Friday, December 30, 2011

A Mother's Thoughts

Reflections on the Readings
Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God - January 1, 2011 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins

A Mother's Thoughts

But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Do you remember hearing for the first time what your mommy always knew about you? Mother's are like that. They are intuitive - often unerring about what they have reflected on about their husband or children - thoughts that lay deep in their hearts for many years. And then you make that major decision and Mom says, "I always knew you would one day decide to do that!"

Mary, the Holy Mother of God, carried many thoughts about the words given her by Gabriel and Simeon and Anna. The deep mysteries of our redemption became the focus of her meditation - of her deepest prayers - voiceless prayers of her heart when her lips moved but not a sound was heard. Hannah, who bore Samuel the prophet, prayed that way. Now Mary, whose Son was Prophet, Priest, and King, prayed too. Then one day a sword pierced her heart. News came to her that John the Baptist had declared her Son to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

She was probably not more than 16 years old - maybe only 14 or 15 years old the scholars speculate. The Mother of the Redeemer learned somewhat abruptly through the visitation of Gabriel that she was 'highly favored by God.' And the salutation, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" left the young virgin 'troubled.' And no one is without sympathy for Mary when she questions the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?"

Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a Son, and that she should name him Jesus. And then the angel erupts with a litany of greatness concerning this child:

He will be great.
He will be called the Son of the Most High.
He will possess the Throne of his father David.
He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.
His kingdom will have no end!

So how will all this come about? Gabriel gave three words that convey why nothing will be impossible with God. In answer to Mary's question, "How shall this be?" Gabriel said, "The Holy Spirit." The greatness of the Deity revealed in the Incarnation is mediated by the Holy Spirit - the power of the Most High, overshadowing Mary. This is how Jesus became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

Perhaps Mary recalled the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of her people. Before time was ever measured, the Spirit of God hovered over the dark waters, when the earth was still without form and empty. Mary would remember when God formed Adam of the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life. Her thoughts would recount how the Spirit of God came upon the prophets and prophetesses of old and overshadowed Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Law. In that moment of contemplation she received courage born in her by that same Spirit helping her to say, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And as quickly as Gabriel came he left her to 'ponder these things in her heart.'

Mary wants us to come to her Son and she wants us to invite him into our hearts as she invited him into her womb. It is Mary who shows us the way to have an affection for Jesus that is intense and heartfelt. Here, in the spacious depths of our heart, we can discover the friendship of Jesus. There is room in his heart for us. Is there room in your heart for him?

Let us allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to meet Jesus, to have all the riches of the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2, 3) There is far more than a superficial acquaintance awaiting us in Christ; for our life is hidden with Christ in God. Mary lived her life with an immense awareness of Christ. May we learn to see through Mary's eyes and understand with her what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ and be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-20)

As we come to this Holy Table let us pray: "Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.'' Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

St. Augustine on Sheer Grace - A Christmas Thought

An Excerpt From a Christmas Sermon
By St. Augustine, Bishop

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time... Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Christmas Story

Reflections on the Readings

Christmas Mass at Midnight - December 25, 2011 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For Sunday

The Christmas Story

For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

"Once upon a time," is often the beginning of a good story. The Christmas story, however, is earth's best loved story. It is a story that has no beginning nor does it have an end; it's origin is eternal and it includes you and me. Children are taught that Santa's as old as his tongue and a bit older than his teeth! But the Christmas story is because God is.

Before there was ever a tick on a clock or a calendar to mark the days of a week or the months of a year, there was Christmas. St. Peter taught the early Church that our redemption was not accomplished by perishable things like silver or gold. The precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish bathed our sin infested soul. In the eternal environs of holy love Jesus was destined before the foundation of the world to be the one born in the city of David, the Savior of the world. (1 Peter 1:19-20)

It is good that every Christmas we reflect more deeply upon the mystery of faith. Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, teaching what had been hidden from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 13:34) He said things like, "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." (Matthew 13:31)

There is a connection between the mustard seed and Jesus whose birth we celebrate tonight. The most vulnerable and smallest of all humanity is a baby. And when the time came for Mary to have her child, she gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. From the first reading the prophet Isaiah explains the hope and promise wrapped up in swaddling clothes. "His name is Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace," Isaiah shouts. And the government rests upon the shoulders of this little boy child lying in this manger. And of the increase of his reign and of peace there will be no end. Can we together say, "Hallelujah!" O Holy Night, the night our soul truly feels its worth.

