Monday, July 26, 2010

The True Measure of the Good Life

Reflections on the Readings
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 1, 2010 - Year C
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
By Dennis S. Hankins

The True Measure of the Good Life

"Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." - Jesus

Do you remember the colorful character named Max in the movie, The Sound of Music?  

He comes across somewhat as a sponge; soaking up everything he can that belongs to others.  He is quite free in expressing his delight in being around rich folks.  His attitude toward riches and rich people is revealing when he says, "I like rich people. I like the way they live. I like the way I live when I'm with them!" 

Max wrongly believes riches are the true measure of life.

In the first reading, the preacher declares, "All things are vanity!"  The toil and anxiety of heart expended to acquire wealth is vanity.  Why?  If it's done as if in this life only we have hope in Christ, life becomes dreary and burdensome; days filled with sorrow and grief and nights spent tossing and turning. 
Acquisition and positioning, climbing the ladder, stepping on anyone who gets in the way of what you want makes for saucy reality TV; but beware of all covetousness our Lord warns.  Why?  Because a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  Many a career is strewn along the way with those who left God out, pursuing the good life according to the measure of the spirit of this age.

We are truly rich if at daybreak we invite the kindness of God into our heart and our work.  Only this disposition gives us the wisdom to understand that a lifetime is only as a watch in the night; in this light do we realize only God can prosper the work of our hands.  In this way is the joy of the Lord present in all of life's days; the gracious care of God our daily bread.

The gospel reading begins with a family inheritance dispute between two brothers.  One of the brothers asks the Lord to arbitrate for his cause, thinking our Lord will take up for him.  Two things are immediately evident.  An unnecessary fracture between the two brothers has occurred.  Second, unless the brothers give up their covetous attitudes, the love of money will only create more hurt, more blame, more division.  

The rich man who trusts in his riches without regard for God meets with a forceful rebuke.  God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?"  Dear brothers and sisters, life is more than food and the body more than clothing! Coveting is idolatry because it is replacing God with stuff and things as the most important things in life.  Of course, nothing is further from the truth, for what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?

Godliness with contentment is great gain, but the sin of coveting ignores this truth.  Coveting blurs our vision of life and its brevity and of the final judgment.  Naked we come into this world and when we stand before the Lord, nothing will be hidden from his sight.

Let us come closer to him who for our sake became poor that we through his poverty might be made rich.  He gives us richly all things to enjoy.  Through him we are to receive all things and each other with thanksgiving.  Christ is all in all.  If we remember our life is hidden with Christ in God, we will be rich with the presence of God in our soul.  

Truly we are the richest folks in town.  As we have freely received, let us freely give; because we want for others what we have so graciously been given.  This is the true measure of the good life!


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Praying Through

Reflections on the Readings

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 25, 2010 - Year C

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Praying Through

I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. - Jesus

It is a mystery of prayer I learned in the Pentecostal Church; the Church of my youth.  Today's readings emphasize this mystery as well, namely, you are not through praying until you have prayed through.  

Importunity. Persistence.  Abraham persisted, interceding for the people in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah; cities facing certain judgment for the gravity of sin approved there.  Abraham starts his prayer with the hope that there are at least fifty righteous.  Abraham presses the Lord to spare the twin cities of great evil for the sake of that sanctified fifty.  The Lord agrees to spare the cities for the sake of fifty righteous.

It is one of the most dramatic scenes of prayer recorded in Scripture.  The tension mounts as Abraham changes his request just in case there are only forty-five righteous.  Then again if there are only forty, then thirty, then twenty.  Every time I read this passage, I keep hoping the ending will change.  I find myself wanting to whisper in Abraham's ear, "Keep asking!"

Then the final request.  "Lord.  Will you spare the cities if you only find ten righteous living there?"  The Lord replies, "For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it."

We know the end of the story.  There were not ten righteous.

But how instructive is Abraham's concern, heart felt hope and persistent intercession on behalf of the cities of the plain.  We are a people, buried with Christ in our baptism.  How much more should we who are heirs of the faith of Abraham, learn how to pray through.  Raised with Christ in his resurrection, how much more might we understand this mystery of prayer. Pressing. Persisting.  Not concluding our prayer until having prayed through.

Much like the woman with the issue of blood who presses through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus' garment.  Or how about the blind man on the side of the road, not allowing the crowd to shut him up, as he cries out Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me?" Then there is the Canaanite woman seeking out Jesus for her demon possessed daughter.  She responds to Jesus' mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel by saying, "Yet even we dogs will be satisfied with the crumbs that fall from the masters' table."  O such great, persistent, pressing faith.

