Saturday, May 16, 2009

Love One Another - Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reflections on the Readings

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 17, 2009, Year B

By Dennis Hankins


Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48

Psalm 98:1-4

1 John 4:7-10

John 15:9-17

Theme:  Love One Another

Jesus said, "This is my commandment."

What was that again?  "Love one another, as I have loved you, this is my commandment."

His love for us is by choice, not chance.  And maybe that's what distinguishes divine love from human love.  Choosing to look beyond our fault and seeing our need, Jesus, in love of the Father, lays down his life for his friends.  You and I are Jesus' friends if we love one another as he has loved us.

Efforts of mass destruction gave us the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the calculated genocide of Jews.  Multiplied thousands of lives have been destroyed by godless regimes. The present administration, expressing dismay over water boarding, has no qualms about partial birth abortion.  It would seem that any violence destroying the imago dei, is mutually unacceptable.  Inhumane treatment of humanity continues at an alarming capacity coupled with creativity excuses about its necessity.

Yet in the Church, a community which is not of this world, is the capacity to be a civilization of love.  Pope Benedict XVI has this past week been a messenger of this civilization of love in the Holy Land.  It is a radical message, a message Jesus has given us, "Love your enemies, do good to those who despise you."  Gripped  by the promise of what this love can achieve, each of us becomes responsible to embrace the way of the Master.

I remember my first teenage employment as a Janitor's helper at a local elementary school, in Huntingburg, Indiana.  The Janitor, Lloyd "Red" Bayer, had to leave for a while and left me in charge of finishing the scrubbing of a classroom floor.  Upon his return, he asked me if I had kept working.  I guess it was obvious what had happened.  I said, "Well, I kept moving."  You can laugh now.  

Sometimes we practice our faith like that.  We go through the motions, and take little thought how we are all in this together.  There is much to be gained in ordering our lives around this love which is civil, friendly, and has the enormous capacity to build up the body of Christ.  Our joy is not the joy of Jesus, if our connection to one another is shallow and dismissive.  

There is much we can learn from one another.  In my childhood church, we called one another brother and sister.  This was not only a sign of respect, but of real belief that Jesus' blood was thicker than human blood.  We each shared in the redemption of Jesus' blood.  And this made us brothers and sisters.

At the Eucharist, the Priest says, "Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father."

He asks us to pray as brothers and sisters, not mere acquaintances or occasional contacts, but in the bond of real family life, as brothers and sisters.  A reader of these Reflections once wrote me saying he believed it was providential that we had met and become friends. Each of us have a connection that is providential, a choice God made for you and me to meet.  So as a song from my Pentecostal background says, "If your heart today is as my heart, then give me your hand."  

It is with great hope of showing the world a new and living way that we embrace one another as friends.  We are on level ground at the foot of the cross, so there is no big sinner here or a bigger one over there; all have sinned.  

Our culture today needs the kind of love which is unconditional.  Such a gift of ourselves to one another and to the world is a gift that keeps on giving.  Great songs, great stories, and great art flow from such a life liberated by the love which is from above.

If there is to be a new dawn for our world, it will come with a new outpouring of the Spirit of love, such as fell upon Cornelius and his household.  Peter described that outpouring of the Spirit as the same as had come upon the 120 in the Upper Room.  

As then, so even now can we receive from the God of Love the gracious empowerment of His Holy Spirit to love one another as he has loved us.  

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, help me to embrace the love that is greater, for the sake of my brothers and sisters and my neighbors.  Amen.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Abide In Me - 5th Sunday of Easter- Mother's Day

Reflections on the Readings

Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 10, 2009, Year B - Mother's Day

By Dennis Hankins


Acts 9:26-31

Psalm 22:26-32

1 John 3:18-24

John 15:1-8

Theme:  Abide In Me

"I am come that they might have life, and that more abundantly." (Jesus)

What will we do with the invitation to enter into the life of Jesus?  

I have pondered what these words sounded like to the disciples.  I imagine the voice of Jesus gentle, persuasive and inviting.  His eyes meet mine, he stops, letting me absorb the vastness of what I have just heard.  Then he whispers, holding the Passover bread out to each of us, "Abide in me, abide in my love, this is My body."

Since a little boy, I have wished to be close to Jesus.  In the church of my childhood, a personal relationship with Jesus was preached.  Often I speak to my Lord and say, "Dear Jesus, hold my hand."   

In today's Gospel reading, there is a profound offer to us to be close to Jesus.  While many today urge converts to invite Jesus into their heart, I am struck by how Jesus invites us into his heart.  The very words, 'Abide in me' and 'abide in my love', urge us to draw nearer to our Lord.  

If Jesus' teaching is obeyed, we will live more in love, more in forgiveness, more in faith.  The words of Jesus are spirit and life.  This means that reconciliation and hope and mutual enrichment are possible.  Like a branch that remains attached to the vine, we must remain one with him.  Apart from him, we can do nothing. But if we live by his words, we abide in him, and the life and power of Jesus' words empower us to do what is right.

Throughout my life, I have met many wonderful people.  They have enriched my life and encouraged me in the ways of the Lord.  But the one who taught me from a baby to trust the Lord, was my mother.  It was she who encouraged me to see with eyes of faith.  Mother herself was prayerful, and it was she who by her example and words, helped me to believe in Jesus.  Her faith still inspires me.

