Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Deeper Faith - Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 27, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

A Deeper Faith

"But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?" - Jesus

Many find it difficult to see their need for a deeper faith; a deeper trust and confidence in our Father. Overcome by deep anxieties concerning daily needs - even faith the size of a mustard seed, enough to move a mountain, is lacking. Shallow faith is tepid and insecure. When challenged to give a reason for its hope, it cowers with embarrassment; trembling not in awe of God, but disturbed and troubled and anxious about life, like what will I eat and drink?

Life is more than food and our bodies have more meaning than what the latest fashions can give them. Life is about a living and vibrant faith in the Father above; he makes his home in our hearts, we are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Living by faith is knowing him who loves us so much that he knows what we have need of even before we ask. A deeper faith discerns that there is an indestructible kingdom of justice, peace and joy - all conveyed to us by the eternal Spirit of the Father. It is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and it is he who not only gives us faith, but nourishes it. He breathes on it.

God is behind the sun that shines. On those cool, springtime evenings, God turns on the night light and lets it glow in all its fulness across the East Tennessee Valley. That's right. Our Father brightens our days and our nights just because. Do you remember the preacher in the movie Pollyanna? Led by a little girl, the preacher discovers all the glad passages in the Bible. He found out what we must discover for ourselves; God is good and good to us.

Jesus calls us to be sons and daughters of faith; a deep and vibrant faith that is not afraid of tomorrow. Many dark things fill the evening news. But there is a faith, a faith which we are called to embrace that is not afraid. Looking upon the benevolence the Father bestows on his creation we learn that everything borrows its life from above. The birds of the air are fed by him; some of them are fed by me in my back yard. I've not seen a cardinal yet who wears a worried furrow on its brow. The cardinals and the purple and yellow finches look to be worry free.

Our faith becomes deeper when we gaze upon the goodness of God. All around us is the evidence that our Father upholds all of creation in the power of his caring love. If we will but contemplate the reality of these riches of grace in creation, our faith will thrive. A growing faith is a lively faith, moved by the goodness of the Father.

The first reading tells us that we are ever on the mind of God. If at any moment he would forget us, even the air we breathe would be no more. Yet this is impossible. Even if the unthinkable happened - that a mother could forget the child of her womb - yet "I will never forget you," says God. He visited us in the gift of His only begotten Son. And the message we heard from him is this: "I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. I am with you until the end of the age." Meditating upon these things, these truths, each of us can begin to possess a deep and living faith. Our soul can rest in God and greet each moment leaning upon the rock and stronghold of our salvation.

This personal relationship with the Father brings us to a hope that will not let us down. It is faith in God that gives us a place of rest until the storm passes by. When the storms of life are raging we can cry out from the depths of our soul, "Stand by me!" Such faith pleases God. Such unshakeable trust and confidence in God is the need for the times in which we live.

As we pray today, let us pray to have a deeper faith. May we be that people of God whose faith is deep, strong, loving, courageous, and bold. Amen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tit for Tat

Reflections on the Readings
Seventh  Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 20, 2011 - Year A 
By Dennis S. Hankins

But I say to you, "Offer no resistance to one who is evil." - Jesus
Tit for Tat

Jesus speaks for our good; for the good of all, asking us to look higher, real high.  He asks, "Do you see that sun shine, my friends?"  Those around him look up and shield their eyes from the obvious.  "Well, my Father, your Father, sends it down, every invigorating ray, upon everybody, the good and the bad."  Continuing he says, "And when it rains, your Father lets the refreshing, life-giving rains bless the just and the unjust as well."  

Ever since Cain murdered his brother, Abel, human relationships have suffered from injustices, real and imagined.  Retaliation was out of bounds for Cain, and it is so to this very day.  Jesus shows us another way.  In our hearts we hear Jesus telling us to put our sword away; the blood rushing to judgement in our veins urges vengeance.  "He can't do that to me!" we contest.  But no matter how it's sliced, in the end we lose another eye; another tooth falls out.  Before you know it, the temptation to make the world toothless and blind takes on a life all of its own; much like the famous back-country deadly feuding between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

In the days of Jesus and his disciples, the nasty Romans could conscript Jews into temporary service.  This is what happened when Simon the Cyrene was forced to carry Jesus' cross.  In this political environment, where frivolous lawsuits took place, Jesus taught how to overcome evil with good.  

