Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jesus in the Desert--Sunday, August 3, 2008, Year A

August 3, 2008, Year A

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme: Jesus in the Desert

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a lonely place..."

Jesus comes to this desert place contemplating the death of John the Baptist, his own cousin and forerunner.  It is John who said of Jesus, "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."  No doubt Jesus is meditating upon this as he comes to this place of aloneness with the Father.  

John himself was a man of the desert place.  The people came to the desert place to hear John's words.  Jesus often retreated to a place of quiet and seclusion.  To such a place the people came so they could be close to Jesus and hear his voice.    It is as the disciples said, a lonely place, a place of seclusion and solitude.  

Elijah fearing the rampage of Jezebel, sought a place of seclusion.  Elijah seeks the comfort and refuge of a cave at the mount of God in Horeb.  Here the Lord passes before him in dramatic ways.  First there was the strong wind, then an earthquake, and after this a fire.  However, the Lord was not in the wind or the earthquake nor the fire.  After the fire there was a 'still small voice,' a voice he recognized.  This voice 'stilled the winds and the waves.'  It is this voice that whispered away the fever of Peter's mother-in-law. The woman taken in adultery heard this voice say, "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more."  And it is this voice that said from the Cross, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."  

In pursuing the lover of our souls, it is the distractions and temptations of this world we leave behind.  A double minded man is unstable in all of his ways.  A divided heart is broken, but not for God.  And the lust of the eye feeds the imagination with weird and awkward thoughts betraying the idea we are made in the image of God.  Retreating into the prayer closet brings the spiritual life of the Holy Trinity into our hearts, our heads and our homes.  Here is the place where we may contemplate what is good and perfect, the very will of God.  In this secret place the Lord will clothe us with the beauty of his holiness. 

In the desert place Jesus had compassion upon the people and healed their sick.  He will have compassion upon us too.  As we draw nearer to him, he will heal our sin sick heart.  The heart is deceptively wicked; only He who knows what is in the heart of man is able to restore it.  Through sacramental confession we meet the Christ who embraces a 'broken and contrite spirit.'  Falling into his loving arms, we learn that Jesus is not willing that any should perish.  

This story of the multiplication of the loaves is recounted in all four Gospels.  Like the miracle of the manna in the desert, here in this deserted place Jesus feeds the multitudes with five loaves and two fish.  Jesus desires to feed us too.  He feeds us today not with the loaves and fish but with the life of his own body and blood.  In Eucharistic actions, Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave the loaves to his disciples and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  Each Sunday we are called to separate ourselves from the mundane and unite ourselves with the mystery of the Eucharist.  As we partake of the body and blood of Jesus we become a new creation.  

Every altar throughout the Church is a microcosm of the desert, the place of seclusion and solitude.  In this place we find the sanctuary of his love, the place where he receives his beloved as a bride adorned for her husband.  In this place we hear again a loving and familiar voice saying, "Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant."

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, ever call me to yourself.  May my soul find refuge in the secret place of the most high.  Abiding in the shadow of the Almighty do I find refuge and my soul rests in true solitude; here I embrace you in the sanctuary of your love.  Amen.  

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Strength of the Kingdom---Sunday, July 20, 2008

July 20, 2008 Year A
Sixteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time

Reflections on the Readings
By Dennis Hankins

Theme:  The Strength of the Kingdom 

  For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (I Corinthians 4:20)

They say that dynamite comes in small packages.  A single stick of dynamite attached to something a thousand times its size will demonstrate its enormous power.  In today's climate of terror much has been said about smart bombs carried in something as inconspicuous as a suitcase.  A small brown bag or box left in a mall restroom prompts a call for bomb squads and an evacuation of the area.

At World Youth Day 2008, in Sydney, Australia His Holiness, Pope Benedict has just concluded a visit with the young people and the young in heart from every nation under heaven.  The theme for this event was You Shall Receive Power.   The Pope is asking us to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit for an interior transformation and renewal.  We can renew the face the earth, of our homes, of our communities if we will but receive the fire of his love.  The spiritual dryness of our hearts and Church will become again a land flowing with milk and honey if we will but receive the springs of living water.  It is the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life who will open to us the mystery of God's great Kingdom of powerful love.  It is today's Church which Pope Benedict is summoning to be prophets of a new Pentecost.     

Today's Gospel reminds us of the enormous strength and efficacy of the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.  Parables come in language that speaks with a clarity that is obscure to those who resist the message.  The example of the wheat and the weeds illustrates this.  Darnel plants resemble wheat in its early stages of growth.  Not until harvest can it be distinguished from the mature wheat.  This is why they must grow up together.  But the reality remains, resist the true kingdom and the furnace of fire awaits you.  

