Thursday, September 24, 2009

With No Reservations - Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 27, 2009

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost - Year B

By Dennis Hankins

Readings for this Sunday

"Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us."

Those who know me, know how devoted I've been and continue to be about the unity of the faith.  I firmly believe the Scripture which says there is 'one body and one Spirit, Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.' (Ephesians 4:4, 5) It is this understanding which shaped my search for this fullness of unity for several years before becoming Catholic.

Let us listen closely to Jesus as he says,  "There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.  For whoever is not against us is for us."  These are important words for our times, for our day and for the very important work of Ecumenical dialogue.

It is without exaggeration that we can describe the body of Christ as wounded and greatly fractured.  However, within the Church is preserved what the Church has always believed at all times and in all places.  This is not snobbery or smugness, rather it is the appeal of early Christian teaching by St. Jude, who in his Epistle writes: Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.   

Today's Gospel calls us to make sure we remain true to this faith.  There is no sacrifice too great to be sure we will in the end hear these words: "Well done, good and faithful servant." 

The call points to the need to be sacrificial and deliberate.  It is better to enter the Kingdom at the bottom of the sea than to cause a little one to sin and miss the life of the Kingdom.  It is better to arrive before the Lord with only one hand, or one foot, or even one eye, than to arrive into Gehenna with all of our faculties, where there is unquenchable fire and where the worm does not die.  

To follow Jesus is important business and requires an uncompromising effort.  Many have given up their life rather than retracting their faith.  Recorded in the annals of Church history are both Catholic and Protestant martyrs.  I believe when the good Lord looks down upon us he sees 'one body, one faith, one bread.'  In his eyes, we who are many are one.  We just haven't found the way yet to see ourselves the way he sees us.  But we will.  And the prayer for Christian unity must always be, as it is every Sunday, the prayer of the Church that has always been, and will always be.

Where can we find the inspiration to continue to love God without reservation and our neighbor unconditionally?  From today's Gospel we realize that this is what is at stake.  Perhaps the answer is in understanding the impact of Jesus' words then and now.  Will we or do we allow a mediocre, anemic faith to creep into our souls?  Do we dismiss out of hand the effort of the Master to draw us into deeper and richer fellowship with him?  Is all this business about plucking out the wayward eye, or cutting off the offending foot just too extreme?  Or is it hyperbole with a purpose?  I bet that's it.  There is a purpose and meaning to these radical words of the Man from Galilee. 

What shall it profit a man to lose his soul and gain the whole world?  The price to follow Jesus is great, but look at the crucifix again and say to your soul, "Soul, behold the pearl of great price. Go sell all that you've got to have and to hold in your heart of hearts this great treasure of heaven."  Battered, bloodied, bruised, to many there is no beauty in him that they even consider what is happening on that cross.  To St. Paul and countless martyrs, who gloried in the cross, they made it their business to know nothing, to preach nothing, to love nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Jesus calls us to a simplicity in this life to effect our salvation and the salvation of our friends and families.  Maybe, just maybe it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Perhaps we have some plucking and severing to do, so that we can get closer to Jesus and to what Jesus wants from us, what Jesus wants to do through us.  The kingdom of God is not meat and drink and stuff and things, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  

If we are to know the fulness of the faith, the Church and Christ's life in us, we've got to be serious about shedding anything or anyone who keeps us from these good things.  

With no reservations.   

Let us pray: Dear Father of all who love and serve you, have mercy on our divisions.  Heal not only the divisions within your Church, but heal us of the things we let divide us from you. Help us to embrace the Son of your love without fear of cost or fear of others.  Pour out upon us the same Holy Spirit that fell on the early Church and revive us again.  Amen.  

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Measure and Meaning of Greatness - Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 20, 2009

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Year B

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. 

In fact, they had been arguing about who would be greatest.  Jesus' words about being handed over to men to be killed had fallen on unenlightened ears.  They much preferred a 'discussion' on success and promotion and name tags and labels.  Ah, the ladder to the top and who would first achieve the distinction of arriving at the top clouded their minds.  

What a situation.  And in this gospel reading, we have a situation.  It's more than amazing on how not much has changed in two thousand years; at least, how the same temptation still invades our imagination. 

What is the true measure and meaning of greatness?  

Certainly, Jesus dying at the hands of an angry mob did not resemble for his followers any notion of greatness.  Nor did the victorious outcome, that is, Christ rising from the dead three days after his ordeal, inspire the imagination of his disciples.

"You want to be great, make a big impression on folks?"  

"Sure, Jesus!  From the moment I saw you turning the water into wine, I've hitched my wagon to you.  I expect to tell everyone back home that I've finally made something of myself; that I'm Jesus' right hand man." 

Jesus smiles briefly and then turns his attention to a child among them.  The little guy had been snuggling up to the Master since he had entered the house.  Stroking the locks of his hair while speaking to his disciples, other children had gathered around.  His voice resonated with their little souls; they felt safe near him. 

This scene being lost on his success driven followers, Jesus draws their attention to one of the little children.  Setting him in their midst he explains what is the true measure and meaning of greatness.  

