Monday, November 24, 2008

He Will Come (Again)--1st Sunday of Advent

November 30, 2008, Year B 


Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme: He Will Come (Again)

"But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mark 13:32)

We cannot know what Jesus chooses not to reveal to us.  Jesus does not reveal that hour because of ignorance, but because it is not necessary for us to know the times and seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. (Acts 1:7)

Can you imagine the complacency such knowledge could create?  Somethings are not necessary to know; nor does their truthfulness depend upon are knowing them.  It is enough to watch, for we do not know when the master of the house will come.

The attention Jesus wants us to give to the future and the future of our soul is one of watchfulness and alertness, requiring effort and discipline.  Advent therefore focuses our attention on both the Second Coming and the First Coming of Jesus.  The blessed hope of the Second Coming springs from the blessed event of the Incarnation; the First Coming.

It is in the Incarnation that all of humanities hopes and fears find consolation.  During this Advent we prepare our hearts to receive anew the desire of all nations. It is through prayer our hearts remain attentive and alert to the redemption that is only in Jesus.  

In Advent we examine ourselves; determined that nothing will keep us from the Lord.  This holy season therefore prepares us for the reason of Christmas.  If in our hearts there is no room for Jesus now, there'll be no room for Jesus Christmas Day, or on the day of his glorious appearing in the clouds of heaven.

Matters of great importance usually inspire expectation and preparation.  Advent brings us to matters of great importance.  Perhaps the preparations a bride undertakes explains best the meaning of Advent.  No detail is too small as the Bride solicits the help of family and friends for the greatest day in her life.  Colors, dresses, decorations and a thousand other things are selected and purchased.  She assembles a guest list and creates invitations with a design that speaks of the dignity and joy of her special day.  She selects for herself adornment that speaks of the purity and specialness she is as she meets her groom before the altar; a place that speaks of the specialness and purity Jesus gives to both.

People who fast and pray aren't weird  and whacky.  They are lovers making all the necessary preparations for their Lord, lest he come suddenly and find them asleep.  Contrary to our materialistic culture, Advent is not about shopping sprees and bargains.  Advent is a spiritual check up to make sure we haven't been lulled into a spiritual slumber.  

Covetousness is a spiritual peril.  Jesus said, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."  This next four weeks give us the opportunity to break bad habits and thinking.  Availing ourselves of the means of grace will bring us back to an awareness of greater things than stuff and things  

Jesus told a parable saying, "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?'  And he said,'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool!  This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'   So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:15-21)

While there may not be room for Jesus in the Inn on Christmas Day, may it not be said there is no room either in our heart.  He is Coming!  May we love his appearing!

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, I love thee.  May I not wander or stray from your love.  May your coming ever be the hope of my heart.  Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Did You Love Me?--Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ The King

November 23, 2008, Year A

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King

Reflection on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme: Did You Love Me?

Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?"  He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"

In one respect today's Gospel gives us pause to ask, "How simple can it get?"  Professing to love God, loving our neighbor is simple, "Isn't it?"  

Before us is the final judgment, when Jesus sits upon his glorious throne, separating the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, the righteous from the unrighteous.  Some may ask how the Lord makes his determination.  How do you get included in the group on his right hand to whom he says, "Come, you blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world?"  

Certainly way back in the early sunrise of time, Cain rebuffed the Lord with, "Am I my brother's keeper?" This is a terribly incorrigible response.  Obstinate and arrogant, Cain smugly justifies himself.  However, there is no justification for his crime against his brother, one who bore like him the image of God.

Today, this final Sunday of this Liturgical year is the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King.  And the Gospel lesson presents us with the final judgment at which our benevolent King is concerned about how we treated the least, the lost and the lonely, who like us bear the image of God.  Many like Luther the Reformer believe 'faith alone' will be the criteria by which eternal life will be gained.  

