Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Reflections on the Readings: Petition Through Repetition

July 29, 2007 Year C

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time/9th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins

Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138:1-3, 6-8

Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

Theme:  Petition Through Repetition

Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.

The King James translators of Matthew 6:7 rendered the Greek word polylogia as 'vain repetition'.  The word is correctly translated in the RSV as 'many words'.  We are often criticized for how repetitious our prayers are.  But in fact it is a biblical exercise as witnessed in Luke 18.  In that chapter a widow repeatedly cries out to the unjust judge for vindication.  Likewise the tax collector stands in the temple continually beating his breast saying over and over, 'God be merciful to me a sinner!'  

What mother or dad cannot relate to this understanding of persistent repetition?  Children usually don't have a large vocabulary.  But they masterfully use a few words repeatedly; such words are usually accented by please, please, please.  They often get what they want, not because of the eloquence of their words, but because of their plea thru repetition.  This works because there is a relationship, marked by the absence of fear, enabling the child to come boldly with his request.

If because of these very special and earthly relationships we will respond with good gifts to our petitioning children, how much more will our heavenly Father respond to us because of our divine relationship with Him.  We are invited to come boldly to the Throne of Grace.  It is here, where the persistent repetitious prayers of the children of God find a listening ear and a Father's heart.

I have encountered the mercy of the Lord in both the repetitious recitation of the Jesus Prayer, and the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Both prayers assist the one praying in reaching a place of solitude and assurance and divine rest for the soul.  Often, these prayers and similar prayers assist in coming to that moment in prayer when no words are necessary.  We hear these words from St. Paul to the Romans: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26-27)

Many are the times a child of God has knelt beside the helpless side of a sick loved one and simply prayed, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.  Over and over again they uttered that holy name until the clouds of doubt and disease rolled away.  

All over this world are monasteries where the prayers of the church are uttered over and over, day after day and year after year.  If you wonder how this world stays as sane as it does, you might want to thank God for those who sleep little, pray often, and repeatedly pray, "Lord have mercy."  

In a book entitled Journey Back to Eden, Fr. Gruber describes the scene of Egyptian desert monks praying all 150 divisions of the Psalms daily.  Petition thru repetition is a biblical way to pray.  Jesus even recommended it.  Ask, because everyone who asks receives.  Seek, because everyone who seeks finds.  Knock, because everyone who knocks, to him will the door be opened.  

Abraham demonstrates this same kind of repetitious prayer while standing before the Lord.  He pours out his heart to the Lord and asks, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"  How about 50 Lord, will you destroy Sodom if there are 50 righteous persons?  The Lord promises mercy if there are 50 righteous persons.  Abraham persists.  How about 45? 40? 30? 20? Or 10?  The Judge of all the earth promises he will do what is right in response to every one of Abraham's petitions.  

Let us not be reluctant to bring our petitions, as repetitious as they may be, knowing the kindness of the Lord endures forever. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, it's me again, standing in the need of prayer.  I'm the same face with the same cry. Have mercy on me I pray.  Amen.   

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Only One Thing Is Necessary

July 22, 2007 Year C

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time/8th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins

Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15:2-5

Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

Theme:  Only One Thing Is Necessary

Be still and know that I am God.

Other things may be important, if not down right urgent.  But, Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus sat at the feet of all mercy and holy mystery.  She desired what is most necessary if we are to be mature in Christ.

In Genesis 17, Abraham has learned from God that Sarah his wife will bear him a son in her old age.  This is why Abraham in today's lesson is sitting contemplative in the door of his tent.  It was appropriate that Abraham reflect on God's word to him.  After all, neither he nor Sarah are spring chickens.  In one fell stroke of divine visitation, Abram's and Sarai's names are changed to Abraham and Sarah.  God has said that he and Sarah will be a father and mother of nations and kings of people.  One can only imagine the deepness of humility that is at work in Abraham's heart as he sat musing on the ways of the Lord in the heat of the day in the door of his tent.

But for such communion with the Lord are we all called to embrace.  It is no small thing to contemplate the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you the hope of Glory.  St. Paul's understanding of 'the mystery' was a result of the sufferings of Christ's afflictions at work in his flesh.  Only a complete consecration of his entire being would be sufficient to fulfill his divine office.  Paul's divine office and calling was to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.  

