Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Light Shines In The Darkness--Sunday, September 28, 2008

September 28, 2008, Year A

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection on the Readings

by Dennis Hankins

Theme:  The Light Shines in the Darkness

Those who repent enter the kingdom.

Two sons.  Two responses.  The two represent two types of people.  Jesus describes why tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom ahead of the unrepentant Chief Priests and elders.  The issue is their disbelief of John the Baptist and his preaching concerning the way of righteousness.  

Jesus was constantly at odds with those who sat in Moses' seat.  While he ate with tax collectors and sinners, they were placing burdens on the people that were impossible to carry.  Working at remaining undefiled was there preoccupation. The effort to look righteous did not translate into being righteous.  That Jesus was a friend of sinners drew the ire of the self righteous.  Wandering around lepers, tax collectors, and prostitutes made Jesus suspect.  As St. John in his gospel explains, In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4, 5) And he who bore witness to that light that all might believe through him was none other than John the Baptist.  

To not believe in John and the way of righteousness he preached was to not believe in Jesus.  John bore witness to the true light that enlightens every man, and it was this light whom John declared was coming into the world.  At last John would say of him, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  

Having prayerful regard for what is the need of others is the evangelization that will mark this century.  We who have received much are admonished to have the attitude of Christ who emptied himself.  This refers not to something Jesus needed to do to be a better Jesus.  It is the description of an embracing of the world to himself, a giving of himself that calls us to stop hugging ourselves to death and to seek and save that which is lost.  If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, do nothing out of vainglory and selfishness.  

There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.  The Pharisees always saw themselves as one of the niney-nine.  If we follow in the tradition of the Church and the message that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, then it follows that we should not think of ourselves more highly than is prudent.  It is the light that shines in darkness that must always be allowed to penetrate the deepest and darkest terrain of our souls.  We are sinners who are saved by grace, but salvation is not a one time event.  If it was, the sacraments of the Church would not be needed.  St. Paul who was converted on the road to Damascus also told us we are to grow in Christ and in the knowledge of his love.  To grow in Christ is to grow in righteousness.  To grow in righteousness is to live in a state of repentance.  Indeed if any man is in Christ he is a new creation. The old is passing away and all things are new.  There is a lot about me that isn't new enough yet.

The Pharisees believed God to be unfair.  They saw tax collectors and harlots repenting and entering into the Kingdom.  For them, to mix and mingle with outcasts and untouchables, and join in their repentance was to become defiled and unclean.  Amazing.  The same light that leads some blinds others.  Let us not be overcome by the darkness that seeks to keep us from the light of Christ. Nor let us fail to let our light shine so that all may see our good works and glorify God.  

Opposition to what is good and holy will always be with us.  As long as we remain beggars eager to tell the other beggars where we found the bread, shining the special light of Christ on the path to the door of the Kingdom, then will our joy be complete.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, cast out all darkness in me.  It is the light of your love I invite into the cracks and crevices of my heart.  Help that what comes out of my mouth to always be the expressions of a grateful heart, grateful for the light that eliminates the darkness of my innermost being.  Amen.   

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Deep and Wide

September 21, 2008, Year A

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme:  Deep and Wide

God is generous in his love.

I confess.  It is difficult to say this.  It is probably difficult for anyone to make this admission.  Here goes.  I would begrudge the generosity of the owner of the vineyard. 

Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required. (Luke 12:48) And we have been given much.  Our attitude should be enlarged as we observe how graciously and generously God demonstrates his love to all. At least it should.  The issue is not about who got in first and who finally got in.  At play here is 'will we call upon the Lord while he is near.'  And will we 'rejoice with those who rejoice.'  

No one was more astonished at the goodness of the vineyard owner than those who clocked in at one hour before quitting time.  No one should have been more pleased with the owners goodness than those who had been 'bearing the heat of the day.'  How much we need the wonder of the kingdom.  As we press into its ways and power, we learn deeply that we are 'not of this world.'  Nor are 'our ways his ways' or our 'thoughts his thoughts.' 

Until the day dawns and the 'day star' arises in our hearts we are to 'seek first the kingdom of heaven.'  In the invisible recesses of our heart we are to receive the kingdom that cannot be shaken.  Jesus revealed a kingdom that does not measure time or resources or rewards the way this world does.  Those who felt threatened by Jesus' coming perceived his kingdom to be measured in political and military power.  Some have in recent times promoted a theology of liberation and sought to be a Saul (political) rather than a Samuel (prophet) in their understanding of the kingdom of heaven.  However, the kingdom of heaven is advanced by prayer and reception of the gracious forgiveness of God.  Good citizenship results from such a focus and promotes an active participation in the governance of the country as we seek to advance the policies that defend the dignity of all people.