Twenty-one centuries ago, in the tiny village of Bethlehem, the mystery hidden for ages in God, lay in a manger. And ever since that first Christmas night, the unsearchable riches of Christ has been the treasure trove of the Church. In the Church we learn of Christ and through the Church we hear the voice of Christ inviting the world into the deepest things of God, the wisdom of God kept secret in a mystery, a mystery that is a fellowship in the friendship of God. It is an abyss of love from which we learn to forgive each other as God in his Son forgives us. It is where our hearts reach for the heart of God. In this holy embrace our fearful and faithless hearts are healed - here where deep calls unto deep - and the great and intended reason for Christmas is revealed to us. (Ephesians 3:9; 1 Corithians 2:7)

A manger as the first bed for Jesus remains one of the most poignant moments in salvation history. Perhaps it happened this way to remind us we will not find God in the predictable but rather in the place of seclusion, the place away from the crowds and the noise and hustle and bustle of life. There does not seem to be much room for him in those places. There's not a doubt in my heart that Mary and Joseph tenderly kissed the face of God that holy night. And from the realms of glory angels made haste to proclaim to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night the good and glorious news. Perhaps the angel of the Lord said to them, "Go! You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Go! Make haste. And kiss the face of God."

Like the shepherds let's also expect to see Jesus. When we come to this altar this holy night, may the Lord help us to see him for the first time again. Here before us the grace of God appears as we heard in the second reading. Jesus comes for our salvation and for the salvation of all humankind. He comes to judge the earth and the world with righteousness and the nations with truth. It is the very love of Christmas itself we receive tonight when we eat this bread which is his body and drink from this Chalice the precious blood of Christ. This is the heart of the Christmas story - a story that grows dearer with every Eucharist and the passing of the years until time shall be no more!

Let us fall on our knees and hear the angel of the Lord say again, "I bring you glad tidings of great joy which is for all the world; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

Merry Christmas!

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 His website is:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Promise of Christmas

Reflections on the Readings

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 18, 2011 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For Sunday

The Promise of Christmas

Gabriel said to Mary, "For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:37, 38)

A colleague of mine has a little 3 year old boy. She recently explained to her little feller that together they would make a birthday cake for Jesus. She told him how Jesus' birthday was coming soon. I think she wants him to know that Christmas is a promise - a promise made to the Virgin Mary that her son will be called the Son of the Most High - the King whose first throne was a manger.

The first reading reminds us of a promise God made to David. David desired to build a suitable shrine for the ark of the covenant. For several years the ark was kept in tents while David went about the business of solidifying his kingdom. So it came into David's heart, after many years of warfare, that now in an era of peace and a comfortable palace of cedar for himself, that he should build a house for the Lord.

Through Nathan the prophet God makes a promise to David. David is promised a house, a dynasty. And God promises that he will be a father forever to the house of David and to his decendants. And the grand finale of God's promise is that David's kingdom will endure forever before the Lord. Fast forward to today's Gospel and we read that Gabriel is sent by God to the city of Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name is Joseph, of the house David; and the virgin's name is Mary. Luke wants us to note the connection to the promise made to David. God promised David a dynasty, a dynasty that became the basis of the expectation of an anointed king whose kingdom would have no end.

The very first promise of Christmas came in the Garden. You remember how Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sought to be like God without God. That fatal meal from the forbidden tree was not a simple stubbing of the toe. Theologically it has always been described as the Fall. Humankind became estranged from the God of love through sin. It wasn't an accident or a simple misunderstanding. The whole event altered the humanness of humanity. And God, whose love never lets go, promised the serpent of old, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15)

Grace is greater than our sin. When we grow in that grace we learn to overcome sin. And when we stray from that grace, as we do, our humanness falters. And our time making a good confession as we are invited to do during Advent, restores again our soul - the promise of Christmas grace becomes the only gift we really need. I think it is this love of the Father and the grace of Christmas and all the promise that Christmas holds for the world that we should think about and pray about this final week of Advent.

The power we need to help us be our true selves is not wrapped up under the Christmas tree. My dear brothers and sisters, the promise of Christmas is not a thing but a person; the person of Jesus the Christ. It is Jesus Christ who inspires hope and causes the weary soul to feel its worth as the song O Holy Night reminds us.

Our Salvation depends on whether or not Mary those many centuries ago really found favor with God. If she did not, then let us eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Let us be consumed by all that glitters and glows and throw caution to the wind. If Gabriel did not visit Nazareth and bring Mary God's loving message then we are perilously lost.

