Friday, January 28, 2011

Inner Transformation Brings Joy

Reflections on the Readings

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 30, 2011 - Year A 

By Dennis S. Hankins 

Readings For This Sunday

Inner Transformation Brings Joy

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him.  And he opened his mouth and taught them...

"Johnny," Mommy exclaimed with exasperation.  "Stop tormenting your sister," she pleaded.  All day long, Johnny was being loud and doing things he knew he shouldn't do.  And then it happened.  Running through the kitchen acting like a low flying plane, Johnny bumped into Mommy just as she was carrying the roast from the oven to the dinner table.


"Crash!" "Bang!" "Kapluey!"  Your're right.  Mommy and roast spilled onto the floor and Johnny continued flying, clueless to the disaster lying on the kitchen floor. 

Struggling to regain her composure, Mommy ordered Johnny to sit quietly in the corner for ten minutes.  Defiantly, Johnny traipsed to the designated corner, dragging his feet and his feelings with him.  And then he uttered his last defiant disapproval:  "I may be sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside!" Johnny shouted.

The Christian life is about the inside of our life; that place deep within us that raises its fist, curses, and thinks evil thoughts, and imagines acts of vengeance; where we are standing up in defiance on the inside. Scripture speaks of this inside as the 'inner man.'  It is the place where Christ wants to reveal 'the riches of his glory;' the place where Christ wants to reside in every one who has faith and trust in him.  

Jesus ascends the mountain and the crowds and his disciples follow him.  In his teaching, he invites his followers to an elevated life; a life filled with learning how to sit down with Christ on the inside; communing with him as friend with friend.

There are eight Beatitudes, and each one is an invitation to embrace deeply within the grace that results in divine joy.  They are:

1. An awareness of our need of God in our life. 

2. On being contrite.  

3. Living within the strength of humility.  

4. Always seeking to know and to do God's will.  

5. Treating others the way you would like to be treated.  

6. Having a heart for God.  

7. To be a peacemaker.  

8.  To be like Jesus, who when reviled, opened not his mouth; counting it all joy to suffer for the sake of the Lord.

The transformation that Jesus is revealing is as radical as it is necessary if we are to be called the sons and daughters of God.  Our salvation depends upon it.  We hear in today's gospel a call to a special disposition; a call to embrace a renewal that transforms us.  

A Christian is known for his/her profound and fervent love for Jesus.  The Christian life is only as vibrant as is our love for Christ.  Love for Christ is to be our first love, and on the first day of the week, we celebrate his memory in the receiving of his body and blood.  John the beloved reminds us that we love Jesus because he first loved us.  The deeper we grow in love for the Lord, the more aware we are of his love for humanity.  

We who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good seek first the true treasure, the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  And we pray for the strength to see all things and all people through the eyes of an undefiled heart, a holy heart.  The divine nature takes shape within us when we are contrite and embrace Jesus first, last, and always.

Our vision of God is sometimes hindered by the way we respond to the difficulties and challenges that come into our lives.  We live in an age of instant coffee and instant communication.  We also live daily with the temptation to rush to judgement.  Nobody is perfect, just look in the mirror.  Only God knows the heart.  We only see folks from the outside, but God knows us from the inside out.  

It seems that peace is out of reach. The daily news reminds us of wars and the rumblings of more wars to come.  There is a coarsening of the culture, a denial of the goodness of life from birth to natural death. Reputations are marred by either bad behavior or by rumor.  Darkness blinds the heart of the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve; their humanity deceived that there is no life outside of immediate selfish pleasure.   It is into this mission field that we go as witnesses to the peace of God. To the forsaken and the forgotten we testify to the indefinable and indefatigable peace of God.  We are called to live our lives as peacemakers.  By forgiving and asking forgiveness, we become partners with the God of all mercy and peace, bringing the healing balm of Calvary.  

Some will little understand, thinking it strange that you do not join them in their wild profligacy, and will choose to revile you and abuse you and speak all manner of evil against you.  Be not afraid of their faces or their words, for you are the sons and daughters of the living God.  In him you live and move have your identity.  The joy of the Lord is our strength.  

The only presence of God some may ever know during the week will be you, renewed and adorned with the presence of Christ within.  For some, the face of God will be your face - let your boast be in the Lord.

Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever.  Amen.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Power of the Cross

Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 23, 2011 - Year A 
By Dennis S. Hankins

The Power of the Cross

...Lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  St. Paul

When is the power of the cross without effect?  When the cross is replaced with bickering, and quarreling, and backbiting.  The cross of Christ is emptied of its meaning and power by alliances that seem to matter more than the cross; emptied of its power by turf guarding, nit picking, and concerns about the splinters in other peoples eyes.  Suspicion and division within the Family of Christ can be healed by the power of the cross.  And united in the power of the cross, embracing the gift of each other, our witness in the world becomes credible and powerful.  Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."   

