Friday, April 24, 2009

We Are Witnesses - April 26, 2009, Third Sunday of Easter

Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Easter - April 26, 2009 - Year B
By Dennis Hankins

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-9
1 John 2:1-5a
Luke 24:35-48

Theme: We are Witnesses

"A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have."  (Jesus)

Have you ever been unable to believe something?  Yet there they were, listening to Cleopas and his friend describing their conversation with the resurrected Jesus.  Jesus, they said, was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.  Unbelievable!

Then, like a phantom spirit, he appears in their midst.  Not using the door, he 'stands in their midst,' and speaks peace to their questioning hearts.  Would you be troubled?  Would you have a million perplexing questions throbbing in your heart?  Isn't it tempting to believe that given the chance, your response would have been one of great faith, perceiving with clear understanding what is happening before your very eyes?  It's a temptation we must resist.

For us, this appearance of Jesus reinforces the humanity of Jesus.  "Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself."  Jesus is speaking to his disciples, inviting them to touch, to feel, to look upon the Man who was crucified but is now alive.  Alive in the flesh.  The same flesh he received from the Virgin Mary; flesh that is now transformed and incorruptible.  It was sown in weakness, but raised in power.  What was perishable, was now imperishable.  He shows them his hands and his feet.

To emphasize his humanity, he eats a piece of baked fish in front of them.  It doesn't get any more real than this.  This was vividly in Peter's mind as he preached at Cornelius' house how he and the others ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead! (Acts 10:41)  

It was 'in the days of his flesh,' when Jesus offered up himself and his prayers with loud cries and tears. (Hebrews 5:7) You see, he was like us, yet without sin.  The wounds in his hands and feet testify that he was in his flesh, wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.  For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.(Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus calls us his brothers and sisters because he is one with us.  Christ's incarnation is his participation in humanity, so that he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call you and me brother and sister. (Hebrews 2:11)

There's not a friend like Jesus.  He who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities draws near to us as he did with those in our Gospel today.  Today we will not see him as they did.  On this Holy day we will know him in the breaking of the bread.  We will indeed eat and drink, receiving him in the bread which is his body and in the cup which is his blood.  And in our flesh we will commune with him as friend with friend, for we are witnesses of these things.  

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, You are God in the flesh.  In the days of your travail, through the veil of your flesh you reconciled us to the Father.  'O, that I may ever embrace the power and the mystery of your love for me and for the whole world.  In my life be glorified!  Amen. 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sacred Fountain of Mercy - Divine Mercy Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reflections on the Readings
Divine Mercy Sunday - Second Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2009, Year B
By Dennis Hankins

Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31

Theme: Sacred Fountain of Mercy

This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. (1 John 5:6)

In the end all had forsaken him.  All that is, except Mary and the disciple whom Jesus loved, also known as John the beloved.  John more than the others seems to be contemplative.  He ponders upon what he has seen, what he has looked upon and touched with his hands, the very word of life. (1 John 1:1)  

Under the cross he witnessed the last act of humiliation, Jesus thrust through with a spear. And it is John who writes 'and at once there came out blood and water.'(John 19:34) 

From the cross Jesus bathed the world in his mercy.  Water and blood poured from his pierced side, inviting you and me to trust in him.  Some might mistakenly believe that Jesus experienced a broken heart.  What Jesus' pierced side revealed was a fountain of mercy.  It is from this fountain of mercy we receive the power of a new life.  In the confessional Jesus assures us of his mercy and love.  

Peter explains it is 'by his great mercy we have been born anew...(1Peter 1:3) Jesus revealed the heart of his Father whom Paul describes as the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.(2 Cor. 1:3) It is said the early Church walked in the 'comfort of the Holy Spirit.' (Acts 9:31) 

Mercy is the very essence of the Blessed Trinity.  It is by extension the ministry of the Church for Jesus gave the Church the power to forgive sins.  As an expression of the heart of Jesus the Church reminds us that God's mercy endures forever.  In this world the mission of the Church is to show and preach the mercy of Christ. 

