Thursday, August 26, 2010

Our First Love

Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 5, 2010 - Year C
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Our First Love

"So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." - Jesus

Eric Liddell. His first love is God.  He also loves to run.  

The movie, Chariots of Fire, is based on the true story of two athletes competing in the 1924 Olympics.  The story involves Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian, who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to conquer prejudice.

Eric, missing a prayer meeting because he was running, is confronted by his devout sister, Jennie.  Eric responds reminding her of his commitment to return to the China mission founded by their missionary parents.  Describing the inspiration he receives while running, Eric also believes failure to run would dishonor God. Eric then says to Jennie, "I believe God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure."

It was while boarding the boat to Paris for the Olympics, Eric learns that the heat for his 100 metre race is scheduled on a Sunday.  In spite of pressure from the Prince of Wales, and the British Olympic Committee, Eric stood by his convictions not to compete on Sundays.  

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Teammate Lord Andrew Lindsay, having won a silver medal in the 400 metre hurdles, offers his position in the 400 metre Tuesday race to Liddell.  Having not even the confidence of his coach, Eric won the gold medal for the 400 metre race.  

But they that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31

True to his missionary calling, Eric Liddell returned to his missionary work in China.  His last words at his death according to a fellow missionary were, "Its complete surrender."  These words describing Eric's complete surrender of his life to God.

Jesus' words this morning call us to a deep and personal commitment to him.  We might describe it as a full measure of devotion.  It is to the multitudes following him that Jesus speaks of counting the cost to be his disciple.  But it is not only to them.  To us also Jesus is speaking, asking us to prefer him to everything and everyone, and to renounce all that we have for his sake and that of the Gospel. (CCC 2544)

Perhaps in this regard we may remember the poor widow.  Jesus observed the poor widow dropping the gift of two copper coins into the Temple treasury.  And Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."

Remember God's call to Abraham?  Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation..."(Genesis 12:1-2) And by faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.  By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.(Hebrews 11:8-9)

Jesus' words to us today are in the great tradition of faith.  Today he tells us that we can't find or expect to find in anyone, not in family, not in friends, not even in ourselves what is only found in Jesus.  

No one can have faith in Jesus for you.  
No one else can do your praying for you.  
No one else can carry your cross.  
No one can be a disciple of Jesus for you.  
No one can renounce what only you can renounce.  
No one can put Jesus first for you.  

Eric Liddell stands in the convictions of his heart. Abraham of the Ur of the Chaldees pursues the promise of God and becomes our father in the faith. In the history of salvation it is Mary who says 'yes,' becoming the way our Lord not only came into our world, but the way he became one of us; yet without sin.  Mary's pregnancy caused not a few wagging heads and tongues.  But she who endured these things exclaimed, "My soul magnifies the Lord...From this day all generations will call me blessed.  And so we do.

These real people give us a picture depicting what it means to love God first; how man's desire for great things is met.  Pope Benedict notes man is often tempted to stop short and settle for "little things," that offer temporary satisfaction and pleasure.  He says, "God alone is enough.  He alone satiates the profound hunger of man." (

To have Jesus as our first love is to be truly Christian.  It is costly.  It means to let our light shine in an ever darkening world; to be the flavor and preserver of those beliefs that are uniquely Christian.  It sometimes means willingly accepting the privilege to suffer for His name's sake.  

In a recent address about living within the truth, Archbishop Chaput said, 

"We need to really believe what we say we believe. Then we need to prove it by the witness of our lives. We need to be so convinced of the truths of the Creed that we are on fire to live by these truths, to love by these truths, and to defend these truths, even to the point of our own discomfort and suffering.

We are ambassadors of the living God to a world that is on the verge of forgetting him. Our work is to make God real; to be the face of his love; to propose once more to the men and women of our day, the dialogue of salvation.

The lesson of the 20th century is that there is no cheap grace. This God whom we believe in, this God who loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to suffer and die for it, demands that we live the same bold, sacrificial pattern of life shown to us by Jesus Christ."

Jesus says, "There is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life." (Luke 18:29)And those who loved not their lives even unto death overcame the world by their witness and their faith in the efficacy of the blood of the Lamb.(Revelation 12:11)

Three things are eternal: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.  

Who do you love first on Sunday? 

Who will you love first every hour of your life?

