Monday, February 22, 2010

A Season of Prayer - 2nd Sunday of Lent, February 28, 2010

Reflections on the Readings
Second Sunday of Lent - February 28, 2010, Year C
By Dennis Hankins

A Season of Prayer

...But we were eyewitnesses of his majesty...for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Lent brings us into a season of prayer and asks us to bring ourselves more fully to prayer.  Now that sounds like a tall order, and next to impossible given our noisy and busy schedules.  But I suspect that there are many who will choose during Lent to become more intense and intentional in their communion with the Father.

St. Irenaeus, a Father of the Church, stated that in proportion to God's need of nothing is man's need for communion with God.  Imagine God needing anything that we could provide him. Now think about how much we need God and his friendship.  It is this God of love who will befriend us, because he delights in all of his creation, especially you and me.  

We often speak of giving up something for Lent, and there is much truth to that.  For example, fasting typically means to give up eating or eating something in particular.  There is another aspect to Lent that has to do with what it is we can give.  

Will I make a concentrated effort to say words of encouragement or support?  

Will I be more gracious in giving others the benefit of the doubt?  

Will I give myself more to prayer?

We might protest and ask, "Will giving myself to a season of prayer make any difference?

Let's review the gospel reading.

Peter, John, and James were with the Master on the mountain.  It was a time Jesus had set apart to pray.  This inner circle of disciples who joined Jesus on this occasion, became a little tired in the process.  However, the effects of that time with Jesus on that holy mountain never left them.  Peter in particular spoke of that time saying, "We saw his majesty." That was not all.  He also said we heard the voice coming from the Majestic Glory saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Now, they may not have told anyone at the time about that mountain top experience.  In time Peter wrote about it saying we were there.(1)
It was a season of prayer that brought into focus for these disciples about who Jesus is.  That is what praying does.  

It realigns us with the divine.  
It reorients us to the eternal.  
It restores our soul.  

You might say our spiritual GPS gets reset and we get back on the right track. 

Our son, Timothy, likes the way praying the Rosary gives prayer a path and a rhythm.  I remember the first time I attempted to pray the Rosary.  I thought how in the world would you ever get people to do this?  It seemed dull and repetitious.  Then something happened in that moment that I cannot put into words. My soul felt the eternal pleasure this prayer brings both here and in heaven.  I saw with the eyes of my heart something of the majesty of this way of praying.

Now, I understand that this is not the only way to pray.  I remember my daddy sharing about when he was being interviewed by the Board of Ordained Ministry in the United Methodist Church.  They were concerned about his Pentecostal background and how he would handle his belief and experience of speaking in tongues.  Daddy was forthright and responded to their concern, stating he could not deny what God had done for him. However, he also said that he would never push it on anybody, but he highly recommended it.  So when it comes to praying in tongues or praying the Rosary, I'll simply say I recommend it.

Whatever way you pray, give more time to it during this holy season of prayer.  Along with what I've already said, there is also the Jesus Prayer(2), the Liturgy of the Hours(3), the Lord's Prayer, and prayer and meditation before the Tabernacle or in the Adoration Chapel.  

In all the ways you may pray, be sure to invite the Holy Spirit saying, "Come Holy Spirit and kindle in me the fire of your love."

For the Church, the height of prayer is that which occurs at this Altar.  For it is here today we come to another mountain, Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering...and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant.(4)
Today let us feast together in this season of prayer, and receive this bread which is his body and this wine which his blood.  Amen.

Let us pray: Father, your ear is not deaf to our prayers.  Forgive us for not talking to you more often, more deeply, more honestly.  Give us a renewed sense of your presence in this season of prayer which we make in the name of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

2 Peter 1:16-18
2 Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
3 For the Liturgy of the Hours
4 Hebrews 12:22-23

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Surrendering To Love

Reflections on the Readings

First Sunday of Lent - February 21, 2010 - Year C

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday 

Surrendering to Love

By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the Desert. (CCC540)

I grew up as a Pentecostal in a community with a strong Catholic presence.  I didn't learn what Ash Wednesday was all about until I was a young adult.  I did know what Good Friday was.  And most of the town did too.  The businesses on Fourth Street, the downtown area in those days, would close from Noon until 3 p.m.  Time seemed to stand still. 

I remember that time well and the excitement I felt because I knew Easter Sunday was right around the corner.  I was excited because soon there would be Easter eggs to hunt, and Brach's chocolate Easter eggs to consume.  And how exciting it was to  linger in front of the G. C. Murphy Co. Store gazing at the little baby chicks just behind the big glass store window.

Oh, Spring was in the air, and soon we would be singing to the top of our lungs: 

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!

He walks with me and talks with me 

Along life's narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!

You ask me how I know He lives:

He lives within my heart.

But what still captivates my soul is the memory of the solemnity that filled the air in my hometown of Huntingburg, Indiana on Good Friday.  For several years now I have embraced that solemnity for the forty days that is called Lent, a period of self denial and uniting more fully to Christ's battle and agony. (CCC 2849)

Even though Lent starts in the desert, it is here with Jesus in the desert where the affections of our heart are examined and we learn to pray 'do not let me yield to temptation,' praying to be ruled by the love that is from above. (CCC 2846)   

It is no small thing to learn how we might more freely surrender to this love:

 That we might love Jesus more, better and always and others for whom He died. 

To become more detached from stuff and things and more in union with Him who loved us and gave himself for us.  

Embracing the way of the Spirit, as those who belong to Christ Jesus and have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

St. Paul describes the passions of the flesh to include fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like. (Galatians 5:19 ff) 

All works of the flesh are antithetical to love.  

