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."
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Reflections on the Readings
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 7, 2010 - Year C
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
By Dennis S. Hankins
Life and Love in the Age to Come
"But those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage."
Through baptism we have tasted of the powers of the age to come. At our baptism the minister or priest invoked the Holy Trinity. At the moment of our baptism, the Holy Spirit introduced our soul to divine life and love. And the love of God in us gives praise to the God of love above us as we walk in this life the path to union with God forever.
Every new follower of Jesus Christ thinks about heaven. Even while living a totally human experience of Christian life and love, heaven is on our mind. It's on our mind because this world is not our final home. There is much beauty in this world. God is the creator of everything good in creation including the fading rays of an indescribable sunset on a crisp fall evening in October. But Christian faith and hope is inspired by a love that is greater than this life; it beckons us to a joy that is beyond human words and beyond this age, to a place where there is no need of the sun.
In his mercy, God does not allow this life to continue ad infinitum. He does, however, give us joy in the journey, teaching us that there is an existence, an age where there is no more sorrow and no more tears. Beyond this veil of trials and temptations there is a place where love is the unfading light of our life.
I have a dear friend who experienced what we now call a near death experience. He was in a serious car accident several years ago. Leaving his body, he felt himself drawn toward an incredible light. My friend said that around him was darkness, but before him was an indescribable light. Tom, (not his real name) told this story to me and a friend at dinner one evening, but he was not emotionally equipped to explain the penetrating light of love he felt absorbing his being. Since that experience many years ago, Tom has not only the memory of that experience, but also a joyful anticipation of its fulfillment at his death.
The Sadducees did not possess this kind of hope. The resurrection seemed impossible to them. They posed the problem of a wife who shared life and love with seven consecutive husbands. In the resurrection, which husband would she belong to? Although Jesus tells the Sadducees that marriage is only for this age, he upheld the sacrament and sanctity of marriage in his teaching. Jesus taught that marriage between a man and a woman was instituted for the human family from the beginning of time. Even at a marriage feast in Cana, when the wine was running out, Jesus embraced the joy and happiness of marriage by turning the water into wine. And the writer to the Hebrews admonishes us to let marriage be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed be undefiled.
We can certainly see the vital importance and necessity of Holy Matrimony in this life. In marriage a husband and wife know each other. It's a lifetime of mutually holding each other's heart. Obviously this is not exactly the same meaning when we say, "I know so and so." Marriage is about belonging exclusively to each other, not as property, but as heirs together of the grace of life; welcoming the new life such love creates. This high view of marriage is necessary lest our prayers for each other and for our world become powerless. So from the beginning, marriage was a lifelong commitment to each other's completeness and holiness; till death do us part.
For sure there is a genuine experience of completeness and wholeness in the gift of marriage. But as sons and daughters of the resurrection, our need for completeness of self will come in the gift of God himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We will be complete, not from drives and desires, but rather from a boundless energy of love emanating from God who is love. Such unblemished purity of acceptance is inebriating. The Apostle of Love himself felt this intoxication exclaiming, "Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as is is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure."
Every morning we wake up to an array of imperfections and impurity we see in ourselves and in our world. Perfect love does not rule; there are wars within and without. Bloodshed and absurd violence is headline news. Hatred and distrust of each other fills homes, communities and nations. But if we can let it, love's pure light can shine in our hearts now, and in every dark corner of this world. Such love casts out fear and restores trust in God and each other.
Let us seek to live in the power of this life and love of the age to come so that our families and friends can see our good works and glorify God with us!
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com