Friday, March 27, 2009

When I Am Lifted Up - Sunday, March n29, 2009

Reflections on the Readings

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 29, 2009, Year B

By Dennis Hankins


Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 5:3-4, 12-15

Hebrews 5:7-9

John 12:20-33

Theme: When I Am Lifted Up

He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

The theme from last week continues this week as Jesus speaks again of being 'lifted up.'  This 'lifting up from the earth' is a description that was not lost on anyone who heard Jesus speak this way.  It is Jesus speaking of the efficacy of his Passion on the cross, resulting in 'judgment on this world,' 'the ruler of this world being driven out,' and 'drawing all humankind to himself.' 

What did Jesus mean when he said his death would bring 'judgment on this world?'  As we consider the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, it is right to understand it as an invocation of righteousness.  All of Jesus' ministry reflected the love of the Father in a fulness that exasperated the righteousness of the Pharisees.  For them, righteousness revealed their goodness; an outward showiness like loving the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the marketplace.  Their righteousness consisted in being precise on tithing mint and rue and every herb but neglecting justice and the love of God. (Luke 11:42-43) Jesus said they do their deeds to be seen by men.

Jesus described the Scribes and Pharisees as not practicing what they preached.  It was they who bound others with heavy burdens, burdens too hard to bear, and then refusing to lift even a finger to assist their brother.  

In his Cross, Jesus judges such self righteousness, a righteousness that says, "God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get." (Luke 18:11, 12) Such did the Pharisee pray at the temple where he and a tax collector were.  Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector threw himself upon the mercy of God.  Beating his breast, without even lifting his eyes, he cried out "God, be merciful to me a sinner." 

It is Jesus on his Cross who not for himself, but for our sake became poor, emptying himself, so that we could know the righteousness which is by faith.  Faith in the Lord who himself, humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross.  This is the example He left us, that we might strive to lay down our lives in love for our neighbor, even as Jesus gave himself for the life of the world.  

If we are to affect the world with our testimony of Jesus the Christ, we must see the value of all life and reject the violence of greed that demeans and destroys those who like us are made in the image of God.  

Jesus whom we know as the Prince of Peace, in himself endured all of man's history and present propensity for violence.  All knew that he spoke with authority, an authority rooted in his love for all.  In a few short days, our Lord will be confronted with those who seek him with spears and chains.  In himself he will engage the hostility of the whole world, never opening his mouth, being led as a sheep to the slaughter.  

Why do we retain Jesus on the crucifix?  It is to remind us that violence against life, unleashed with all its fury, cannot impede the mighty rush of righteousness cascading from our Lord's Cross.  Every time we take up our cross, we advance a little more the joyous message, a message of hope, love, and forgiveness.  Jesus pronounced an end to all hatred, strife and violence declaring in his final consumption of the dregs of the cup he drank, IT IS FINISHED!  The violence of all that destroys and disparages the family of man has met its defeat in Jesus.  It is this Jesus we must give the world.

How important in these final days of Lent that we in ourselves for ourselves and our precious families and friends, refuse all that violates the gift of life, the gift of family, the gift of friendship.  Rather than excusing ourselves for the spiritual malaise in which we find ourselves comfortable, may we embrace the joy that is set before us.  A joy that passes all understanding.  It is a joy which heals the broken hearted, feeds the hungry, defends the worth of every person, whether in a petrie dish, a womb or behind bars.  

When I am lifted up!  

Let us Pray: Dear Jesus, help me know the peace your cross preaches.  Help me to understand how I must see in your immolation on the cross, the end of all violence and the courage of righteousness.  Amen. 



Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rich In Mercy and Love - Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 22, 2009, Year B
By Dennis Hankins

2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
Psalm 137:1-6
Ephesians 2:4-10
John 3:14-21

Theme: Rich In Mercy and Love

The immeasurable riches of our Father's grace was expressed in unmatchable kindness when He gave us His only Son.

Great hope and life came to him bitten by a poisonous snake as he looked upon the bronze serpent lifted up in the wilderness.  For the same purpose the Son of Man was lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  This invitation to abundant life, the very life of the Holy Trinity, is promised to each of us who will with all of our heart, mind, soul, body and strength, believe in Jesus, the Son of God.