I remember the morning she left us, her body wore out from Lou Gehrig's disease.  A night or two before she passed, I dreamed seeing mother young, vibrant and alive, clothed in a white robe, ascending into the heavens.  After she passed, I remember going through a terrible spiritual dilemma.  I was struggling with forgiveness, and in a dream mommy lovingly told me that I would have to forgive the people who had hurt me and my family.  I remember saying, "But mommy, it's so hard."  And she said, "I know it's hard, but you have to."  I still remember the anguish and the struggle I felt in that dream, trying to commit to doing what was right.  Well, you know you always have to do what mommy says.  I wish I had done that better when I was growing up.

O' the closeness to Jesus mother taught me.  It still is my hope and prayer to be as close to Jesus as possible.  He has promised us a world of life and fulfillment if we will but trust and obey.  There really is no other way to be happy in Jesus.  If we will trust and obey, we will abide in Him who will fill our life with grace and truth.  And in him we can do exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ever do on our own.

Jesus tells us if we abide in him and his words abide in us, we can ask whatever we wish, and it will be done.  Now that's not about a laundry list of stuff and things, and getting the right numbers to the Powerball.  It's about strength and power to do whatever is true, pure, and lovely.  It's about bearing fruit as disciples of the Lord, and glorifying our Father.  

Our joy is not full sometimes because we resist the pruning that comes with being a fruitful disciple.  However, if we are to have the joy of the Lord in our hearts, we have to stay close to the life and power of the vine.  To do that, we have to enter into an examination of conscience.  Through that we are able to receive the forgiveness and absolution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  We cannot love the Lord in talk only, we have to walk the walk.  If our hearts are free and pure, we have confidence in God, and receive from him whatever we ask. 

We are the branches and Jesus is the vine.  By itself, a branch cannot bear fruit.  To bear fruit it has to be attached to the vine.  Neither can we bear fruit, unless we abide in Jesus.  May we abide in Him, so that we may be the face of Jesus to all.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you alone have the words of eternal life.  May the meditation of my heart and the words of my mouth be faithful to all that you have taught.  Amen  

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I Am the Good Shepherd - Sunday, May 3, 2009

Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Easter - May 3, 2009, Year B
By Dennis Hankins

Acts 4:8-12
Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29
1 John 3:12
John 10:11-18

Theme:  I Am the Good Shepherd

Jesus understood the crowds as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (see Matthew 9:36)

Sheep by their very nature require leadership.  Without a shepherd, sheep wander, become disgruntled and disagreeable with each other.  Under the care of a shepherd, sheep are content and docile.  Such is the meaning of the Twenty-third Psalm: "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."

What sheep need, and cannot survive without, is a shepherd.  A good shepherd knows his sheep by name, and will lead them to good pasture and water.  When he calls, the sheep recognize his voice, for in his voice is the assurance of the next meal and of safety in the time of trouble.  Most importantly, a good shepherd will never forsake his sheep.  If a wolf approaches, it is the shepherd who guides his flock to safety; guarding them with his own life.  We have found that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and Guardian of our soul. (see 1 Peter 2:25) Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me.

No less than five times in today's Gospel Jesus speaks of laying down his life.  "A good shepherd," Jesus said, "lays down his life for the sheep.  The other four statements of Jesus are, "I will lay down my life for the sheep;" "I lay down my life in order to take it up again;" "No one takes it from me, I lay it down on my own;" and lastly, "I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again." 

To say Jesus is my shepherd is to say, he is my salvation.  There is no salvation through anyone else.  No one else has pursued Adam's race with such affection and abandonment.  Is there salvation in any other name?  Has anyone else offered himself for the salvation of the world?  Other than Jesus, do you recall anyone in world history, who spoke to the weariness of humanity, and said, " I am the good shepherd?"

It is for his sheep Jesus laid down his own life.  As the good shepherd, it is Jesus who came seeking us, in loving kindness calling our name, because he cares, because he wants us in his fold.  

I have seen the loving kindness of this Shepherd: In the face of the priest in the giving of absolution; in the March for Life; in the care of a Mother for her child; in the joyful voice of a child; in the hopeful face of a cancer patient; in the wrinkled faces of the elderly.  All around us is the presence of the Good Shepherd; for he is never far away.  

As I've experienced more of life, grown a little older, and maybe wiser, I notice more the richness of creation.  Because of this, I hope I am more inspiring to those nearest me.  The song of the Cardinal and his visits to my backyard bird feeder capture my imagination.  Tears come freely while listening to my daughter Bethany caress the strings of her violin with her soul.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

In Christ's name and example, the Church, the sheepfold of the sheep, is a place of welcome and refreshment.  Jesus has other sheep who do not yet belong to this fold.  No matter the age, the color, or the accent, the Church is a place of safety, of welcome and love.      

The work of the Good Shepherd is not finished. So to those who are harassed and helpless and sometimes without hope, we must become the face and voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  If somehow on my face and in my voice someone can recognize Jesus' love, perhaps that person, will find his way back home, to the fold, the Church, where we all belong.  And we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, like a shepherd lead us.  Lead us to be more kind, more tender hearted, more loving to those sheep who are scattered and gone astray.  Amen.