Thursday, December 30, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
A Christmas Thought
The Love Light in His Eyes
December 25, 2010
By Dennis S. Hankins
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1
What love is bestowed upon us this Christmas morn. The purest of all love is wrapped first in swaddling cloths, and sleeps in a manger. This morning, we will try to replicate that love, and give one another gifts; gifts wrapped in the glorious colors of Christmas.
After two thousand years, it is hard to understand how it is the world may not know him. Yet it was into a cruel and dark world Jesus came on that first Christmas. In fact, a tyrant Roman King, tried to kill him at the outset. At age 33 he will be bruised for our sins and wounded for our transgressions. Yet like a sheep, he will not open his mouth; a thief will speak in his defense. A centurion will confess that he is the Son of God. And Mary and John will receive him from the cross and wrap him in a burial cloth.
The reason the world does not know us is because it did not know him. But this lack of perception does not nullify a simple yet profound truth: God's love has made us his children. What manner of love is this? It is a love that fills a dark world with imperishable light. But it is not a light of condemnation, rather the rays of this light draw us toward what is good and perfect. Some may resist its power, but in the end, God's light of love prevails. The greatest power in the world, is the love light that shines from that manger in Bethlehem.
And the same love light shines today. It shines through you and me to remind the world that there is something greater than sin; there is something more powerful than betrayal. It is even stronger than death. It is God's love light that shines today. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And the glory shone all around!
When the shepherds found him, they found him as the angel had said, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger. And looking down into that manger, their eyes looked into the face of God, and they saw the love light in his eyes. Amen.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 19, 2010, Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
A Love Story
...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.”
On this last Sunday of Advent, we sense that something really special is about to happen. Once again the world is reminded that things are not as they appear. For two thousand years ago, Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, visited a young maiden of Nazareth. No one would have predicted that God would soon be living in the womb of a virgin whose name is Mary.
We are not told exactly when Joseph became aware of Mary’s destiny. Luke explains that Mary was betrothed to Joseph at the time of Gabriel’s visit. It is possible if not probable that Mary told him immediately. Today’s gospel reminds us that Joseph is considering how to best protect Mary. After all, he is a just man and unwilling to put Mary to shame. Joseph knows the applicable laws regarding infidelity which could implicate Mary and condemn her to death by stoning. Not only does Joseph believe Mary’s explanation, but he deliberates in his own way how to divorce her quietly.
Christmas is a story; a true story. I want to tell you Joseph’s story; a love story.
Taking Mary by the hand, Joseph looks deep into her eyes and knows in his heart Mary’s destiny.
“Mary,” Joseph speaks in a whisper, as the late winds of March whips the dust around them. “You said Elizabeth is also with child.”
“Yes.” Mary looks down at her garment bulging in the middle as the wind blows about her. “The angel of the Lord told me that she is now six months along,” she says as she looks again into Joseph’s anxious eyes.
“Ok. This is what you must do. No one will think anything of it. It’s been a long time since you’ve visited your kin folk in the hill country of Judea. You will be safe for the moment, and I will have a few days to think about all that is about to happen,” says Joseph.
Mary is no more than a few days into her pregnancy when she visits Elizabeth. But deep within her womb God is becoming flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone. Mary’s face still shows the late blushes of youth, only now her eyes suggest she is pondering in her heart a deep and growing mystery.
Agreeing with Joseph and trusting his judgment, Mary immediately prepares to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Providentially, a family in Nazareth is going to Judea, too. Mary will travel with them. It will take about four days to make the journey; Mary is happy to have some time away to pray. There is much to pray about.
In the meantime, Joseph spends more time before Jehovah.
“What must I do?” Joseph prays as he begs God for wisdom. “I have lived as Mary has lived. Following you and obeying you with my whole being is all I have ever done; it is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” he continues. “Please, Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hear my cry.”
Joseph knows in his heart what fate awaits Mary and maybe even him. Who would believe her? Who would believe him? A million questions invade his heart. Everyone of them have the same answer: death.
“I am of the house of David, the sweet singer and King of Israel,” as he reminds Jehovah of his credentials.
It is the spiritual equivalent of, “Hey, don’t you know who I am?”
Desperation drips from every word that falls from Joseph’s lips.
“Please tell me how to embrace this mystery. Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; I flood my bed with tears.”
Joseph descends into a deep sleep. But even here, the mystery is near; God is near.