Rooted and grounded in love, we are to 'comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length, and height and depth' of the love of God.  This is a livelong endeavor.  And when we have finished our course here below, we will only have just begun to grasp the generosity of God.  The revealing question of the vineyard owner is, "Do you begrudge my generosity?"  Oh, that we may embrace the grandeur of the kingdom in our hearts.  What a privilege it is to have had a lifetime to yield our hearts to the power and purpose of the kingdom of God.  But even the repentant thief on the cross was given 'an abundant entrance' into the kingdom.  

Growing in grace is to grow into the 'mind of Christ.'  Christ is formed in us as we bring all the powers of our being into obedience to the law of Christ.  When we love God with all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our strength, there in the depths of our life do we encounter grace and love that is greater than all of our sin.  The law of Christ is love.  This is the premier law of the Kingdom.  It is deep and wide. To live this way is to know Christ.  And to die this way is gain.  The conduct of our life is to be in a way that is worthy of the gospel of Christ.  A restricted and punitive view of the goodness of the kingdom of life is to believe that the Lord is like us.  But he isn't like us.  Or better put, we are not like him.  We are called to be like him.  We are invited to receive his deep and generous offer to enter into 'joy that is unspeakable and full of glory.'  

Let us receive this kingdom with the faith of a little child.  Expectantly let us open our hearts and our hands like a little child who yields himself to the love of his mother and father.  May we yield to this deep and wide possibility of knowing him whom to know is life eternal to all who enter the vineyard of his kingdom.  

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, I ask you to enlarge my heart.  May your mercy not only abound to me but to all those I love and work with.  And at the end of this life may I enter completely into the everlasting joy of your deep and wide unfathomable love.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Look and You Shall Live--Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

September 14, 2007, Year A

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Twenty-Fourth Sunday In Ordinary Time

Reflection On The Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme:  Look and You Shall Live

Jesus, rejected and despised, refuses no one who looks upon him lifted high on the cross.

Isaac Watts wrote the Hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross;  based on Gregorian Chant. He begins this great hymn with: When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.  

Pride and indignation had led Israel to complain bitterly against Moses and the Lord.  This was not a matter of folks disagreeing agreeably.  "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness," they murmured?  A chorus of contempt was unleashed from their hearts and mouths.  So the hedge was let down a little bit and fiery poisonous serpents plagued the people.  Realizing their complaint against the Lord and Moses was an act of disobedience they implore Moses, their leader, to pray for them.  The Lord directs Moses to make and place a bronze serpent on a pole.  He directed everyone who was bitten to be brought to this icon serpent pole upon which one could look and live.  

If you are asking, "Why would God have his people look upon the very image of the serpents that were hurting and killing them, that would be an excellent question.  Today Jesus tells us this event prefigures his being lifted upon the cross.  What do the two have in common?

First, the spectacle of the cross is meant to draw our attention.  Especially since every one of us have been bitten by the serpent, our need to look upon the Son of God to have eternal life is imperative.  The second stanza of Watt's hymn continues: Forbid it Lord that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God; All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.  Alienated from God and each other, the poison of sin deludes us to boast in our own strength.  Let us remember, nothing but the blood of God, poured out as a libation rids the heart of the false gods of our making.

Second, the God of love, who is not willing that any should perish, so loved the world that he gave his only Son.  There was no other mediation for the poisonous snakes among Israel than the serpent lifted up on the pole in the wilderness.  The message of the cross is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.  There is not anything particularly inviting about the serpent pole or Christ hanging from a cross.  Isaiah had prophesied the crucifixion stating there was 'no beauty in him' that we 'should desire him.'  When St. Paul says Christ became obedient to death, even death on a cross, it is meant to reveal both the necessity of salvation, that is, except we are born again we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, and the only way salvation is mediated is by the cross, that is, without the shedding of blood there is no salvation. 