For us as for the disciples, the mystery of the kingdom is revealed in its indomitable power.  It is within the inner sanctum of our existence in which the seed of the Kingdom must take root.  Christians often feel incapable or insignificant facing the spirit of the age.  Perhaps now more than ever before we must embrace our faith in God even if its only the size of a mustard seed. Moses was rescued from a basket floating on the Nile River.  David faced Goliath with five smooth stones and a slingshot.  Samson routed the Philistines with the jaw bone of a donkey.  And by the same Holy Spirit that inspired these saints and countless others, the bread and wine on our altars becomes the Body and Blood of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  They asked, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  For two millennia the Body of Christ has been saying, "Yes, come see a man."  "Taste and see that the Lord is good."

Only the Kingdom's unconquered power can create in us a clean heart.  Jeremiah the Prophet describes the heart as deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)  The words of the Psalmist cry out, "Direct thy steps to the perpetual ruins; the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary!" (Psalm 74:3) Understanding more about the Kingdom of God is a matter of the heart because God looks on the heart.  Others see us on the outside, while God sees us from the inside out.  Within the domain of the heart originates what corrupts us.  It is there, deeply within the inner sanctuary of our heart Jesus seeks residence.  It is there where we have memory of a time when humankind visited with his maker without barriers; without shame.  Never imposing, Jesus proposes to our ache-filled hearts that there is a more excellent way; a way that has always been because God is.  Wooing us to himself, standing at the door of our heart he knocks.  Jesus says, "If any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me."  And what was once filled with dead and barren desires thrives again with a benevolent feast of love.  The transforming strength of the Kingdom is illustrated by the "leaven hidden in three measures of meal".  May we with St. Peter cry out, "Not my feet only, but also my hands and head!" 

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus take full possession of my being. And in my life Lord be glorified.  Through all of my days help me be a new creation, possessed of a higher power, the same power that raised you from the dead.  Quicken my mortal body with this power and fill me with the strength of the kingdom of heaven, so like you a bruised reed I will not break.  Amen.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I Will Give You Rest

July 6, 2008 Year A

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme:  I Will Give You Rest

The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28b-29)

Weakness often finds expression in a forcible way.  Jesus' authority arose from a heart filled with gentleness and humility.  

The Scribes and Pharisees delighted in being authoritarian. A greeting in the marketplace and the best seat at dinner is all that mattered.  Connecting the people to God did not matter.  In contrast to Jesus, they came among the people of God to be served.  Jesus on the other hand talked about life that withstood winds and waves, discipline that brings ease and refreshment to life, and demands that bring joy instead of burden.  Jesus came to serve, not to be served.

No wonder one of the best loved scriptures is Jesus saying, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest."  In the name and authority of Jesus the Apostles brought good news to the poor, cast out devils, made the lame to walk and the dead were brought back to life.  Meeting Jesus should be momentous.  The Jesus we give to the world is the Jesus who turned water into wine, gave the lepers new skin, and opened the eyes of the blind.  And the Jesus we worship is the Jesus who comes to us in the bread we eat and the wine we drink, the body and blood of the Lord.  

Unlike the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus came among His own, revealing the Father.  His words and His works conveyed the message, 'there's someone I want you to meet.'   It is His desire that we should know the Father, since 'no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.'  And it is us He has chosen. He said, "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you."  Is there any greater consolation and rest than to know we are the focus of the Father's love through the Son of His love?  And the Holy Spirit brings this filial truth to us, that is, the love that unites the Holy Trinity to one another also includes us.  Within this Holy conclave of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is an eternal Sabbath rest.  Sabbath is the symbol of the Son, who when he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3)  Each Lord's Day we celebrate this victory and this rest of a heart sprinkled clean from an evil conscience. (Hebrews 10:22)

The Church that Jesus obtained by his own blood is the body of Christ.  If there is a haven of rest anywhere on this planet, it is the Church.  It is where Jesus is met in the Holy Sacraments of Baptism, Confession, and Eucharist.  Anything we can do to help people know that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever is the motive of the 'new evangelization.'  We can be those who say like Jesus, 'there's someone I would like for you to meet.'  The Body of Christ is the incarnation of Jesus on this earth.  If the Church looks like Jesus, talks like Jesus, reaches out like Jesus, then the Church must be Jesus.  And the message of Jesus for over two thousand years is, "Come unto me…and I will give you rest."   Hallelujah!

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, teach me the way of gentleness and humility.  Let me find your way for myself, let me show a better way for my family, let me witness to the only way to the Father through you who said, "I am gentle and lowly of heart."  Then shall my soul be at rest.  Amen. 

``O Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in the the Name of Jesus...Renew Thy Wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost!!''  Pope John XXIII