Monday, October 26, 2009

Friends in high Places - Solemnity of All Saints - November 1, 2009

Reflections on the Readings

Solemnity of All Saints - November 1, 2009 - Year B

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

...the spirits of just men made perfect. (Hebrews 12:23)

Friends in high places. That's who they are you know. What am I talking about?  Well, like you, I believe in the communion of saints.  Are you surprised that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses?  Those who have died in the friendship of God are not only God's friends, but ours as well.  They pray with us, they pray for us.  We request our friends here to pray for us.  We may request our friends in heaven to pray for us as well.

These friends are called saints.  To be sure, there are more saints than the Church has canonized.  In her wisdom, the Church has elevated some whom we know as saints, that we might emulate their example of holiness and rightfully ask for their prayers.  

For example, often in prayer I have called upon Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to pray for me or some person in my family.  I don't know when I've been closer to the Holy Trinity than when I have implored the Holy Virgin to pray with me and for me.  She befriends us in prayer, she intercedes for us to her Son, whom she implored to intervene when the wine ran dry at the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee.    

In the first reading we are reminded that our friends in high places is a great number. The figure of 144,000 is a symbolic number speaking of the New Israel.  It is the square of 12 (there were 12 tribes in Israel) multiplied by 1,000.  The Church in heaven and on earth is comprised of every nation, race, people, and tongue.  It is a multitude that no one can count. In the Holy Liturgy we are spiritually united with this throng before the mighty throne of the Father and His Son who sits at his right hand.  Every Lord's Day is a prayer meeting of unimaginable proportion and unfathomable effect.  Why?  Because the prayer of the righteous has great power in its effects. (James 5:16)


When I was a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church, the good Bishop, took his clergy to Penetanguishene Bay in Canada.   This is in the area of Midland and is the region where Jesuit Missionary Priests were martyred by the Iroquois, namely St. John De Brebeuf and his companions in the mid 1600's.  A replica of the old Fort and Outpost of the Jesuits is there.  In that place is a chapel with a dirt floor and a martyr buried in the rear of the chapel.  It is a holy place.  Nearby in Midland, Ontario is the Shrine of the Martyrs.  John Paul II prayed there during his pontificate.  I myself have knelt before the relic skull of the martyr St. John De Brebeuf.  

I was privileged to be on two pilgrimages to these holy places. On the second pilgrimage, while we were worshipping back at our host parish where our retreat meetings were taking place, I shared a prophetic word with our gathering that went something like this:  

I the Lord have gathered you to this place.  It was me that brought you here that you might mingle your praises with the spirits of just men made perfect.

Those pilgrimages forever changed me.  Those were the days when the seeds of my longing to unite with the Catholic Church were planted, watered and came to full fruit. 

We have friends in high places.  Some of them on this Solemnity of All Saints, left this world who loved not their lives to the death.  They accepted torture, refusing release, that they might rise again to a better life.  Many were destitute, afflicted, ill treated, of whom the world was not worthy.  Jesus in today's gospel instructs on a mountain top his disciples saying. "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.  

Let us mingle our prayers with those of the spirits of just men and women made perfect, that countless throng before the throne where we are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace, that we might receive help in our time of need.  

This is a prayer meeting you don't want to miss!

Let us pray: Dear Father of the justified, may we unite our hearts more faithfully to him who is the Son of your heart, and by the Holy Spirit ignite our hearts with the fire of the love of the Three in One.  Amen. 

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Jesus Prayer - Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reflections on the Readings

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 25, 2009

Twenth-first Sunday after Pentecost - Year B

By Dennis Hankins

Readings for this Sunday

...He began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

The Jesus prayer, is an ancient prayer.  It goes like this: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  Its exact date and circumstances of origin are unknown.  Blind Bartimaeus' cry for mercy is a possible foundation for the prayer as is the tax collector's plea for mercy found in Luke 18:13.  It is associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church among whom it was used to develop an interior calm and silence as the heart focuses on God.  

Repeated as a chant or mantra it became a means of the practice of prayer without ceasing.  Those familiar with the book The Way of the Pilgrim will recall it was the pilgrim's aspiration to find a way to pray without ceasing, to be in complete contemplation of God.  The Jesus Prayer was what he discovered to be the way to pray without ceasing.

It is a blind man today who leads us to a greater vision of prayer to and contemplation of Jesus.  The prayer he makes rises above the noise of the crowd.  Rebuked by those near by and commanded to be silent, he cries out all the more. I like that, he cries out all the more, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. (James 5:16)

Born in the house and of the lineage of David according to the flesh, Jesus is embraced by the son of Timaeus, blind though he was, he recognizes Jesus for who he was, like David, a man after God's own heart of mercy.  In the Incarnation, Jesus is not only Son of God but Son of David.  The words coming from Bartimaeus' lips were saturated with more than nostalgia, his words were the expression of faith, that God would visit his people with Mercy.

The cry for mercy is a powerful prayer.  It can and should be prayed often, anywhere, and always, if possible.  It is the arrow prayer of the heart, piercing the darkness of the unknown, or the unexpected, reaching the ears of Jesus at the right hand of the Father of all mercies.