But the promise of Christmas is real. It's as real as the faith of a child whose eyes glow at the wonder she beholds in the holy creche. And our faith is reminded today of the power of Christmas - For with God nothing is impossible. Mary's full consent is an example and invitation to us to open ourselves freely to God's power of faith and hope and love- the greatest of these is love. It is the greatest power on earth because it comes from the very inner life of the Holy Three in One. The mystery of our selves as creatures made in the image of God is illumined by that love, with the power to cover a multitude of sins. An old song comes to mind entitled the Love of God:

"Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made; Were every stalk a quill, and every man a scribe by trade; to write the love God above would drain the ocean dry; Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky."

Lastly, the promise of Christmas is about our destiny as sons and daughters of God. At this Holy Eucharist we partake of the divine nature. Here we commune not as strangers but as brothers and sisters in Christ. May we become what we eat and drink - the very face of our Lord and Savior. This is my prayer as I come to this Table with you this morning. Let us make a throne of our hands and partake of the very promise of Christmas - the Son of God - the Son of Mary. 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 His website is:

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Spirit of Joy

Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Advent - December 11, 2011 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins

The Spirit of Joy

Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed."

This third Sunday of Advent invites us to rejoice. We rejoice because Christ is near. Very soon we will follow the Holy Family as they travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And before you know it, today's joy will erupt into a heavenly crescendo of tidings of great joy and an invocation of peace to all of good will.

Joy is listed as one of the nine fruit of the Spirit by St. Paul. (Galations 5:22) Mary's joy is revealed in her spontaneous praise for the gift she carries within her womb: "For he who is mighty has done great things for me." It is this holy gift in the Virgin's womb which inspires in each of us this morning the Spirit's joy. Even the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaped in her when the voice of Mary's greeting was heard.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose is poetic and romantic; however, the Magnificat is about a divine romance and joy. Christian joy is not fickle or even dictated by one's circumstances or emotions. The joy of the Lord comes to us from the heart of the Holy Trinity carrying with it the indescribable mystery from which it comes. This is why John the Baptist leaped in his mother's womb. It is the reason we 'lift up our hearts' in worship this morning. The mystery of our faith helps us to look Godward. Our journey through Advent brings us to contemplate the Word made flesh and the Word descending from heaven with a shout and with the voice of the archangel when time shall be no more. This joy is ours to lift us up to where we belong - seated together with Christ in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 2:6)

Yet some will become Scrooge like and say with exasperation, "Bah! Humbug! Cynicism suggests that all of this joy about Jesus is misplaced. That Jesus is a fraud. That Mary and Joseph are impostors. That all of this 'peace on earth' and 'tidings of great joy' is gibberish and nonsense. Scrooge needed the visits of the three spirits of Christmas - Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come to overcome his cynical view of the great day called Christmas. We need an infusion of the Holy Spirit to inspire in us a spirit of praise and joy for Christ - to help us to keep Christ in Christmas and help us to honor the Christ of Christmas and keep him first all the year!

We need the same Spirit that hovered over Mary and incarnated Jesus in her womb - the Savior of the world. This same Spirit hovered over the great abyss of earth and mediated the gracious creation we today call home. It is this Spirit we need to awaken in us the unfathomable riches of our inheritance. Mary proclaimed that he who is mighty had done great things for her and God wants to do great things for you and me as Pope Benedict stated recently.

So today we don't embrace the scowl of the naysayers. We won't quench the Spirt nor despise the anointed preaching of God's word to us today at Mass. We will not forsake coming together as the people of God. Nor will we neglect to prepare our hearts to receive him who loves us. In everything and at every opportunity we will give thanks and rejoice always and never give up praying. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24)

Paul and Silas are examples of this tenacity of faith and spirit of joy. They were imprisoned for delivering a slave girl of a spirit of divination in the name of Jesus. Her owners, now deprived of a source for their income brought charges against these godly men. What were these trumped up charges? Paul and Silas were arrested for advocating 'customs not lawful for Romans to accept or practice.' Does anyone else see political correctness in this? (Acts 16:16-21) Taken into custody, Paul and Silas were severely beaten and incarcerated with their feet placed in stocks.

