Saturday, December 20, 2008


December 28, 2008, Year B

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme: Family

Simeon said to Mary, a sword will pierce your own soul.

Conforming to the requirements of the law, 40 days after giving birth, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem.  They did this to 'present him to the Lord.' Mary's purification as with all Jewish women, culminates in the giving of a sacrifice.  It has nothing to do with any moral failure or guilt.  This performance of the law speaks of the end of a legal impurity.  

Bringing the offering of the poor, either 2 turtledoves or 2 pigeons, the Holy Family also offer Jesus unto the Lord.  The picture this presents is potent.  Together we see that old things are passing away and the new is dawning.

Every Mother hopes that someone will see something special about her children.  Simeon certainly startled the holy couple with his gracious words he spoke about Jesus.  And Simeon blessed the couple.  Then looking right into Mary's eyes he describes events that will thirty years later try her soul.

Imagine being told your son will not be popular.  Many parents live and die with the aspiration that their son or daughter will be accepted.  Heaven forbid that one's child will not be popular, good looking, and making the best grades, excelling in every way and receiving the highest honors.  Such is the pressure many mom's and dad's exert upon their youngsters.  

But Mary.  Mary hears that people will be divided in their acceptance of her son.  Many will take sides; some will be for him and others will be violently opposed to him.  He will be a sign spoken against.  Some like Simeon will see in Jesus their salvation, a light for them and the Gentiles, the very glory of Israel.  But that salvation, that light, that glory will come at a great sacrifice, the sacrifice of him Mary and Joseph presented to the Lord.  And a sword will pierce the heart of Mary.

It is Mary who will be with him at his first miracle; turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana in Galilee.  It will be Mary who witnesses his last miracle; Jesus dying for the life of the world.  And a sword will pierce the heart of Mary.

From beginning to end, Mary unites herself to the Word made flesh. The thoughts of many will be revealed, but Mary will ponder most things in her heart.  When the sword pierced his side, blood and water came forth, only then did she fully understand Simeon's words, "A sword will pierce through your own soul also."  

On one occasion, a woman in the crowd shouted out to Jesus, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!"  Jesus responded, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it."  Jesus' words pay tribute to the womb that bore him and the breasts that gave him milk.  For Jesus knew his Mother had both heard the word of the Lord and faithfully kept it with all of her heart.  Mary was indeed blessed on both counts.  

Jesus, Mary and Joseph were a close knit family.  Mary and Joseph had survived the wagging tongues of accusation.  For when Mary was betrothed to Joseph, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.  "A sword was already beginning to prick her soul."

Herod, a maniac ruler who even killed family members he suspected of disloyalty, lashed out at the Holy Family.  Fearing the rise of a new King, Herod in a furious rage, ordered the killing of all the male children in Bethlehem and region who were two years old or under.  "A sword pursued the Holy family."  Gloriously protected through angelic direction, the Holy family lived to face the "sword" another day.

Pilot will initiate the final sword.  It will descend into the heart of hearts and the Mother of all mother's.  With no brothers or sisters, Jesus looks down from the cross and entrusts his Mother and ours into the care of John, the Beloved.  It is John who had leaned on Jesus' breast at the last Supper.  It was Mary's breasts upon which Jesus had been fed.  And now a "sword will release the church from the heart of Jesus."  Water and blood spew forth from the heart of Jesus, birthing the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist; sacraments of the Church.  "A sword pierces the soul of Mary, whose heart had pondered the many things her son had said and done."  

The Holy Family continues today in the great family of the redeemed from every tribe and tongue under heaven.  In the midst of trial, torture and martyrdom, this Holy Family has endured affliction, famine and sword.  Although our warfare is not of this world, our sword is the Spirit and our Gospel is peace.  

It is the love and affection each member has for the other that helps us endure with patience.  Forgiving one another and bearing each other's burdens we fulfill the law of Christ.  From the Cross Jesus forgave those who wielded the sword.  Let us embrace the same power.       

May your family have the faith, courage and love of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, thank you for the family you chose before all time.  First you chose Mary and Joseph.  Then you chose me. Unite all your family; make us one.  Amen.        



December 24, 2008, Year B

The Nativity of the Lord

Christmas, at the Vigil Mass

Reflection on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme: Emmanuel (which means, God is with us)

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

Tonight we meditate upon the mystery of our salvation, even Jesus, who will save his people from their sins.   

Many 'miraculous' births are cited in scripture. Sarah bore Isaac in her old age.  The Lord answered the pleas of Hannah, opening her womb, allowing her to bear a son, Samuel.  These events remind us that God intervenes in the lives of his people, giving new life.  Someone has said, "Babies are God's idea that the world should continue."  Many are too afraid of the future.