The prayer for mercy can be prayed by anyone.  We are often, Christian though we are, living with blindness to one degree or another.  How often we do not see the good while with 20/20 eyesight pointing out the failure all around us.  With perfect perception of the splinter in our wife's eye, even offering to correct the malady apparently unnoticed by her, we do not notice or are even aware of the glaring plank hanging out of our eye.

How we must pray more often rather than less, "Jesus, Son of David/Son of God, have mercy on me." And our prayer should continue by way of intercessory prayer for our families, our parish, our priests, our Bishop, "Jesus, have mercy on us all."  Perhaps if this were our prayer more often, then would we more often show mercy to each other, to those over us in the Lord, for our neighbor.    

If Jesus through his mercy opened the eyes of blind Bartimaeus, how much more will he give us new eyes to see him and to follow him.  

Most merciful Master, along with Bartimaeus, we praise you.  

Let us pray: Most merciful Father, thank you for visiting us in the fulness of mercy in the gift of your Son our Savior, Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen. 



Friday, October 16, 2009

In the Interest of Others - World Mission Sunday

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 18, 2009

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost - Year B

By Dennis Hankins

Readings for this Sunday

For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many - Jesus


Properly harnessed, it can serve one well.  

Unleashed and people are seen as a commodity to be used, relationships embraced only when convenient, and behavior that is ordinarily understood as lewd and unseemly now is chic and daring.   Ambition!

The crucifix is a reminder, albeit graphic reminder that to lose our life is to find it.  It teaches sacrifice.  It teaches humility.  It teaches forgiveness.  It confronts the self serving attitude of our heart and persuades it to be open, compassionate, and inviting.  

It must have been one interesting day when James and John requested the best seats in the Kingdom.  Ambitious fellows, they thought they had better get in while the getting was good.  

"Teacher, we want you to do something for us."

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked.

By this time everybody was listening.  

"We want you to grant to us to sit, one at your right hand and the other at your left, in your glory."

I can imagine the looks of the others with their wrinkled brows asking, "And just who do you think you are?"  Nothing was said.  Their expressions said it all. The ten were indignant with James and John.

It hadn't been too long ago when the twelve were debating about who should be the greatest.  The message about becoming as a little child had not taken hold.  So now Jesus explains.  Not just to James and John, but to all of them.  Jesus explained, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you."

It shall not be so among you.   Jesus opens up our minds as he did the twelve to the meaning of being one with him.  "The cup I drink and the baptism with which I am baptized, are you able to participate in these things?" Jesus asked.  "Oh, yes, we are able," said James and John. 

Jesus looks beyond them for a moment as he gazes upon the distant cross in his future.  The cross, that baptism and cup, a total immersion and participation in the needs of humanity.  

For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, states the creed.  

And then he looked upon the fledgling Church in the twelve before him, knowing that they and countless thousands after them would endure government and its laws against them, the mouths of lions, the bullets and bombs of terrorists; faithfully accepting the baptism and the cup, growing in union with Jesus, for the life of the world, not to be served but to serve.

"For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

To serve.  To give.  To be a ransom for many.  If we could but wake up every morning knowing the destiny of souls may rest on us.  That some weary, worn, wayward heart might find her way back home to the heart of Jesus, just because we entered the day as a servant. 

 Not whining about, "What's in it for me?" but rejoicing that like Jesus, my life, my talent, my gifts, my expertise, my ability, my heart, my ear, my prayer, daily serving, always giving, becoming a ransom for someone, somewhere, for another.

On this World Mission Sunday, isn't time for us to pray, "Revive us again, O' Lord?"  

How may I help in the harvest of men and women, boys and girls, finding the Church, receiving mercy, helping them find grace to help them in their deepest need?  

How might we find the opportunity to fill our part of the world with the kindness of God?   

How will we from this day forward accept our mission to serve, to give, to be a ransom for many?

Indeed may God revive us with a new Pentecost, of holy fervor and holy prayer and holy sacrifice.  That we through a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, may go into our communities on the mission of serving, giving, being the very face of Jesus!

Let us pray: Dear Father, you gave us all you had in the gift of your Son our Savior.  Help us to be his face, his hands, his voice by the power and might of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Treasure in Heaven - October 11, 2009

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 11, 2009

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Year B

By Dennis Hankins

Readings for this Sunday

"You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (Jesus, to the rich man)

It is a fact, you can't take it with you.  And trying to keep it to yourself could keep you from eternal life.  

The rich man asked how to inherit eternal life.  Perhaps he had accumulated his wealth not only by his business dealings but also through inheritance.  Jesus, however referred to the life this man requested as treasure.  Perhaps the rich man thought he could come into the life Jesus spoke of without any effort or personal participation.  Much like how one may inherit the family fortune.  

Pride goes before a fall, and this rich man's testimony seems to have holes in it.  He claimed fidelity to all the commandments.  

"One thing you lack."  

"Really?" said the rich man.  "What is it?  I'll do anything you ask of me."

Drawing upon years of negotiating experience, he was ready to make a deal with the Master.  What Jesus saw was an empty soul, shriveled up by stinginess, greed, and a callousness toward the poor. 

