Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The City of the Living God

September 2, 2007 Year C

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time/14th Sunday after Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68:4-7, 10-11

Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Theme:  The City of the Living God

We are known by the company we keep.

The reading from Hebrews continues the theme begun in verse 1.  It is there we find we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.  Today's passage from Hebrews begins the great crescendo of just who is the family of God.  

One of the special characteristics of the Catholic Church is its attitude of inclusivity.  This understanding is formed by our understanding of scripture.  It is this understanding that has touched me deeply, since coming into the Church.  As we hear today's second reading we marvel at our friends and neighbors who are apparently closer to us than we think.  They include a festive gathering of innumerable angels, the assembly of the first-born enrolled in heaven, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to God the Judge of all and to His son Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant.  

If you are wondering who will be at Mass today, you already have part of your answer.  Lest we forget, it is  Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon) that states:  In union with the whole Church we honor Mary, the ever-virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God.  We honor Joseph, her husband, the apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul, Andrew, [James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude; we honor Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian] and all the saints.  May their merits and prayers gain us your constant help and protection. (emphasis added)

Later on in this Eucharistic Prayer, we pray for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.  It's here we pray for mom and dad and grandma and grandpa, uncles and aunts, and a host of others who have left this world for the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of the Living God.  We pray that these and all who sleep in Christ find in that place of God's presence light, happiness, and peace.  

But it gets better, for we continue:  For ourselves, too, we ask some share in the fellowship of your apostles and martyrs, with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, [Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia] and all the saints.  

And who are these folks?  They are the assembly of the first-born.  Hebrews 11 enumerates some of these.  And they pray with us and for us as we pray with them and for them.  

The Church was careful from its earliest history to remember with adoration and supplication its earliest members and martyrs.  And the Roman Canon, which has its origins from the 1st century church's celebration of the Holy Eucharist celebrates their lives and memory.  So from the beginning we, i.e. the Church has celebrated with holy memory the lives and faith of the first Christians in the remembrance of Christ in Holy Communion.  

Truly our fellowship is with the Lord and with those who have died in the Lord.   But this fellowship also must include those whom Jesus today describes as the maimed, the lame, the blind, and the poor.  Like Jesus, there is no beauty in them that we should desire to be near them. (see here) But these are diamonds in the rough and without them we cannot be made perfect.  

It is the world outside of Christ that merchandises babies as parts, treats all immigrants as criminals, and engages in ethnic cleansing.  In our world there is disdain for the life of the poor, the aged and the unborn.  Anytime the spirit of the age governs us let us be quick to denounce it and repent and pursue being the City of the Living God. 

Recently at Diocesan Day, Bishop Garcia invited everyone to pray the Lord's Prayer in the language each was most comfortable with.  The symphony of languages reminded me again we are a community of faith from every kindred, tribe, nation and language under heaven.  Such is the kingdom of God.  Such is the City of the Living God.    

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, keep me from the pride and arrogance that would separate me from my brother.  Daily remind me of you friendship and of the friendship of those who surround us as a great cloud of witnesses.  And grant me the privilege to befriend those without whose friendship I am the poorer.  Amen.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Abundance of the Narrow Way - Reflections on the Readings for Sunday, August 26, 2007

August 26, 2007 Year C

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time/13th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings 

By Dennis Hankins

Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117:1-2

Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30

Theme: The Abundance of the Narrow Way

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant. (Hebrews 12:11)

God's discipline of Israel in scattering them among the nations is a work of mercy.  And this mercy not only works to the good of Israel but for the nations among whom they wandered.  So much so that the Gentiles embrace the God of Israel and together with the Israelites return to the mountain of the Lord, a phrase denoting worship in spirit and in truth.  

It is interesting to see how the first reading with the Epistle and Gospel unites to frame a picture of the glory of discipline, that is, how God treats us as sons.  This is a kinship that should give us pause.  Not only because he loves us but also because he loves those who share in our life as friend or as father or mother or son or daughter.  Consequently, for the sake of our families, indeed for the life of the world we should not lightly regard the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when he reproves us. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son he receives. And oh how he loves you and me.  So much so that if we will let His Spirit blow in our hearts every where he desires, our confessions will be fuller, more probing and revealing of the deceptiveness of sin and its pleasure so called. Our parents disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure.  But the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life disciplines us for our good.  To such goodness we must bear witness, creating in our places of responsibility a culture of life.

The strictures that make us better sons and daughters of God is discipline for our good and that we may share His holiness.  Sharing His holiness is what St. Peter describes as 'partaking of the divine nature.'  And the way to this redeeming fellowship within the Holy Trinity is through a door Jesus described as narrow.  Not wide thus allowing every undisciplined thought and manner.  But narrow.  A narrowness that brings us to what Jesus introduced as life and that more abundantly.  

This discipline of the Father is in contrast to those who are not sons, that is, undisciplined.  Undisciplined is a spiritual condition only remedied by humbling oneself under the gracious hand of the Father.  And those under the Father's merciful hand are the inspiration and the protagonist's of sonship among those not yet in the family of the Father.  