As we come to the holy creche, another womb has birthed new life; the hope of new life for us.  Mary, betrothed to Joseph, was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.  Other 'miraculous' births still required the marital act, but this pregnancy is not by the will of the flesh or man, but by the will of God.  Yes, an intervention in the life of man for the life of man by the God of all life and living himself.  

It is the most unfathomable of all mysteries.  Mary gave to him who lay beneath her heart, the blood that would flow one day for the life of the world.  In our contemplation, let us contemplate this, that the Son of God, became the Son of Mary so that the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve could become the children of God.  Mary, the first to participate in the divine nature, conveys the promise that we too may receive of his fulness, grace upon grace.  

Moved with godly fear, Joseph aware of the divine miracle, sought to shelter Mary and the life she bore from any public humiliation.  Perhaps feeling himself unworthy, he is visited in a dream by an angel.  Like Mary who was comforted by Gabriel, an angel says, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." So Joseph took Mary his wife into his home and his care.   

Although normally, under the Mosaic law, marital relations could take place immediately, Joseph knew her not. He knew her not 'until' she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.  Unlike the modern sense of 'until,' this Semitic idiom means something did not happen during a certain time; it does not mean it happened later. And it is this that sets Mary, Joseph, and the birth of Emmanuel apart and yet so near to us as examples of faith, hope and love.  The greatest of these of course is love;  for through Mary and the nurture of Joseph, God first loved us!

Joseph is the 'legal' father of Jesus, giving him the ancient royal credentials of King David.  The promised posterity of David's throne is fulfilled in him asleep on the hay.  The Magi will come later and say, "Where is he who is born King of the Jews?"  Not of the Jews only, for we know the 'rest of the story.'  He who lays on Mary's breasts, is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  She who kisses the infant's cheek, kisses the face of God.

This holy mystery of the Incarnation is the inspiration of countless poems and hymns. Tidings of great joy have erupted where ever the good news of 'God is with us' is announced.  Heralds of joyous song resound with the angelic hosts, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"  

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

Hail the Incarnate Deity,

Pleased as Man with men to dwell;

Jesus, Our Emmanuel!"

Mary and Joseph would know a mutual love for Emmanuel.  Unlike any marriage on earth, theirs was truly made in heaven. Every marriage can succeed if every husband and wife will consummate their relationship mutually devoted to Jesus.  It is the Sacred Heart of Mary that satisfied Joseph and which invites married and single alike to an undivided heart for Jesus, Emmanuel, which means, God is with us!

Merry Christmas!

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, with Mary and Joseph I open my heart to you.  Amen. 

Monday, December 15, 2008


December 21, 2008, Year B

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme: Mary

And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no husband?"

My mother's name is Mary, may God rest her soul.  I also have a sister named Mary. Mary is also the name of my wife's grandmother. 

Some today still name their children after great and beautiful people or places of history.  Especially salvation history.  It's a way of hoping the child will emulate the exemplary life or experience of a particular person or place.  Many today bear the name of Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth or Bethany.  

On this fourth Sunday of Advent we learn that Mary is betrothed to a man named Joseph.  Betrothal is not like our modern understanding of being engaged.  It was a legally binding covenant of marriage lasting as long as a year before the couple lived together.  A betrothal therefore could only be broken during this interim by death or divorce. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)  

'Since I have no husband' literally means 'I do not know man.'  Mary and Joseph had entered into a legally binding betrothal with the understanding Mary would remain a virgin.  Otherwise Mary's perplexity makes no sense.  The announcement she would 'bear a son' in her mind means she and Joseph would conceive a son.  So the 'how can this be' since she will not 'know man' in this marriage like a woman typically 'knows her husband' requires examination.

Before we get to that examination, let's examine why this special relationship between Mary and Joseph is so perplexing to modern ears.

The simplicity and the power of humility and holiness perplexes our over stimulated sexually charged culture.  Precious little is left to the imagination.  Cars, food, diets, movies, and a host of other stuff and things come to us attractively packaged and presented by a guy or gal who looks like there may be a fountain of youth.  Of course we know there is no such thing, but millions upon millions of dollars are spent just in case the magic pill or vitamin or thing will bring us to everlasting youth and happiness.  Almost nothing is presented or sold or advertised without the idea that in the end you will have better sex. Married or not! 

And it all comes to us through the lust of the eyes and flesh.  

So Mary's "How can this be?" is in stark contrast to the way things are today.  But Gabriel answers Mary with these astounding words, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."

Wow!  The same Holy Spirit who hovered over the vast deep darkness and created the heavens and the earth, will overshadow the consecrated womb of Mary!  