Third, Israel had to look upon the judgment of their sin to receive healing for the bite of the serpent.  The power of the poisonous snake had to be seen subdued, conquered, destroyed; powerless in the hands of God.  The bronze serpent represented their sin for what it was; poisonous, filled with death and destruction and alienation from God and each other.  When we look upon the crucifix, we see him who knew no sin who became sin for us.  In Him we see sin, our sin for what it is.  Heaped upon Christ is all of our rebellion and hatred of God and those made in his image.  Christ endured the judgment of our disaffection for holiness and love and God and neighbor.  In Christ we see our sin for what it is; humiliating, poisonous and filled with dying and death. We also see there on that cross nailed the decree against Satan the Serpent which says, "The power of sin is broken."  Everyone who looks upon the crucified Christ can find in him the remedy to the disillusion, the poison, and the wages of sin which is death.  Another stanza from Watt's hymn says, See, from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down; Did e'er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown? 

On this Feast Day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we embrace the crucifix in all of its glory.  We have Christ on a Cross in our parishes to remind us not only of the price of our salvation, but to remind us of what sin does to us and with us but can never more destroy us if we will but LOOK!  Look and You Shall Live!

Let us pray: Dear Jesus I pray in the words of Isaac Watt's hymn: Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.  Amen

Saturday, September 6, 2008

House of Reconciliaton--Sunday, September 7, 2008

September 7, 2008, Year A

Twenty-Third Sunday In Ordinary Time

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme: House of Reconciliation

We need Jesus and each other.

In America the idea of individual effort and sacrifice is prized.  Some forms of evangelism stress individualism by promoting the idea that Christianity is just Jesus and Me!   However, this is an anemic understanding of Christ and His Church and is a foreign definition of the fellowship of the Church.  While we will all agree that a personal relationship with Jesus is vital, Scripture speaks of that relationship within the context of a body connected to the head, who is Christ; a body that is joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied.  We are joined and knit together, and as such comprise the Church. (See Ephesians 4:16)

This understanding of the Church is indispensable.  An attitude that it's just Jesus and Me did not exist anywhere in the development of the Church.  St. Paul unpacks today's Gospel and underscores the Church as community and structure like this:  So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows, into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22)

In Matthew 16:18 Peter is appointed by Jesus to be the visible head of the universal Church.  This visible headship has continued for two millennia and currently is seen in the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI.  His authority under Christ is extended to all the Apostles or Bishops in the ministry of the local Church throughout the world who are in communion with the Pope.  Today's Gospel highlights this.  The Christian life is lived within the fellowship of all the faithful who are guided and guarded as the flock of God by the faithful Bishops and their Priests within the Diocese.  

Reconciliation is the ministry of the Church.  The presence and power of the Lord is among us because whenever two or three are gathered in His name, He is in our midst.  It is within this reality that forgiveness and reconciliation is preached and practiced.  So necessary is this to our faith and relationship to Jesus, that if any fault or sin or issue divides us, we are to seek out our brother and regain his fellowship and trust.  If necessary, this can be brought before witnesses or ultimately to the those who are over us in the Lord, and whatever they bind or loose on earth is bound and loosed in heaven.  The unity of the faith is the cherished and guarded jewel of the house of reconciliation.  

There is a lone ranger mentality often associated with some in their walk with Jesus. Even though Pope Benedict's papacy is emphasizing a personal and devoted relationship with Jesus, it is understood as a faith within community.  The Church today is still the Church of Acts 2:42 where we see the early faithful devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.  Those who go it alone, forsaking the coming together of the household of faith, are not present to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.  The hand and the foot are absolutely necessary to the healthy function of a healthy body.  St. Paul stressed to the individualistic Corinthians the body does not consist of one member but many; If all were a single organ where would the body be?  As it is there are many parts, yet one body.  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (See 1 Corinthians 12) Your redeemed and transformed humanity is a particular charism within the body!

The God who through Christ has reconciled us to himself has given the ministry of reconciliation to the Church which is His body.  The message of reconciliation is in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.  We cannot hold grudges, animosities, disdain or rebellion in our hearts against another and remain unimpaired in our personal life in Christ.  

As I look upon the crucifix, he who knew no sin, became sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  Is the life I'm living, things I'm doing, what I watch and read worthy of the man I see on that old rugged cross?  Is what I let separate me from the love of God and the love of His Church worthy of the Lamb of God on that cross?  Many accuse Catholics of believing that Jesus is still immolated on a cross because of the crucifix in their parishes or homes.  I would only make this observation: St. Paul preached Christ crucified, which was a stumbling block to the Jews and a folly to the Gentiles.  He said the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  The message of the cross and of the crucifix is the message of reconciliation.  

Within the house of reconciliation the whole world stands on level ground at the foot of the cross.  Let us be reconciled to God and to one another.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, help me to remember that eternal life binds me to my brother and sister.  Truly our fellowship is with one another and with the Father through the Son of His love.  Amen.