Jesus underscores the meaning of the mystery of prayer I'm discussing.  Ask. Seek. Knock.  A friend will open the store, not because his friend is knocking but because his friend will not leave without the bread he came for.  Fathers give good gifts to their children. They put bread and fish on the family table. 

And your heavenly Father, well, your heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!  If we will but ask for this divine life, it will be given to us.  If we will but seek for the divine life, we will find it.  If we will but knock on heaven's door, we will find a welcome into the life and friendship of the Spirit.

Praying until.  Praying through. Not through praying until praying through.  Always finding more than we could ask for.  Discovering more than we could have expected.  Pressing into another height of spiritual life.

I remember my Mother being ill when I was a young boy.  I'm not sure what it was, but I think she had a miscarriage.  She was not feeling well, but she prayed.  And an act of that prayer was a letter she wrote to a ministry of prayer asking for prayer for herself.  

She handed me the letter with instructions not to do anything other than go straight to the Post Office and drop that letter in the mail box.  I still remember the feeling that I was on an important mission.  By the time I got back from the Post Office, mother was already feeling better.  She asked me about what time I had dropped it into the mail box.  I still remember the fact that the mail schedule for the day was past.  The letter wouldn't even go anywhere until the next day.

Looking back, I understand it was her way of praying through.  

Let us pray: Dear Father of mercies, look upon all of your children who are in prayer.  Hear their prayers, and answer them from heaven according to what is best for them and for those for whom they pray.  We make our prayers through the power of the Spirit in the mighty name of Jesus.  Amen. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Distractions and Devotions

Reflections on the Readings
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 18, 2010 - Year C
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
By Dennis S. Hankins

Distractions and Devotions

But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?"

But Martha is distracted.  It is in her distraction that she misses the greater opportunity of her hospitality.  Perhaps others came to the house because Jesus is present.  More food must be prepared, and Martha pleads with Jesus to make Mary help her. Discerning that she is absorbed with anxiousness, Jesus asks Martha to focus on the most important; the good portion, the only, and absolutely necessary thing at that moment.  

We know from John 11:1 that Mary is the sister, as is Martha of Lazarus.  Mary in today's Gospel is the Mary who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried his feet with her hair.  Mary is not lazy but neither is she distracted.  She finds her place again at the feet of Jesus.  A place that will not be denied her; it will not be taken away from her.   It is the only necessary thing at that moment; absorbed with the Lord's presence.  Not distracted.  Fully and completely in a moment of devotion. 

We all make the excuses. They run the gamut.  

"After I mow, till the garden, rake the leaves, carry the trash out, go to the store, fix dinner, do the washing, I'll take a few minutes with the Lord."

These are all good things.  They are also distractions if the Lord is last.  Let's see.  How does that go again?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or What shall we wear?' ...Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness...

It is before our Lord where we learn who we are because we learn better who he is.  

He is the one whose ear is never deaf; open my ears, Lord.  

He is the one whose eyes are never heavy with sleep; speak to me even in the night.  

He is the one whose heart is merciful; blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

For a moment, let's sit with Mary who is sitting at the feet of Jesus.  I can see her looking intently into his eyes, seeking to know better the origin of those eyes that meets hers.  A smile erupts across her face; a joy indefinable fills her.  

A question lays deep within her heart, but before she can bring it to her lips, the Master looks deeply into Mary and answers, "You believe in God, believe also in me.  I will never leave you nor ever forsake you."

Deep calls unto deep.

Mary looks across the room and beckons Martha with her hand. "Come, come Martha, and sit with me.  Sit with me at the Master's feet."
O' Jesus, save me from my distractions.  Cast me not from thy presence.  Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.  You are my portion; you alone my heart desires.  Amen.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Who is my Neighbor?

Reflections on the Readings
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 11, 2010, Year C
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
By Dennis S. Hankins

Who is my Neighbor?

But he desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

The lawyer asks about his eternal destiny, but his questions embody more than this inquiry.  He is putting Jesus to the test.  The first question directed to Jesus is, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus answers the lawyer with a question: "How do you read what is written in the law?"  It is his answer to this question that receives Jesus' endorsement.  

To love God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself is to gain God's eternal friendship.  Jesus says to the lawyer, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live."

It is now another question that emerges from the mind of the lawyer.   It is a question that sounds like Cain's response to God's question to him, "Where is Abel your brother?"  Cain responded, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Place that along side of the lawyer's question, "And who is my neighbor?" Both questions are amazingly similar.  

