Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

Reflections on the Readings
The Nativity of the Lord - Christmas - Mass at Midnight
December 25, 2009 - Year C
By Dennis Hankins

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7 RSV)

Tonight, the candles of Advent glow in unison, announcing the fullness of time has come; the Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.  

Nine months ago, the archangel Gabriel announced to Mary, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus."   

The Virgin, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph asked, "How can this be, since I have no husband?"   

And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy., the Son of God"

Even before Mary and Joseph were husband and wife, Mary was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.  

This prompted Joseph to consider sending Mary away quietly.  
But as he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Now all of this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel," which means, God with us.

The Messiah

What did Mary know?  From the beginning of her pregnancy, Mary knew that the son in her womb, was God's son.  From the beginning, she pondered in her heart how she carried in her womb the hope of Israel - the desire of the nations.  

The angel Gabriel declared from the very beginning:


-He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High!
-The Lord will give to him the throne of his father David!
-He will reign over the house of Jacob forever!
-And of his kingdom there will be no end!

I think it's safe to say Mary believed that her son was the Messiah.  Joseph also shared this understanding of the child lying under Mary's heart. Together, the ever Virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph, and their relatives, lived with the understanding, this child would save his people from their sins.

As Mary pondered in her heart the destiny of her son, Joseph was content to live with Mary as a man appointed by God as guardian and protector, honoring his wife as the handmaiden of the Lord and raising Mary's son as his own. 

A Manger

There was no room in the inn for the Holy Family.  Mary went into labor, the fulness of time was upon her.  Bethlehem, the House of Bread, was full of hungry and tired travelers, and no room was left to rent on this Holy Night.  The Bread of Life wrapped in swaddling clothes was placed in a feeding trough.

Word would soon spread because of the angelic visitation to the shepherds.  Shepherds would not think it too strange to find new life in a manger.  Perhaps these nomads had laid one of their own newly born sons in such a place.  A rock hued out to place feed could very well serve as a new born baby's first crib.  

I suspect that not only the shepherds, but their families may have come to that special manger that holy night.  

And the Music

The announcement stirred the hearts of those shepherds:  A Savior, the hope of Israel, is born in the city of the beloved King David, who is Christ the Lord.  That announcement has been and continues to be the inspiration of music that reminds every person on earth he is a living soul. It is music that befits the new born King; music that stirs praise from the lips of all of God's children, young and old alike. 

And the heavenly choir is a choir without number. A multitude of the heavenly host we are told take up the refrain, praising God and singing: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

Let us join them this Holy Night, and continue for as long as the breath of God is in us, praising and  singing with all that is in us Gloria in Excelsis Deo!  Amen. 


Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Radiance of Love’s Pure Light

Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 20, 2009 Year C
By Dennis Hankins

The Radiance of Love's Pure Light

...And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!... And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."  (Luke 1:41, 42, 45 RSV)

In this fourth Sunday of Advent, it is love that lights our way to Christmas.  Mary is that love light who brings great joy to Elizabeth and to the baby she carries in her womb.  For six months now, Elizabeth, has pondered the mystery of the boy child growing in her womb.  As Mary enters the house, her voice resonates with her own mystery, for the baby in Elizabeth's womb stirs, as Mary's greeting reaches the ear, the heart, the womb of Elizabeth.  

Blessed are you among women!  

I remember the first time I attempted to pray the Rosary.  Being a minister of the gospel is all I had ever known, and now I was seriously considering resigning from being a priest of the Charismatic Episcopal Church.  Only my wife and my spiritual director, a Hermit of the Trappist tradition knew what was going on in me. But now, here I was, on the verge of embracing a conviction I could no longer ignore.  I was seriously desiring to come into full communion with the Catholic Church.  

Nightly, upon going to bed, I began listening to Catholic radio in Buffalo, NY. As it turned out, going to bed and hearing the Rosary being prayed on the radio occurred at the same time. 

"What harm could it be," I thought.  I began to pray along.  Getting no further than 'blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your ....'   My voice trailed off.

"This is really dry stuff," I said out loud.  "How would you ever get people to do this," I continued.  

And then it happened.  I sat straight up in bed, and exclaimed, "Wow! What was that?"

It lasted for only a moment, but it felt, it seemed like, eternity. It was a Holy Spirit moment.  The impact of that eternal moment remains with me.

It seems to me, Elizabeth had a similar moment.  She is filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaims, "Blessed are you among women."   Elizabeth confirms forever Mary's place in history and the Church specifically and the blessings of womanhood and maternity for all time.

