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.