Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Meaning of Being Faithful -- Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reflections on the Readings
First Sunday of Lent - March 1, 2009 Year B
By Dennis Hankins

Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25:4-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15

Theme: The Meaning of Being Faithful

"As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you." (Jesus) John 15:19

I have heard Christians say they had more difficulty with temptation after Christ than they had before Christ.  That may be.  Before Christ you did what pleased you.  After Christ you desire to be pleasing to the Lord.  To no longer share in the world's rebellion against God is to experience the meaning of being faithful.  We need Lent because we are not always faithful to the God who loves us.  We need confession and penance.  We need to hear again, "Your sins are absolved."

This first Sunday of Lent highlights baptism and temptation. Baptism separates us from the world. Just as the eight souls aboard the Ark were saved through water, baptism which corresponds to this now saves you. (1 Peter 3:20, 21) Temptation is that which we grapple with in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.  As long as we are in the flesh and there is a devil there will be temptation.  So we will always need Lent!

St. John Chrysostom remarked on Jesus' desert experience this way:  For since with a view to our instruction He both did and underwent all things; He endures also to be led up thither, and to wrestle against the devil: in order that each of those who are baptized, if after his baptism he have to endure greater temptations may not be troubled as if the result were unexpected,(emphasis mine) but may continue to endure all nobly, as though it were happening in the natural course of things. (Homily #13 on Matthew's Gospel)

Through this holy Lent we renew our commitment and willingness to be more deeply transformed.  We cannot overcome the evil in the world with evil in our hearts.  The great meaning of our baptism is not that it's a removal of dirt from the body, but rather a fuller and more transforming meaning, an appealing to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  St. Paul described it as 'being transformed by the renewing of our mind.' (Romans 12:1, 2) 

We cannot overcome evil with evil.  We overcome evil with good.

It is this goodness we hope to embrace and live in more completely.  No one has showed us the way to do this more clearly than St. Paul.  He said, "When reviled, we bless; when persecuted we endure; when slandered we try to conciliate. (1 Cor. 4:12) 

The reality is clear.  The world loves darkness because its works are evil, deceiving and destructible.  Thinking itself outside the gaze of our holy and loving God, the world aligns itself against the truth.  Full of the spirit of error, the world plots to destroy the sacredness of life and love. So St. John tells us, "Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever." (1 John 2:12-17)

One of the most poignant lines in the Bible is this one from St. Paul who says, "...Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me."  (2 Timothy 4:10)

The message of Lent is clear.  A deeper conversion is needed if we are to overcome the world; if we are to convince this world of a kingdom that is not of this world.  As it is, we do not belong to the world.  Being almost persuaded of this will not result in a life truly overcoming the world.  As we embrace fasting or less feasting as unto the Lord we advance in the things of the Lord.  Excelling in the virtues of faith, hope and charity, helps us overcome the deadly sins of pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.  

It is the divine power of the Father that will aid us to escape the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and help us to become partakers of the divine nature.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8) 

We need Lent as kind of a spiritual spring cleaning.  Returning to things that nourish the soul and revive the heart will bring us closer to him whose heart burst with love for the world on an old rugged cross.  Make no mistake about it, God is not willing that any should perish, (meaning you and me), but that all should come to repentance, (meaning you and me).  

Let us come to this season of repentance, a time that promises newness of life and joy and receive the Spirit's power that we might be more than conquerors through him who loved us and gave himself for us.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, restore to me the joy of your salvation.  Ever let me be filled with you Spirit.  Help me this Lent to be willing to enter into a deeper conversion.  Amen.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Amazing Grace

This was performed at The Coliseum in Rome, Italy where thousands of early Christians were martyred.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Only God Can Forgive Sins!--Sunday, February 22, 2009

Reflections on the Readings
Seventh Sunday In Ordinary Time - February 22, 2009 Year B
By Dennis Hankins

Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
Psalm 41:2-5, 13-14
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Mark 2:1-12

Theme: Only God Can Forgive Sins!

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Jesus)

Consternation! Bewilderment! Awe!  All of these responses occur in today's Gospel.  The scribes are filled with consternation.  In their hearts they question, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?'  Bewildered, Jesus said to them, "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk'?  Then there is awe and majesty and wonder as the people say, "We never saw anything like this!"