Mary invites the mighty work of the Holy Spirit.  Her words, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word," reveal a woman to be revered and trusted to give us Jesus.  All Christians share in this mystery of the incarnation.  Catholics in particular have a number of pious devotions revolving around Mary the Mother of our Lord. 

And why not?  

Why not have a special attraction for someone who is good and beautiful?  

Do you think Jesus would want us to have any less thoughts about his Mother? 

I think not.  You can ridicule a boy about almost anything, but no boy will ever let you speak ill of his mother.  There will be a fight if that happens.  

Mary brings us Jesus.  Mary brings us to Jesus.  She is the only woman in the Bible an angel addresses by a title rather than a name: Full of Grace.  The Greek word (kecharitomene) expresses the meaning that God has already graced Mary, one who 'is now' filled with divine life.  She became the Ark of the New Covenant when she said 'yes' to God, allowing the lover of souls to enter her womb and become man.  It was for us men and for our salvation this holy and humble servant said, "Let it be to me according to you word."  

At the recitation of the Creed we bow down at the words, "By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man."  We bow in humble acceptance to the power of the Holy Spirit in our life as did Mary.  No time is better for us to open our hearts wide to the creation the Holy Spirit will make of us.  He will make something beautiful of your life if you will do like Mary, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. 

Like Mary, let us ponder the meaning of Gabriel's gracious words to this humble servant of Nazareth.  There will be much more to ponder once the everlasting light shines upon the dark streets of Bethlehem.  

This special Sunday of Advent, it is enough to ponder upon Mary's fiat, "Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord."  From "How can this be?" to "Let it be to me!" and the hopes and fears of all the years are joined in the holy womb of Mary, the Mother of our Lord. 

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, reveal in me more deeply the mystery of our redemption.  Without you I can do nothing, without Mary I would not know you; through whom we learn that with God nothing is impossible.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Light Shines in the Darkness--Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 14, 2008, Year B
Third Sunday of Advent

Theme: The Light Shines in the Darkness

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Advent comes just as we are experiencing shorter and colder days.  In the midst of this reality the warmth and light of Advent's eternal hope befriends us.  It is common to resist this overture; the true light meant for each of us.  Shame of things done in darkness, when no one else is looking imprison the heart; we sew fig leaves to cover up.  God knows.  The 'hidden things' are not hidden from him.  

John the Baptist was a lamp in the desert declaring that the 'light of the world' was coming.  John was sent to bear witness to that light. And this passage describes the darkness powerless before this uncreated light.  It is this light shining in our hearts that will drive away the darkness of even secret sins.  This is the good and blessed news of Advent, that the light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Confession dispels the darkness that ever seeks our cooperation.  Sometimes we do cooperate.  Often we have.  This is the reality of living in a fallen and corrupt world.  Yet we are the light of the world, a city set on a hill which cannot be hidden.  Reconciliation brings us to the power of this other reality, a kingdom of truth and light.  

It is the Father of lights from whom every perfect gift comes.  There is no greater gift than life in the divine light.  Our understanding of this heavenly light grows with the lighting each week of one of the four candles of Advent that speak of hope, peace, joy and love. If only we might cast off the unfruitful ways of darkness and pray with all our might, "Lord, let your face shine on me, and I shall live."  

With a heavy heart we recently heard the tragic account of early bird Christmas shoppers at a Wal-Mart store in the Northeast trampling to death a worker as he unlocked the doors.  This particular black Friday became especially bleak as bargains mattered more than the helpless and dying man they stepped over.  The mob remained unconcerned as they made it difficult for co-workers to reach their fallen friend.  Stuff and things blinded the hearts of this sea of humanity spilling over the dead man in mass hysteria in search of the deal of the day.  

Such darkness.  Such outrageous and senseless darkness.  

The struggle of good and evil however, of light and darkness is ever with us. Be sure, this struggle is not between two equally competing foes.  St. John's Gospel announces from the beginning the absolute power of this light against the evil one.  It is this which inspires the belief that grace is greater than sin.  My brothers and sisters, it is Advent that seeks to persuade us of this divine truth.  

God is light and in him is no darkness at all.  This means for us the Almighty intends to bring us into his marvelous light.  There are no shadows in this divine light.  Upon us has come the power of this underived light to set us free from the powers of Satan's snares.  It is folly to suppose the outcome of this struggle of cosmic proportion is somehow unpredictable.  Yet some suspect some sins are difficult for God to deal with.  This denotes a lack of knowledge.  The Son of God appears to take away sin, and in him there is no sin.(I John 3:5)   

Like in the opening verses of Genesis, the theme of light dominates the opening of John's Gospel.  This light is eternal for it is the glory of the Word made flesh we anticipate. Bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, Christ unites our weakness with himself, except sin.  This is the joy of this third Sunday of Advent; soon the light of the world will draw all humanity to himself. 

