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.