"So Judas, you want to be great."  

"You want to be at the top of the chain of success in my Kingdom?" Jesus asked him.

Judas jingles the money bag under his cloak.  With a grin he answers the Master, "You bet.  I can't wait till we teach those nasty Romans a thing or two."  

Jesus surveys the situation, as he holds the shoulders of the child in front of them.  Looking at Peter, then James, then John, Jesus' eyes grow penetratingly fixed on all of his men.

"If you want to be greatest."  Jesus stops for a moment, then speaks again. "If you want to be greatest, then you must be the servant of all, and you best start with how you will serve, by beginning with the children.  Whoever receives a child in my name, receives me.  And not just me, but my Father as well."

You could have heard a pin drop.  It usually is something of an unbelievable experience to learn that the height of the ladder to the top is something about the size of a child


There's nothing like a child to help clarify a situation.  Have you ever had a melt down at you house?  Recently we had one at ours.  In the midst of the obvious way I had mishandled the moment, my youngest daughter, Heidi, almost nine years old, said, "You need to go to confession!"  Yes, I went.

Start with the least and most vulnerable among us and serve them.  Of such is the Kingdom of heaven.  One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a Mother.  Folks I had never met before, but upon my first time to get to know them, I offered my open arms to their little boy safely tucked in his Mother's arms.  The boy, who had never seen me before, trustingly reached for me.  His Mom said to me, "You have a good heart; he trusts you."

What is the true measure and meaning of greatness?  Jesus said it was becoming the servant of all, starting with the children.  That means having a heart that is not duplicitous or demanding.  A heart of a servant, to whom it doesn't matter who gets the credit or the promotion, just as long as a child can see the face of Jesus in my innermost self.

Let us pray: Dearest Father, your only Son became flesh by the Holy Spirit in the womb of your servant, Mary.  The wisest men of the time, served him and honored him with priceless gifts.  May we serve him as well in the least among us, starting with the child in our midst.  Amen. 


Monday, September 7, 2009

The Way of the Cross

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 13, 2009

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

He rebuked Peter, and said, "Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not on the side of God, but of men."

Everyone has spiritual highs and lows.  Peter certainly represents for all of us the ups and downs of life in the Spirit.  And like Peter we grow in grace and embrace denying ourselves rather than Jesus.  Also, like Peter, we resolve to 'take up the cross and follow Jesus,' all the way, 'for the sake of Jesus and his gospel.'

Deep in his heart, Peter believed Jesus to be the only Son of God.  Peter wanted no harm to come to the Treasure he knew Jesus to be.  As Jesus spoke openly of his rejection and death and resurrection, Peter wanted no part of it.  Well, he did, but he didn't.  Thinking maybe Jesus was getting a little to weird, Peter takes Jesus by the shoulders and looks straight into the eyes of his Master and rebukes him. 

We can only imagine what Peter said.  Perhaps it went something like this:

"Jesus, no.  Nothing can happen to you.  The chief priests will come around.  Besides, me and the other guys won't let anything happen to you.  I promise.  It'll be O.K. Even if everyone else deserts you, I'll stand with you.  There will be no death.  No way!"

Jesus knowing the spirit of compromise cannot be left unchallenged, turns his back, literally, to everything Peter is saying. Then speaks forcefully:

"Get behind me, Satan!  It's not God's side your on, but the way of men.  My Kingdom is not of this world!"

To follow Christ will require choices.  There will always be opportunities to water down the message, to want the friendship of the world.  Jesus knowing this speaks plainly about sacrifice and self-denial and losing one's life for His sake and the gospel.  

Soon, Jesus will experience exactly what he has predicted; suffering and rejection and loss of life. And for Peter, well, he'll follow at a distance.  For a while he will be near but not too close.  Some will recognize him and accuse him of being a follower of this maniac called Jesus.  Of course, Peter will deny it:

"Who, me?  Not me!  I don't know the guy."

Three times this happens.

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." (Luke 22:61)

And Peter broke down and wept. (Mark 14:72)

We have all been there.  

The scandal of the cross and carrying it daily is not the path of least resistance.  Believers are truly counter to contemporary thinking, that is, we challenge ourselves and those around us to embrace faith, hope and love.  We point to the cross and say: 

"It's the way of that man.  This man endured for our sake and for our salvation, hardship, persecution, and death.  And on the third day, he rose from the dead victorious over all the power of the devil.  And we will rise too, just as he promised, just as he did."

For some this is a stumbling block.  It was for Peter, at least at first.  Then it became his own, his life and his ministry.  And in the end, the enemies of the Church decided to do to him what was done to his Master.  Peter objected, insisting he was not worthy to be crucified like his Master, asking to be crucified upside down.   

Just as he asked Peter and all of his disciples, Jesus asks us to abandon ourselves to the way and the power of the cross.    

Let us pray: Dear God our Father, may I always glory in the cross, and for the sake of Jesus and his gospel, live the cross by the Spirit's power.  Amen.