I have this week, while meditating on what I should say on this passage, reflected interiorly if I was closer to the cynicism of the scribes or the wonder and awe of the people.  You've heard the saying, "I can't see the forest for the trees!"  It's amazing what is missed while staring directly at it.  It is said if ten people witness an accident, there will be ten different eye witness versions of the same accident.  The witnesses in today's Gospel certainly have different views on what is occurring.  The scribes aren't ready to believe that Jesus is God.  And the people and the paralytic are amazed and glorifying God.  

It is given to us 'to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length, and height and depth.'   Too often we live in and remain content in the shallow end of the river of life. While there is great blessing here, there is more.  Reminded of Jesus' words to Peter to 'launch out into the deep', we reflect more deeply on who it is who says to the scribes and to us, "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic 'your sins are forgiven', or to say, 'be healed'?  

In sacramental confession, we meet Jesus who is the same, yesterday, today and forever; in whom the promises of God are Yes in him.  It is always a rediscovery of the joy of our salvation to hear again that Jesus loves us, Jesus forgives us, that Jesus wipes out our offenses for his 'own sake', and declares in the words of absolution, 'your sins I remember no more.'  It is the priest in the person of Christ, who helps us to see more clearly what the people in the Gospel saw, which is, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus.

Which is easier to say?  That is another way of saying, "Is there anything too hard for the Lord?"  

The four friends of the paralytic helped their friend to draw near to the Lord.  We are promised in scripture that if we will draw near to the Lord, he will draw near to us. The ear of the Lord is not deaf to our prayers and his eye is not blind to our need.  Perhaps more than anything we need to be renewed in our hearts, to believe again that fervent, believing prayer brings us to the same Jesus the man stricken with paralysis met.  Like the woman who believed she would be healed if she could but touch the hem of Jesus' garment, let us draw near.  

This being the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, how appropriate we begin the Lenten journey knowing Jesus draws us to himself.  He who fed the multitude, turned water into wine, invites us to his banqueting table where his banner over us is love.  "Come unto me," he says.  "All you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.  For my yoke is easy and my burden light."  

Let us draw near to him in whom all authority in heaven and on earth resides.  Even Jesus who was wounded for our transgressions, whose back was laid bare to the whip for our healing.  As we approach the Lenten practices of prayer, confession, fasting and almsgiving, today's readings aid us in anticipating the graces of our Lord; a renewal of trust and faith in Him with whom nothing is impossible.  

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, help me to seek you with my whole heart.  Renew in me the fervency of my first love for you.  Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.  Keep me in the palm of your hand.  Take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Amen.  


Saturday, February 14, 2009

I Will---6th Sunday In Ordinary Time--February 15, 2009 Year B

Reflections on the Readings
Sixth Sunday In Ordinary Time - February 15th, 2009 Year B
By Dennis Hankins

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45

Theme: I Will

Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her...that she might be holy and without blemish. (St. Paul)

Nothing compares to being an outcast.  Ask any child who has endured the enigma of being excluded by his peers.  I remember to my shame of accusing certain classmates of lesser means and resources as having 'cooties.'  This labeling meant to impose restrictions on that classmate to not come near.  

To the shame of this great country, there was a time when people of color were subjected to sick and inhumane descriptions and treatment.  Outcasts!  Yet it was not sin or immoral conduct that tainted these our brothers and sisters.  They were excluded because of their skin color.  

Each one of us should be grateful that God sees not as man sees.  For God looks upon the heart.  

The Old Testament leprosy laws concerning ritual cleanness and uncleanness underscore the New Testament call for holiness 'without which no one will see the Lord.' (Hebrews 12:14) It is this desire to be clean again, that is, holy, that the Gospel today highlights.

Leprosy made the victim of leprosy unfit to join the worshipping community.  Relegated to the outskirts of society, the leper simply waited and longed for the time he could show himself to the priest and be readmitted to the fellowship of his family and friends.  St. Augustine describes the 'cleansing of the leper' to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Sin, like leprosy, affects the offender in his relationship not only to God, but to his family and friends.  The oblique nature of the impurity of heart makes us crosswise with God and our neighbor.

The earnest Israelite would be very careful to avoid becoming ritually unclean.  To touch a leper or a dead person was to become ceremonially unclean requiring a process for re-admittance to the worshipping community.  You remember that Jesus took much scorn for 'eating and drinking with sinners.'  According to the Pharisees, for Jesus to come near an unclean person was anathema; but to touch a leper was to be unclean himself.   

