Friday, February 22, 2008

If You Knew the Gift of God--Second Sunday in Advent

February 24, 2008 Year A

Third Sunday of Lent

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme:  If You Knew the Gift of God

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."

Our Father in the revelation of himself unveils to us what is true worship.  And the true worshippers the Father seeks, is not out of a self-serving of ego needs.  The Father's self-disclosure is that He is gift and as gift he keeps on giving of himself, from himself, and as he is in himself.  But whoever drinks of this water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

In today's Gospel it is hard to miss the personal relationship each of us is invited to have in the embrace of the Father.  This embrace is a communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And in this endless exchange of mutual love between the eternal Trinity, we learn that God has proven his love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.  Jesus is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. 

Salvation is personal, but not private.  In that our Salvation is living water, rather than sloshing around in our own private joy, we gather together in a mutual exchange of the love that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  To live unto our selves is to believe that God is similar to us.  But God is not like us, not selfish nor self-serving.  Again, He is gift.  So worship is never about getting.  True worship is rather the giving of our selves to Him and receiving Him and each other in the bonds of love.

There are two evils of which Jeremiah reminds us to beware.  And these two evils are the backdrop to Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well.  The first is in forsaking God, the fountain of living waters.  And the second is, hewing out cisterns for ourselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)  The Catechism of the Church is to us a fountain of living waters.  But when personal choices become privately held beliefs resisting the guidance and love of the Church's teaching, we become like those who hew out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.  To hold within our hearts the divine life is to experience the spring of water welling up to eternal life.  O to neglect the gift of God is to be without living water and to fall short of the hope and glory of God.

It is after all divine life that is the result of worshipping the Father in spirit and truth.  The gift of God, if we but knew, is worship in conformity to the revelation of the nature of the Father in Christ in whom we also live in participation of the divine nature. This is most visibly realized in our approaching the Altar to receive Christ's body and blood.  It is our Amen that gains us access by faith into that abyss of divine love.  

Worship, that is true worship, is to approach the mystery of the Holy Place where Christ entered with his own blood, thus securing for us an eternal redemption. (Heb 9:12)  

And there we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18) God is Spirit and they who worship him must worship in Spirit and in Truth. 

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:14)

Water is a common symbol of divine life or of a divine event throughout the Gospel of John.  In chapter 2 at the marriage in Cana of Galilee it was turned into wine.  In chapter 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus unless on is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.  In chapter 4, water is depicted as divine life welling up in us as a spring of water.  The Pool of Bethzatha in John 5 becomes healing water when the angel of the Lord comes down and stirs the water.  In John 13 Jesus pours water into a basin and washes the disciples feet in order to show the humility and servant hood of our life in Christ.  And in John 19, while still on the Cross, a soldier thrusts a sword into our Lord's side and immediately there came out blood and water drenching the earth below and the world beyond and the ages before and all who will come after with salvation.

But it is the water Jesus speaks of in John 7:37-38 that is similar to the water of John 4.  In order that we might not miss the opportunity of knowing the gift of God, Jesus stands up and proclaims, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink."   The gift of God is God in Christ reconciling the world to himself.  He, who is forever a friend of sinners, invites us now and always to believe in His Son.  For the promise is 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, how I thirst for the living water, for the living God.  Turn the desert places of my heart into green pastures of divine rest.  Refresh in me the waters of my baptism and may I be found in you living and moving and being a new creation.  Amen. 



Friday, February 15, 2008

With Him On The Holy Mountain

February 17, 2008 Year A

Second Sunday of Lent

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22

2 Timothy 1:8b-10; Matthew 17:1-9

Theme: With Him On The Holy Mountain

"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," We heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:17-18)

This experience was on Peter's mind when he said, "We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." (2 Peter 1:16) Peter, James and John became participants of the divine nature through the vision given them of the transfiguration of Jesus. They were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

The reading of the Transfiguration during Lent is to remind us that we too can and should want to know Jesus directly, personally, and more than ever before. It is said we are known by the company we keep. And then it is true that the company we keep can change us for the good or for ill. But nobody who lingers often and long with Jesus can remain unaltered. And perhaps it is this need to look more like Jesus is why we in this holy season are reminded to look more to Jesus, to become eyewitnesses of his majesty. And in that glimpse of his wonderful face to listen to him, to embrace the exhortation of Mary to do whatever he tells us to do.

Mount Tabor was renamed the "holy mountain." The face of Jesus shining like the sun and his garments becoming white as light forever altered that mountain. But not only the place, but the men he brought with him as well would never be the same. Nothing and no one remains the same after being touched by Jesus.