At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns while the other prisoners listened. And suddenly there was a great earthquake that shook the doors of the prison open and every prisoner's feet were set free from their stocks. That's the fruit of joy - the reality of the divine romance - a love and grace poured out in the darkest hours of their ordeal. Peter wrote about this kind of sustaining joy. Writing to early followers of Christ he said, "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 1:8)

In today's Gospel John the Baptist explains that there is 'one among you whom you do not recognize.' It is this Jesus we seek to reveal in our lives and in our conduct and in the words we speak. The joy of the Lord enables us to be the very face of Jesus in a time that does not always recognize him.

Today we come to renew our deep and divine romance with Jesus our Lord. And like John the Baptist who said, "I am not worthy to untie his sandal straps," we will say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." And Jesus will say, "Enter into the joy of your Master. All things are ready. Come and dine." 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 His website is:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

According To His Promise

Reflections on the Readings
Second Sunday of Advent - December 4, 2011 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins

According To His Promise

But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. - 2 Peter 3:13

Patience and perseverance, and a reason for hope, and the supremacy of love eternal is the message of the readings for today. Even the cosmic fire in the second reading is a purifying fire - not a destructive fire in the nuclear bomb sense but rather a fire that leaves new heavens and a new earth in its wake.

We are a people who are heirs to a promise. Peter recalls this promise by describing the long patience and love of God - a God not wishing that any should perish, but that all should find Him through repentance. Metanoia is a way of life for us - availing ourselves of the grace that is greater than all of our sins. We do this by making time for the sacrament of reconciliation. And in our confession the promise of love's pure justice is renewed in our hearts.

It is the warm justice of godly love we are called to emanate like living embers burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit. We are to be imitators of the divine love in all of our relationships. This high and holy calling is worthy of our consideration in this holy season of Advent. Advent truly is our opportunity to get the holy fire burning again in our hearts. Only four weeks are given for this so let's use them wisely and make room in our busy lives to rehearse again the great and precious promises of Christ. Let's use this time to find the grace that is proper to this season and keep Christ first always and always first at Christmas time.

Contrary to popular 'holiday' activity Advent is not pre-Christmas and Christmas is not over until Epiphany. The rhythm of life is not found in sales and more sales and then the sale of the year. Advent helps us to regain the true vision of Christ's coming into our world and how he will according to his promise come again. This promise strengthens us in the nasty now and now and makes us eager to be found at Christ's coming without spot or blemish or anything that is not worthy of the name Christian. Jesus makes everything and everyone new in his love and in that we find the peace the world can't give and the times cannot take a way!

Advent reminds us that we are a pilgrim people; this world is not our home - here we have no lasting city. This was the revelation to Abraham and the faith he lived by. He saw with the clarity of faith the day of the Father's love gift to all the world - God's only Son given for the life of the world. (John 8:56) Abraham sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. Abraham looked forward to the heavenly fulfillment of God's promise of a home for him and for all the faithful of all times - a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 13:14; 11:8-16)

The secularist vision is not so heavenly inspired. Human progress is believed possible without God or of any remembrance of him or of any reference to him. In this world view only the productive and strong are deemed valuable and worthy of a world made in the image of man. St. Peter calls them scoffers who follow their own passions and say, "Where is the promise of his coming?" (2 Peter 3:3 & 4)

In the first reading the people of Judah are coming from Babylonian captivity. The time of their exile is coming to a close and the promise of home is beating in their hearts. The prophet speaks of God as a loving and caring shepherd. A 'voice' cries out, "Prepare the way of the Lord. Make a straight path through the desert - a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all the people shall see it together. Here is your God - he comes with power and his reward is with him." How breathtaking this promise of a new day - of new heavens and a new earth!

As John the Baptist proclaimed, Jesus fills us with the Holy Spirit. Into us he pours the promise of his Spirit and under the shadow of the Almighty Spirit we find help in the day of trouble. But when the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night then will the heavens pass away and the elements will be dissolved with fire and the earth and the works in it will be consumed. Then will the Spirit bear us up on his pinions and bring us to the promise of new heavens and a new earth - a place where the perfect love of God is the law - and the glory of the Lord is the light of that eternal day.

The promise of renewal and greater participation in the Spirit is the blessing of this Advent. As we come to this Holy Table let's reflect on paragraph 1405 of the Catechism: There is no surer pledge or clearer sign of this great hope in the new heavens and new earth "in which righteousness dwells," than the Eucharist. Every time this mystery is celebrated, "the work of our redemption is carried on and we "break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live for ever in Jesus Christ.

Let us live this Advent being renewed in his promise - the promise of new heavens and a new earth - perfect love - "Marana tha!" "Come, Lord Jesus!" 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 His website is: