Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Was Blind, And Now I See !

Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Lent - April 3, 2011 - Year A 
By Dennis S. Hankins

The Mystery of Our Redemption (Part II)
"I Was Blind, And Now I See!"

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of man?"  He answered, "And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?"  Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you."

A common idiom states, "There are none so blind as those who will not see."  This saying has its roots in the teaching of Jesus: "I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand." (Matt. 13:13)  Jesus' teaching and ministry frequently fell on the deaf ears of the Pharisees. He spoke of them as fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy that spoke of dull hearts, heavy ears, and blind eyes. (Isaiah 6:9-10)  In today's gospel, a man born blind is healed and follows Jesus.  The Pharisees don't know they are blind and refuse to be healed so that they too can follow Jesus.

So what's the fuss?  The Pharisees are upset that Jesus has healed a blind man on the Sabbath.  That makes Jesus, in their mind, a Sabbath breaking sinner.  Plain and simple.  But not so fast.  The Sabbath is a day of rest.  And the Sabbath was made for man.  So healing the blind man on the Sabbath is within the meaning of the Sabbath.  Jesus gave the man born blind 'rest' from his blindness.

The story of salvation is always a story of purification and enlightenment.  If you will, todays gospel shows us that salvation is healing from blindness.  To be sure, it is the effort of the devil to keep us blind.  He is, after all, the prince of darkness.  He can even pretend to be an angel of light  - if in that deception he can keep us blind.  Only Jesus can give us the true vision of himself and of his Father.  Jesus says, "He who has seen me, has seen the Father." It is this vision that the god of darkness wishes to prevent.

As I said, the story of salvation is about healing from blindness.  For Christians, conversion is ongoing - we grow in grace and clarity of vision in seeing the kingdom of God.

For years I was blind to the fulness of the Church.  I loved Jesus.  And my life was filled with going to church and Sunday School, youth services and revivals.  But we all have blind spots and mine was a big one.  I even told my son once, "Don't bring me any Catholic grandkids."  Like the blind man Jesus healed who could only see men as trees walking, I couldn't see Catholics as my brothers and sisters.  Like I said, "We all have blind spots."

Seeing Jesus more clearly helps us to see each other better.  In Lent we pray to be more deeply converted.  We pray to more earnestly love God and neighbor.  We have blind spots and we often wear blinders - allowing willful blindness.  Failing to see Christ in the poor and the distressed and in those we don't bother to get to know and failing to reverence the Son of God's love in every person is blindness.  

So Christian discipleship, that is, Christian conversion is not a one time event.  It is a lifetime calling to a deeper communion with Christ, a deeper conversion to love, and a deeper restoration of seeing through Christ's eyes.

Is there anything that the love of God can't heal? (Jeremiah 32:27)  A deeper conversion in the love of God will bear the rich fruit of forgiveness, reconciliation, patience, and understanding.  We all need that love that is from above to help us see each other in Christ.  We all have defects and areas of immaturity and sin.  Only a vision of redemption can keep us from being prosecutor and judge.  We are neither the  prosecutor nor the judge, we all stand on level ground at the foot of the cross.

Permit me to give you a little more of my personal testimony.  I'm in the Catholic Church in large part because of Pope John Paul II.  For example, watching him go to Rebibbia prison, Christmas, 1983, to meet his would be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, and to forgive him,  touched me deeply.  How could he do that?  Why did he do that?  Because he did not want to be like him!  Because bitterness of soul and a vengeful heart are worse than death.  To bear the sword in hatred means the devil wins.  Allowing, seeking the way of love and mercy means that love wins - God is love.  Blessed John Paul had a clear vision of God.

Lent is a time of spiritual renewal.  It is a time of penance and grace.  Jesus came to rid the world of its blindness of God.  He came to anoint our eyes so that we could see amazing grace and enter the waters of baptism.  For to be truly wise is to be childlike and humble so that we can see.  

I once was blind, but now I see.  Great is the mystery of our salvation.  Amen. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reflections on the Readings

Third Sunday of Lent - March 27, 2011 - Year A

By Dennis S. Hankins


The Mystery of our Redemption (Part I)

“Sir, give me this water”

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

It was about 7 1/2 years ago. A time of intense prayer ensued. I was contemplating the growing conviction that I should come into the Catholic Church. Leaving the ordained ministry is not something I had ever seriously considered. I sought out counsel from a hermit; a retired Abbot of the Abbey of the Genesee. He graciously accepted my request to meet with him and to talk about things spiritual. He became an instant friend and remains a partner in prayer.

