Friday, April 29, 2011

Believing Is Seeing - Sunday, May 1, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
Second Sunday of Easter - May 1, 2011 - Year A
Divine Mercy Sunday
By Dennis S. Hankins

Believing is Seeing

Without having seen him, you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. (1 Peter 3:8)

This Sunday we will hear a lot about doubting Thomas and how we often are like him. Yet the scriptures today say something quite to the contrary. Of course each one of us may have this or that about which we may be struggling. We all have questions. Every Christian has prayed, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief." But even this prayer is a prayer of faith. It is a prayer of hope. It is a prayer heard in heaven.

But in the Spirit of worship, we are gathered here mostly because we do believe. We believe that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary, and became man. We believe that this same Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, that he was crucified and was buried. We believe that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and that this very Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father of mercies. We believe.

Immediately after the resurrection, however, Thomas was not in the secret room where the other anxious disciples hid for 'fear of the Jews.' Thomas was not present on that day when Jesus entered through the locked door. He was not present when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and conferred upon them the power to forgive sins. Thomas was missing. We don't know where he was. Maybe no one knew. Maybe he was moping under cover through the back streets of Jerusalem. Maybe he went out to find some food since no one had eaten hardly a meal for the last three days. Maybe he was buried in prayer in the garden where he had last seen Jesus pray. We don't know. We can only speculate. But when he returned, he was greeted by the other disciples with the words, "We have seen the Lord."

No matter how often we read this gospel, it still does not say what one would think it would say. Thomas does not respond with inquiry and joy. Actually he is rather glum about the news. "I don't believe it," he retorts. "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe," he exclaims. You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone stares at Thomas. And Thomas stares back at his colleagues with eyes that reveal a heart starving for faith.

Eight days later, the disciples, including Thomas, are hiding behind the same locked doors. Although the doors are locked, Jesus again enters the room. Standing among them Jesus greets his brothers saying, "Peace be with you." Then he invites Thomas to do his thing. "Put your finger here and see my hands, and thrust your hand into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe," Jesus urges. "My Lord and my God!" Thomas confesses. "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?" Jesus asks.

For forty days, Jesus presented himself alive by many indisputable proofs after his suffering and death. John tells us today that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in his book. But for the millions after those forty days these things are written. They are written so that all those before us and everyone after us may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you and me may have life in his name.

It is God in his great mercy who gave us a new birth to a living hope. And this living hope is founded upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus secures for us our future inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading; an apt description of what is reserved in Jesus' name in heaven for us. This is the preaching of the earliest days of the Church. It was the preaching of Peter and of all the apostles, including Thomas. And it remains the joyful faith of the Church today.

The power of the resurrection of our Lord is revealed through the kind of life we live. Do we want to be closer to Jesus? We make the presence of the Lord felt in the love we share with each other. Our spirituality grows through the unselfish ways we relate to one another. We grow in grace when we are kind, forgiving, and compassionate. These are the gifts that are imperishable, above reproach, and do not diminish with the passing of time. These things demonstrate the genuineness of the faith we profess. This is the way we show that the Lord is risen, that he is risen indeed!

And upon such faith we have the commendation of Jesus, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Believing is seeing! May those who are watching our lives, come to believe also. Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

At The Feet of Jesus - Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter

Reflections on the Readings
The Resurrection of the Lord
Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter
April 23, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

At The Feet of Jesus

And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. (Matthew 28: 9)

It is St. Paul who tells us how beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!  (Romans 10:15) This description is uniquely realized in Jesus.  Everywhere he walked he brought good news to the poor and the afflicted, and to those oppressed by the devil.

In the days of Jesus, walking was the means of getting from here to there. So it was with some physical effort to get from one place to another.  In the gospels we read how folks would gather near to where Jesus was passing by.  Some cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

As Jesus walked, he often would call out to those he had chosen, saying, "Follow me."  And that person would leave what he was doing and begin to walk with Jesus.  The roads they travelled were dusty and the days were long.  You can imagine how comforting and relaxing the washing of the feet was at the end of such a day.  In those days you not only washed your hands before you ate, you also washed your feet before you entered the house.

Sometimes someone intrigued with Jesus and his teachings would invite him to dinner.  In fact, Simon, a Pharisee, had Jesus over one evening.  While Jesus was eating, a sinful woman came to Simon's house uninvited.  She came with an alabaster flask of ointment.  She came to serve the one from whose lips she had heard the good news.  With grateful tears and kisses she bathed the feet of Jesus.  With her hair she wiped his feet dry.  And then she refreshed the feet of our Lord with the alabaster ointment.

Simon was aghast.  Surely Jesus would push this woman away if he knew what a sinner she was, he thought to himself.  But Jesus knowing his thoughts said to Simon, "Do you see this woman?  I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little."

On another occasion, Jesus dined at the house of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha.  Martha, the meticulous hostess, fretted aloud to Jesus about Mary not helping her.  Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, listened as he bathed her soul with good news.  You see, it is this same Mary who followed Jesus to Simon the Pharisee's house.  It is the same Mary who had washed and kissed and anointed the feet of Jesus.  "Tell her to help me!"  Martha chided. But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one things is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."

And now tonight we have this same Mary and another Mary, Mary of Magdala coming to the tomb of Jesus. Mary Magdalene is another woman who had heard the good news.  It was out of her that Jesus chased out seven demons.  Many such women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities followed Jesus and the Twelve. (Luke 8:2-3)

It is these two, Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala who after the sabbath, at the dawn of the first day of week, visited the tomb.  Arriving, they were greeted by an angel of the Lord.  The appearance of the angel was like lightening and his raiment was white as snow.  It is this angel who told them to go tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead and to go to Galilee, for Jesus, the one who was crucified, would meet them there.  On their way, Jesus greets them and as was their custom, Mary and Mary Magdalene fell at the nail scarred feet of Jesus and embraced them and worshipped him.

Like the Marys in our Gospel tonight, we also must go.  We must go to our families and friends and tell them the words of the angel:  "He is not here; for he has risen, as he said."  We must not keep this good news to ourselves.  It is not enough to know the good news, for it ain't good news until we share it.  We serve a living Savior, and he's in the world today; Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today, and forever!  He still forgives sins, he still heals the brokenhearted, he still visits the prisoner and feeds the poor.  May Jesus be alive in us and inspire us to do the good things of the kingdom, and to bring the good news of the gospel; for how beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.

On the Cross Jesus lived the words of the Psalmist, "They tore holes in my hands and in my feet - I can count all my bones - they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots." (Psalm 22:17-18)

Oh, but in this Resurrection Vigil, let us join Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala  and the countless throngs in heaven at the precious feet of Jesus.  He brings us good news.  Listen.  Jesus speaks to us saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Rev. 1:17, 18)  Amen. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reflections on the Readings

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion - April 17, 2011 - Year A

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

He Considered Not Himself

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself...(Philippians 2:6, 7a)

“It’s all right to duck, isn’t it?” We were prayerfully carrying our pro-life signs as we processed on the sidewalk down Kingston Pike. Just before our walk, a downpour had come during our pro-life rally. Water had accumulated on the sidewalk here and there, and the rain water was making its way down Kingston Pike as well; draining down the gutter toward the caverns below.

The traffic was mostly respectful, but one driver registered his opinion of the matter we represented. Inching toward the rushing water flowing down the gutter the driver took his best aim. Many of us instinctively tried to protect ourselves and our children from the inevitable spray of water. It was then that my good friend, Steve, asked, “It’s all right to duck, isn’t it?” We all laughed. I have reflected on Steve’s words many times since that event about 4 years ago. Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”

We pray often to be like Jesus. This is a good prayer. It is filled with honest and heartfelt sincerity. We shouldn’t ever fail to pray this way with fervency. To be like Jesus means to see each other in the solace of love and as brothers and sisters together in our life in the Spirit. We serve one who freely gave himself; in our serving him we learn to serve each other in the same spirit of humility and compassion and mercy.

In the reading from Philippians, Paul speaks of the whole life of Christ, his incarnation, his humiliation, and his glorification. Not looking out for his own interests, the focus of Jesus was on the needs and the brokenness of others. Paul speaks clearly about doing nothing from selfishness, but having the mind of Jesus, 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. Jesus didn’t pull rank. And he taught us not to desire the head table, but in selfless contentment to regard others better than ourselves. Jesus said, “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Our reward is greater than our sacrifice.

In the first reading, the Suffering Servant speaks of freely giving his back to those who beat him. They pluck his beard. “My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting, I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame,” he says. And he was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and he opened not his mouth.