The results and fruit of life in the fast and wide lane are all about us.  This way is always inviting and pleasurable but never peaceful.  It is anti-climatic and chaotic, strewn with broken dreams, broken lives, broken promises.  Look into the sunken eyes of a prescription drug addict or empty heart of a porn gazer and you immediately know that the wide door, the broad way is filled with death and more death.  But the narrow way, the narrow door, the path of all discipline, while not immediately pleasurable, results in the peaceful fruit of righteousness, to those who have been trained by it.  

A worldwide gathering of the elect from every corner of earth is in the making.  Along with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we will sit at table in the kingdom of God.  The abundance of the Father will culminate in everlasting joy for those who take the time and discipline to find the treasure hidden in the field.  

May we not succumb to the spirit of the age that blinds the undisciplined minds of those who do not believe.  Today, when you receive the body and blood of the Lord, be drawn to the beauty and fullness of the narrow way.  Let His life feed you till an appetite for sin holds no more power over you.  Indeed the table is narrow but filled with all of the abundance of life and that more abundantly.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, you do not call me to an undisciplined chaotic way of life.  Help me to not ignore the narrow door that leads to abundant life.  You are that door. You have declared to the world " I am the Way,"  " I am the Door." It is through you and with you precious Jesus I hope to walk more willingly, more lovingly, more faithfully; so much so until my heart is completely formed in the likeness of your holiness.  Amen. 

Friday, August 17, 2007

Keeping Our Eyes on Jesus

August 19th, 2007 Year C

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time/12th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins

Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40:2-4, 18

Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53

Theme:  Keeping Our Eyes on Jesus

Only He who divides us can truly unite us.

The Gospel reading today brings us some of Jesus' difficult teaching.  After all, why does the Prince of Peace describe himself as not on a mission to bring peace?  And how is that Jesus who prayed that they all may be one announces that he is bringing division instead of unity.

All of this appears as a great contradiction.  Which is it?  Do we find peace or division in Jesus' presence?  And the answer is, "yes."

A cursory reading of the Bible often reveals conflict between those who are keeping the faith and those who do not.  We think of Jacob and Esau.  Jacob inherits the blessing (some would call it more like swindling) while Esau despised his birthright.  There is Joseph and his brothers.  His brothers despise Joseph the dreamer.  They sell him into slavery. Then faking his death they contrive a lie about Joseph's deadly encounter with a wild beast, bringing all that remains of Joseph to Jacob his father, the tattered, bloodied coat of many colors.  Jacob made this coat for his son Joseph.  This lie sends Jacob into great mourning.  How cruel.  Don't forget David and his son Absalom.  Absalom sought to take over the Kingdom from his father while David's great love for his son succumbs to the bitter reality of Abasalom's death.

Let us remember that He who reconciles us to himself also can reconcile us to each other.  Let us not lose heart or hope.  The division between us and those very close to us is not because we love them less now that we love Jesus more.  But this experience highlights the reality that we cannot love our family or our neighbor rightly unless we love Jesus wholly.     

No one enjoys the hateful, hurtful glare of disdain or contempt.  And even less so when it originates from those we love the most.  But even through this we must love them through Jesus who was led as a sheep to the slaughter, neither opened he his mouth.  Keeping our eyes on Jesus and our tongue in check can bring salvation to even the coldest of hearts.  As the scripture says today, in your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. (emphasis added)

An interesting thought about unbelieving husbands who have a believing wife is found in Paul's letter to the Corinthians.  It has to do with what is to be done when a wife or a husband becomes a believer after marriage.  St. Paul says, if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace. Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife? (I Corinthians 7:10-16)

Indeed, we do not know the end from the beginning.  Mom and Dad, how do you know whether you will save your children?  Or Son or Daughter, how do you know whether you will save your Mom and  Dad?  Keep your eyes on Jesus remembering he his the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  Stay focused on Him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  Jesus' entire being was constrained and harnessed to fulfilling his mission of mercy.  He is our example.  If we will gaze upon him, stay focused on him, our eyes fixed on him, Jesus will help us touch the most reluctant, the most resentful, and the most resistant ones around us.  

How do we maintain our vision of Jesus?

See him in others as though it is to him you offer warmth, food, clothing, shelter or a helping hand. (Matthew 25)

See him in the Eucharist. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him. (Luke 24:30-31a)


See him in your heart. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, open my eyes.  I want to see you more clearly.  I want to behold you more deeply.  I want to have a constant vision of you so that my heart is always aware you are near.  And in keeping my eyes on you, may I see others with more compassion than judgment. Amen. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Matter of the Heart--Reflections on the Readings for Sunday August 12, 2007 Year C

August 12, 2007 Year C

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time/11th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins

Wisdom 18:65-9; Psalm 33:1, 12, 18-22

Hebrews 11:1-2; 8-19; Luke 12:32-48

Theme:  A Matter of the Heart

Where you treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Today's readings reflect clearly the Father's intention to give us an inheritance.  In fact it is His good pleasure to give us the kingdom.  He is not ashamed to be called our God, for he has prepared a city for us.  We know from today's scriptures that it is to our hearts the Father has spoken and reveals there His unfailing love for us.  The history of this revelation began in the Garden of Eden where the Father communed with Adam and Eve as a friend among friends.  And through Abraham, Moses and the children of Israel is provided for us examples of how with the heart man believes.  