Eternal God and Father, always, without any shadows or reluctance, you love us first, with a love that covers a multitude of sins.  Teach us to number our days, that we may love you back and each other with a pure heart.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Christian Humility and Charity

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 29, 2010 - Year C

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Christian Humility and Charity

"For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted...But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you." - Jesus

My maternal great-grandfather, a pioneer Pentecostal preacher,  preached Jesus Christ and him crucified in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the early 1920's, the First Christian Church of Huntingburg, Indiana invited him to pitch his gospel tent in the grove just north of their church on N. Washington St. 

Many accepted Rev. Samuel Seibert's  invitation to commit their life to the Lord.  So many came to the Lord that a congregation was formed, the Pentecostal church of Huntingburg; the church of my childhood and young adult years.

Converts grew in number in those early years of the 20th century. Living new lives, these new believers began paying their bills with the merchants in town. You can imagine the interest this created in the Pentecostal church.  

The church building, called the Tabernacle in those days, allowed several hundred inside; many more peered through the open windows or stood in front of the open door out to the street.  Why?  Because they wanted to hear Samuel Seibert preach.  And preach he did, for two to three hours.

Christian charity characterized the new congregation as well.  At Thanksgiving, the pews in the Tabernacle were pushed aside while tables were set up where the poor and hungry in town could come and get a meal.  And the church grew.

God, in his goodness, makes a home for the poor.  It is the Church's calling to be that home; the place where there is food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, clothing for the naked, a haven for the stranger among us.  

We preach not ourselves; doing nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility counting others better than ourselves.(2 Corinthians 4:5; Philippians 2:3) Jesus talked about freely giving what we have freely received.  The Church, rich in the mercy she has received, stands before the world with open arms.  Recently in Morning Prayer, one of the intercessions included, "Help us to serve one another out of reverence for Christ."

Jesus came not to be served, but to serve.  This is the meaning behind Paul's exalted understanding of the Incarnation: ...Who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

It is in this mystery of Christ's humility we are asked to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. (see Phil. 2:1-6) As we bear one another's burdens we fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2) Certainly Christ looks out for our interests, for our great need for the friendship of God, as he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  

Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9)

Every time I look upon the crucifix above the altar, I'm reminded of all the violence, hate, ridicule, and scorn, of all that is the fruit of Adam's disobedience.  I'm also reminded of the hope of salvation while gazing upon Jesus on that cross.  For into himself, Christ took every foul word, every assault, every abortion, every broken heart, every broken promise.  

And, from the cross, Jesus heard not only Abel's blood crying from the ground, but all of the blood ever spilled wrongly and unjustly.  In that hour, releasing grace that is greater than our sin, Jesus took into his Sacred Heart Abel's violent murder, and every hostility in history that man would ever unleash against his neighbor and said, "It is finished."

Upon the cross that we carry is the finished work of Christ.  Into all the world we must also go. As Cardinal Rigali said to us at Diocesan Day, "If we don't do it, sometimes God leaves it undone.  That's how much God depends on us." Our calling is to be the face of Christian charity and humility to everyone we meet; always remembering why Jesus came to us.  He came into our world, not to condemn us, but to love us, to save us, to restore us, to make us the daughters and the sons of His Father.  

And to show us he really meant it, and that he will never leave us nor forsake us, he left us a memorial of our redemption, that which we partake of this morning, this bread and this wine, the precious body and blood of our Savior.  


Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Narrow Door

Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 22, 2010, Year C
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
By Dennis S. Hankins

The Narrow Door

And he said to them, "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." - Jesus

Today's Gospel reminds us why God says, "Today is the day of salvation."  Other exhortations come to mind, such as, "Harden not your hearts," or "Seek the Lord while he may be found." 

One day time will be no more. The opportunities to seek and to know the Lord will end.  For once the householder (Jesus) shuts the door, some will be standing outside, knocking on the door begging to get in.

And He will answer, "I do not know you."

"But Lord, don't you remember us?  We ate and drank in your presence, and we sat at your feet as you taught us!  Don't you remember us?"

I've heard it said before that when we get to heaven, we'll see some we didn't think had a chance.  And as we look around, we'll notice someone missing we thought surely would make it.  One thing I do know.  I hope to be among the 'last who are first.'  I sure don't want to be among the 'first who are last.'  