Love is not self serving. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. In his serving, he emptied himself, and filled the vacuum that only He can fill. He emptied himself, that is, Christ did nothing for himself, but all was for us and for our salvation. He endured the cross for us. For you and for me, while we were still sinners, Jesus loved us and gave himself for us.

Paul reminds us of Christ’s incarnation, of that unfathomable divine embrace of humanity and descent into our history of sin and death. Jesus came into the wildness and wilderness of our heart to set us free from sin. In his ministry Jesus did not hold on to his divinity as something that should keep him from his merciful mission to redeem us. Through the humiliation of the cross, Jesus took ownership of the keys of Hades, the abode of the dead. It was to the holy souls who waited for him in ‘Abraham’s Bosom,’ that Christ came and to whom he preached the message of his salvation. It was these dead Jesus said who would hear the voice of the Son of God, and live. (John 5:25) CCC # 631- 635

And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised...and entered the holy city and appeared to many. (Mt. 27:51-52)

The triumph of Jesus began when he said, “It is finished.” And in his resurrection he holds the ‘keys of Death and Hades,’ so 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. Praise God Almighty, Jesus didn’t duck! Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I Will Open Your Graves

Reflections on the Readings
Fifth Sunday of Lent - April 10, 2011 - Year A 
By Dennis S. Hankins

The Mystery of Our Redemption (Part III)
"I Will Open Your Graves"

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die."

The power of death is real; the wages of sin is death.  Christ came into our world of sin and death.  And more to the point, Christ came to make alive all of us who were dead through trespasses and sins.  

Once the prince of the power of the air reigned in us - the spirit that is still at work in the children of disobedience.  In St. Paul's understanding, disobedience is equal to sin; it is the reality of death, a life in the flesh that cannot please God. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.  And then Paul states, "By grace you have been saved." (see Ephesians 2:1-5)

Lent is a season of grace.  For those coming into the Church, the elect who are preparing for baptism, are reminded today of the newness of life in Christ.  And for all of us, this is a season of grace, as we do some soul searching and avail ourselves of the grace that is ours through confession.  

Dripping from the words of today's gospel is compassion and grace and life more abundantly.  The story of the raising of Lazarus gives us the promise of our resurrection at the last day.  But it also reminds us that Jesus, the strong Son of God, first redeems us, he opens up our graves of sin and calls us forth and set us free from the power of sin and death.  Greater than the power of sin is grace; grace that is greater than all of our sin.  The life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us. (see Galatians 2:20)  Bow your head and say these words:  Jesus loved ME and gave himself for ME.  If you had been the only person in the world, Jesus would have died for you; such is the love of God for you and me.

It is this forgiving love we take into our world of family and work.  If our face and words are immersed in this holy love, then a new springtime of faith will bloom.  We touch in personal ways our families and coworkers and our communities of faith.  We can do so with the great goodness of God; letting them see in your eyes and actions the faith you have in the Son of God.  And pray for ways to share Christ's great love for each one.  There is no face of Jesus without your face.  There is no voice of Jesus outside of your voice.  There is no loving embrace of Jesus unless it is you who is doing the hugging. 

During the remarkable Pontificate of Blessed John Paul II, he reminded us how near the culture of death is to us.  Its tentacles reach into every nook and cranny of human experience.  It sucks the life from relationships, attacking especially those whom God has joined together. It skews the good and beautiful and true.  It makes its victims blind to what has always been and distrustful of what is firm and lasting.  Life is a black hole for these living dead in whom is constant emptiness and numbness and unrelieved separation within.  And its last insult is to make profane the sacredness of life in the womb and in the aged and infirm.  

Before the tomb of our culture Christ pauses, he weeps.  It is not a sign of weakness.  It is an expression of a holy anger - perturbed and troubled over the desolation of human and spiritual destruction.  The word in the gospel for becoming 'perturbed' at Lazarus' tomb is a curious phrase in Greek, literally meaning 'he snorted in spirit.' Deeply moved within his spirit at the presence of unbelief and death, Jesus prayed.  He prayed that those with him at the tomb of Lazarus would come to believe that he is the resurrection and the life.

Anyone today held in sin's dread sway, Christ comes and takes from your captor the keys of hell and death.  And with a loud voice, the captain of our salvation cries out, "COME FORTH!"

Thus says the Lord GOD: Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them.  O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live.  Amen.