The message of Jesus is one of liberality and generosity.  Some may press upon us unduly, while others may not notice our talents or our contributions.  Nonetheless, we live in a world that crucified the Lord of glory.  And all that is common to the experience of life is our portion; it all belongs to us: the faith of the apostles, the world, life and death, the present and the future; all of it is ours, and we belong to Christ, and Christ is the Father's only begotten Son.(I Cor. 3:22)  And when it comes to the malevolence of evil men, we remember Jesus was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.(Isaiah 53:7)

Jesus teaches us that the neighborhood is not just the folks we like.  Our prayers are now for all; love your neighbor and your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. How?  And better yet, why?  Children of God imitate the attitude of God.  In that, we remember he does not discriminate on who gets the sun shine or the rain.  All of it comes down from the Father of mercies upon those who love him and upon those who are blind to his benevolence.  The reach of the gospel and the Christian way reflects this attitude of our Father.  Some may only scratch the back of the one who scratches theirs.  But we scratch everyone's back.  

We rightly lament the hatred that is promoted as a way to live.  Angry words, words that hurt, are hurled in a manner resembling an AK-47.  What comes next is Armageddon; in the home, at the job, or in the community; sometimes at Church. Excruciating pain is inflicted upon those nearest us, all because we don't remember that God, who with every moment of our existence, upholds us by the word of his power, and out of his treasury supports us with breath and life and sunlight.  He loves us perfectly, and he invites us into his perfect love to there rid ourselves of the fears within.  Within the divine law of love, there is a peace that is indefinable, a place of eternal rest, a rest Jesus promised to all who would follow him.  Let's trade our tit for tat for some of that!  Amen.  



Thursday, February 10, 2011

But I Say To You

Reflections on the Readings
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 13, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

But I Say To You

"You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ...but I say to you..."

Is there something different about the Christian life? If we take Jesus seriously, and we should, righteousness is more than what the eye can see. I grew up in the holiness tradition within the Pentecostal church. While there was not a neglect about the interior life, there was a lot said about the appearance of holiness. Jesus says that the righteousness of the heart is different than the righteousness of appearances. Jesus condemned such claims of holiness in describing the Pharisees and the scribes, the official interpreters of the Law, as 'whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.' (Mt. 23:27)

Jesus states that except our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, we can not enter into the kingdom of heaven. It's the scribes and the Pharisees who 'love to be seen by men.' They preach a good message, but they don't practice what they preach. They seek the place of honor at feasts, and they occupy the best seats at synagogue and for a pretense they make long prayers.

So when Jesus invites us to live righteously, he does so as an authority on the law and the prophets. Jesus came not to abolish neither the law nor the prophets. In fact, Jesus lifts up the commandments and gives them their fullest meaning. Indeed the commandments will endure as long as heaven and earth remain!

The second reading describes the deeper meaning of God's wisdom. It is the Spirit that helps us to plumb the depths of God: Whereas it does not naturally occur to the ear, the eye, or even the heart, God sends his Spirit to teach us. In today's gospel, there are four things Jesus speaks about in understanding the deeper meaning of the law of the Lord; a law that is perfect, converting the soul. This is why Jesus speaks so clearly about God's word from the days of old having ever new and interior meaning for our souls.

Jesus lifts up the ancient words and then says, this is what these words mean. There are four such sayings today, and two more next week. We can say three things about these ancient words today.

First, let's look at how we relate to one another. Murder and violent crimes get top billing in the media. What does not get reported is the anger and hatred we can hold in our hearts toward one another. And the resulting finger pointing and angry words and name calling only deepen the rift between us. You see, we are made in the image of God, and it matters whenever we deface that image with the graffiti of judgmental words and angry sentiments. To us Jesus exclaims, "Leave your gift at the altar and be reconciled to your brother, your children, your wife, and your neighbor." James the Apostle admonishes us to be 'quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.' (James 1:19)

Another defacing way to treat someone is to see them as some piece of flesh. The power of pornography is driven by humanity's propensity to lust. Every temptation driven by the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. (James 1:14, 15) The fire that rages in the mind overtaken by an impure imagination is never satisfied until it has completely consumed its victim; marriages today are being devoured by the unquenchable flames of lust.