A certain sense of unworthiness is appropriate.  We express this not in a morbid sense but rather in faith when we say, "I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."  To be ever grateful of the great kindness of God toward us is the reason we celebrate the Eucharist, the reason we embrace the discipline of Lent.  

Words like 'immeasurable' invoke in us a faith that believes that God can do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ever ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20) That this understanding of God may increase in us we devote ourselves to 40 days of self examination.  In this posture of humility we meet with him who wills that we may be illuminated with the truth, the truth that God is love.  

Becoming poor for our sake, Jesus came that the world might be saved through him.  So when you come to the confessional this Holy Lent, know for sure, Jesus came not into the world to condemn you but that you might be saved.  

Some resist confession because of a fear of the light; a light that reveals our great need for the riches of God's mercy and love.  If you find yourself thinking it's safer to keep some things unconfessed is to love the darkness rather than the light.  Rather embrace the light of his love that both exposes and entreats, reveals and redeems.

The very essence of the good news is that God is not willing that anyone should perish.  It is imperative that we be as unwilling that any should perish, that any should die not knowing God is love.  We can demonstrate our understanding of the immeasurable riches of God's mercy and love by how we pray for each other, by how we pray for our family and friends, by how we pray for the world.

Richly and freely the mercy and love of the Lord flows.   This treasure St. Paul describes as 'immeasurable.'  As we walk out our Lenten pilgrimage we discover that the infinite meaning of Lent is how God freely gave of himself.  In the incarnation we learn how Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, being born in the likeness of men.(Philippians 2:6) Without reservation God the Son poured out his mercy and love.  

We see in Jesus that God draws near to us.  He is not impersonal. He is not remote and far off.  With immeasurable kindness God welcomes us home, embracing us so that he might whisper in our ear words that even the hardest heart will understand; He says to you and me, "I love you."

Let us Pray: Dear Jesus, such love that never lets go; may I ever rejoice in your embrace.  Amen.    

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Holy Place - March 15, 2009

Reflections on the Readings

Third Sunday of Lent - March 15, 2009, Year B

By Dennis Hankins


Exodus 20:1-17

Psalm 19:8-11

1 Corinthians 1:22-25

John 2:13-25

Theme: A Holy Place

Christ's will for the church is that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:27)

It is without doubt that Jesus' action in the Temple courts at the time of Passover raised not a few eye brows.  The Jewish leaders however did not seem to question the need for such a cleansing, although they did question Jesus by what authority he drove the marketeers from the holy environs of the Temple.

Within this setting we learn that Jesus is pointing to himself as the new temple or center of worship.  He underscores the enduring reality of this revelation by speaking of the temporary demise of his physical body that will be raised again after three days; being declared the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4)

He who makes all things new addressed those who had turned the place of prayer into a marketing frenzy.  Across the Temple courts his voice thundered, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade."

Out of love for his Father's house, Jesus removed the distractions to prayer and sacrifice.  What should have served as a helpful support to the needs of the many who came from far and wide at the time of Passover, was turned into an opportunity for profit making.  In such a setting wheeling and dealing destroyed the meaning of the holy courts.  Lining their pockets, the money-changers and sellers of oxen and sheep failed to enhance the efforts of those who sought to keep the meaning of Passover.

Jesus desires a holy church as well, just as he defended the holiness of the Temple.  Although the sacrifices of animals was soon to come to the fuller and complete sacrifice in Jesus, the cleansing of the Temple reminds us that distractions to prayer and holiness must always be resisted vigorously.  

Committing to the fuller meaning of Passover is to live no longer in the shadows but partake of the very substance of communion with God through Christ His Son. (Colossians 2:17) The substance of this communion with the Father comes to us through the Body and Blood of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  It is to this celebration we must come not with the old leaven of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.(1 Cor.5:7)

The holy festival of Eucharist is an invitation to grow in holiness.  The sacredness of the altar, the sacred space surrounding us, speak to us of Jesus who desires to come into our very being.  It is the ongoing incarnation of Jesus that causes St. Paul to declare in the middle of the Areopagus the closeness of God, saying, "In him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)  

It is this intimacy, closeness to the divine to which each of us are drawn.  For Jesus, the marketplace in the Temple portrayed a people unaware of the nearness of God.  Behaving as a 'people who honored God with their lips, but whose hearts were far from him,' Jesus drove out the detractors to bring God's people nearer the God who is never far from each of us.  When the Holy Spirit came upon Mary she conceived him who would one day say to the world, "I will never leave you nor forsake you, I am with you always!"  