Mercy is the way God reconciles us to himself.  It is a relationship he offers each of us through the new covenant. This is a covenant he made through the blood and water of his only begotten son.  What is amazing about grace is that it is given in mercy; not by any merits of our own, but given completely as an act of mercy.  

Rich in mercy and out of the great love with which he loved us, Jesus died for us.  Upon Mount Calvary from the sacred heart of Jesus a flood gate of mercy was opened.  It has inspired missionaries to go to the remotest parts of the earth.  Upon the forsaken streets of Calcutta missionary Mark Buntain and Mother Theresa ministered in the power of that sacred flow from Jesus' riven side. 

Recently, our little daughter Heidi saw a children's animation of the crucifixion.  She was very troubled by the scenes, even questioning the appropriateness of it all for an eight year old.  I shared with her that Jesus' crucifixion shows us the greatness of his love for us.  I told her how that Jesus could have called ten thousand angels to save him from his dreadful death, but he chose to save us instead.  I ended by emphasizing how wonderful it was for us that Jesus, because of his great love for us, chose to endure such a death, even death upon a cross.  That seemed to help Heidi.  I hope it helps you.  

The next time you gaze upon a crucifix, remember as you look upon the pierced side of Jesus, there a sacred fountain of mercy flows for you and for me.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you have shown us mercy, may I be the face of mercy to all I meet and love.  You have promised, 'blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.'  Amen.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Rest of the Story - Easter Sunday

Reflections on the Readings
Easter Sunday - The Resurrection of the Lord
The Mass of Easter Sunday
By Dennis Hankins

Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-9

Theme: The Rest of the Story

A celebration of the indestructible life of Jesus.

During the past three and half years there had been some exciting times.  Multitudes gathered to hear him preach. Crowds were fed with a few loaves and fishes and the lame walked.  At a wedding he even turned water into wine.  Not too long ago, Jesus had raised his dear friend Lazarus from the dead. He said, "I am the resurrection and the life," yet now he is gone; Jesus is, dare I say it, Jesus is dead.  

Peter remembers almost walking on water and promising Jesus his absolute loyalty.  "Even if all forsake you, I'll still be by your side," Peter had promised. Judas the betrayer, hung himself, leaving behind thirty pieces of silver. John was left to console Mary, the mother of our Lord, who lingered near his cross until the last drops of blood soaked the ground below.  

Now our brothers and sisters, these early disciples of Jesus are huddled together in darkness.  Afraid for their lives, they move about deliberately and with great caution. We are told 'for fear of the Jews' these closest to Jesus, remained in secret.  If the Master could be killed what might become of them?  In their seclusion they contemplated Jesus' words, "The servant is not greater than his master, if they persecuted me they will persecute you." (John 15:20)

How were they to understand the sleepless hours they have just endured?  Betrayal, denial, a hasty trial, and in the end a frenzied mob embrace a murderer and crucify the Prince of Peace.  

What is to made of the darkness at noon day?  For the space of three hours the sky looked as bleak and foreboding as what was happening on top of Golgotha, the place of the skull.  At 3:00 in the afternoon, those final words from his parched lips, "It is finished," lingered in the air.

Now, it is the first day of the week. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala makes her way to the tomb.  In the shadows she notices that the stone is not over the face of the tomb.  There had been some concern earlier, a discussion about who would be able to roll the stone away.  She and those with her were coming to finish preparing the body of Jesus with oil and spices.  Preparation for the Passover had delayed this final act of Jesus' burial.  No expectation of an empty tomb entered their conversation. 

What could happen next?  Arriving, Mary enters an empty tomb.  Leaving immediately she races back to tell the others. 