Often it is pain or tragedy or misfortune or an ordeal, which precedes a greater fellowship in the most Holy Trinity.  It is after either reckless or selfish living when often it is discovered, 'I must decrease and He must increase.' It is after betrayal that Joseph's words echo true for us, "As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good."  

As stated earlier, if we are to be mature in Christ a true hunger and thirst for righteousness must be exercised.  Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus and St. Paul is bringing the Colossians to the foot of him who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together.  Mary's posture before our Lord is indicative of the humility and docility we are called to.  There is nothing wrong with Martha's desire to meet the needs of Jesus and the other guests in her home.  However, it is Mary who has found that place near Christ that shall not be denied her.  It is here she attentively listens to his teaching.  Man cannot live by bread alone.  We need divinizing more than we need dinnertime. In John 6 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."    

Let us enter into that divine quietness where the life-altering teaching of Jesus can flood our hearts to overflowing.  It has been in such times of stillness I have found divine help and strength.  Like Mary, we can sit at the feet of Jesus during times of praying the Rosary, or being engulfed in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist at Mass or having a grace filled few minutes or hour in the adoration Chapel.  The interiorizing of the mystery is what empowered the early Church's proclamation that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.  We can only give what we truly possess.  

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, in you we live and move and have our very existence. Too often I seek life outside of you.  Help me to always know that you are my life, my hope, and my eternal joy.  Like Mary, help me to learn of you in quietness, blessed quietness.  And then shall I find rest for my soul. Amen

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Mercy of God

July 15, 2007 Year C
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time/7th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins

Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

Theme: The Mercy of God

To be in the world and not of it is the meaning of relevant Christian witness.

While God’s holiness teaches us that we are not of the world, it is His mercy that teaches us how to be in the world. I remember asking a retired abbot friend of mine if becoming more prayerful, more contemplative would make me more absent to my family and friends. Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “No, it will make you more present.”

Jesus’ teaching is filled with admonitions to be like salt and light in the world. As salt we bring the flavor and preserving power of God’s mercy. As light we bring the teaching and rule of God’s kingdom. Both ways are the proverbial two sides of the same coin, revealing the benevolence of God.

In the parable, the expert in God’s law reveals his own selfishness. He loves God and himself, but not his neighbor as himself. This is no doubt the reason he desires to justify himself. His attempt to show himself in good standing with the Almighty is not lost on our Lord. This is why Jesus shares the story of what it means to be holy and a neighbor.

Jericho lies about 17 miles east of Jerusalem at a descent of about 3200 feet. The way is rugged and a noted region for unsafe travel. Such is why the man’s experience in this story would have been relevant to our expert in the law. The priest and the Levite, the designated lay associate to the priest, exemplify adherence to the requirements of the law. The law stated that to touch the dead corpse of anyone outside of next to kin would be to incur ceremonial uncleanness. And ceremonial uncleanness for a priest in Israel included not touching the dead corpse of even his mother or father. Such ritual uncleanness would invoke declaring oneself unclean until sundown and taking a ritual bath before returning to priestly duty. So we understand how someone appearing even half dead is inconvenient and very much to be avoided. (See Lev. 21)

We today have our own righteousness rituals that give a false assurance of holiness and eternal life. Some don’t smoke, drink or dance and consequently do not associate with those who do. And while some would never ever watch pornographic movies will in the secrecy of their thoughts commit adultery because of a lustful heart. The prophets sent to Israel addressed Israel’s loving God with all of the right words while their heart was far from him. God has never been pleased with ceremonial cleanness in the absence of a pure and merciful heart. There must not be a disconnect between ritual purity and moral purity. The pure in heart not only have a clear vision of God, but also possess a clear vision of their neighbor made in the image of God. He who has seen me has seen the Father said Jesus. And feeding the poor and clothing the naked is to have done it unto Christ.

Jesus himself crossed these lines in touching the dead and the lepers and the woman taken in the very act of adultery with his great and merciful love. And the story of the man who fell among thieves is Jesus’ story of consecrating us to himself with the oil of confirmation and nourishing us with the wine of his blood. One day he will return and receive us to himself so that where He is we may be also. In the meantime He has given us a home in the Inn of His Church. Here we can grow in our understanding of the great love with which he has loved us. Here we can be transformed and renewed daily in our minds and in our hearts. And from here we can go into all of the world embracing the lost, the lonely, the least among us with the mercy with which he embraces us.