But the pleasures of sin are only for a little while. When a man searches his heart, examines his conscience, and makes a good and sincere confession he receives the refuge of mercy. In the sacrament of reconciliation is where grace that is greater than our sin is dispensed; the gracious eyes of God are on those who fear him, he is mighty and all seeing. (Sirach 15:15-20) Jesus uses the hyperbole of plucking out the right eye or cutting off the right hand to remind us that sin is real and can only be dealt with for what it is. And the sooner we confess it the sooner we are free; for whom the Son sets free is free indeed.

Second, marriage is forever. At least that's what Jesus says. It really is till death do us part. Through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, you're in it for the long haul. The dead end of a trial run to this holy sacrament is just that - a dead end. Living together before the "I do's," cheapens what is supposed to be alive with all of the wonder and mystery when two become one. It is in the love Christ has for his Church that a man understands how he is to love his wife. This love a man has for his wife is protective and sacrificial - a love for the other that is reciprocated with the other self - without which two will become little else than two living in the same house.

No one grows tired of hearing of wedding anniversaries. Whether a young couple is celebrating their first year or an elderly husband and wife is celebrating their 75th; its a love story that never grows old. And we should celebrate these milestones for what they are - an amazing story of grace and love.

Last, Jesus reminds us that the simple truth is sufficient. Just to be able to have a believable conversation today is as refreshing as the first rains of spring. Who can you trust? The one who does what he says he will do. Who do you believe? Well, the one who loves the truth, lives by the truth, and when he speaks, he speaks the truth - not some mealy mouth gibberish to appease you and to be done with you.

Jesus helps us today to see with better understanding, with deeper clarity the interior application of the law and the prophets. It is Christ who calls us to be faithful and fruitful in keeping the commandments. As we pray over God's words to us, they become a light to our feet, a true and unerring guide to the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

This Little Light of Mine

Reflections on the Readings
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 6, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

This Little Light of Mine

"Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father." - Jesus

I remember when I was a little boy going to Vacation Bible School. I sang with gusto in those days, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine!" Oh what a message that little church jingle carries in its peppy tune. "Everywhere I go, I'm gonna let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine."

Jesus is talking to us today about our presence in his world. Into this world, enslaved by the blinding darkness of sin, of injustice and of unrest, Jesus came as the Light of the world. Personifying the metaphors of salt and light, Jesus looks into our eyes to give us our mission in life - "You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world!" Jesus whispers into our hearts. Continuing his gaze into our innermost being, Jesus watches to see our response to the commission he gives each one of us. Will we share our bread with the hungry? Will we provide shelter for the oppressed and the homeless; will we clothe the naked? Or will we turn our back and hide our light under a basket? If the salt loses its taste, it is no longer good for anything; nor is a light hidden under a bushel basket.

Preparing for this 'Reflection,' I pondered again what it means to be a follower of Christ; to be in the world, but not of it. I thought of the Catholic politicians who are personally opposed to abortion, but that's as far as they let their light shine. Something about the separation of Church and State, they opine, or "I don't want to force my ideas on anybody," they say. And the culture of death extends its reach in more and more deceptive ways.

I remember reading somewhere about a Christian college student. The student went through all four years of his studies without persecution, without misunderstanding, and without being ostracized. Later he explained that he had managed to go through college without anyone being aware of his faith. Hmm.

Then I thought about Asia Bibi of Pakistan, now living with a death sentence. She is imprisoned on charges of insulting Islam. Asia Bibi is 45 years old and is the mother of four. The supreme court of Pakistan has ruled that the President of the country cannot pardon her. Today this Christian woman remains in custody, living daily within the shadow of death. Through baptism, we are united with Asia. We, too, must let our light shine through oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech. Her light continues to shine in a very dark and trying hour.

In communion with Christ, we keep the flavor and the light of Christ in our witness. With a deep and daily fellowship with our Lord, we will remain powerful in proclaiming the mystery of God, in spite of our weakness, fear, and trepidation. We are not irresistible because of any powers of persuasion or language. No, there is something indefinably potent about the Christian witness. The power of God infuses us as we stay focused on the crucified Jesus, and our interaction with others is with the Spirit's power.

So, what about you? Are you hiding your light under anything? Anytime? Do you find it an invitation or an inconvenience to let your little light shine? Do the words of Jesus about the majesty and the mission and the message of being a city set on a hill move you? Christ's witnesses are sent into the world to let their light shine before all people, that they may see the goodness and the glory of our Father.

If we will let our light shine, we will bring light to that part of the world that is ours to shine in. There is no house or job or activity where our light is not needed. 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 dennishankins@gmail.com