A star will guide Gentiles from the East to the everlasting light.  

Heavenly hosts will light up the sky directing the shepherds to the kindly light asleep on the hay.   

At last may we will kneel before him too, this radiant Son of God.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, fill me with holy light so that darkness cannot reign in me.  Then in this light may my thoughts take shape, my heart be formed, and my mouth praise you.  Amen.


Monday, December 8, 2008

In Memory of Jjimyti Damour

Advent Reflection, 2008
By Dennis Hankins

In Memory of Jjimyti Damour

For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Black Friday became especially bleak for the family and friends of Jjimyti Damour. A temporary worker, 6-foot-5, 270 pound Damour, was asphyxiated at the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, Nassau County, NY, while trying to shield a pregnant shopper from the hordes of bargain hunters pushing their way in.

Lying on the floor dying, the throngs stepped over Damour in search of the deals of the day. Co-workers attempting to reach their fallen friend were prevented in reaching him by the crowds.

This scene just goes from horrible to unbelievable. Upon learning there is a death at the front door of the Wal-Mart, the police ordered the store closed. Many of the shoppers became indignant. After standing in line for hours, they saw no reason to be denied the bargains they came to get.

There is something very sickening about this whole Black Friday thing.

I know retailers hope that this day will bring their books out of the red. As someone has suggested, why not make this a week long event rather than a Friday only frenzy. I found the same product 2 days later at the same store at the same Black Friday only advertised price. I didn’t have to get up with the chickens or stand in line to get it. No one was trampled to death. No crime scene was quarantined. No one was hurt. What gives?

The life of a fellow human being cries out from the floor at this Wal-Mart. Family and friends of the victim are in shock. Of course there will be law suits. How about the folks at Bentonville, AR, corporate offices for Wal-Mart, just take this grieving family aside and do what’s right. Leave the lawyers and the courts out of this. Skip the legal angling and meet this family with the appropriate emotional and monetary response. Anything less is unconscionable.

And for the folks in line that morning, the police are looking for you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Day is at Hand

December 7, 2008, Year B
Second Sunday of Advent

Reflections on the Readings

Theme: The Day is at Hand

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is John the Baptist preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  

Embracing an austere lifestyle, the Baptizer prepared the people to meet him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  This is why John said, "After me comes he who is mightier than I." His lifestyle and daily sustenance spoke of a heart that was persuaded the day of the Lord was at hand.  John would have nothing to do with any extraordinary provisions for the flesh.  His preoccupation was to prepare the way of the Lord, to make his paths straight.

John's water baptism awakened the souls of those who went out to him in the wilderness by the Jordan.  The promise of that baptism pointed to him  whose baptism would ignite the soul into a holy fire of spiritual communion.  

Ponder on the divine fellowship Jesus wills for those who love him. This is what John proclaimed.  A monk of Old Testament proportions, stands on the banks of the Jordan River, itself a place of passage into the Promised Land.  In this place John speaks of the promise of a new day, a new time, a new creation.  

The purification of all things begins within.  In Advent we sanctify ourselves.  It is time to seek the Lord; to draw near to him.  His day is near, let us be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.  If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.  He who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance will patiently work out all of his promises to humanity. 

Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs.  Here is your God.  Let us go out to meet him.  May the day dawn and the Sun of Righteousness arise in our hearts.  Jesus does not delay his promise, but rather he is patient with us.  Now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.  The day is at hand.  Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

If war and rumors of war are to cease they must first cease in us.  The promise of new heavens and a new earth is at hand.  Such a promise is only obscure to those who embrace Armageddon in their heart.  It is time, high time, we should beat our swords into plowshares and learn war no more.  Especially this is possible if we will rend our hearts and invite the daystar to rise mightily and deeply within.  Then shall come to pass the saying that is written, "O' death where is your victory? O' grave where is your sting?"

When we have a vision of what is imperishable, we will have glimpsed the day which is at hand.  When we have caught sight of that which is immortal, then we will have glimpsed the day which is at hand.  When we have eyes to see the divine image in each other, then we will have glimpsed the day which is at hand.  Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."    

Be comforted this Holy Advent you children of the light!  The day is at hand when He shall come and we will go out to meet him.  To you is given the Holy Spirit of Promise, so that you may overcome the spirit of the world, the spirit of death.  Be of good cheer and rejoice, every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made plain, the rough country, a broad valley.  Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 40)

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you have given me a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  Amen.