So when the Master desired to make the leper clean in our story today, he willed this man's reconciliation by stretching out his hand and touching him.  The touch of the Master's hand lifted Peter's mother-in-law from a sick fever.  His touch restored Jairus' daughter to life. By His touch a leper was made clean.  

According to the Mosaic Law, Jesus would be considered ritually unclean.  It is Jesus, however, the lamb of God without spot or blemish, who through his nailed scarred hand reconciles us to God.  Assuming our uncleanness He remains clean, for grace is greater than sin.  

He, who knew no sin, became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.  Without becoming defiled, Christ touches us in our defilement, removing from us even the garment of sin and clothing us with the robe of righteousness.  Like the prodigal son, ours is a new robe, new shoes, and the family ring on our hand. 

All of this because Jesus says,

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, I was sinking deep in sin, but in the multitude of you mercies you stretched our your hands upon the cross of your humiliation and reconciled me to God.  Thank you, Jesus.  Amen.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Meeting Man In His Misery--Sunday, February 8, 2009

Reflections on the Readings

February 8, 2009, Year B

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Dennis Hankins


Job 7:1-4, 6-7

Psalm 147:1-6

1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23

Mark 1:29-39

Theme: Meeting Man in his Misery

"For this purpose I have come." (Jesus)

Many aspire to leaving the world a better place than they first found it.  I've met people who have left me feeling better, thinking differently, believing in the God of the impossible again.  Such people influence others from a life filled with purpose and direction. 

Jesus fulfilled the meaning of the Sabbath rest in the healing of Peter's mother-in-law.  And a town filled with people in various stages of misery gathered before Peter's house begging for a moment to be in the company of greatness.  Everywhere Jesus goes, man in his drudgery, in his satanic bondage, is drawn to him.  In Jesus is great rest, great hope, great freedom, and great deliverance.  This greatness is captured in the Psalm we've read today which says: "Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted." 

The purpose which animates our Lord is that he might go even to the 'nearby villages' and meet humankind in whatever wretched state it exists.  Arriving, Jesus will preach in the synagogues and 'drive out the demons.'  What a mighty Savior, who not only calms the upheaval and chaos in the deepest recesses of our heart but even speaks to the winds and the waves and says, "Peace! Be still!"

We can conclude that the enormity and the energy of Jesus' presence comes from his deep and penetrating prayer life in the lonely places.  In prayer, Jesus became one with the destitute environment of the desert place.  From that place Jesus rose to enter into the lonely existence of Adam and Eve's sorrow.  Wherever there is darkness, wherever a heart is burdened by the blackness of a million midnights, Jesus comes.  He comes because he came that we might have life and that more abundantly.  The indisputable truth is that Jesus is ever coming, is ever standing at the door and knocking.  If we will hear his voice and open the door the blackness and weight of sin will lift like the dense fog before the mighty rising of the eastern Sun.

I often cringe when the miracles of grace and healing Jesus gives are written off as some kind of fairy tale.  They however are not fairy tales to those who have felt and received of him who says still today in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more."  

It is in this meeting humanity in his misery, no matter the depth of despair in which he may live, Jesus fulfills his purpose and lifts man up. This is the power of love which comes to bring man to his destiny with love.  Coming a long way from the bosom of the Father to the womb of the Virgin Mary, Jesus came to draw the world into the inner life of his fellowship.  It is this fellowship which Jesus described in his preaching; it is the presence of the Father and the Son comforting the heart once in despair; communing with us as friend with friend.  

Reading the Scripture for today reminds us again of the rich and pure love of God.  As in the words of a song of my memory says,

The love of God is greater far

Than tongue or pen can ever tell;

It goes beyond the highest star,

And reaches to the lowest hell;

The guilty pair, bowed down with care,

God gave His Son to win;

His erring child He reconciled,

And pardoned from his sin.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry.

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.


O love of God, how rich and pure!

How measureless and strong!

It shall forevermore endure

The saints' and angels' song.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, thank you for coming.  Thank you for continuing to come to us in the bread and the wine, your very body and blood. Draw me ever deeper into this fullness of love, even the fellowship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.