As the Corinthians rallied around their favorite preacher, Paul asked this penetrating question: "Is Christ divided?"  The overarching beauty that attracted me to the Catholic Church was the unity of the faith I saw in her.  The words of the Nicene Creed describes the Church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.  For me, those words find their fullest expression and meaning in the Catholic Church.  

I suppose three things should be said at this point.  First, I have many Christian friends and colleagues who are not Catholic.  In fact, I have friends and acquaintances who may not have any religious affiliation.  But for those reading this who are Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Methodist, Lutheran, or Catholic, one thing I do know, Paul's question whether Christ is divided, should be our question.  All of us who take the prayers of Jesus seriously, should also reflect deeply and often on this prayer of our Lord:  "Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one." (John 17:11)

Second,  I remember leading an ecumenical National Day of Prayer service in my hometown many years ago.  One of the things I said at that time went something like this:  "What we have in common is greater than how we are different."  Among serious Christians, I bet there is agreement on at least 90 percent of what we all say we believe.  Among committed followers of Jesus, most would agree with the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed; the great creeds of Christendom.  Perhaps we should more frequently consider the merits of this quote often associated with St. Augustine: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.  Perhaps with a little more of this, our Parishes and Churches could experience more deeply the unifying power of the Cross.

Third, the effect of being in Christ is to know and appreciate each other.  Through the eyes of Christ, we can see each other more clearly.  In the Church at Corinth, ridiculous divisions and separations formed.  Some said, "I belong to Paul." Others proclaimed, "I belong to Apollos."  Or the really big one, "I belong to Cephas. (Peter)" 

How blurry things can get. Have you ever thought about the distance we allow between us? After Mass, try shaking hands with someone you don't know and introduce yourself.  Remember, Christ is lifted up in the celebration of Holy Eucharist.  When this happens, Jesus draws all of us to himself.  Isn't he also drawing us to each other?  Aren't we being made one in Christ as we receive the body and blood of our Lord?  

There is always upon us the calling to build up the body of Christ.  How? Maybe you can make a difference in somebody's life with a warm smile.  Take the time to fellowship before leaving the parking lot.  Drink a cup of coffee and have a donut in the fellowship area and strike up a conversation.  Find ways to build community.  You'll discover that we have a lot in common.

Within the Trinity is the eternal exchange of mutual affection and love.  Nothing has changed within this changeless communion except this:  Jesus, the Word made flesh, now shows the wounds of sacrificial love in his nail pierced hands and feet; a wound remains from the spear thrust into his side.  Around his head is a reminder that he once wore a crown of thorns.  Sacred memories of our redemption are forever imprinted upon his glorified body.  

Let us pray for the day when we can say, "No, Christ is not divided. The power of his Cross prevails."  Amen.

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 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Behold the Lamb of God

Reflections on the Readings
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 16, 2011 - Year A 
By Dennis S. Hankins

Behold the Lamb of God

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."

In the Christian gospel, we find the answer to our deepest longing.  

Just a few days ago, January 8, 2011, tragedy struck in Tucson, Arizona.  The actions born from a violent man's mind left six dead and 13 injured, including nine year old Christina Green, born September 11, 2001.  This little girl entered the world on the day our nation was attacked by several men whose minds were violently dark; her life ended in senseless violence.  

We feel ourselves at one with those who died and those who suffer their painful passing. President Obama reflected on this tragedy with these timely and powerful words:  

"For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them... And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic."

In a few days, we will mark the anniversary of a Supreme Court decision. For 38 years it has permitted a daily and devastating tragedy.  It is my prayer that our President and all of us will one day soon, come to embrace the hope and promise of all of our children - born and unborn.  Our American family is minus 50 million and counting since 1973 - the year I graduated from High School.  We mourn the loss of so many in whom the magic never blossomed; so many curious and trusting eyes forever closed by a violent, legal procedure.  

You may be asking, "What does all of this have to do with our deepest longing and today's gospel?"   

Not very long after the dawn of creation, God created our first parents, Adam and Eve.  The virginal rays of the sunshine warmed them and all of creation by day; by night, all of God's creation, creatures great and small, fell asleep under the comforting light of the moon and all the host of heaven.  Eden was our first home, and daily visits with the Thrice Holy God was our daily bread.  