Jesus describes the diligence we are to employ in obtaining our redemption.  It is with our loins girded and our lamps burning which describes our devotion, alertness and fervency.  

It is carelessness and coldness of heart against which we must guard ourselves.  

It is the fervent prayer of the righteous that accomplishes much.  

It is we who must draw near to the heart of the Father.  

It is to the heart whose affection is set on things above that matters the most. 

In the Liturgy of the Church this truth is revealed daily.  We hear the invitation to 'Lift up your hearts.'  We respond 'We lift them up to the Lord.'  These words are 2,000 years old and they still have the life of the Spirit in them. Time has not diminished their power or the life they invite us to receive.  It would be a shame if these words became only a routine to us.  Moreover, if we don't understand what the treasure is our heart will remain unchanged and unmoved.  Still further, if we are not persuaded in our hearts of the love given us in the Eucharist, then on what will we set our affection?  

It is not possible to overstate how carefully we should evaluate the desires of our heart.  As we read today …faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the men of old received divine approval.  It is most likely the conviction of things not seen that distinguishes us from those whose hearts are still blinded.  But this only highlights the truth that we are to live with our lamps burning. We are to witness to the treasure that has conquered our hearts. 

Often I remember the ardor with which my walk with the Lord began.  Certainly as the cares and the responsibilities of life come along I need to remember this.  One of the effective ways to get the compass of our heart reset is to visit the Lord in the Adoration Chapel.  It is like breathing the air of eternity.  Before the Lord we are reminded that the condition of our heart matters to the Lord of all love and forgiveness. "Let not your heart be troubled," He says at our coming to him.  "You believe in God, believe also in me," He says.  

So, believe, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

It is a matter of the heart.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, you have shown me the Father's love.  On the Cross you revealed your Sacred Heart.  And now help me to be responsive and diligent.  Where coldness and indifference has replaced true love, then again let the fire of eternal love and life touch me again.  May this always matter to me.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Let Us Be Rich Toward God: Reflections on the Readings for Sunday August 5, 2007

August 5, 2007 Year C

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time/10th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins

Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Psalm 90:3-6, 12-13, 14, 17

Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21

Theme: Let Us Be Rich Toward God

A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

Sometimes the term Holy Joe is applied to those seemingly preoccupied with things eternal.  Or, have you ever been accused of being so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good?  And the clincher is this one:  "All you think about is the Lord and Church?"  

I still like the admonition of my monk friend when I asked if being more prayerful and contemplative would make me more absent.  He answered:  "No, it will make you more present and more interested in others and less selfish!"  

It is the lack of richness toward God that causes imbalance.  While some may need direction in their fervency, never is less devotion more practical.  In fact, it is today's readings, which emphasize the poverty of only accumulating stuff and things.  The Preacher of Ecclesiastes proclaims the vanity and the futility of things, which perish with the using and becomes someone else's with our passing.  

It is not frugality and planning that Jesus decries.  The farmer's bountiful harvest and building of larger barns to contain the crops is not the focus of our Lord's concern.  Listen again what the farmer thought in his heart about all this newly found abundance.  

And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry

Our riches are not of this world.  Of course our Lord knows our need of clothing and food and shelter and security.  But all these things are what unbelievers are preoccupied in attaining.  There is something more to life.  There is another Kingdom.  There is happiness that endures in this life if guided by the joy of being raised with Christ, seeking the things that are above.  Paul's seeking the things above is reminiscent of Jesus' exhortation to seek first the Kingdom of God.  

Setting our mind on things above does not mean we ignore our earthly responsibilities.  However it does mean having the mind of Christ in all things and with all others.  Paul exhorts to not set our mind on things that are on earth.  This mindset is not about being rich toward God.  It is rather a deceitful pattern of self-promotion and worldly gain, saying to our soul, Soul, take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.  Indeed we are to put to death whatever is earthly in us:  fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.   

What a difference it makes to be rich in the riches of Christ.  Allowing our consciences and our desires to be shaped by our inheritance in Christ frees us from the delight and deceitfulness of earthly treasures and ill-gotten gain

Let us be rich toward God remembering:

God in His generosity gave us his only Son for us men and for our salvation;

That with Christ, in God is our life hidden, giving us an endless partaking of the divine nature;

Knowing that when Christ who is our life appears, then will we also appear with Him in glory.

May it be so.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, help me to return to my first love.  Slay in me the giants of self-love, self-seeking, self-making.  May the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life and all that is earthly in me be defeated; and my life be filled with the will of God which is good and acceptable and perfect.  Amen.