I called a dear friend, a moral theologian and professor at a Benedictine seminary to tell him my decision. Providentially, that conversation took place on the eve of his leading a group of seminary students on a pilgrimage to Rome. He offered to pray for me at the tomb of St. Peter.

At the Easter Vigil of 2006, I entered the Church. Now working with the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) group at my parish, I witness others doing what I did five years ago. Their eyes reflect the effort their decision is requiring. Their faces tell me their story. Their joy is contagious. They will come into the Church this Easter Vigil of 2011.

It is important for all of us to remember that Lent is a season with an intensely spiritual purpose. Not only are the elect preparing to be received into the Church but all of us are embracing this time of repentance for spiritual renewal.

Let’s look at three things from today’s gospel:

If you knew the gift of God

Sitting beside Jacob’s well, wearied with his journey, Jesus initiates a conversation with a Samaritan women. It was the sixth hour. It is the hour of darkness. Wait a minute! Isn’t the sixth hour noon? It is. But at the crucifixion of Jesus, darkness covered the land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour. In the darkest time of her life, the Samaritan women met Jesus. Initially she did not recognize him. In need of enlightenment, she did not know the gift of living water waiting to gush into the nightmare of her soul.

This woman had lived a loose life. One night stands, multiple husbands, and currently just living with someone, had filled her heart with emptiness. So parched, she couldn’t even extend a modicum of courtesy and give a weary traveler a cup of water.

The gift of God is Jesus Christ, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Give Me a Drink

There are two times in scripture in which we know that the Master was thirsty. The next time we will hear him say from the cross, “I thirst.” Jesus, who is fully divine and is fully human, was thirsty, as he rested beside the well. He did not have anything to draw with, and the woman coming to the well did.

There are folks in this world who know what it means to be physically thirsty. I mean really thirsty. Some places on this planet just need someone to help them drill for a well. Just an accessible well of clean water for drinking and cooking would go a long way in helping a needy village. The woman at the well needs the water from Jacob’s well to cook and clean and drink. She soon will understand the purification she needs as she learns there is another kind of water.

I will Give You Living Water

There exists in each of us a need for a well of living water. The gift of God is life and that more abundantly. Each of us may ask for the life giving water of Christ.

At the Feast of Tabernacles there was great joy. It was not only a celebration of harvest and vintage, it also commemorated the time of Israel’s wilderness journey. During those 40 years, the Israelites lived in booths. The feast is also know as the Feast of Booths or Succoth.

Great libations of water were featured in this celebration at the Temple. This probably reflected the miraculous provision of water that flowed from the rock in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt as we hear in the first reading. Also it may have been a prayer for the reviving rains for future needs and harvest. At the climactic day of the festival, that last great day of the feast, Jesus stood up in the Temple area and exclaimed:

“If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7: 37-38) Jesus said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive. Jesus promises life giving water; an encounter with him in his Church that will not leave you as you came.

Let us reflect more deeply on the life giving water Jesus gives. For those who are preparing to come into the Church, let us join them on their journey. For all of us, this is a season to know Christ more deeply and more intimately in the mystery of our redemption. May we embrace this season of repentance. May the mystery of our faith and redemption be more fully revealed to us in power and salvation as we pray, "Sir, give me this water." Amen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Beauty of Holiness

Reflections on the Readings
Second Sunday of Lent - March 20, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

The Beauty of Holiness

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. Matt. 17:2

Lent and spring coincide. I was thinking about this as I marveled at the explosion of buttercups, the bright white flowers of the Bradford pears, and the purple and pink tulip trees. And the forsythias are leading the way as their brilliant and bright yellow bushes of sunshine announce that spring is near. The hidden beauty of plant life is coming into full bloom, and it never disappoints me.

Soon the dogwoods will follow - bursting in living color and filling the air with their intoxicating perfume. Just think. All of this life lay dormant through the cold, dark days of winter. Now the trees are promising to be clothed again. The limbs that survived the winter and early spring storms are reaching higher than ever - soon to be a refuge for all who will seek the shade of their leaves.

It is a time of transformation. Dormant plants, flowers, trees, and shrubs are blooming again, transforming yards and gardens into picturesque scenes - inviting us to have hope and to persevere. We seek to be transformed by the disciplines and promises of Lent. Sometimes we become dormant in our faith and in our witness to love. But the seed of God's word is in us; the life of Christ is ours by baptism. The practices of Lent help us to embrace truth and to be transformed by it. By the time we celebrate Pascha, we want to be bursting with the fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.