The news from Mary of Magdala is startling.  "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him," she said to Peter and John.  Throwing caution to the wind, Peter and John run to the borrowed tomb.  John out runs Peter and arrives first, without entering the tomb he observes burial cloths without a corpse.  Peter, upon arriving, immediately enters the tomb and John joins him.  It is here we learn, that until this moment, 'they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.' 

Perhaps it was a closer look at the burial cloths that convinced John.  The Gospel simply says he saw and believed.  What did he see?  Some believe he saw the image of Jesus upon the burial cloths.  Although the Gospel does not say so, it is possible John gathered up the burial shroud for safe keeping.  
After his passion, Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples by many indisputable proofs.  This went on for forty days as he continued speaking to them about the kingdom of God.  Jesus insisted their mission would be world wide.  And into all the world they went, from Jerusalem unto the uttermost parts of the earth, preaching forgiveness of sins in his name.  

They said this man, after being put to death on a tree, God raised up on the third day.  Having eaten and drank with him after he was raised from the dead, they spoke of him present, alive, and the same yesterday, today, and forever.  

Those first disciples preached what the late Paul Harvey would call, The Rest of the Story.  What a story it is.  Jesus, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  And on the third day...also known as the first day of the week, we celebrate the indestructible life of Jesus.

Hallelujah!  He Is Risen!

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, That I may live in you, the Son of God with power, the very spirit of holiness, the resurrection and the life, Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Hour - Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009

Reflections on the Readings
Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009, Year B
By Dennis Hankins

Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11
Mark 14:1 - 15:47

Theme: The Hour

"It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed in the hands of sinners."  (Jesus)

The holiest days of Christian memory are upon us.  Today is Palm Sunday, a day marked by Hosanna's and Palms, but the hour of dereliction is near at hand.  Soon the rejoicing crowds will be replaced with throngs shouting, "Crucify Him, Crucify Him!"

Today's scriptures for the Mass reflect on 'the hour' when Jesus will embrace death, even death on a cross.  We reflect on these readings that we might rightly understand the events of this week.  Concluding this week is the Triduum, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Until the Easter Vigil beginning after sundown on Saturday, the holiest days of our faith.  

Good Friday is a holy day indeed. It is an ancient day filled with meaning beyond words; it is the day our Lord cried out, "My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?"  This cry marks the intensity of the 'hour' when God embraced all of man's misery of alienation by forsaking himself for all others.  O, the mystery of love divine! 

He humbled himself, not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped, rather he emptied himself from his Incarnation until his Crucifixion.  Jesus is God from God, light from light, yet he humbled himself for all of us, that he might taste for each of us the anguish of abandonment and alienation.   

Let us meditate on the import of Christ's cry from the Cross: "Why God, Why, Why have you forsaken me?"   For anyone who lives day after day wondering if there is any hope, any consolation, any incentive of love or affection and sympathy, it can be found in the face of Jesus.  It is him who in the destiny of 'his hour' refused to save himself, not because he was not God but because he is God.  For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. (Hebrews 4:1)

In those uncertain hours when there is no friend to turn to, there is a friend who laid down his life for you.  He will never leave you, he will never forsake you.
Whenever you are alone you are never far from him who in his own abandonment draws near to you in yours. Jesus hears the cry of broken homes, abandoned children, the homeless and the hungry.  Still with us are the poor, the sick, the oppressed.  The cry of the forgotten and the forsaken, the violated and those who have no voice, Jesus embraces their cry in his.   

The cry of Jesus from his cross, echoes today in our midst.  It teaches us to be of Christ's same mind, of the same love of Jesus that we might do nothing from selfishness or conceit.  Jesus has left us an example that in humility we might count others better than ourselves.  Jesus teaches us again today not to look to our own interests, but also to the interests of others; to have this mind among ourselves, which was first in Christ Jesus.(Phil. 2:2-5) 

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, it is in this Holiest of Weeks, I ask to be renewed in my first love. May I know again the fervency of a heart that burns again because you are near. Amen.