Blessed is the fruit of your womb!  

The womb of Mary is forever the vital affirmation of life in the womb.  It is poetic and pure to speak of babies as fruit.  Still these two thousand years later, it is the fruit of Mary's womb that is the joy of the world, the inspiration of countless prayers and endless hymns of praise.  Through the eyes of Mary we clearly see the blessings of babies, the sanctity of human life.

As we ponder on the wonder of our salvation, it is good to begin by reflecting on the womb of Mary.  It is from her our Lord assumed flesh and blood.  This young Virgin of Israel carries in her body the fulness of our life and salvation.  And from Mary's womb comes the blood that will flow from Calvary, thirty-three years in the future. 

Destiny resonates in the words 'blessed is the fruit of your womb!"  Every husband and wife who have been blessed to conceive and bring children into the world know the truth of what I say.  Joyfully, every Mom and Dad who have been privileged to adopt know children are the precious fruit of the womb.  In time, a woman who has aborted a baby, knows deep in her heart that what she possessed in her womb was fruit, not a blob.  It is these precious souls and the mothers who carried them we lift up in prayer. 

Blessed is she who believed!

She who believed is the mother of our Lord; she is the mother of us all.  Traditionally, the Church has understood Mary to be the new Eve.  In contrast to the first Eve, Mary, the new Eve, embraces the will of God.  

Many women in salvation history have left us testimony of their faith.  Notably we recall Sarah, Leah, Rachel, Deborah and Esther.  In Hebrews 11:35 we read of nameless women who received back their dead, raised to life again.  That's the power of believing.  It is this same kind of faith and believing Mary demonstrates.  And without her there is no gospel, no salvation, no hope. 

In Mary we observe the culmination of faith.  For in her believing heart she attains a preeminence that has captured the imagination of the Church for two millennia.  Important apparitions of Mary have occurred in the world.  Although not necessary for personal devotion or salvation, they are recommended to us for our support in faith and prayer.  

Mary embraces her exalted role not for herself, but for us.  She is unselfish, a humble handmaiden seeking first the kingdom of God.  Mary portrays a selflessness that beams with the radiance of love's pure light.  For without any thought for her own well being or reputation, she prays, "Be it unto me, according to your word."  

And in all humility, Mary also said, "For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed."

And so they have.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen. 


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Joy Lights the Way!

Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Advent - December 13, 2009 Year C
By Dennis Hankins

...But one mightier than I is coming. (John the Baptist)

On this third Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of Joy.  Exactly what is it that we are joyful about today?  Since it is still Advent, we might call it joyful expectation.  We are in a season of anticipation, and the fulfillment of our joy is soon to come. Much like the anticipation that a woman experiences, who is great with child.  The time of birth is near; the child within her will soon be the child who nurses at her breast.

So we rejoice in the Lord, because He is near.  Although mightier than John the Baptist, this might, this power of the Lord did not diminish the ministry of John the Baptist.  Rather, it fulfilled it.  The Baptizer anticipated how he might respond in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene. Finally, he explained, "I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals."   Such is John's humility in the presence of the fulness of Joy.

May we reflect for a moment, on what 'one mightier than I' means for us?  For example, it is important to consider the question 'what would Jesus do?'  Taking that thought in a different direction, we should also think about 'who would Jesus be?'  
Is our joy based on a weak and anemic understanding of who Jesus is?  Or do our thoughts soar with the notion that Jesus' coming is with strength; one who will guard our hearts and our minds in his love.  (see Philippians)

John the Baptist, a man's man, a burly sort of guy, makes his lunch out of honey and locusts, sleeping out under the stars of heaven. In the desert, alone with God, his mission in life takes shape and form.  The vision of a world filled with God's joy, a world renewed in his love fills his spirit. (see Zephaniah)  For John, his life would find fulfillment in who Jesus is.  Thus, he did not feel diminished, but fulfilled.  Saying, "I must decrease, but he must increase," focuses on what John the Baptist should be, not on what he should do. And focused he was, for he was a voice crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

The light of our joy gives direction to what manner of persons we ought to be.  St. Paul today exclaims, "Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I say, rejoice!"  Why?  Because it helps us to be the kind of person we ought to be.  Because if we will be who we should be, our kindness will be known to all.  That's what the Apostle Paul says any way.  

Do not be anxious, nor devolve to living by greed, hoarding our extra coats, nor buying more than we need.  That's what John the Baptist tells us today.  Rather, we should be found rejoicing in the one in whose coming we shall celebrate soon!  He is mighty to save.  He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, helping us to be his face of kindness, his strength of forgiveness, his heart of purity. 