Do you remember Moses, whose face glowed with the glory of God? Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai, listening to God and receiving from God the two tables of commandments, written by the finger of God. As Moses descended his holy mountain experience, God's light remained on Moses' face. The people requested that he place a veil over his face; they were unable to endure the glory that rested on Moses' face. The light that enveloped Jesus and shone without restraint from his face and clothing came from Jesus; the beauty of holiness - an adornment we receive when we put on the Lord Jesus Christ in baptism.

This distinction concerning Moses and Jesus is important for two reasons. First, as Paul explains, glory shone from the face of Moses; yet it was a fading splendor. Commandments written on tablets of stone was the beginning of holiness. Second, Paul states that in the new covenant of the Spirit, God's words are written on the tablets of our hearts. And through that greater dispensation of the Spirit, all of us, like Peter, James, and John, with unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord. Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are changed into his likeness; we become the face of Jesus. (2 Corinthians chapter 3)

It is important to remember how Peter understood seeing the Lord Transfigured. Peter's initial response was to memorialize the experience; "Let's erect three tents, Lord. One for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." That intention, though honorable, missed the message of the moment. At that moment, the Shekinah, a bright cloud indicating the fulness of the presence of God, settled upon Peter, James, and John. Out of the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." It is this voice that compelled the inner circle of Christ's closest disciples to fall down in adoration of him who is the beauty of holiness.

It is this voice that inspires us to give heed to the Son of God's holiness. For like his Father, Jesus is holy. And he who calls us to himself does so to invite us into the fellowship of holy love - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is this majestic experience that Peter reflects on about 30 or 35 years after the fact. For example, it was not fallacious, ingeniously devised fables that drove the first Leader of the Church in his preaching and missionary efforts. Nor was it for pious fiction that the Apostle Peter embraced his own crucifixion. No my friend, it was love for Jesus, the Savior of the world, who went about doing good, healing everyone oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. Peter preached the power and coming of Christ who was revealed to him and James and John in the Transfiguration, eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Peter 1:16)

And then there was the voice. Peter never forgot the voice that came from the Majestic Glory: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Peter explains, "We heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain." (2 Peter 1:17-18)

On the holy mountain, Peter and his companions entered into the holy of holies and saw the glory of God. Today we enter into the same glory as we partake of Christ in this bread which is his body; in this wine which is his blood - the very presence of holiness. Amen.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Recognizing Sin Again or Everything That Glitters

Reflections on the Readings
First Sunday of Lent - March 13, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

Recognizing Sin Again or
Everything That Glitters

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."

The Bad News

Choices. We all make them. Sometimes we make the right decision, the right choice. Often we ask forgiveness for what we have done and for what we have failed to do. We don't always choose rightly. This is the human experience since the Garden of Eden.

All of creation is presented in the opening pages of Genesis. Over and over, God says, "It is good." Adam was created on the sixth day, and out of Adam, Eve was formed. And God looked at all he had made from the first day through the sixth day and said, "It is very good." Everything was good, and nothing that was good for Adam and Eve was withheld. Nothing, that is, except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Satan is a spoiler. He raises questions that cast God in a bad light. "How could you die eating such beautiful and rewarding fruit? Are you kidding me? Give me a break!" Satan teases. And then inviting Adam and Eve to come closer, he whispers, "God knows that if you eat this fruit, immediately your eyes will be opened. And you'll be like gods; you will knoooowwww good and evil. Die? What harm could possibly come from knoooowwwinng everything?"

Everyone lives with regrets. Some are benign regrets, while we need to ask forgiveness for other matters. Lent is about the latter. Life is all Adam and Eve had known. We could speculate that they had eaten often from the Tree of Life. Either way, God, in his infinite love, would not let the first man and woman live forever in sin. So they were ushered out of the Garden where only life had been. Now there was death; something Adam and Eve were not supposed to know about. So through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch all sinned. (Romans 5:12)

The Good News

Jesus comes into our hearts to give us abundant life. It is not God's will that we remain in our sin. He is not willing that anyone should perish in their sin. In great mercy, he reaches out to us. He invites us to come as we are so that we may become what we should be. As someone has said, "Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." Consider St. Augustine, who before his conversion, was a licentious womanizing man of his times. Through the intercessory prayers of Monica, his mother, Augustine, who was dead in sin, came back to life. God, who is infinite in mercy and grace, drew Augustine to himself and gave him a new heart.