Standing today at the threshold of Lent we have an opportunity to meet Jesus in the desert.  

Here we will experience that in every temptation common to man our Lord provides the strength to overcome it.  

Here we will discern that the power and attraction of fame is nothing compared to faithfulness and true worship.   

It is here we will learn that it is no small thing to know how we might more freely surrender to love, the love we now receive and share with one another in this bread which is his body and this cup of blessing which is his blood of the new and everlasting covenant with us. 

Let us pray: Dear Father, bless us with a greater understanding of meeting our Savior in the desert.  As he was led by the Spirit into the desert, lead us also to meet him there and help us to not fear this holy season of Lent. Amen. 


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Seeking First The Kingdom

Reflections on the Readings
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 14, 2010, Year C
By Dennis Hankins

Seeking First The Kingdom

Pray then like this...Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done... (Jesus)

The package warns with big red letters: FRAGILE. Inside is a beautiful piece of pottery, carefully crafted by strong hands guided by a disciplined eye. The result is something that will serve as the center piece of a well prepared table setting, inspiring love and reverence, serving as a special dish for a special bread. It is something that will last forever; forever that is, if it is not mishandled or abused or neglected.

Handed down from one generation to the next, it continues to exhibit beauty and fulfill its destiny. The intentions of its maker lives on as this beautiful piece of pottery continues to inspire conversation about deep things. Things that last. First things.

I remember a special dish that belonged to my mother. It was a pink depression era dish with loops around the circumference and a sunburst design in the center of the plate. I remember it very well because I'm the one who broke it. It laid upright in the transept of our old house. But it didn't endure very well my running through the door way and making lay ups with the basketball on the other side of the transept. It fell to the floor and shattered into more pieces than I care to remember. Along with the shattered pieces lay the shattered memories and heart of my mother. Her words sank deeply into my teenage heart: "You will replace it!"

Many years later, on the occasion of my parents fortieth wedding anniversary I did replace it. Having searched for it through the local antique store and failing to find it I intensified my search. Finally, I located not one, but several at an antique warehouse in St. Louis. I was tempted to buy all of them as the dealer described the very dish I had destroyed as a youth. Making the deal by phone I was happy to finally restore something very special to my mother. I wish I could describe her joyful countenance as she smiled at me, her face showing the strains of Lou Gehrig's. A disease shattering her body.

I now have that dish, carefully guarded in a drawer in my house. Mother and Daddy are among those fallen asleep in Christ, having their hope in the risen Christ, he being the firstfruits of those fallen asleep. And one day they will rise perfected and restored in the image of him who makes all things new. This is the deep and enduring meaning of our faith.

The kingdom Jesus describes is everlasting and those who seek it will be like a tree planted by running water. Jesus speaks of things that will last. Deep things. First things.

Poverty or detachment from things that defile and shatter is to find the kingdom. Self denial or keeping ones affections only for him who first loved us and gave himself for us is to live in the way of the kingdom. Sorrow for our waywardness and sins and seeking reconciliation with God and our neighbor is to know true joy. If hated and despised or reviled and rejected, is to suffer for Christ, bearing fruit even in times of distress and drought.

The wicked are not so. They are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Jesus laments the rich, the overfed, and any who dismiss the dignity and plight of the poor. The poor are fragile and are very close friends of Jesus, who became poor for our sake. He is bread for the hungry, the bread of life for the world.

And blessed are we today who are called to this table. It is the center piece of our salvation. The reason for this feast of love is deep and lasting and inspires us on this first day of the week to always seek first the kingdom.

Let us pray: Dear Father, you feed us with manna that is from above, even Jesus the bread of heaven. United by this feast of love, strengthen us to build your kingdom in the power and might of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Amazing Grace

Reflections on the Readings

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 7, 2010, Year C

By Dennis Hankins

Readings for This Sunday

Amazing Grace

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain." - St. Paul

He was born July 24, 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean.  At age eleven, he went to sea with his father, completing six voyages before his father retired.   In 1744, John was forced into service on a man-of-war, the H. M. S. Harwich.  Conditions on board were intolerable and the young John deserted.  Shortly he was recaptured and publicly flogged and demoted from midshipman to common seaman. 

At his own request he was exchanged into service on a slave ship.  This ship took him to the coast of Sierra Leone where he became the servant of a slave trader who brutally abused the young man.  Conditions here were no more tolerable than they had been on the H. M. S. Harwich.   Early in 1748, John was rescued by a sea captain who knew his father.  This led to becoming captain of his own ship, a ship which trafficked in the slave trade. 

John's early religious training came from his mother, who died when the lad was a young child.  So it is no surprise to learn he had long ago given up on any religious convictions.  However, on a particular homeward voyage, straining to steer his ship through a violent storm, all seemed lost and it seemed certain the ship would go down.  It was then he cried out, "Lord, have mercy upon us."  Later in his cabin, the young captain reflected on this experience and began to believe that God had met him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him.

His hymn of Grace is sung all over the world.  There is no church of any denomination where his ode to Grace is not sung.  The young John, an infidel and libertine, turned priest in the Church of England.  His name is John Newton.  His song is Amazing Grace - how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.

John Newton's conversion began when he encountered his own insignificance and unworthiness, and cried out, "Lord, have mercy."   Isaiah, St. Paul, St. Peter, and Moses at the burning bush, like John Newton came face to face with God's mysterious presence.  

And we, when face to face with the body and blood of our Lord, are likewise convicted to affirm with the centurion of old, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed."

Let us pray: Dear Father, you sent your Son into our world that we might learn to grow in grace and in the holiness of your Spirit.  Amen.