The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream. God has heard Joseph’s prayers, and he sends his angel with this message: “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 bare a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph awakes from his sleep. The sun is peeking over the distant hills of Nazareth; the light of God’s love is already shining brightly in Joseph’s heart. The fear that once gripped him is now gone; he must tell Mary.
Quickly, Joseph packs his things including dry meat, figs, and some fruit. He leaves before the sun wakes up the rest of Nazareth. Along the way, Joseph rehearses the dream. He praises God for making real to him the mystery of salvation. “And you shall call his name Jesus,” the words of the angel echo in his heart. “He will save his people from their sins,” “Yeshua, God saves!” he says, talking to his beast of burden who seems to be listening.
Arriving in the community of Zechariah and Elizabeth, he asks someone for directions to their home. Mary and Elizabeth are outside basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Joseph quickens his step. His heart now beats with the promise that resides in Mary’s womb.
Looking up, Mary is blinded by the sun. She recognizes the voice, but she only sees an outline of the man walking toward her.
“Mary!” They embrace. No one can imagine the gift of love they possess for each other. Their love is mutual because of the gift of love growing in Mary’s womb.
“I know,” Joseph whispers in Mary’s ear. “I had a dream. The angel of the Lord appeared to me in a dream!”
Mary listens as if she already knows, but she does not interrupt.
“What did the angel say to you?” she asks, as if she doesn’t know.
Joseph wipes tears from his eyes. Elizabeth draws closer to hear. Mary’s face is now framed by the sun that is setting behind her. Joseph speaks slowly and deliberately. No longer sounding anxious or worried, he says: “The angel told me not to be afraid to be your husband. The angel said, ‘that which is conceived in you is of the Holy Spirit.’ ”
And Joseph did receive Mary and her baby into his heart and into his home, providing for them, loving them, and protecting them. But Joseph knew her not; fully satisfied to be known as the husband of Mary. With all of his heart he lived his calling as the foster father of the Son of God. Joseph and Mary raised the child that had brought them together. And together they watched him grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and with man.
So you see, the real season of Christmas is near. It brings to us a story of love that began in a little village called Nazareth. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? I’m glad you asked.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. It’s a love story...
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Advent - December 12, 2010, Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
Shades of Doubt
“Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
We are not told exactly why John is asking this question. The fame of Christ has reached John in solitary confinement. The stories of the miracles done by Jesus are told to him perhaps by a sympathetic jailor. Through the thick walls he can hear the prisoners talking about Jesus. All alone, John muses on these wonderful works of Jesus while he contemplates his own life and his impending death.
Perhaps late at night, alone in his dark cell, shades of doubt haunt him. Not outright unbelief, mind you. For a man who has slept out under the midnight sky for several years, he asks the most important question in the world: “Are you the One?” It’s the last recorded words we have of this man who is on death row.
The most exalted understanding we have of Christ comes from John the Baptist. John himself gave testimony that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is John who says, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” There are no doubts here.
John’s own conception and birth is the stuff of miracles. Zechariah was an old man and his wife, Elizabeth, was barren. There was not a chance that they could have a child. But while praying and burning incense in the Temple, Gabriel comes from God to give Zechariah the good news. He tells this faithful man that he and his wife will have a son. “Unbelievable,” says Zechariah. So Gabriel struck Zechariah with nine months of speechlessness. Not until Zechariah writes on a tablet at his son’s birth, “His name is John,” does his speech return. I’m sure that John was taught from his youth to trust God and to never doubt him.
Even when Mary comes to visit Elizabeth, John leaps in his mother’s womb. It is in this meeting we hear Elizabeth, full of the Holy Spirit, declare to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” I would bet the bank that Elizabeth told young John about this day. It would not surprise me in the least that she and her husband often rehearsed all of these spiritual moments with their son, John. He was taught, no doubt, from day one to have faith in all of God’s ways.
But you know, sometimes it's a little harder to believe. Shades of doubt creep across the eyes of our heart and “poof,” it all seems a little remote. God seems distant. We cease praying instead of praying without ceasing. What once brought joy now brings questions. It's in these moments we ask, "Are you really the way, the truth, and the life?"