Conversion is an ongoing necessity if we are to grow in grace and holiness. This is the blessing of Lent. It is forty days of renewal - an extreme interior makeover. During this time of self examination, we discover how much we have taken on the spirit of the age. It's not just about giving up the sweet tooth. There are deadlier things within us to confront - for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and slander. But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds. (CCC #1853)

Some Important Soul Searching

As Jesus wrestled with the devil, the third assault stands out in a particular way. "Worship me," Satan taunts. Offering Jesus everything in the world, Satan imagines himself to be preeminent. And Satan's modus operandi is to suggest to us things that leave us empty. He works to deceive us. And the deception is that the next batch of stuff and things will bring us the desired happiness. But it just ain't so. With every unrestrained indulgence, there is a price tag, a price that includes believing that the father of lies just might tell us the truth soon! But it just ain't so.

Pope Pius XII said of the twentieth century, "The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin." It remains for us today - this holy Lent - to recognize sin, any sin, that so craftily beguiles us and wounds the heart meant for God and his majesty. Separating us from our true self, which is union with God, sin makes us strangers to ourselves, our Lord, and our Church. It may glitter and entice us to think that the Ten Commandments are out of step and out of date. But in the end, unconfessed sin, the Decalogue lying in shambles about us, keeps us from the Tree of Life - the Table of Christ's precious body and blood.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism - A Must Read

The American Religion landscape is becoming:

A faith without a cross.
A creed without doctrine.
A morality without holiness.
A death without judgement.

This important article is written by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. He
explores the implication and challenge of the 'new' faith of thousands
and thousands of our young people. Click on the web address below.
The article appears at The Christian Post.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What Does Jesus Say? - Sunday, March 6, 2011

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

What Does Jesus Say?

"Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." - Jesus

A popular phrase is, "What would Jesus do?"  It comes from a book titled, In His Steps.  This popular phrase, a marketing success in recent years, included bracelets and necklaces with the initials WWJD.  Not everyone knew what WWJD meant except those who wore the wrist or ankle band or bracelet.  Also, there were lovely pendants and necklaces that gracefully and fashionably carried the WWJD logo.  Certainly everything we do should be in the person and love of Jesus. As Bishop Stika reminds us, we are to be the face of Jesus.  

The readings today ask us to to respond to God's word.  Jesus describes those who hear his words and does them and those who hear his words without taking them to heart.  In the first reading, Moses exhorts the people of God to take his words into their heart and soul.  God gave his commandments and laws to perfect and to persuade his chosen people.  Moses embraced these words for himself and enjoined Israel to embrace God's words.  Figuratively, Moses spoke of wearing the ten commandments as a sign of commitment on the wrist or as a pendant on the forehead. 

Moses received God's special message and words for his people at the top of Mt. Sinai.  In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expounds the heart of his message to his disciples and followers.  Beginning with the Beatitudes, Jesus spoke of another kingdom where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves aren't able to break in and steal.  And Jesus invites us to make his words, his teaching, the treasure of our heart; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  

Jesus' teaching call us to be obedient to the faith.  We cannot just hear what Jesus says, but we must act on what Jesus says.  The message today is WDJS - What does Jesus say?  And its to our peril if we fail to build our life upon the truth that sets us free.  It is bondage and destruction to ignore the life-giving message of Jesus.  As Jesus says, "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." 

The entire Sermon on the Mount requires obedience:  hunger and thirst after righteousness; let your light shine; don't look upon a woman with lust; beware of practicing your piety to be seen; ask, seek, knock.  Jesus alone gives us the words of eternal life.

The rock of safety is the bedrock truth of the gospel.  When the spirit of this age assails us, it is the teaching of Jesus that is a rock of refuge, a stronghold of safety.  There are strong winds of deception blowing against the truth.  Storms are gathering to beat down, if possible, every faithful follower of Christ.  

The bodachs are looking for every possibility to see the gospel defeated, every Christian denounced as a menace, every congregation of Christian faith closed.  These featureless, beguiling imps of hell, do the bidding of their master, gleeful of every assault of anti-Chrisitian sentiment.  The rains will fall and the floods come; the winds will blow and beat against the builder of the house that takes Jesus' words to heart and obeys them.  But both the builder and the house will still be standing when the sun comes up in the morning.  The truth of merciful love and forgiveness will remain for they rest upon the teachings of Jesus.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but the words of Jesus are forever. 

It is important to hear Jesus speaking of the spiritual battles that will come.  The ever present darkness of this world is evident.  It is not benign.  Echoing Jesus' teaching, St. Paul speaks of spiritual warfare as an encounter with an organized force of malevolent spirits. He describes these spirits as principalities, powers, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)  

I sometimes think that the early Church understood this reality better than we do.  Paul reflects on the challenges to the believers of his day. He reminds them that nothing can separate them from the love of God - not death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38ff) 

And Jesus said, "Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock."  Amen.