This is the meaning of our Lenten pilgrimage. That we may be less cluttered with the things that don't matter or at least are not necessary.  And deeper yet, that within the Temple which is our heart, we might partake of the divine nature and become a new creation in Christ Jesus.  This is the meaning of growing in grace and holiness.  We are becoming with every prayer, with every act of penance, with every reception of the Body and Blood of Jesus, holy even as he is holy.  

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, it is ever possible to know you more, love you better, serve you more faithfully.  In my life may I know the fellowship of your holy presence, and be transformed into your image, in whose likeness alone I can be holy.  Amen.  

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Vision of Jesus - Sunday, March 8, 2009

Reflections on the Readings
Second Sunday of Lent - March 8, 2009, Year B
By Dennis Hankins

Genesis 22:1-2, 9a 10-13, 15-18
Psalm 116:10, 15-19
Romans 8: 31b-34
Mark 9:2-10

Theme: A Vision of Jesus

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." - Jesus

During the dazzling experience of the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John were speechless.  Well, almost speechless.  Peter overcome by the moment expressed a desire to preserve the moment by building three booths; one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. 

We are told by Luke that Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in   His Transfiguration to discuss His soon departure or exodus.  The fullness of redemption was drawing near.  As Jesus and his heavenly guests converse about his soon coming Passion, Peter, James and John are overcome by the enormity of the experience.  Lest they should miss the overwhelming meaning of this mountain top experience, a cloud overshadows them out of which they hear the Father saying, "This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him."  Upon the lifting of the cloud they see no one else but Jesus, Jesus standing alone with them.

In our Lenten pilgrimage, through fasting, prayer and almsgiving, we seek to have eyes to see Jesus; to have the holiness of heart to see God.

These forty days of Lent encourage us to place a check upon our appetites.  Accustomed as we are to the immediate satisfactions of food, entertainment and creature comforts, Lent draws us to embrace the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faith; matters enabling our own conversion and ability to be less distracted.  

Food, shelter and clothing are things our Heavenly Father knows we need.  However if you have forty pairs of shoes, you may be distracted by too many shoe advertisements.  It's a fine line between being a consumer and being consumed.  Living more simply is to place more trust in him who says, "Seek first his Kingdom and righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well."  

Whatever we may surrender or deny ourselves brings us closer to Him 'who spared not his own Son but handed him over for us all.'  Then St. Paul adds, "How will he not also give us everything else along with him?  

In an act of total surrender, Abraham offered up his own son Isaac.  The Father seeing Abraham would hold nothing back from Him, stopped him from slaying his own son in sacrifice to the Lord.  Why did the Father bring Abraham to such an ordeal?  It was to confirm Abraham's faith that God will provide for himself a sacrifice, that in the gift of giving himself, the Father will give over and above, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. (Luke 6:38)

Today's scriptures help us to see Jesus more clearly.  We need this vision of Jesus so that we may see others more clearly.  That we might respond to those around us more justly, with more mercy.  A cup of cold water, an understanding heart, a pat on the back will make visible the Kingdom of God.  

If you wondering what Jesus looks like, take a look at your spouse and children.  One of my prayers this Lent has been that I may not be a stumbling block in any way to my family.  

Jesus bears a resemblance to the outcasts of Calcutta and the neighbor next door.  Wherever hunger, thirst and sickness exist, the sacred face of Jesus can be seen.  Every time we lift the load of the despairing, visit the prisoner or hold the hand of an aging Grandmother, it is Jesus we are helping.  

Jesus is everywhere.  In the cry of the poor, in the anguish of the deserted, in the tender embrace of a new born.  These holy icons among us open a window into heaven.  We can look past these opportunities to gaze upon Jesus, or we can be transformed in the depths of our hearts.  

Lent gives us forty days to be transformed, to become pure in heart, to see Jesus again.  

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, help me to hear you, to see you alone in all things and in every one.  Amen.