a rich lifestyle in following Jesus. It is he who ‘for our sakes became poor, that we through is poverty might be made rich.’ This is the one whom we follow. He who loves his life will lose it. There is no future in self-centeredness. But there is only a life of endless possibilities of faith, hope and love if we will but lose our life for Jesus’ sake and that of the Gospel. Jesus is Jesus. He is the Christ. Is there any other way to understand the future of mankind without him who was rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and scribes, and was killed, and rose after three days? May we follow him with all of our heart and never look back.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, I want to follow you wherever you lead me. Teach me not to fear the path you lead me on. Whenever I wish to trust myself more than loving you, then ever hold me closer till I desire what you desire, love what you love, live as you lived. Amen.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Here Is Your God

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
14th Sunday After Pentecost
September 10, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Readings: Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146:7-10
James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

Here is Your God

It is the God of Eden remembered and exalted in today’s readings.

All of the language of the 1st reading reminds us of the pastoral scene of the Garden of Eden. That which has been taken over by sin is redeemed. Even the effects of sin on creation are removed and the desert and the sands are filled with pools of water. This is the very picture of redeeming grace. The mute sing, the deaf hear and the eyes of the blind are filled with light. All of this reminds us of Adam and Eve and their friendship with God in the Garden.

It is the mission of the Church to proclaim to the world, “Here is your God.” He is not the God of doom and gloom. He is not angry and mad at you. Worship of Him is not under an eye of divine scrutiny. The happy and blessed parish is that parish that knows and proclaims that the God of Jacob keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry and sets captives free.

So much is the Church a place of divine favor that the poor and the rich have equal access to the throne of Grace. The table of Lord is not reserved for the highest giver. At the table of the Lord the man in fine clothes and the person in shabby clothes are heirs of the kingdom together. Indeed when the priest declares, “Here is your God,” he gives the poor and the rich the same food. May we ever remember it was for our sake Christ became poor so we would never forget God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith.

In the gospel today is echoed Isaiah’s pronouncement. The people were astonished and said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” It is St. Mark who links Jesus to the God of the Garden. To the deaf man’s ears he says, “Be opened.” O that our ears could hear these words in a fresh way today. The dullness of hearing is too often our predicament. Do we fathom that God is here. God in is infinite goodness is among us. And if we ask Him he will touch our ears and our hearts and our eyes. No longer must he be a God who is far off and unknowable. Hallelujah!

The Lord gives sight to the blind.
The Lord raises up those who are bowed down.
The Lord loves the just.
The Lord protects the strangers.

Today we see as it were, Eden restored. It was there God communed with his people and blessed them. And now that same God, in the face of Jesus Christ is making all things new and doing good things among us. Even Jesus couldn’t keep himself from being made known. He who is mighty to save willed to us his very life so we might live and move and have our being in Him. Through Jesus Christ we have access by the Spirit into the very presence of God. Hear St. Paul preaching in a culture not too different than ours: Paul, standing in the middle of the Are-op'agus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17: 22-23) With St. Paul, with Isaiah, with the church let us say, “Here is your God.”

Let us Pray: Dear Jesus, let me be your light where there is darkness, let me be your voice where there is ignorance, let me be your love where there is hardness of heart. Amen.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

A Change of Heart

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
13th Sunday After Pentecost
September 3, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15:2-5
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

A Change of Heart

The evil that affects humanity is described by Jesus as a serious defect of the heart.

In the first reading Moses is teaching Israel how to be a wise and intelligent people in the land the Lord is giving them. The commandments of the Lord are absolute. Nothing can be added to them. Nor can anything be dismissed. Moses instructs the people to ‘observe them carefully.’

In the process of salvation history the law of the Lord is given ‘line upon line, precept upon precept.’ (Isaiah 28:10) Every ‘word of God’ in the history of salvation is meant to penetrate the dark domain of the heart. Man is told he cannot live by bread alone. (Matthew 4:4) Nor is what goes into our bellies is that which defiles us. And to be hearers only of the word is self-delusion. We are encouraged to receive warmly and welcome humbly the word that has been planted in us.

It is good to remember that the spirituality of the church always is a result of holiness of heart. The confrontation we resist in ourselves is the knowledge that the heart is deceptively wicked. It is here we know our real separation from the Lord. It is here we know true communion with the Lord. All of the great spiritual fathers of the church speak of this. It is from them we learn the possibility of Christian perfection and Contemplation of the Triune God.

St. Paul asked the Colossian Christians, If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, do not handle, do not taste, do no touch, (here referring to things which all perish as they are used) according to human precepts and doctrines. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

It’s not an uncommon belief in the family of mankind that personal salvation and holiness is a matter of appearances. However, if we cover most of our flesh with clothing but remain lewd, lawless, sexually unrestrained, deceive, blaspheme and murder, we are truly defiled and need not a new wardrobe but a change of heart. Such behavior is out of a heart that is far from God. The religion of appearances is lip service only and a worship that is not true worship. The real ascetic life is about obeying the commandments and being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

True holiness of heart will certainly inspire modesty of dress. But at the center of a pure heart is a love like the love with which it is loved. The great contemplatives through the ages taught that only like knows like. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:2) In that contemplation of the holiness of God we learn that God loves the sinner, the orphan, the widows and the poor.