Just this past week a friend of mine said that his father-in-law wouldn't go to Church much anymore.  I asked, "Why won't he go to Church now?" 

 "Too many hypocrites," his father-in-law says.  I think his father-in-law should just join the rest of us sinners!  The narrow door does not discriminate, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

It is possible to be so near something or someone, yet be so far away.  Jesus found worshippers in his day whose lips honored God; but their heart was far from him. (Mark 7:6) Writing to Timothy, Paul describes those who hold to an outward form of religion, but deny the power of it.  Yet the second reading exhorts us to receive the trials and discipline of our faith that we may 'share in His holiness.'  Such is the purpose of the Lord's discipline.  

At the time, all discipline seems painful; and offering our trials up to the Lord may seem awkward and meaningless.  However, later, in the good Lord's own time, these things yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Especially this is true for those who have been disciplined by their experiences; striving for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)

Everyone who has ever moved, knows about narrow doors.  What came out of the door of the house you left, won't go through the door of the new house.  However, the door to heaven admits folks from every tribe, tongue, people and nation under heaven; each and everyone bathed in the cleansing blood of Jesus' sacrifice.  

In fact, it is Jesus who says they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.  The door of salvation is a gracious and welcoming door; but some still think it is too narrow.

Yet the narrow door into the Kingdom of God hangs on two hinges.  Only two.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.


You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

These two hinges, these commandments of God, swing the narrow door of salvation open wide to anyone who is willing to love God and love his neighbor.

Indeed, let us strive to enter by the narrow door, for it is the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:11)


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Memory of Mary

Reflections on the Readings
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Sunday, August 15, 2010 - Year C
By Dennis S. Hankins

The Memory of Mary

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child leaped in her womb; 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! - Elizabeth
And Mary said,...For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me. - Mary

In 451 A.D., during the Council of Chalcedon, bishops from all over the Mediterranean gathered in Constantinople.  Marcian, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring relics of the body of Mary to be enshrined in the Capitol City.  The Patriarch answered that there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem, and stated that, "Mary died in the presence of the apostles; her tomb, when opened later being found empty, so that the apostles concluded her body was taken up into heaven."(EWTN Library)

At the Annunciation, Gabriel greeted Mary saying, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" Some ancient authorities add "Blessed are you among women!" Here are some questions.

How did Luke know that Mary had been greeted this way by an angel?  An archangel at that?  I suspect Luke, whose Gospel turns on details, encountered the memory of Mary in the early Church.

How else would we know Mary 'pondered things in her heart,' unless a memory of Mary lingered in the Church because of details Mary herself provided the Church?  

How did Luke know that Mary went into the hill country, to a city of Judah to visit her cousin, Elizabeth? Again, the memory of Mary sustained the hearts of the early followers of Mary's Son.

Lastly, how is Luke aware of the tenderest of statements about Mary, namely, when Elizabeth exclaims to Mary, "And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"  Is it not because the Church possessed a special devotion to keeping alive the memory of Mary?  

It is Luke who begins his gospel account explaining that his narrative is dependent upon the memory of the Church; things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. (Luke 1:1ff)

Memory is important for passing down information, whether it be national history, family history, or the history of the Church.  It is particularly important for explaining certain practices and traditions.  And in the Church it is especially important.  Before anything was codified, the way to worship, life in the Spirit, and the teaching of the early Church is based on its living memory of Jesus; a memory kept alive by Jesus' Apostles and his Mother.

It is this living memory of the Church and specifically its memory of Mary that prompted Pope Pius XII to proclaim as dogma the Assumption of Mary stating, "The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven." In those words, Pope Pius XII declared the ancient memory of Mary in the Church an essential teaching and truth of Christian belief.

The memory of Mary is especially lively in Luke's narrative.  One aspect of devotion to Mary is uniquely tied to the Old Testament.  It is the parallel seen between Mary's visit to Elizabeth and David's effort to bring back the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  David, like Mary, 'arose and went' into the hill country of Judah.  Elizabeth's humility and awe expressed in the presence of Mary is much like David's reverence he felt standing before the Ark of the Lord.  The similarities include the joyful exclamation of Elizabeth to Mary and those along with David 'making merry before the Lord,' and David 'dancing with all his might' before the Ark of the Covenant.  (2 Samuel 6) (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)

Before living in Mary's womb, God was in a box. It was a very holy, gold covered chest or Ark, containing the two Tables of the Commandments, remnants of the Manna from the Wilderness journey, and Aaron's rod that budded.  Placed in the Holy of Holies, adoration of this gold chest is depicted by two golden Cherubim on either end hovering over the lid or 'mercy seat.' All of this, the gold chest, its contents and the hovering golden angels is a reminder of God's holy and merciful presence among his chosen people. 