The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most familiar stories in the Gospels.  Jesus tells this story to open not only the lawyer's heart but our hearts as well to the power of mercy; to be a neighbor to anyone in need of mercy.  The lawyer learns that the law of God, a law he knows very well, is confirmed in mercy.  

He who came from the bosom of the Father, is our merciful neighbor.  "I desire mercy, not sacrifice," says our Lord, quoting the prophet Hosea.(Matthew 9:13)  He not only desires it, he gives it, pouring mercy upon us, for we are the man who fell among robbers.  We are the stripped and beaten.  We are the dead in our trespasses and sins.  In an act of love, Jesus, mercy incarnate, restores us to life, abundant life.  

The highest religious leaders in Jesus' day observe the man fallen into the hands of thieves.  Looking upon him and knowing his devastation, they pass by rather than helping the poor soul.  At this point in his story, Jesus looks deeply into the soul of the lawyer who wishes to justify himself.  Self justification.  It is as flimsy as the clothing Adam and Eve made for themselves.

But it is the Samaritan, a foreigner among the Jews, who is the neighbor.  No one, especially a Jew in Jesus' day, expects anything good, let alone mercy from a Samaritan.  The Samaritans social status reminds us of Jesus' home town of Nazareth.  Nathanael once asked Philip, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  Philip responded, "Come and see."  Jesus came out of Nazareth.  Born of the Virgin Mary and loved and nurtured by his earthly father Joseph, Mercy's first home on earth was a small, no nothing place called Nazareth.  And now the whole world is befriended by this gracious neighbor named Jesus, the whole world bathed in his merciful love.

May see the world through eyes of mercy and be a neighbor like Jesus.  Is this not the way of a new Evangelism; the day of a new Pentecost?

May it be so.  Amen.  



Saturday, July 3, 2010

A New Evangelization - A New Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 4, 2010, Year C

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

A New Evangelization - A New Pentecost

And he said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." - Jesus

"As we give thanks for past blessings, and look to the challenges of the future, let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America.  May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ's Kingdom, descend on all present" - Pope Benedict XVI, Papal Visit to the United States, April 19, 2008

Many recent Popes have exhorted the Church to embrace its calling to evangelize.(Blessed John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI) John Paul II spoke of a 'new springtime' in the Church.  Both he and Benedict the XVI speak of a new Evangelization - a new Pentecost, interchangeably.  And Blessed John XXIII convened Vatican II, seeing in it an opportunity for the Church to pray for and experience a new Pentecost.

Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in our Time) explains, "The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself."  This connection to constant renewal in the Church is addressed by Pope John Paul II in Catechesi Tradendae. (On Catechesis in our Time) Here John Paul II speaks of the need to not only catechize but evangelize the faithful.  Concerned about this His Holiness states, "A certain number of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ"  

There is left untapped, untouched, unevangelized, a great reservoir of faith in many of the faithful; it is a field ready for harvest.  Some call this the under evangelized.  Many do not know how to release the presence of Christ, to evangelize, because they do not personally know the presence of Christ.

Jesus sent out the seventy-two to evangelize; to heal the sick and preach the kingdom of God.  Upon their return they exclaimed that even the demons were cast out in Jesus' name.  Indeed, Jesus saw in their mission Satan's downfall, explaining, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."  But Jesus invites not joy over exorcisms, but joy, great joy, "That your names are written in heaven."  

Is yours?  How about your children's names, are they written down in heaven?  The neighbor or the coworker, do they even know that your are a Christian?  

Paul's consuming work was to evangelize; to make Jesus known.  Having met Jesus rather dramatically himself, Paul boasted in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Finding all of his life and destiny in the Christ of the cross he preached, the world, that is its passions and its idolatry held no attraction for him. 

Jesus stopped Paul on his journey to persecute Christians.  A great light shined upon Paul and falling from his horse while traveling on the Damascus Road, Satan's hold on his life fell also.  And Paul's name was written down in heaven and the Church was never the same. 

This past week, Pope Benedict XVI announced a new dicastery for the New Evangelization.  Our Pope believes it is time to re-propose the faith, the truth of the Gospel.  He wants the Church, especially in Europe and North America to be reawakened; a Church that is called to be salt and light to the world.  

Indeed, the harvest is ready - a new Evangelization - a new Pentecost is at hand.  Let us pray that we may be used to reach the world in this new outpouring of grace.  Amen.