Saturday, January 26, 2008

We Have Seen A Great Light

 January 27, 2008 Year A

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Is 8:23—9:3; Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14

1 Cor 1:10-13, 17; Mt 4:12-23 or 4:12-17

Theme:  We Have Seen A Great Light 

For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Let us begin with a proposition.  The Church is the door to everything Christ meant for us to know about God and our salvation. 

We have just concluded a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  In fact, this Octave of Prayer is now 100 years old.  This annual observance is based upon the prayer of Jesus in John 17, where Jesus' prayer to the Father is that 'they may be one, even as you and I are one'.  So the anguish and question remain, "Is Christ divided?"

Most of the last 30 years of my life and ministry was absorbed by the conviction that there is only 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all.' I enlisted all of my powers, the talents of my wife and children, and participated in various media opportunities and community wide ecumenical events to foster this conviction I lived and prayed for.  

Countless sermons, prayers, conversations and hours of prayer and contemplation deepened my awareness and desire for the unity of the faith.  

Through those 30 years I became pastor in a number of Christian denominations.  Every change in church affiliation was not from confusion but from my desire to understand what is meant by the words 'till we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine.' (Ephesians 4:13, 14)

My experience in pastoring in the Pentecostal church, Methodist church, and finally as priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church, only caused me to yearn even more for the unity of the faith.  

But there is only one Church, and the Founder of it gave only one set of keys.  Those keys and the authority they symbolize were given to Peter. We can ignore that truth and go on our way.  But to ignore it is to ignore the basic foundation to the unity of the faith and of the Church.   And subsequently this would erode our fervency in prayer for true Christian Unity. 

I finally had to ask, "Where else is there preserved what the Church has always believed and preached than in the Church that has always been and always will be?"  Jesus did not say I will build churches, but, I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)  Reception into the Church at the Easter Vigil of 2006 meant for me the fulfillment of my quest to know and experience the unity of the faith.  

This Reflection is not an effort in polemics against other Christians of the Reformed or Protestant persuasion.  It was in the Pentecostal church of my childhood where I met Jesus at the Altar at which I bowed.  At that church my pastor baptized me in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost and consequently into Christ's death, burial and resurrection.  In baptism I was infused with the life and nature of Christ.  And at that church I learned about the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in a real and personal way.   So in no way do I cast any disparaging attitude toward any of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Such an attitude would further wound the divided Body of Christ.  Our task is to heal rather than further wounding and dividing the people of God. 

If my earlier proposition holds water, then we must pray that we never block, diminish or hinder the door of the Church.  Let it never be asked by a convert to the Church, "Where's the joy?"   In other words, let's be the Welcome Wagon par excellence.    

All would agree some light is better than no light at all.  In my little daughter's bedroom we have a nightlight.  It's just enough light to keep the boogeyman or the monkey at bay.  But in the shadows cast by the light of my childhood faith I discerned there was yet more to all that I had come to know about Jesus.  That light has become a great light.  And perhaps for you and for me, there is always the need to become more responsive to the LIGHT WHO IS JESUS.  

From today's Gospel it is said that those in Galilee saw a great light, and they were the first to hear Jesus preach, "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand."  God is light and in Him is no darkness.  Let us live in the light and in that light gaze upon the beauty of the Lord in the house of the Lord.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, I confess you are eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, and Light from Light. With Mary your Mother may I continually ponder this in my heart.  Amen.   



Saturday, January 19, 2008

Oh, What A Savior!

January 20, 2008 Year A

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Is 49:3, 5-6; Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10

1 Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34

Theme:  Oh, What A Savior!

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"

If this Sunday's Gospel seems like a rerun from last week, you would be right.  Last Sunday was the Baptism of our Lord.  And the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time always repeats this theme. For us it is emphasized that John's baptizing with water was to reveal Christ to Israel and to us. Twice in today's Gospel John says, "I myself did not know him."  But John is not totally clueless for he says, "But he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' So it is the mission of John's ministry of water baptism to introduce to Israel and to us, Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

We are to come into Ordinary Time bearing this understanding upon our hearts.  That Jesus is the Sacrificial Lamb is what the Baptism of John reveals.  We declare each Lord's Day, 'For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.' And when Jesus came up out of the waters of the Jordan River, no one, not us, nor John or his followers need doubt who Jesus is.  

But doubt we will.  John will second-guess his understanding while lingering in prison.  Peter will doubt and deny Him.  Judas will betray him.  The scribes and Pharisees and Saducees will revile him.  And finally some will wag their heads at him and say,"He saved others, can he not save himself?"