Let us pray:

O Lord our Father, may our heart be ever more like the sacred heart of Jesus. Grant that we may ever love you and love others as you have loved us. Adorned by your Holy Spirit may we be truly holy and inspired to practice a pure religion that heals the broken hearted and befriends the lonely. Amen.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Your Have the Words of Eternal Life

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
12th Sunday After Pentecost
August 27, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Readings: Joshua 24:1-2a & 15-17, 18b; Ephesians 5:21-32
John 6:60-69

You Have the Words of Eternal Life

In John chapter 6 Jesus speaks of His origin, His mission, His giving of Himself. He also identifies our need of the Spirit to help us grasp His words.

Simon Peter declares Jesus’ words to be the words of eternal life. Some of those who followed Jesus as His disciples did not come to the same conclusion. In fact they found Jesus’ sacrificial language disturbing, alarming and difficult to grasp. “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

Today’s readings challenge us. Some may find the words of today’s lessons hard and difficult to accept. But it is ‘for our good and the good of all His church’ for us to receive the teachings of the church into our hearts. True union with Christ requires us to participate in His sacrifice. Rightly understood, this means living our lives for the betterment of others. The gods of a secular society offer avenues to self-promotion. But the God of Israel in the person of Jesus Christ calls us to love one another the way Christ loved us and gave himself for us. This sacrificial lifestyle is a call for each of us to imitate Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.

Before we denounce St. Paul lets hear him first. It is not true that if St. Paul were alive today he would be writing from a more enlightened understanding. In this passage Christ is shown to be the head of the church and the savior of the body. He also says that wives should be subordinated to their husbands as to the Lord. In fact the wife’s cue is the church, which is subordinated to Christ. So Christ loves the church and gives himself for her because of His great love for her and in response the church subordinates herself to Him who is its savior. Indeed Paul does not depict a true husband as a tyrant King who has subjugated his wife and children. Paul challenges the husbands in the ancient world to love their wife, to love their wife as their own bodies, and to leave their father and mother and be joined in love to their wife and be one flesh. And then St. Paul describes this mutual affection as a great mystery that mirrors the relationship of Christ with his church.

There is no an ancient woman or woman of modern times who would not like to have and hold and submit to a husband St. Paul describes. The husband Paul describes is the priest of his home who is unselfish in giving himself for his bride. The husband’s cue is Christ’s unselfish love for the Church. The wife in this relationship will see herself as the Church sees herself. Namely, she will see herself as holy and undefiled, without spot or wrinkle, being escorted through life in splendor by her priestly husband. If you need a paradigm of the domestic church, St. Paul gives it here. As in the words of Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

In the priestly ministry of Jesus to and for His church we have a paradigm of true relationships that can endure the testing of time. It is this high calling in Christ Jesus the Holy Spirit wants to reveal to us. Neither Jesus’ words nor St. Paul’s can be understood apart from the revelation of the Spirit. They cannot be understood apart from a ‘renewing of the mind.’ (Romans 12)

Jesus calls us to an intimacy with him. Our approach to the sacrifice of the mass should be out of love for our Lord. And our response should be a mutual affection for him who loved us and gave himself for us. As his disciples we take his body and blood into ourselves that we may bring Jesus into our homes, our jobs, our towns---for the life of all those our lives will touch.

Let us pray:

Jesus, by your blood you saved us. Jesus, by your power you raised us. Jesus with your body and blood you feed us and in this your love you send us. Amen.

Friday, August 18, 2006

An Invitation to Really Know Jesus

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
11th Sunday After Pentecost
August 20, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Proverbs 9:1-6; Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Ephesians 5:15-20; St. John 6:51-58

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus explaining that He will give himself for the life of the world.

It is safe to say that we see Jesus in an evangelical moment as we hear him say, “Amen, amen, I say to you, 
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my bloodhas eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” In these words we are compelled to think that we need Jesus. However, Jesus explains his relationship with us in extraordinary words. We know they are not ordinary words because of the comments of the Jews who quarreled among themselves as they discuss as to how this man will give us his flesh to eat. For the first 1500 years or so of the church’s history, this question was not all that hard to answer. It is only since the reformation that the real understanding of the church on this question has been protested.

St. Peter talked about Christians being partakers of the divine nature. How is that possible? Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” St. Paul underscored this truth by declaring that the cup we drink and the bread we eat is a participation in the body and blood of Christ. Indeed, if we are destined to be conformed to the image of God’s son, if we are to grow into the likeness of Christ, as we should, then we must see his flesh as true bread, and his blood as true drink. Remember it is our eternal well-being and the spiritual destiny of our families and friends at stake if we resist knowing Jesus the way he invites us to know him.