Christ is Lord of Heaven and Earth. He is Lord of both the Church and the World. The same Lord is he whose property is always to have mercy. He is the same Lord over all things and time and eternity having reconciled to himself all that is whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

This is why our prayer of humble access at every Eucharist is, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, (or that you should come under my roof) but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

This is the mercy we receive; this is the mercy we share for the life of the world.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, help me to return to my first love, the love with which you loved me first. In this, your friendship will instruct me in the ways of neighborly kindness and mercy. May the closeness of your friendship bring me closer to you, to my wife and children and to all who need a friend. As always may this maxim be mine: To make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ. Amen.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Except in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ

July 8, 2007 Year C

14th Sunday In Ordinary Time/6th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins

Isaiah 66:10-14c; Psalm 66:1-7, 16, 20

Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

Theme:  Except in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ

The universal sign of love, redemption and reconciliation is the crucifix.

In St. Paul's epistles the word crucified appears at least 10 times. In each case, St. Paul is either emphasizing the uniqueness of Christ's propitiatory death or our own appropriation by faith of Christ's sacrifice of himself for us.  The climatic conclusion of  Paul's preaching are his words, …But we preach Christ crucified…" (see here)  

Another 11 times St. Paul uses the word cross explaining it is the power of God unto our salvation, that which Christ endured for our salvation, and that without which no one can be saved. (see here)  It, the cross, is for Paul that which distinguishes us from the world and the world from us.  In it, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, do we glory as St. Paul.  

The crucifix is therefore, not the emblem of unbelief or the denial of the Resurrection.  Rather it is the sign by which we are reminded that only divine love, reviled and rejected by men, could embrace such contradiction.  It is such love we have received and which the world seeks for in all the wrong ways and places.  

In Paul's day it was necessary to establish that salvation results from the preaching of the cross.  Some trusted in their circumcision while others were condemned for remaining uncircumcised.  This came to a head at the First Council of the Church at Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15.  Some were teaching the brethren "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."  No small debate and dissension arose.  Those believers of the party of the Pharisees speaking of the conversion of the Gentiles rose and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the Law of Moses."  But it was Peter, Paul and Barnabas who testified that both Jews and Gentiles are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus.  Thus was the primacy of the cross established and is why Paul in today's reading begs that no one make any more trouble for him.  The issue of how one is a child of God was settled at Jerusalem and is why Paul stated that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision meant anything anymore.  That which mattered then, now and always is a new creation made possible by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

St. Paul's credentials were that he bore in his body the marks of Jesus.  Some have concluded that Paul bore the stigmata.  That may be, but we have another insight to what Paul may have meant.  In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul shares he had received countless beatings  and was often near death.  In Paul's own words we hear him say, "Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one,  three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned."

The riches of Jerusalem foreseen by the Prophet Isaiah are those procured by the Cross of Christ.  In it Isaiah gloried describing the overflowing delight and prosperity for all who will pay homage to that hill in the form of a skull just outside her gates.  It is there where was demonstrated a love without equal poured out as milk for our comfort.  It is this to which we invite the gaze of the world when we say behold the Kingdom of God.  

In the sending of the 70 (as say ancient texts) we may reminisce about Israel's resting at Elim on their way to the Promised Land.  In Genesis 10 we have the original listing of the nations numbering 70.  At Elim there are 70 palm trees (representing the nations) and 12 springs of water (representing the 12 tribes of Israel).  In Exodus 24 , 70 of the elders of Israel joined Moses, Aaron and Nadab and Abihu on the trek to Mt. Sinai.  So this imagery would not have been lost on the 70 being commissioned to go into every town and place the King intended to visit to announce the blessings of the Kingdom of God.  

The 70 indeed exclaimed the sick were healed and demons withered away at their command, and Jesus confirmed he had given them such power to tread upon the full power of the Enemy. But Jesus says, "nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven."  

Let us never glory or boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, it is true that beaten and nailed to a cross, there is no beauty in your humiliation that I should desire you.  It is true that I may wish salvation had been won by more tasteful means.  It is true that I with all others would have forsaken you in the hour of your wounds.  But I long to be like John and Mary your mother, and stay near your cross, near your wounded side, near your sacred heart and there glory in your sacrifice.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray to this end for us.  Amen.