But faith divorced from love is sterile and self centered.  St. Paul in his corpus  concerning justification describes faith working through love; explaining the whole law is fulfilled in one word, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."(Galatians 5)  

There are some who make a good living writing books describing conspiratorial details about the end of time, ignoring the weightier matters of love.  But the end will be judged like the beginning, when God, the Son of Man asks, "How is it with your brother?"

I grew up in a faith community that placed a high priority on 'the signs of the times.'  Speculation abounded as preachers held the daily news in one hand and the Bible in the other, ascertaining when the end might come.  Forcefully proclaiming the rightness of their interpretation, fear gripped the listeners as an eschatology of pessimism was preached.  Not being left behind was the preoccupation of young and old.  The watchword was 'Jesus is coming,' 'we're leaving,' and 'it's bad news' for those 'left behind.'  So 'flying way,' and 'good bye world, good bye,' was sung with gusto as the nightly news confirmed the end was near.

However, the end of time occurs differently from the fear mongering I've just described as we reflect on the readings for today.  Faith in Jesus Christ brings us to love, overwhelming love, love that does not leave anyone behind.  There is no fear in this love, for perfect love casts out fear.  Faith springs from the loving touch of Christ's hand on our heart.  

Embraced in Jesus the Christ, we are enclosed in a garden of plenty.  This fullness of life in the beloved is why Jesus will ask on that day when all the nations are assembled before him, "Did you love me?"     

Christ reigns today, and must reign until he has put all His enemies under his feet.  Death is the last enemy to be destroyed.  In the mean time we must relieve the hungry of their hunger, the thirsty of their thirst, the naked of their nakedness. Hunger, thirst and insufficient clothing certainly precede a certain death.    

The early church took care of one another holding all things in common; their needs and their resources.  Loving one another as Christ has loved us is the fulfillment of the law.   Whatever we do for one of the least brothers of Christ we do it for Jesus. 

I began this reflection saying, Professing to love God, loving our neighbor is simple, "Isn't it?" 

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, many have no strength of their own, help me to be their strength.  Many have no friendship, help me to be a friend.  Many have no water of their own, help me to give them a drink.  Whenever I see you weak, lonely and parched, dear Jesus, may I be your brother.  Amen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Measure of Faith--Sunday, November 16, 2008

November 16, 2008, Year A
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflections on the Readings

Theme: A Measure of Faith 

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:26)

A contempt for the future is exhibited by the servant receiving the one talent.  Each servant receives responsibility 'according to his ability.'  The third servant however feels diminished; uninspired by the trust placed in him by his master.  A cynical attitude and a contempt for the opportunity given him creeps over his soul; his vision blurred by what he perceives to be an injustice.    

This is in contrast with the industrious wife described in Proverbs 31.  Working diligently with her hands she 'makes do' with the resources available to her.  She is an 'unfailing prize' whose beauty is more than skin deep, who has captured the heart of her husband.  She brings him good, not evil, all the days of her life.  Her power and resourcefulness comes from her 'fear of the Lord.'  This relationship with her Lord causes her to live with a hope and a future.  Nothing is trivial to her in the gathering of the wool and flax; the same loving hands reach out to the poor and needy.  What has been measured out to her is freely given so that 'she is the talk of the town;' her works praise her at the city gates.  
"When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls."

The disposition of the servant given one talent prevents him from recognizing the measure of faith imparted to him.  Failing to walk in the light given him he behaves as those who are of the night or of darkness.  His master entrusted some of his possessions to him believing he would stay and alert and sober.    
Each of us according to the measure of faith which God has given us is to approach ourselves and our responsibilities with sober judgment.  (Romans 12:3) Each of us have different gifts according to the grace given to us.  St. Paul exhorts us to use them: if prophecy, in proportion of our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.  Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. (Romans 12:6-9)

The master of today's Gospel has great possessions because he saw opportunity where others saw nothing.  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) Active participation in their master's example of faith opens to each servant the possibility of sharing in their master's joy.  Greater and more responsibilities would result if they walked in the faith their master lived.  

