Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Personal Relationship with Jesus - Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 29, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

A Personal Relationship with Jesus

"I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you." - Jesus

Recently I was bragging about my Kindle Electronic Reader.  Holding it up I declared I had the whole New Testament on my Kindle.  And it can hold 3,500 books I declared with a smile on my face.  A colleague responded patting himself over his heart, "Dennis, I have the whole New Testament right here!"  That's a good way to describe our personal relationship with Jesus.  Because the New Testament is not just words, it's about a man called Jesus.  And his talk to his disciples today is about how he will never leave us or forsake us.  He comes to us through the Holy Spirit.

I recently read Story of the Soul by Saint Therese of Lisieux.  In it she recounts her deeply personal relationship with Jesus.  She describes herself in love with the lover of her soul.  This resonated with me.  My Pentecostal upbringing emphasized this kind of fervency and devotion to the one who loves us.  His name fell effortlessly from the lips of those I looked up to.  They cried out in prayer in his name and greeted each other as brother and sister with whom they were one through baptism.  We all aspired to live a life of holiness, witnessing to the hope within us - the high calling we received in our baptism.  Jesus says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

Jesus tells us today that we can see him and know him.  He declares the love he and the Father has for us.  And the Holy Spirit brings the presence of God into our lives.  

Cereal is dry as everyone knows.  It comes in a cardboard box and is tightly sealed inside the box.  You open the box and pour it into a bowl and then dig in and start shoveling it in your mouth.  Right?  Wrong!  I imagine that most folks do not care for a bowl full of dry cereal.  Like me, you probably pour your skim milk over it and may even dice up some fruit in it to give the stuff some flavor.  The milk and fruit bring the dry cereal to life and makes waking up in the morning pleasurable.

Some people need a little milk in their  life.  Jesus seems dry and distant.  His voice is dim in the heart and your voice is timid to speak his name.  Jesus' greatest promise to his disciples just before his Ascension was that he would remain with them and us in a special way.  Jesus  tells us, "I will send you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you."   

Jesus speaks of the Paracletos that can be translated as Counselor, Advocate, and Helper.  In truth the Spirit is all these and more.  The Holy Spirit imparts to us the life of Christ and unites us to God.  He is the great Milk of heaven bringing out the vitality and flavor of Jesus in all that we do.  He helps us to pray more deeply in the name of Jesus.  He aids us in witnessing to the great hope that is ours in Christ.  With the Spirit's help we receive strength to overcome the devil and the temptations he brings us.  

The Sacraments of the Church, especially the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist reveal Christ to us.  In these the Holy Spirit restores the soul of the faithful.  By these gracious gifts of Christ's presence among us we grow in grace and attain that inner life of the beauty of holiness.  These are the very special elements of a personal relationship with Jesus.  Don't let anyone tell you that the Catholic Church does not believe in a personal relationship with Jesus.  We go to his altar every Lord's day to commune with him as deeply committed friends.  In the gift of his body and blood he brings us into all that is him.  And he reminds us in that special moment, "I will not leave you desolate; I am here, here am I."  Amen. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Place Called Home - Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 22, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

A Place Called Home

"In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" - Jesus

Home is the nicest word there is! That's what Laura Ingalls Wilder said about her little house on the prairie.

I often think about the older folks in my life and home. Many of them have gone on. They often said that they were pilgrims on the earth. They lived in simplicity and found joy in the family and friends that filled their lives. Their greatest joy was Jesus whom they loved and adored. And they lived their lives believing him who said, "I go to prepare a place for you."

If I tilt my head just right I can still here those folks of my childhood singing like only Pentecostals can. Without restraint they're singing, This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through; My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me, from heaven's open door. And I can't feel at home in this world anymore. I'm a child again as I write these words. I see their faces beaming with the light of another world. Their eyes are filled with tears and then they close as they relish the sweet breezes of a place called home.

The beauty and grace of heaven is reflected in the work, the words, and the worship of the Church.

The Church is a spiritual house. It is a place we call home. Here we are brothers and sisters in Christ through baptism. What we share in common is the conviction that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Through him we find our way to the 'Father's House.' In our witness we invite others to this great community of faith. We are the family of God. And God wants his family to grow in faith and in the adding of those many more he is calling to himself. The work of the Church is to be a witness to others of that pure love that expresses itself in feeding the poor, healing the sick, forgiving the sinner, and nurturing its own in the food of his body and blood.

It is a great work. To be the face of Jesus and to be his hands and arms and heart extended is a great and necessary work. It is the missionary spirit and the work of evangelization. It is the vision that propelled St. Paul to say, "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel." And this he did with compelling power and words and prayer. Now you and I may not be a St. Paul, but we have the same Lord, the same faith, the same power to animate us to 'go into all the world.' Our world begins at home.

The words of the Church are its teaching ministry. We know that the early Church grew in faith and in numbers because they heard the teaching of the Apostles. Those words and that Church exist today. We need to know our faith. We need to be able to give a simple and loving voice to the faith that is ours. What the Church believes and proclaims is ever ancient and ever new. Skepticism is alive and well in the 21st century, but Jesus is too. He remains the way, the truth, and the life. It is this sureness of faith we need in a age of skepticism and relativism.

Let's look lastly at the worship of the Church. Peter tells us we are living stones of a spiritual house. As a holy priesthood we offer spiritual sacrifices. I have no doubt that Peter has the Eucharist on his mind as he describes the worship of the Church. The cornerstone of our worship is the altar. Everything revolves around it or points to it. There, yes there before us is him who calls us out of darkness into his wonderful light. For those who have faith it is Jesus who calls us and give us himself in the bread and in the fruit of the cup.

We are a very special people to the Lord. And that means we have a special vocation in touching the world with the love of Jesus. We who are fed at the altar of God receive a foretaste of that fulness of joy that will be ours in that place being prepared for you and me. I like what I heard Father Boettner preach recently. It went something like this: "In addition to the gifts of bread and wine, we bring ourselves also, and place ourselves on the altar and we ask God to bless us too and to make us holy." This is the fulness of worship, it is the fulness of life we receive in a place called home. This is the Church. It is the way to another place too. There we'll be received by him who promised the Church a long time ago a place he prepares for us. Let not your heart be troubled - Home is the nicest word there is. Amen.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Lord is My Shepherd - Sunday, May 15, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Easter - May 15, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

The Lord is My Shepherd

"...The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out" - Jesus

Shepherds first learned that God had come to shepherd his people. Shepherding is a demanding and difficult job. Sheep do not always cooperate. You might say they have a mind of their own. They're stubborn and prone to stray. In defiance, a sheep with a full coat of wool will run straight into the water. Without the shepherd a water logged sheep will die.

Do the sheep I've described remind you of anyone? I don't always cooperate with the Shepherd. Sometimes I have a mind of my own. Stubborn? How did you guess? And then wrestling against his will, I begin to sink! But for his wounds, I would still be held captive by my sin. Except for his sacrifice for me, I would remain astray like a sheep. Because of his great love for me, I have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of my soul.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads and guards his people, the sheep of his pasture. He knows my name. He knows your name. Not only that, but his voice is familiar and resonates with the sheep that he leads. That suggests relationship and community. It is a sign of love and friendship. There is warmth and kindness and safety in all that Jesus is to his people.

God, who is not willing that any should perish, gave his only begotten Son for our salvation. There is more. Jesus died for the life of the world, but he gave his life for you. The sneering and murmuring Pharisees said, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." Jesus responded, "If you have a hundred sheep and lose one, just one, won't that shepherd go and seek for that lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it won't he pick it up and carry it on his shoulders and restore it safely to the fold?" That closeness and personal care for each member of his flock comes through each of the readings today. The promise of forgiveness of sin and new life is for you and your children and to the many more the Lord is calling.

Our life in Christ is not just a list of do's and don'ts. St. Therese of Lisieux spent her life loving Jesus and making him loved. She captured the meaning of life and love and the greatness of each soul. Going to Church is more than an obligation. The prayers and the creeds are more than words on a page. In the sacrifice of the Mass our soul meets its maker. Together with the gifts of bread and wine we bring the gift of ourselves and we ask God to also bless us and make us holy.

Life is more than stuff and things and appointments. We need the intimate and the authenticate connection of Christ and his Church. Our lives are swimming in technology and drowning in entertainment. We need a better grasp of what it means to be 'still' and to 'wait' on the Lord. Sheep can get restless and confused at the voices of strangers. So we need to know more deeply the reality of our faith and listen more carefully to that familiar voice of the Shepherd. It is he who knows the true worth of our soul. He proves his love for us by preparing a Table for us. We hear again his loving voice, "I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly." Amen.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Slow of Heart - Sunday, May 8, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Easter - May 8, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

Slow of Heart

And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" - Jesus

Our little 10 year old daughter was pacing the floor.  I was vegging on the sofa and watching the weather news.  The weather reports on Wednesday, April 27, grew bleaker as the skies grew darker.  

"Daddy, are we going to be O.K?" she asked.  

"We're fine," I said with calm assurance.  

"Should we go to Mr. Dan's basement?" Heidi persisted.  

I could hear the fear filled tone in her voice.  Mr. Dan and his wife Brenda were away.  We had access to their house and their basement was waiting for us if we needed it.

In 1991 I became a 9-1-1 Emergency Medical Dispatcher in Dubois County, Indiana.  I served in that capacity until 2002.  During that time I dispatched before, during, and after many storms in my 10 1/2 years at 9-1-1.  So I was somewhat smug in my approach to the storms rushing toward us from the deep south.  

The weather maps indicated that the storm was approaching Louisville, TN.  That's where we live.  News of the coming storm grew more ominous and the weatherman said something about the folks in our area needed to take cover.  

"Why doesn't somebody listen to me!" Heidi blurted in exasperation.  Now I've always been somewhat perceptive in hearing that 'still small voice' in my heart.  Most of my life I've tried to be aware of that 'voice' and follow the Lord as fully as I knew how to do so.  But I was also processing those words of my 10 year old daughter: "Why doesn't somebody listen to me!"  I remember thinking, "Maybe that's the Lord talking to me."  You know, all that 'out of the mouth of babes' stuff. Yet I continued to assure everyone in the house, "We're fine. We can go to the hallway if it gets bad."

Then all hail broke loose.  Forgive me, but I couldn't help saying it that way.  We gathered in the hall, the power went out, and the sound of a rushing mighty wind descended upon us.  And it wasn't the Holy Ghost either.  It was something like I've never heard or felt before.  Pellets of hail beat against our windows.  And the pellets became golf ball size.  The house shook.  Our cars were pummeled  and the yard was covered with a layer of limbs and leaves.  I suppose this storm lasted about  three to five minutes.    

How I wish I had taken my family to Mr. Dan's basement.  How I wish I hadn't been so slow to understand how real the storms coming toward us were.  We are safe and we have a roof over our head, but many, many more lost much.  I know we all are praying for those who have lost so much because of these storms and the tornadoes they spawned: family and neighbors dead, homes and houses of worship damaged or destroyed, pets missing, and water and electricity still unavailable in parts across the southeast.  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.  

Slow of heart.  Sometimes we can get sluggish on how we embrace the mysteries of our faith.  That place deep down inside of us, the heart, can loose its grip on the things that matter.  Our two friends walking home from Jerusalem to Emmaus are not only slow of heart, they are heavy hearted.  They are discussing the events leading up to the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus.  And then Jesus draws near them and begins to walk and talk with them.

"What is this that you're talking about?" Jesus asks.  In disbelief, Cleopas asks the Lord if he is the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn't know what's been going on there.  And Jesus asks, "What things?"  They explained how Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet mighty in word and deed and how the chief priests and rulers had him condemned to death and crucified him.  This they explained had dashed their hopes about Jesus.  They had believed that he might be the one to redeem Israel.  Now they didn't mean redemption like you and I understand that word.  They had deliverance from political subjugation in mind. 

Moreover, they explained to their mysterious visitor that these things happened three days ago.  And now some of the women of their circle of acquaintances are saying that Jesus is alive.  The women, they explained, were visited by angels and given the message that Jesus was no longer dead, but was now alive, risen from the dead!   

It is now that Jesus begins to warm the sluggish and slow hearts of our friends from Emmaus.  "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and so enter into his glory?"  He asks.  And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.  But somehow they still did not recognize the voice of him who spoke to them.  I'm not sure how it happens, but I know from experience, He can speak to us, and his familiar voice is not recognized.  

It was getting late in the day, and they urged Jesus to stay with them. Still not recognizing the Lord, they were intrigued by his mastery of the scriptures.  He helped them to get the sense of their meaning, especially their connection to Jesus, causing their hearts to burn within them.  

As Jesus reclined at table with them, he reached for the bread.  He blessed it and broke it, and then he gave it to them.   The eyes of their hearts were no longer drooping and sluggish, but now they recognized their visitor:  And he vanished out of their sight.  

My dear brothers and sisters, like our friends in Emmaus,  we need both the proclamation of the Word and the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  The Scriptures are food for our faith, for faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  The Eucharist is food for our soul, giving us the crucified and Risen Christ. 

Why did he vanish from their sight?  Jesus wants us to see him by faith, that is, by the eyes of our heart.  Jesus wants our hearts, that deep place of the soul, to embrace him and never let him go.  There, in that secret place of God, we commune with him.  And he who is the bread of life, gives us himself from the altar of Love saying to us, take, eat, this is my body, given for you, and for the life of the world.