For the early Church and for us, Mary is the new Ark of God's presence in the world. Conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is Jesus, the Word made flesh, the living bread from heaven, and the priest of the new and everlasting covenant.  Mary nurtured him who is the Resurrection and the Life with her own body and blood; he whom Satan sought to kill at his birth.

In the living memory of the Church, Mary is the Mother of God; a Queen in her Son's Kingdom, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.  This is the memory of the Church.  It is a powerfully vivid memory, reminding us that Mary carried in her undefiled womb our Salvation, the rich and untarnished treasure of heaven, God's only Son.  And she who cradled God in her arms, and kissed his cheek that first Christmas morning, in her Assumption into heaven received the embrace and kiss of her Son!  

God did not ask Mary for her 'yes' and then forget her.  Neither does the Church. We continue as we have for over 2000 years to love and honor Mary, the Mother of our Lord and Savior. 

I remember a moment in celebrating the Mass as priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church.  At the risk of being misunderstood, let me share that moment with you.  Being so touched by the mystery I celebrated, in a moment I cannot explain, I lifted up my hands and exclaimed,

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

Such is the inspiration of the Memory of Mary in the Church of her Son, whose life we receive in the bread which is his body and the wine which is his blood.  


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Convinced of Things Not Seen

Reflections on the Readings

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 8, 2010, Year C

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Convinced of Things Not Seen

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

"It's good not to be forgotten!"

That's what my 92 year old friend, Warren Evans told me when I called him last week.  I remember when he and his family came to town.  For a long time we did not know the hero side of this man who lived among us.  He fought in WWII, and was a member of the elite Darby's Rangers.  Convicted of being a spy, Warren's third attempt to escape his German prisoner of war camp succeeded just days before his scheduled execution of April 22, 1945.

Warren lived and survived to return to his family and friends, sustained by the strength and courage of his faith; embracing the assurance and conviction that God is the author of each new day and of the reunion he longed for.

Jesus ascended into heaven about 2,000 years ago. Early Christians anticipated our Lord's return within their lifetime.  Today's readings remind those earliest followers of Christ and us to be watchful; our loins girded and our lamps burning, like those waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast. It is at his return that our Lord will invite us to sit at table as he serves us in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  We must always be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour. 

How long will it be before Jesus returns?  With each celebration of the Eucharist we anticipate the coming of the Lord.  As for when the Lord will return, we like Abraham look forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  In the meantime, we walk by faith, faith in the promises of God, faith that the exodus for the new Israel is as sure as it was for Moses and the first Israel. 

In our earthly pilgrimage we embrace the world differently than some.  We are a people of a heavenly country and yet citizens of the country of our birth.  This world, however, is not our home, is not our final destination.  We do not live with a spirit of laziness however, but with the conviction that to whom much is given, much is expected.  We build hospitals, care for the living and the dying, stand in prayer between bad laws and the unborn those laws condemn to death; accepting as if it is Jesus who is sick, or dying, or about to be born.

Between here and there, now and then, we live by the assurance of our faith. Each day we live hoping for divine approval, and  discerning that the world is sustained by the very word of God who created it; all of creation revealing the nearness of the maker of all things.  

Today we accept the challenge to be filled with faith; faith that our Lord is near us in the Eucharist, near us in the things we do in his name and near us in our watching for his return.  This faith enables each of us to live in the assurance of things hoped for, in the conviction of things unseen and those things not seen yet.  

This week Jesus will look down on his faithful who pray without ceasing, or who are feeding someone who is hungry, or making a newcomer to the Parish really welcomed.  Kingdom things, things the Church has been doing ever since the Lord made us stewards of his grace.

And looking down upon us as we go about doing what He asks us to do, and trusting in Him and loving him though we've never seen him, I imagine he's saying to himself something like...

"It's good not to be forgotten!"