A talent is a measure of money and is equivalent to about $1500.00.  To each servant much had been given.  "Every one to whom much is given, of him much will be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48b) The master looked forward to welcoming into his inner circle the servants to whom he had committed his fortunes.  This is of course a picture of the Kingdom from which we can be excluded if we approach it haphazardly; without genuine faith.  It is Jesus' desire that we bear fruit; that we promote the joys of the Kingdom according to the measure of faith given to each one.  Jesus said, "Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit."  (St. John 15:2)

In the trust the master showed in his servants there is every reason he hoped for their success.  I can imagine him wrapping his arms around each one and whispering in their ears, "I'm counting on you."  

Just before Jesus ascended to his Father he embraced his disciples and said, "I'm counting on you."  "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."  (Matthew 28:19, 20)  

Jesus left everyone with the understanding that until he comes again we are his witnesses.  We must embrace our responsibilities according to the measure of faith given to each of us.  When our Lord comes again it is with the expectation that his Lordship has increased in each of us; we have faithfully shared the light of the nations.  

The Gospel today is especially poignant given the times in which we live.  It is extremely important that our faith does not become dormant and barren.  Faith the size of a grain of mustard seed possesses the power that raised Jesus from the dead.  It is a measure of this faith that is given to each of us.  

Such faith is required if we are to persuade humankind that many of our greatest national treasures live in their mother's wombs under a sentence of death.

Such faith is required if we are to persuade humankind that it takes not a village but a Mommy and Daddy to raise a child.

Such faith is required if we are to persuade humankind that food, water and housing is a human right.  

Such faith is required if we are to persuade humankind that life is more than the latest styles, the most recent technology, the newest car or the biggest house.  

Such faith is required if we are to persuade humankind that the greatest love is the love that gives and forgives.  There is no greater love and when time shall be no more it will be love that endures, for love never ends.

Take the measure of faith entrusted to you and wield it with humility and generosity until the whole world shall rejoice with us in God our Savior.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, May the measure of faith you have given me bear witness as your hands extended, your heart in charity, your voice in hope and joy.  Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Father's House--Sunday, November 9, 2008

November 9, 2008, Year A

Reflection on the Readings

Theme:  My Father's House

The cleansing of the Temple points to the cleansing of the soul.

A majesty and care for the soul fills today's readings.  "You are the temple of God and God's Spirit dwells in you", say's St. Paul. 

Ezekiel exudes with the language and abundance of Eden, that original home of Adam and Eve.  Wherever the river flows, the prophet proclaims life and that more abundantly bursts forth.  It is invigorating, this river which gladdens the city of God; another reference to God's dwelling. 

Then Jesus addresses the irreverent activity at the Temple.  Jesus is repulsed.  Describing the Temple as "My Father's house," Jesus demonstrates is union with and love for His Father.  Jesus decries the money changers and their profiteering declaring, "Take these things away; You shall not make my Father's house a house of trade."  Thus the outrage Jesus has for those who would make the house of prayer a den of thieves. 

Later, when Jesus hangs from a cruel cross, the disciples will recall that it is written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."

About 70 AD, history records the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Temple was temporal because the blood of pigeons, sheep and oxen could never take away sin.  It would be the blood of the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice which would endure forever.  Therefore when Jesus was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this.

In the incarnation, Jesus restores prayer, communion with God.  This reconciliation comes to us to make each of us temples of the Holy Spirit.  We are now the House of the Father, a House of prayer.  In us the energies of the Holy Spirit permeate the soul animating our thoughts, words and deeds. 

The life of God makes us alive to the ways and will of our Father.  The expulsion from the Garden of Eden and thus from God, is now undone by the coming of Jesus.  Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."  

This reconciliation is so powerful that we become our true selves, the house of our heavenly Father.  In him is life and the life is the light of men.  It is this that distinguishes us from the world.  This life cannot be hidden.  But those hidden with Christ in God will participate in the abundant life and bear witness to that life to all who will hear.  