This is why we must early in this new liturgical year hear again John's words, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.'  We can become wayward and lukewarm.  And we do.  Living within the warmth of divine love is the fruit of renewing grace received through ongoing conversion to the heart of Jesus.  Real spiritual growth means going beyond the rote and routine notions we believe make us Christian or good Catholics. It means meeting Jesus personally, devotionally, spiritually, and sacrificially.  If the magnitude of what is meant by Jesus Lamb of God is to impact the world it first must impact us. 

Anything less is a weak and tepid Christianity that does not weep for itself and cannot weep for the world. 

As followers of Christ, we have for our example John's vibrant understanding of who Jesus is.  We have for our spiritual growth the means of grace which flow from Jesus.  We know grace issues from the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist.  From the Catechism we learn that these lay the foundations of every Christian life.  The Catechism continues, "The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life.  The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life.  By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity." (CCC 1212) 

We must have the increasing measure of the treasures of the divine life to grow in grace.  Ongoing conversion to the teachings of Jesus means our salvation is a work in progress.  It becomes delayed and stagnant and fruitless if the gift within is not stirred up.  The gift within is our interior life, where the life of Jesus is revealed and received. It is Jesus who said, "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." (Rev. 3:20) 

Oh, what a Savior! Oh, Hallelujah! 

His heart was broken on Calvary.

His hands were nailed scarred. His side was riven. He gave His life's blood for even me.

(Words & Music Marvin P. Dalton)

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, come into my heart.  It is my heart you are seeking, may I seek your heart more fully.  It is your voice I need to hear, may I not be deaf.   You are the bread come down from heaven, may you be the food I desire.  Amen 



Friday, January 11, 2008

Baptism Is More Than Getting All Wet!

January13, 2008 Year A

The Baptism of the Lord

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10

Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

Theme:  Baptism Is More Than Getting All Wet!

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 

On August 27, 1967, on a very warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, we gathered on the bank of the muddy Patoka River (Duff, IN) where several of us were to be baptized.  At this same location, in the early 1920's, my Pentecostal great-grandfather had also conducted baptisms. Although we did not hold a sacramental view of baptism, I somehow knew standing there looking at the water that this was important.  The scriptures about being buried and raised with Christ through baptism were read and Shall We Gather at the River was sung.  And then one by one we walked into the muddy water to Pastor Jesse Lauderdale who with the elders immersed me into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, saying, Brother Dennis Hankins, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  It was about 2 O'clock in the afternoon.  I felt compelled to record the event in my Bible. 

Baptism sacramentally unites us to Jesus.  How does baptism bring us into the life of the Trinity?  Through John's baptism Jesus made himself one with us.  John hesitates to impose his Baptism of repentance on the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  But Jesus embraced John's baptism to show the way to a restored relationship with the Father.  As with other OT precepts and regulations, Jesus invokes Baptism as the fulfillment of all righteousness.  John's baptism made its participants aware of a holy God and a coming Savior. However, Jesus makes baptism our participation in the very life of the Holy Trinity.  The sacrament of baptism assimilates us to Jesus, who in his own baptism anticipates his death and resurrection for the life of the world. (See CCC 537) 

In Jesus' baptism we witness the Spirit resting on him and the voice of the Father declaring, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."  Is there any greater witness to the significance of Baptism?  Later Jesus would ask, "Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?"  Even Peter said Judas' office must be filled by 'one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John.  Jesus' baptism began his ministry of doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.  Early Church preaching began with the Baptism of John because it was where Jesus is manifested as the
Son God.  

The grace of Baptism has made us heirs of God, joint heirs with Jesus Christ.  It makes us fellow members of the household of faith; partakers of the divine nature, an immeasurably deep and infinite love.  Our restoration to the Father is possible through baptism.  This restoration is a gift of righteousness that can grow with ever increasing love and obedience to the Father's heart. Through Baptism we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Baptism is the door to this dynamic relationship; that which gives us a new heart that believes God is love; and with our mouth we now say Jesus Is Lord. 

Faithful parents, grandparents and godparents brought you to the waters of Baptism. Being baptized as an infant does not make Baptism of less effect or without meaning.  It is a sign of the Covenant and of your covenantal relationship with Christ and His Church.  

Christian Baptism is so much more than getting wet, so much more!  

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, help me to grow in the grace of my Baptism.  May these holy waters continue in me until they become a mighty flood of regenerating grace; a great exchange of sin for newness of life.  Amen.