The reading from James today reminds us of the patience and perseverance of the farmer. He waits for the precious fruit of his labor. After the rain and sunshine, and more rain, and then some more sunshine, the seed will sprout and the harvest will come. I remember when I was about fifteen, planting my first garden. Mrs. Murray was on my paper route and she was past the age of life to be out in the hot sun taking care of a garden. She offered to get the garden ready if I wanted to try my hand at it. I could go out my back door and hang a right at the alley and be at Mrs. Murray’s house in about two minutes.
The biggest thing I remember about this experience is that I was not patient. I did not have any experience at planting a garden and it showed. To make sure the seed was still under the veil of dirt covering it, I remember scraping away some dirt to see how things were doing. Some of the most patient and faith filled people I’ve ever met have been farmers. My gardening has gotten better with age. But even now, shades of doubt can creep in.
Sometimes, and it will happen, we encounter shades of doubt like John the Baptist. We will ask in those times like he did, “Tell me one more time who you are.” As John’s disciples leave with the message Jesus gave them for John, Jesus commends his friend, John. He tells the people that he is a man firm in his convictions and faith. He’s not a reed shaken by the wind. Nor did he seek comfort in fine clothes and comfortable surroundings. He lived and ate in the desert. By day he preached about the mighty one to come and how everyone should get ready to meet him. And by night he mused on the Almighty in his heart and refreshed himself in God’s love.
But once in a while we all drop our head and wonder out loud, “Is it worth it? Is Jesus for real?” With John, let’s hear again the gracious report, a report long ago foretold by Isaiah, “The lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel proclaimed to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
And then Jesus says of John, “Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.” And of you and me, Jesus says, “Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
About John, and about you and me, Jesus has no doubts.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Reflections on the Readings
First Sunday of Advent - November 28, 2010, Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
We Must Be Ready
"Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect." - Jesus
It's beginning to look a lot like... Well, not really. In Advent, we do anticipate celebrating the first coming of Jesus. And we will do that with great joy when Christmas day arrives. But now, during Advent, it's time to think on the blessed hope, the Second Coming of Christ and the priority of seeking first the Kingdom of God. It's in Advent the Church enters into a short penitential time leading up to Christmas. Making room in our hearts for the coming King is important whether we are talking about Christmas or the Second Coming of Christ. Either way, we want to be ready!
The Christian life is about setting priorities; letting first things have first place in our heart. This requires vigilance; something that many did not possess during the building of the Ark. Noah, a preacher of righteousness, invited his generation to salvation, by entering into the Ark. It was the only way to be saved from the flood.
Only Noah, and his immediate family, along with the animals that entered the Ark with them were saved from the flood. Those who were left, to begin history again, were in the Ark. Many perished in the flood. They perished because they went about life without any concern for the things that really matter.
It is not necessary to know when or how the world will end. There is an end that will come for each of us. And of that day and hour we have not a clue. But when it comes, it will be the end of time for us. We want to be ready when that time comes.
Such reality is an encouragement to be vigilant, to set our hearts on eternal things, the things we learn from the Church about Jesus. Some Christians arrive at the house of prayer on Easter and Christmas. That is better than nothing at all; but is it enough? Is this an example of right priorities? I assume that we will all agree that it is not. It certainly is not the vision Isaiah saw concerning the house of the Lord.
The prophet Isaiah saw the Lord's house established on the highest mountain; a place where people from every tribe, country, language and color under heaven came. In the Church is where a kingdom that is not of this world is taught. Instruction about that kingdom is learned here and true justice described. And a different type of resistance is advocated as well; the Church is not an arsenal of swords and spears, but a place where the armor of light is given to us. Maybe that's why the Psalmist exults so when he says, "Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord."
Now is the time, during this holy season of Advent, to make a clean break from the things of darkness. Is there a way to partake of the desires of the flesh, and not be captured by the sin that lures us? How close can anyone live to the fire, and yet not get burned by its flames? We all know the answer to these questions. Advent is a time that urges us to think about what it takes to be ready for the coming of the Lord.
Paul describes the Christian life as a life of awareness, of recognizing that our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ," Paul says. It is an invitation to make room for God, for God is light and in him is no darkness. We must let the strength of God's light and love pour into our life, so that in our face Jesus is seen. With God's strength, we can push back the darkness in our home and in our community.
Be the light in someone's life; let your light shine into the brokenness and heartache of your sons and daughters. Defeat the power of darkness; put on the armor of light.