It is the passion of the children of God to present themselves as living sacrifices, holy, acceptable unto God, a worthy expression of worship. (Romans 12:1) This wholeness of life is the result of becoming a House of the Father's love, a House of prayer.  

If we are indeed the House of our Father we will do those things that please him.  If we embrace the life that is from above, we will pursue the protection of the least among us.  If the defenseless are to have their voices heard, it is our voice that will cry out in prayer for them.

If we are indeed the House of our Father we will pursue the wisdom that is from above.  If we embrace the life that is gentle peaceable and full, we will decry harshness, bitterness and anything that destroys the image of God in us and others.

If we are indeed the House of our Father we will always pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit who pours into us the love of God.  If we embrace the life of love, we will show the world that we are Christians by our love, for love never ends.  Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, You came that I could know abundant life.  Ever make me new in this life that is in you.  Abide in me and you in me so that prayer without ceasing may ever arise in me.  Amen.  


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Where Are They Now?--All Souls Day--Sunday, November 2, 2008

November 2, 2008, Year A

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

(All Souls)

Reflection on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme:  Where Are They Now?

We strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)

Every one struggles with sin.  Probably all who read this reflection would testify to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Again, all who say this will also say in an honest moment they struggle to be holy.  In this life we are admonished to 'put on Christ' and to be holy.  We strive for this through prayer, confession and penance with a contrite heart.

This brings us to the question what happens if we die in a state of grace but not in a complete state of holiness?  Forgiven but not perfected.  We read in scripture that God is holy.  Nothing unclean or defiled can enter into the absolute presence of God.  

When I was a little boy I did what little boys do.  I ran and played and got dirty.  I was still mommy and daddy's little boy.  No matter how filthy I got I still retained the family name.  I was also welcome to come home for lunch.  I was expected to return home to eat and sleep and be with the family.  I was in a state of grace.  

Before I could come to the table I was expected to go through a little purging.  This was not punishment; I just wasn't completely prepared to be present at the table. My folks waited patiently for me to get presentable.  Their love for me assured me there would be plenty of time for me to become appropriately ready to sit down and eat with them and my siblings.   

The whole time I was going through this purification I was in the presence of my family.  I was not an outcast.  My standing in the family was not in question.  I could hear them setting the table and their conversations.  I could communicate with them as well from a distance.  This was good but not as perfect as it would be sitting down together at the table.  Once I had kicked the dirt off my shoes and washed the grime from my hands I could enter completely into the meal time.  

God who is love allows time for us to be perfected in that love.  We strive for holiness in this life, but if we leave this life with any impurity, love will wait for us.  In this we fear no evil, for the love of God will purify us.  We know our hope of Christ is not in this life only.  Purgatory is not a time of second chances or punishment.  St. Paul describes this purgation:  

For no other foundation can one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw--each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.  (I Corinthians 3:11-15)

There is faith, hope and love.  The greatest of these is love.  It is love that draws us to the heart of the Holy Trinity.  Our hope of salvation is anchored in the love of God.  God who is love is not willing that we should perish.  If we would be holy we will be made perfect in love.  This is our hope here and now.  In that love we will be completed, for when we seen him we shall be like him.  He that has this hope purifies himself even as he is pure.  Now we see through a mirror dimly, but then face to face.

Let us who believe in the life everlasting pray that light perpetual shine upon our faithful departed.  This day we commemorate their faith and perseverance.  The Spirit makes us aware of all that God has prepared for those who love him.  May we grow in love with each other and with him who calls us to himself.  

We come in worship each Lord's day to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect...thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:22-29)  

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, You are love.  I give myself as a gift to you; may I be worthy and acceptable in your sight.  I fear no evil for you are with me.  O' love that will not let me go let me know thee well.  May perfect love unite us and all the faithful departed within your sacred heart.  Amen.