The one who ‘feeds on Jesus’ will be a true witness of Jesus Christ. We not only adore Jesus, but we feed on him. He who said ‘This is my body and this is my blood’ desires our heart on this matter. If our hearts are burning with knowing him in the breaking of the bread, then won’t we pray more faithfully, more compassionately, for one another? The earliest followers of Jesus after his ascension into heaven and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit steadfastly maintained their fellowship with Jesus daily through the breaking of bread and the prayers. If the testimony of the early church is reviewed carefully, acts done in the name of Jesus resulted in the lame walking, the dead raised, the blind healed and the poor remembered. It is no accident that if the church feeds on Jesus the church will do mighty and gracious things in Jesus’ name. If the church will be a house of forgiveness then we must know the forgiver. If the church will be a house of refuge for the sorrowful, a house of compassion for those who mourn, a house of hope for the hopeless, a house of love for the destitute, tormented and afflicted, then the church must taste and see that the Lord is good and good to all and for all who feast on him. Indeed Wisdom has built her house; she has set up her seven columns and bids all in the city to come to her lofty table of plenty.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. May we never have any second thoughts about it.

Let us pray.

In the words of the Anima Christi:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy Wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malignant foe, defend me.
In the hour of death, call me.
And bid me come to Thee.
That with Thy saints I may praise Thee.
Forever and ever. Amen

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Present Looks Very Much Like The Past

Go to this Link to read about my Journey into the Catholic Church.

The Sweet Fragrance of Sacrifice

Readings (19th Sunday in Ordinary Time; August 13, 2006):
I Kings 19:4-8, Psalm 34:2-9, Ephesians 4:30-5:2, St. John 6:41-51

It is commonly understood that we become what we eat.
Junk food diets reduce the human body to sluggish living. Folks on
this food plan are referred to as "couch potatoes." You get the
picture. Today's readings reflect on the adequateness and
appropriateness to 'taste and see the goodness of the Lord.' The
bread that Jesus gives is his flesh for the life of the world. Unless
we eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood we have no life
in us. Eating from the table of the Lord should never be a
perfunctory performance. If we are to be strong in the strength of
the Lord, if we are to encounter the living Lord of eternity and
history, if we are to be imitators of God and of His Christ, then we
must desire to consume him who said, "I am the bread of life."

St. Paul exhorts us to do 3 things that produce the fragrance of
Christ's sacrifice. The way of Christ is learned through the meal of
Christ. It is the picture of the Eucharist that Paul lifts up when he
reminds us to be kind, to be compassionate, to be forgiving toward one

The way of Christ is not seen in the mean spiritedness of selfishness
and self-importance. Be kind to one another is what St. Paul exhorts
today. Kindness is that discipline of life that approaches everything
and everybody as breakable and fragile; in need of tender loving care.
The way of Jesus is not to break a bruised reed. Our approach to one
another and everyone we meet must be with the kindness that reminds
them and us we are all made in the image of God. Violence will never
earn us a place in the hearts of humankind. But no one will ever
forget a kind word or deed. Kindness can mend fences between
disagreeing parties, heal a breaking marriage, or halt war between
nations. The sacrifice of a meek and quiet and kind spirit is like
the aroma of fresh cut flowers; but more importantly it is like the
sacrificial aroma of Christ's life and offering to God.

Secondly, St. Paul tells us to be compassionate to one another. The
Christian life and the heart of the church is about compassion.
Everything Jesus said and did was for our sake, for the life of the
world. To be like Christ is to put ourselves in someone's place and
make their place better for them because we were there. Is there any
future in bitterness, fury, reviling or shouting? There is no future
in malice or self indulgence. The witness of the church is that of
sacrificial compassion for the hungry, the thirsty, the wounded, and
the dying. What believers were to one another they were to all. It
has been said that no one will care how much you know until they know
how much you care. Compassion is the work of faith. It is the sweet
aroma of the Christ who was bruised for iniquities, wounded for our
transgressions and for our peace was chastised.

Lastly, St. Paul calls us to forgive one another. Love does not seek
its own interests. Love does not brood over injury, nor rejoice over
wrongdoing. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all
things and endures all things. The Christian revelation of incarnate
truth is that vengeance is not our domain. Only perfect love casts
out fear and vindication. History in the world and in the church is
replete with unforgiveness. The bitter road of unforgiveness is
littered with broken homes, broken promises, and nations torn apart by
war and revenge. How desperately we need to meditate on these words
of our Lord who said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what
they do." Consider the possibility that there is no longer a reason
to hate, malign, or destroy one another.

It may be that we have not considered enough how the sacrifice of the
mass is not a show but rather a showdown between kindness and hate,
forgiveness and bitterness, compassion and self-centeredness. May we
choose to be the sweet fragrance of sacrifice, Jesus' broken body and
blood, for the life of the world.