"The One who is coming is mightier than I," said the Baptizer. This he proclaimed with great joy.  It must be our joy as well, for soon we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he truly is.  This is our hope, this is the light of the joy we walk in today.  And this holy light guides us to its source: Jesus.   For we shall gaze upon him, whose coming urges us to be less of ourselves and more like him.  

Shine on 'O great light of joy.  Bring us to the fount of all joy, even Jesus.  Shine, Jesus, shine through me. From my face, my words, my eyes, my hands, be the light of my life, a light through me for the whole world.  Amen. 


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Peace that Pierces the Darkness

Reflections on the Readings

Second Sunday of Advent - December 6, 2009 Year C

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

..."And all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Luke 3:6 RSV)

Today we light the candle of Peace.  How humanity needs it.  How improbable it seems.  Yet there it is, piercing the darkness within and without, announcing that, "All flesh shall see the salvation of God."  

It is John the Baptist's mission to prepare a people worthy to receive the One he proclaimed.  He did so by inviting his listeners to receive the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins.  He lived out his mission filled with humility toward the coming Prince of Peace explaining, "I am not worthy to unloose the straps from his sandals." (Mark 1:7)

We today, as John's followers did, must prepare ourselves if we are to receive him when he comes.  In the Eastern Church Advent is known as the Little Lent.  A time of Penance is encouraged during Advent in the parishes of the Roman Rite as well.  It is because the King is coming.  And if there is to be room in our hearts for him when he comes, we must prepare the way of the Lord; that we may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. 

Upon self examination, all of us would agree, there exists in each of us crooked paths that need to be made straight.  Valley's needing to be filled up.  Mountains of self exaltation, deceptive pride, and manipulative high handedness that needs to be brought low.  And the rough spots, for we are all diamonds in the rough, must be made smooth.  You see, the King is coming, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  Every ounce of our being cries out to be filled with the fulness of God's salvation.

What about the inequity that is all around us?  Matters of justice for the poor, the vulnerable, the forgotten.  The distance between the haves and the have nots that screams for attention. The high mountains of bloated inconsideration for the multitudes living below, down in the valleys of inadequate housing, malnutrition, or not enough kerosene to keep warm during the cold winters.  Every ounce of our being cries out with the prophet, make his paths straight, stop complicating things, fill up the valleys and bring down the mountains, the King is coming and all flesh deserves to see the salvation of God!

It is a beautiful thing when the crooked is made straight and the rough ways made smooth.  Are we not called to bring peace and justice?  The whole world yearns for the morning dew of peace and safety.  Yet poverty and hunger, injustice and chaos prevails in too much of the world.  But let us not give in to the status quo.  With all that is within us let us proclaim the King who leads his Church in joy by the light of his glory with his mercy and justice for company; for God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named the peace of justice, the glory of God's worship. (See Baruch Chapter 5)

How peace should radiate from deep within our heart, be visible upon our face.  The nature and dignity of this peace is that it befriends the fatherless and the widow, embraces the orphan, protects and defends the amputee, regards the dignity and image of God in the riddled body of the AIDS patient. Witness the smile that spreads across the face of a weary soul, all because of the peace we shared out of the treasure of our heart.  All because we chose to let nothing hinder us being the face of Jesus to that one who has never seen him. 

This Sunday in Advent we learn that God's peace and justice is not stagnant, unmoved or detached.  It is rather a drama filled with the inspiration of God's command that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground.  This is the way the Kingdom advances and advances securely in the glory of God.  

In ancient times much ado was made to welcome the king.  Every effort was expended to make the processional route amiable to the occasion.  How much more must we renew our commitment to removing every barrier to the King of Peace so that all may see him and receive him who is the very salvation of God. 

Let us probe the bottomless depths of the meaning of Advent.  Rather than Advent being an interlude to enable a jump start to Christmas, it is an opportunity to rid ourselves of every obstacle to the peace of God.  Not hoarding this rich treasure for ourselves, but rather letting it have every conceivable entrance into our world.  For this peace which passes understanding wills to capture the hearts and minds of each of us and our neighbor for Christ Jesus, until the glory of the Lord and his salvation shall cover the earth and all flesh see it together! (Philippians 4:7; Isaiah 40:5

Let us pray: Dear Father, pour out your Spirit upon all flesh, that we all may become evangelists of the Prince of Peace, until the whole world is crowned with the great salvation of God.  Through Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.