It is vital that we have the strength of God's presence in our lives. We stay strong in the Lord when we remain faithful in coming to Mass. At the Lord's Table, we are nourished and partake more of the divine. When I was a kid, growing up in the Pentecostal church, attendance was first nature for me and my family. It never was a question about where we would be on Wednesday night, or Sunday morning and then again Sunday night. And Friday night, I was at the youth service. Today, it still is not a question of where I will be on Sunday morning: "I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord."
Advent give us another way to grow in our love of the Savior. The more we examine our hearts the more we may need the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And confession is good for the soul; it helps us to more faithfully walk as a son and daughter of the light. This is what we all desire. We want to live the way that is pleasing to him who loves us with a love that can never end. It is that love we meet when we enter the confessional. It is that love that fits us with the armor of light as we go back into the world.
Advent begins this year right after Thanksgiving. Traditionally, this is a time for family and friends to get to together. It also is a time to reflect on the needs of others. We will be able to let our light shine by helping the poor and the hungry among us. To be in solidarity with these our brothers and sisters is to set our hearts on things that are near and dear to God's heart. Its a good way to stay strong in the armor of light.
Let us live our lives in the glorious light of the Second Coming of Christ. Because ready or not, Christ is coming again.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Reflections on the Readings
The Solemnity of Christ the King
November 21, 2010 - Year C
By Dennis S. Hankins
And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
The rulers scoffed him. Soldiers mocked him. And one of the criminals railed at him. Yet since Calvary, the cross is a sign of victory; an invitation to return to Paradise.
Because of disobedience, Adam and Eve had to leave Paradise; a place of divine fellowship with the King of Creation. Something other than the joy of the Lord had captured the hearts of our first parents. Adam and Eve were escorted beyond the entrance to the Garden of Paradise, until he who is the way, the truth and the life, could lead us back to Paradise.
Perhaps Adam paused for just a moment. Looking in front of him into a world he did not know, maybe he looked back into the fading scenes of Paradise. With tears running down his cheeks, I can hear him praying, "Remember me." Did he hear any response to his prayer? Maybe he is the first to hear the promise, "I will never leave you; I will never forsake you."
Throughout the history of Israel is their prayer that God would not forget his people. Hearing their prayer, God visited his people held in bondage in Egypt. While they wandered throughout the desert, sometimes marching as to Zion, sometimes just clogging around in a circle, they pled for God to arouse his memory and come to their aid. The prophets would prick the conscience of the chosen people, and they would pray again, "Look not on our sin, but remember, remember your vine you brought up out of Egypt and planted in the land of promise."
Many expected the Messiah to come with pomp and circumstance. Instead, he came through the humble and holy womb of the Virgin Mary. At about age twelve, he announced that he must do the Father's will. How was that? "I must be about my Father's business," he said. For three years or so, he healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, raised the dead, and ate with sinners. At about age 33, he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey; Jesus, the lamb of God, was coming to take away the sins of the world.
Many may think the cross is a sign of defeat and ignominy. Just the opposite is the case. In the cross God say's to you and to me, "I remember." The cross reminds us that never once did the Almighty forget the crowning work of his creation. In the cross, the thief finds, as do all the sons and daughters of Adam, the way to Paradise.
Recently I wrote about the horrific nightmare of death unleashed against the Syrian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Deliverance, in Baghdad. This unmitigated tragedy occurred on Sunday, October 31, 2010. When the parishioners of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad returned to their parish, they did so with heavy but forgiving hearts. One parishioner said, "We forgive them. They gave us blood, and we give them forgiveness." Only those who are no longer under the power of darkness have this kind of heart. This parish is walking as we must all walk, as citizens of the kingdom of the Father's beloved Son. It is in Christ alone we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins; the power to be forgiving.
The returning worshippers did something extraordinary. With their lighted candles they made a cross through the nave of the Church and along the axis at the altar. In this very place, those who had died had met the Lord in the Holy Eucharist; that holy meal which we eat in remembrance of Jesus. It is at this table we learn that the power of reconciliation is in Christ alone. By the blood of his cross, Christ has restored peace between us and God. In the blood of the martyrs, we are reminded there is yet to be peace on earth.
Sixty of our brothers and sisters perished within this house of prayer; martyred because they were Christians. The church was filled with pock holes from the gunfire and the walls were stained with the bloody palm prints of those who were slain. Many of those who died no doubt prayed with their last breath, "Remember me." And the King of Martyrs, who himself was slain for their redemption surely said, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."