With eyes filled with love and invitation, Jesus gazed deeply into the rich man's soul.  The rich man waited for the Master to give him a proposition.  He was sure he could accommodate anything he might be asked to do.

Softly Jesus speaks, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

Simple, right?  No, I'm sorry.  Not so easy for this man.  You see, he had great possessions.  Years of accumulation, inheritance, business deals, and the like had blurred his vision.  Even now it was blinding him.  Others?  Give my stuff to others?  

His excited face evaporated as his mind calculated what this new treasure would cost him.

I was raised in a church that preached and expected people to be 'born again.'  Many through the years had knelt at the old fashioned altar and found grace and peace for their souls.  I am one of those who knelt at that altar, who prayed and cried, and repented my way into the arms of Jesus.  Some of you have a similar background.  

Isn't it interesting that Jesus invited this rich man to his treasure by asking him to forsake his?  Treasure in heaven, being saved, entering into eternal life in the New Testament is mostly about opening your heart to God and others.  This is because the human condition can be mostly characterized as being closed to God and others; like the poor, the weak, and the helpless.  

The way Jesus speaks of conversion is more of a daily necessity rather than a single, one time event.  Praying through at an altar is fine.  I would never denigrate it or my experience at such an altar.  

This is important.  If I get to heaven and say I remember the time, the place, the very moment of my coming to know Jesus, but lived my life with a closed heart to my neighbor, to the poor, to the downtrodden, and the new comer in the pew in front of me,  I'll be no better than the rich man who kept all the commandments and still lacked one thing.

Treasure in heaven is found in the hungry we feed, in the cup of water we give to the thirsty, and the naked we clothe.  That's where we enter the kingdom and the age to come.  

As much as I embrace the precious time I repented of my sins way back when I was a hardened sinner at the ripe old age of nine, conversion is really a lifestyle. It is a daily metanoia, a change of attitude and mind about the good God above and the world he loves.  

Let us pray: Dear Father, you spared not even you son, that the light of life would penetrate the blindness of my soul.  Through your son who emptied himself and came as a servant, who rules and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.



Friday, October 2, 2009

Like a Child

Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 4, 2009
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Year B
By Dennis Hankins

And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. (Mark 10:13)

Is it possible to have a personal, childlike relationship with Jesus?

Apparently the moms and dads bringing their children to meet Jesus thought so!  We are not told why the disciples were bothered about this or why they rebuked these parents.  However, their distress did not sit well with the Master.  And I must say, it still makes me bristle.  

Jesus wished to remain accessible and approachable. His life was an open door, an invitation to the burdened, lonely, weary souls of humanity.  Is there a friend like the lowly Jesus?  No not one, no not one, says the song.  

Yet the business model, the creepy corporate coldness of the world of commerce is too often the way of the Church.  The idea to make a friend, to be a friend, to bring a friend to Christ and his Church speaks of bridge building, interest in another, being the face of Jesus. 

Jesus had strong words for his associates.  He was indignant.  

Once, when they were fearful he asked, "Why? Why are you afraid?"  

Another time, when the multitudes needed food, he said, "Feed them."  And they said, "How?  There's not enough money to buy the bread even if no one has seconds." 

On another occasion, they forbade a man to use the name of Jesus to cast out demons.  Jesus said, "Forbid him not!"

And when families were coming to have their children touched and blessed by Jesus, they expressed sharp disapproval.  At this, Jesus became displeased.  In fact, he told them to get out of the way and let the children come to him.  There were a few red faces.  Jesus continued,"For to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."  And with an exuberance resembling the camaraderie found on a playground, Jesus swept up the children into his arms made strong by years of carpentry work and laid his hands on them and blessed them.

I know of a woman preparing for her first confession.  All things that were second nature to a cradle Catholic were new to her.  Having carefully read a guide to examine her own conscience and making notes to help her make a good confession, she waited patiently in line on that Good Friday afternoon for her turn to meet with the priest.  

Coming out of the confessional and wiping the tears from her eyes she knelt to follow the penance the compassionate priest had given her.  As she was leaving the area and walking back toward the waiting line, imagine her surprise when a lady stopped her and scolded her for taking so much time in the confessional and instructed her that in the future if she needed a long time in the confessional that she should perhaps call and make an appointment.

She was shocked.  I think Jesus wept.  

She was being swept up like a child into the arms of Jesus who was welcoming her into the fullness of his Church.  And one impatient lady rebuked this convert, and that while waiting  to see the priest to make her Easter confession.

In time the disciples would learn to know and trust Jesus like a child knows and trusts his mommy and daddy.  At the last supper, Jesus consecrated himself to his passion, gave himself as bread and wine to his disciples whereby they grew closer to their Master and to each other.

Prayerfully may we all embrace him and one another, not just in our head but in a personal way, with our heart, the heart of a child.

Let us pray: Dear Father, may I have the heart of a child,  like a child  trusting you, like a child loving you.  Through him who took up the children in his arms and by the Holy Spirit, who perfects praise in the mouths of infants, be glory and praise and honor and blessing to you O' Lord, now and forever. Amen.