Then something awful and violent fractured the pristine place we called home.  Alienation strained the once familiar embrace of each other; we hid from God.  His voice frightened us; yesterday we welcomed Him.  Sin invaded and infected our hearts that once knew only the joy of perfect love; fear found a home.  

We long to be hugged unconditionally.  We long deeply for a love that will not let us go; our hearts are disturbed by the sin that so easily finds expression in us, among us.  Then John standing on the banks of the Jordan River sees him; he who is the desire of every nation; of every sin stained heart - the Lamb of God.  

In the covenantal history of salvation's story, an innocent lamb was slain for the sins of the people, helping the people to love God and each other better.  At the passover, the blood of the lamb, applied to the door posts and lintel, protected the people of Israel as they prepared to make their exodus to a land flowing with milk and honey.

This sacrificial worship in the Old Testament found its completion and perfection in Jesus, the Lamb of God.  In himself he took the sin of the world.  All of the world's pain, alienation, and violence; its wars, selfishness, greed, and envy - all of it - Jesus bore on the Cross in his suffering and separation from the Father.  And just before he died, Jesus prayed for you and me and the whole world saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."  

We need a Savior; we can't save ourselves.  We fail too often to rejoice in the gift of love that is from above; we don't love each other as we should.  Oh, how all of us need Jesus.  As we come to this Table,  let us pray for each other and for the world:

Agnus Dei - Lamb of God - You take away the sins of the world,   have mercy on us. 

Agnus Die - Lamb of God -  You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Agnus Dei - Lamb of God - You take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.  Amen.

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 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Beloved Son

Reflections on the Readings
The Baptism of the Lord - January 9, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

My Beloved Son

And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Jesus comes to John to be baptized. Yet John the Baptist expresses his need to be baptized by Jesus. "Why are you coming to me to be baptized?" John asks. Still, Jesus insists. Why? "For it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness," Jesus explains.

Thousands have brought back a few drops of water from the Jordan River. It is a must see River of antiquity as pilgrims from all over the world come to its banks. Beside this River, John the Baptist preached his message of repentance and baptism to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Into this river came many in whom John's preaching resonated. Even after the Day of Pentecost, there are those who know 'only' John's baptism. And Jesus' self understanding comes into its fulness at this River; a voice from heaven proclaims, "this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Jesus is baptized by John to unite in himself all who preceded him into these waters and everyone who will enter Christian baptism in the Church. And John's ministry came to its crescendo as Jesus' baptism inaugurates the beginning of his own ministry; the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove to show that he is the Son anointed by God; anointed by the Holy Spirit and with power.

In this anointing Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. This is a deep and penetrating phrase: 'for God was with him.' It denotes a fullness of deity in all of his person; a fellowship of the Holy Trinity veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; hail the incarnate deity, pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. (from Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)

So confident is Christ in the Holy fellowship within him, that he does not preach boisterously. His voice is soft in the streets of the common man, mindful of each man and woman, and boy and girl, who needs his touch, or needs to touch him. He looks upon humanity as sheep who need a shepherd, as bruised reeds and barely smoldering wicks; in mercy he reaches out to heal and to restore all who will receive him. Indeed he is the servant with whom the Father is well pleased; the only Son of the Father, in whom rests the Spirit.

One can only imagine what wonder filled John the Baptist and all those gathered at the Jordan that day. From heaven, a voice, the voice of the Father speaking as only he could about his Son. Those listening on that day could not misunderstand the pure love that bathed that moment in time: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

Sometimes there are no words to capture moments like this. Spiritual experiences may leave us with no words to convey what has been experienced. I understand those who are left speechless, but I pity those who have yet to enter into the bottomless mercy of love; who have yet to meet Christ and be left with few or no words to express their encounter with such heavenly acceptance.

In an oblique reference to himself, the Apostle Paul speaks of being caught up to the third heaven. Whether in the body or out of the body, he could not tell. But caught up into Paradise, he heard things so sacred that he found it impossible to speak of such things. We just might surmise that St. Paul heard the voice of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, simultaneously saying, "All who enter here are Beloved." Only Paul knows for sure what he heard, and he is unable to put it into words.

The affection the Father has for his Son inspires us to love Jesus more and more. Like the words of this wonderful hymn: More love to thee, O Christ, more love to thee! Hear thou the prayer I make on bended knee. This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to thee; More love to thee, more love to thee! So out of our great love for Jesus and the redemption he won for us, let us come to this Table of Christ's Sacrificial Love, to receive the body and blood of our Savior.

Listen. Do you hear a voice from heaven saying of this Eucharist, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased?" By faith, I do too. Amen.

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