The holy season of Lent brings us into what we can call 'spiritual battle.' I recall last year (2007) how on Good Friday, we had to take our little girl Heidi to the Children's Hospital ER. For eight grueling hours we were in the ER room. Plans to be at the Good Friday Mass went out the door, as we realized we would live out some of the drama of that first Good Friday in our own experiences on this day. Heidi was severely dehydrated. Her thirsty body reminded me how our Lord had said on that day, "I thirst."

Later that evening me and Heidi's brother and sisters and their companions collapsed at a table in a nearby pizza establishment on the strip in Knoxville. As we bowed our heads, fear and uncertainty gripped our hearts and I could only pray, "Lord, help us." I could say no more and all agreed it was enough.

Times of trial and temptation bring us to our knees so that we will draw near to Jesus and to one another. Over the next several days and weeks, Heidi would be evaluated for several life threatening and/or life altering diseases. Several moments of grace came into our lives during this time. Providentially I sat down across from a Pediatric doctor at a Men's Cursillo. What a blessing and consolation he was. One day on my way to work on a very drab and dreary overcast rainy morning, a cardinal, the bird that God has used to comfort and confirm me throughout the years stood along the road like a sentinel sent from on high. And then one by one the tests came in and the results were in Heidi's favor.

The reason Lent is so special and necessary, is because repentance, love, forgiveness and reconciliation are indispensable. People write off family, friends and church without batting an eye. But people of holy faith know better, desire better, and seek a better way. That better way is to ask the dear Lord to help us to be 'eyewitnesses of his majesty.' It is the people of God who of all people on the face of the earth who should have a clear vision of the majesty and power of Jesus.

We should not attempt to minimize the presence of the Almighty on that holy mountain or in our lives. Let us magnify the Lord. Let us with Peter say, "It is well that we are here." Let us embrace this unveiling of Jesus to us and hear the Father say of him, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, You were exalted on the holy mountain. By your Cross, you were lifted up so the whole world could see you. Then you ascended far above all principalities and powers and sat down at the right hand of the Father. And now you are Christ in me, the hope of glory. Be glorified O Lord in me. Amen.

Friday, February 8, 2008

In Your Mercy Keep Us Free From Sin

February 10, 2008 Year A

First Sunday of Lent

Reflections on the Readings 

By Dennis Hankins

Genesis 2:7-9; 3:17; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17

Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Theme:  In Your Mercy Keep Us Free From Sin

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  (Matthew 4:1)

In the Communion Rite we recite the Lord's Prayer.  But immediately before we conclude this prayer with an acclamation, the priest prays:  

Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day.  In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

It has become popular with some to explain away the human condition as a myth.  But the drama of the Genesis reading today recommends to us a better understanding of our neighbor, our God, and ourselves.  The passage unveils for us the opening moments of that which is known as THE FALL and the beginning of SALVATION HISTORY.

And this reading as well is our first look at our selfness.  In contrast to everything else in creation, whether plant or roaming beast, or fish of the sea, you and me have a consciousness of self and of living things outside of our self.  Animals possess instinct and prowess, while you and me possess insight, introspection, and intellect.  Our powers are imparted.  We read, "The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and so man became a living self." (See Abbot John Eudes)

Adam and Eve were the climax of the creative acts of God who said, "Let us make man in our image."  Of all that God created, it is humankind whose self became self indulgent and self-destructive.  Until united to him who in himself bore our sins and was pure, holy and undefiled, we remain dead in trespasses and sins; a self alienated from him who is another self.  In Lent we respond more deeply to the command to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation of the devil.  It is Jesus, the second man (self) who is led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the same devil.  And in his forty days and nights of fasting Jesus teaches how to deny our self an appetite for self-absorption and disordered love.  With Jesus, as with Adam and Eve, Satan employs a pseudo interpretation of God's words.  

In the final analysis, the same Spirit that led Jesus into the desert also leads us into Lent.  And we may ask why must we keep on doing this?   Because we must keep learning and loving that it is God and God alone we serve.  No man can have two masters.  A double minded man is unstable in all of his ways.  The forty days of Lent leads us to desire and embrace an undivided heart. 

The Apostle Paul highlights the fall and original sin.  It is with anguish we read, "…sin came into the world through one man and death through sin."  Some would suggest that the understanding of original sin has run its course; that the lover of souls is more like a pal than a friend of sinners. We need Jesus not only as an important guide and teacher to a better life, but as a haven of rest for our souls.  It is for this very need that Jesus invites us to come to him this Lent. 

Perhaps this Lent we can capture a renewed understanding of what it means to be filled with the breath of life.  It will mean coming face to face with Jesus who breathed on his disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."  No one can deny the intimacy our Lord seeks with us.  And it is Lent that teaches us to draw near to God and He will draw near to us.  A living self awaits us. 

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus in the salvation we seek our prayer is always, "Lord in your mercy keep us free from sin."  Amen.