Thursday, January 26, 2012

With Undivided Devotion

Reflections on the Readings

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 29, 2012 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For Sunday

With Undivided Devotion

I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:35)

Our readings today speak of God's bigness, of his undiluted presence in us and in our world. The Messianic promise in Moses' speech to the people of Israel points to the time when the fame and love of Jesus will spread everywhere, exceeding the fame of Moses and Elijah and all the prophets. And in the gospel we observe Jesus teaching with authority and in his authority he delivers a man filled with an unclean spirit. In the second reading, St. Paul reveals his sense on the priority of our relationship in Christ.

It is no small thing when you discover that you can love someone. Married love is one such love. It is good and St. Paul recommends it when he says, "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion." Marriage is demanding and requires sacrifice because of concern and care for the other. The 'other' enters into a life long commitment to the 'other.' St. Paul highlights this when he speaks of how the husband and the wife daily live with the self-effacing agenda on how they may please each other.

Infidelity and other forms of immorality filled the culture of Corinth. A cosmopolitan city and a center of commerce, Corinth gave the known world some of the more potent forms of debauchery. The Church at Corinth was addressed by Paul concerning open approval of immorality of a sort not even found among pagans. (1 Corinthians 5) "And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you," Paul exhorts. To Corinth, Paul gave Jesus Christ and him crucified, the true lover of all humankind. And in that sacrificial love Paul teaches the Corinthian Church how marriage is truly a sacrament. It is not to be entered into lightly nor is the dignity of marriage to be altered by any who wish to swindle it of its true meaning.

Above I said it is no small thing to discover that you can love someone. I think that Paul in our reading today is asking the Church at Corinth and us to consider that it is no small thing when you discover that someone loves you. That someone is Jesus. The claims of Christ and the signature love with which he bathes the soul merits our undivided devotion.

There are those who may be described as cafeteria Christians. Picking and choosing the beliefs of Christianity that suit them such folks dismiss the beliefs they say are now archaic and unsuited for more enlightened people. The winds of change often bring division in the Church and destructive rhetoric to the ancient creeds. Introducing a weak understanding of those things cherished for two millennia grieves the Holy Spirit leaving the Church vulnerable and impotent. Is it any surprise why we find St. Paul boldly asking us today to embrace an undivided devotion to the Lord. If ever there was a time, now is that time, and we are that people whom the Lord asks, "Do you love me?"

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus inspired amazement and wonder in the synagogue at Capernaum. After Jesus taught that morning and then cured the man of an unclean spirit the people asked, "What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him." Then Mark notes that Jesus' fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee. I wonder if we might let our hearts be captivated again with the simplicity and fame of Jesus. Who else deserves our undivided attention? Sometimes we give ourselves to lesser things with lesser rewards and with even lesser endurance. It is too often that we give to these things that devotion of heart that is meant for higher and even deeper contemplation.

A divided heart finds healing in the holiness for which it was created. The first commandment is still etched in stone: I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve. It is even better if it is etched into our hearts. We cannot serve two Masters. Without reservation let us return to our 'first love.' The Love that is from above loved us first and we can only love him as we ought when we truly understand that he loved us first.

There is no greater love and that love is left to us in this bread which is his Body and this wine which is his Blood. He has not left us. Jesus will never leave us because in this memorial of our redemption He comes to us again and again. In the vision of his Sacred Heart we are the focus of his affection. May we respond with an undivided devotion that cannot be satisfied with anything less than that love that is immeasurable, immortal, and immaculate. Indeed, this is a meal filled with all the memory and presence of that love that touched this world with its fame many centuries ago and has never let go. 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:

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