Thursday, June 23, 2011

I Am Not Worthy - Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
June 26, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

I am Not Worthy

"He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." - Jesus (John 6:56)

As I meditate upon the Body and Blood of Christ, my mind drifts back. I go back to a special time in my Christian experience to the Pentecostal Church in which I met Christ. Now we Pentecostals like most Protestants believed that the grape juice we drank and the wafer we ate were symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. During the formative years of my Christian life I remember only one time we celebrated Communion.

Again, we did not hold a sacramental view of Communion but we approached it with reverence and respect. A wooden kitchen table was set up in the front of the church with six corresponding wooden chairs. Groups of six would sit at this table and re-enact the reception of the bread and the juice. I would call these years the time in which I lived in the shadows of the fulness of the truth. Like the wilderness wanderers who queried about the manna that lay on the ground, I grew to ask what is the meaning of this bread and this cup.

Now we Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the 'source and summit' of the Christian life. That which we receive on our tongues and drink from the cup is a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ. It is not mere symbols we encounter. We live in the rich rewards of revealed truth. That truth is formed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And through that same Spirit every Sunday we call that Bread and that Wine the Body and Blood of Jesus our Lord. No one can call him that except by the Holy Spirit. As we last Sunday meditated on the The Most Holy Trinity we today meditate on the equally indispensable pillar of Truth, the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Eucharist elevates our understanding of the Church and of the Christian life; the depth of what it means to be Christian.

Paul, before his conversion was Saul of Tarsus. He was an ardent persecutor of the early Church. On his way to Damascus to continue his bloodlust against the Way, Jesus spoke to Saul and said: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And he said, "Who are you Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting..." From this we can see that the Church is Christ. Christ is the head of his body which is the Church. (Ephesians 1:22, 23)

This is what I mean when I say the Eucharist elevates our understanding of the Church. It inspires us to pray more fervently for its unity. It brings us to a deeper appreciation for the Sacraments which come to us from the Church. For in every Sacrament of the Church we meet Jesus. It's all about Jesus. And to forget that is to drivel around in meaningless ritual. Ritual is not a bad word. The deeply held meaning of the rituals of ancient Christian worship and life brings us to the person of Christ. To meet Jesus through the ministry of the Church is to find forgiveness and grace and mercy - righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

In the world of the early Church, to become a Christian was to also sign up for martyrdom. It was not popular to be a Christian. The sustaining food of the ancient Christian was the Body and Blood of Jesus. It was a union with Christ without whom they could not face the trials and the temptations of their day.

We are no less needy. Today we live increasingly in a world that hates and despises the name of Christ. The convictions and testimony of Believers is discounted. Time honored things like respect and reverence for life, love, marriage, babies, the physically and mentally challenged, and the elderly are glibly given homage. These are perilous times when the light of our life in Christ is needed more than ever. The mission of light is to dispel the darkness. Those who experienced the power outage this week due to the recent storms valued the light of a candle or flashlight.

It is the face of Jesus in us that brings to our family and friends a reminder of the kindness of God. There is no shortage of opportunity to help those we know and love to believe in the goodness of the Lord. It is we who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good who reenter the world every Sabbath as servants and friends of sinners. Today as we feast at this Banquet of Love, let us approach the Table of the Lord with reverent and grateful hearts.

We will pause to pray, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." And then he will say to us, "Come unto me all of you who hunger and thirst and are weary, and I will feed you and you will find your rest in me." And then we will rise in newness of life in the Spirit and begin to tell the children of Adam and Eve where we found the Bread of Heaven. Amen.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Love For a Broken World - Sunday, June 19, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
The Most Holy Trinity
June 19, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

Love For a Broken World

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16

You're watching the Cardinals and the Braves on ESPN from your favorite Lazy Boy recliner.  And there it is again.  A pesky sign holder in the stands behind home plate proudly pumps his message as the pitcher throws his umpteenth 95 mph ball.  It's hurling toward home plate and FLASH:  FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON, THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE - JOHN 3:16.  Was that a ball or a strike?

I'd say it was a home run!  I mean the message on the fan's flash card.There are words in that message that we need to hear:  God loves the world; he gave his ONLY son; if you believe in him you won't perish but will in fact inherit eternal life.  

The history of humankind is rife with brokenness, peril, division, war, atrocities, immorality - the absence of love.  In Romans chapters 1 and 2, St. Paul gives a comprehensive review of human history.  In those chapters Paul writes that ever since the creation of the world God has shown the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity in the things he has made.  The crowning work of God's good creation is you and me.  Yet from the beginning humans have failed to honor him and to give him thanks for his goodness.  The spirit of the snake seduced our first parents and darkness invaded their minds and their hearts.  Paul describes the reach and history of this seduction: Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles - Romans 1:22-23.  

Paul candidly reveals the depth of the seduction including the descent of the passions and appetites of the flesh.  And then as if no longer unable to hold back, the saintly Paul unveils the awful black hole of darkness:  They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  (Romans 1:29-31) Did you see your name in any of that?  I saw mine.  

Yet Paul asks, "Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4)  The climactic truth is "All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. But the gift of God is eternal life through the justifying grace of redemption which is in Christ Jesus." (see Romans 3:23-24)  On all of this misery of sin and rebellion God gazed upon his world with a love that is immeasurable and said, "I am not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (see 2 Peter 3:9)

My friend, somewhere in the realms of Eternal Love, the blessed Trinity conspired to bring us back to our first love.  In what can only be described as an act of complete sacrifice, the One for whom the angels cry Holy, Holy, Holy, God in himself gave himself, and a Lamb stood between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, as though it had been slain. (Revelation 5:6)  This is he of whom the Father said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove.  

On Mt. Sinai Moses heard the voice of the LORD.  The LORD appeared to Moses in a cloud.  And in a parade of holiness, the LORD passed before him crying out: "The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity."  Moses did what we do today; he bowed down to the ground in worship.  Then Moses said, "If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company.  This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own."

Before us today is the mystery of unapproachable light and majesty.  Yet God has revealed himself to us and today he is lifted up from this Altar.  He is a merciful and gracious God who is slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.  Jesus invites us into the fellowship of His Father and of His Spirit; he receives us as his own.  With holy and reverent hearts, let us receive the body and blood of our Saviour.  How immeasurably deep and wide is God's love for us and for our world. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 



Saturday, June 11, 2011

Praying For a New Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings
Pentecost Sunday
June 12, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

Praying For a New Pentecost

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance - Acts 2:4 RSV

"A man with an argument is no match for a man with an experience!" my young Pentecostal friend exclaimed. And he really isn't off base either. Think about it. The vital and efficacious truth embedded in the heart is a well of living water springing up with eternal life. We can say without fear of contradiction that Christ Jesus walks with us and talks with us and assures us that we are his very own. It is this that the Holy Spirit animates within you and me. The divine communion with the Holy Trinity that we enjoy interiorly is through the Holy Spirit. And for that there is no effective argument to the contrary.

Praying for a new Pentecost is a prayer for spiritual renewal. At the beginning of the 20th century such a renewal began. It began through prayer meetings at Topeka, Kansas, led by Charles Parham and at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles led by the African-American pastor, William J. Seymour. Wet your appetite with this excerpt from Pastor Seymour's inspiring sermon on the River of Life:

There are many wells today, but they are dry. There are
many hungry souls today that are empty. But let us come
to Jesus and take him at his word and we will find wells of
salvation, and be able to draw waters out of the well of
salvation, for Jesus is that well.

O, how sweet it was to see Jesus, the Lamb of God that takes
away the sin of the world, that great sacrifice that God had
given to a lost, dying, and benighted world, sitting on the
well and talking with the woman; so gentle, so meek and so
kind that it gave her an appetite to talk further with him,
until He got into her secret and uncovered her life. Then she
was pricked in her heart, confessed her sins and received
pardon, cleansing from fornication and adultery, was
washed from stain and guilt of sin and was made a child of
God, and above all, received the well of salvation in her
heart. It was so sweet and joyful and good. Her heart was
so filled with love that she felt she could take in a whole lost
world. So she ran away with a well of salvation...How true
it is in this day, when we get the baptism with the Holy
Spirit, we have something to tell, and it is that the blood
of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. The baptism with the
Holy Ghost gives us power to testify to a risen, resurrected
Saviour. Our affections are in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God
that takes away the sin of the world...

The vision of Blessed John XXIII for Vatican II was that of a New Pentecost in the Church and for the world. He prayed fervently, "Renew your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost." That prayer is waiting for a fuller answer. Perhaps we can pray today for it to be more fully answered in our time and in our lives. The Holy Spirit is the protagonist for every thing God does through the Church. Today we welcome the opportunity to be open to his movement - For God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba, Father!" (Galations 4:6 RSV) The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: The One whom the Father has sent into our hearts, the Spirit of his Son, is truly God. Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world...To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals him. (CCC #689) It is this we confess in the creed: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.

Through the Holy Spirit we remember that God is our Father and that he loves us. This cry of the Holy Spirit is real. It is as the interior Master of Christian prayer that he lives in us. (CCC #2672) If we will let him, the Holy Spirit will lead us in our prayer for a New Pentecost. It is a prayer for a new and fresh revelation of the Love of God in the world today. We need this. Our families need this. Our parishes need the spiritual renewal that comes when the breath of God fills our praying hearts and once again we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the Bread.

Come Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Into All the World

Reflections on the Readings

The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord 

June 5, 2011 - Year A

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Into All the World

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."  - Matthew 28:19-20

And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. - Acts 1:9

The year we came into the Church, the priest lamented that for the first time in his priesthood he did not have any baptisms.  Intuitively we know that baptisms are the mark of a growing Church.  Making disciples is the Church at its best - It is her mission!  It is the understanding of recent Popes including Pope Benedict XVI. The vision coming from the See of Peter is that we should embrace this new millennium as the time of a new springtime for the Church - a new Evangelization.

Since the earliest days of the Church, making disciples is a process.  Getting the gospel message out takes time, talent, and the treasured presence of the Holy Spirit.  Although it is possible to become a convert to Christ in a moment, the necessary elements of the conversion process include catechesis, exorcisms, baptism, mystagogy, eucharist, and the fellowship with other believers.  This is the understanding of conversion when we read, they (the new converts) devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42 

But who makes making disciples possible?  I would submit that you and I do.  It is our calling to 'let our light shine' so that others will come to recognize God.  To know the Lord and to make him known is the vital role we have as witnesses of Christ.  Generally speaking, each of us has a circle of about eight people we have connections with.  'Our world' includes family, neighbors, friends, and colleagues.  Among these we have the opportunity to make Christ known.  All of us are the light of the world.  The proper use of a candle is on a stand providing light to all in the house.  Placing our candle under a bushel is to leave 'our world' in darkness.

Christ did not leave us when he ascended to the right hand of the Father.  His work is now our work - Our work is to exceed his - greater works than these shall you do because I go to the Father, he said.  In this novena leading to Pentecost we pray for the Holy Spirit to descend from our ascended Lord upon us.  In this way Jesus is always with us.  In the Holy Spirit we continue to extend the kingdom of love, joy and peace.  It is our hearts that first must be set on fire with that same Spirit that rested upon the 120 on the Day of Pentecost.

Our influence in the world is to bring an awareness of God's gift of salvation through Christ.  We live among family and friends who always need the reminder that there is forgiveness and kindness and comfort in knowing Jesus.  The times in which we live are filled with violence and vitriol.  All around us are men and women taken captive with the lust of their hearts.  Others have grown cold in their faith and withdrawn from the Church.  Satan stalks all around like a roaring lion seeking anyone he might devour.  Now more than anytime in history we need God's presence.  We live among the spiritually wounded and dying.  And like the man who fell among thieves on the Jericho road, we must help these precious souls among us, pouring into their wounded soul the oil of gladness.  

With all of my heart I believe Jesus wants his Church to grow.  He wants each of his disciples to have hearts set on fire with spiritual love for their neighbor.  Jesus wants to give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that our hearts are alive with his calling and presence in us.  He wants us to make known the riches of his glory.  It is his power he wants the sinner to experience -  the power that breaks the power of sin in the heart and sets the captive free.  It is the old but ever new story of the victory of Jesus over sin, death, and the grave taking hold of our imagination.  That story never grows old - the message that Christ forgives and restores everyone who believes in him.  

Today we celebrate the glorious Ascension of Jesus.  He is high and lifted up and his glory fills heaven and earth.  He rose amid shouts of joy and trumpet blasts for the King of all the earth is God.  And when he is lifted up today in this bread and this wine, we remember that the lover of souls sends us into the world, our world, to love and serve one another.  Amen.