Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Silence: For What Ails the Soul

Reflections on the Readings

The First Sunday of Lent - February 26, 2012 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For Sunday

Silence: For What Ails the Soul

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.

A local church sign in the neighborhood reads:

"To hear God's voice, turn down the world's noise."

Someone may ask, "Where's the knob?" It is sometimes difficult to find the knob to turn down the noise in our lives.

Have you ever visited someone only to find the show on the TV was more important than you?

Noise. There's lots of it. And the mystery of faith is not very easily found in the noise. But we can't say that all noise is bad. However, having no silence in our lives is not good. Lent is that season on the Christian calendar that invites us to live with less noise; to make room for prayer and fasting and remembering those less fortunate. This is a forty day reminder that some things are more important and need to be more prominent in our lives.

This is a period of time when we reflect more deeply on the mystery of God's love. And we can do that with better results if we deny ourselves that extra helping and eating desert at every meal.

If for health or age reasons you cannot fast, there are other spiritually beneficial ways to embrace the season of Lent. All of us can deepen our prayer life and make room in our daily lives for the scriptures and remember the plight of the poor.

Animated by the Spirit, Jesus found a place in the wilderness to be near his Father. It was a place of mystery and wonder. Wild animals wandered about. Satan intruded into the sacred silence in the wilderness to tempt the Son of God. Being alone with God can have its challenges.

We too will encounter Satan's resistance to our Lenten practices. He does not take kindly to folks taking seriously their relationship with the Father. And he will let you know. But do not be afraid, Jesus has already fought with the old serpent and we can take refuge in the mighty name of Jesus.

Space and time and silence come together in Lent and bring healing to the soul. Why is there so much unrest in our soul? "Why are you disquieted within me?" the Psalmist asks. In these forty days of Lent we learn again to be still and to know in the depth of our soul that God is God and there is none other.

In these forty days we must carve out a little space and time and quietness to hear again the peaceful voice of God. It is that still, small voice we too often don't hear. We can't hear it because we're too busy. We are filled with too much noise. And we are running about to the neglect of the things that matter most. All of that changes if we will accept the gift that Lent give us; the gift of knowing again that with God, nothing is impossible. We need this truth to touch us deeply if we are not to become weary in doing what is right.

We will encounter the beasts of intolerance and bigotry and coercion. There will be little trials and maybe bigger trials and temptations we will learn to overcome in the strength of Christ. Spiritual warfare is real. No doubt about it. But we can't be true heirs of the faith if don't fight the good fight of faith.

So let's engage these days. Let's embrace them with the intent of bringing our shriveled up souls into the presence of the Spirit of grace. We can't win the spiritual battles that will come if we are not well suited with the helmet of salvation and with the breastplate of righteousness. Our armor includes shoes made out of the gospel of peace and our hand holds the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. This armor is the spiritual protection we get for our soul during this season of Lent.

Walking into work one day I made the sign of the cross as I walked to my desk to begin my shift at 8 a.m. It would be another day of taking customer calls and explaining why the caller's account was overdrawn and bleeding red. One of my colleagues questioned me about making the sign of the cross and in a concerned voice she asked, "What's wrong, Dennis?"

I responded, "O nothing. I'm just putting on the whole armor!" She answered in an understanding way, "O! O.K!"

Let's make the sign of the cross and turn down the noise in our world and enter into Lent expecting to hear the voice of God again. Let's do this for the sake of our soul.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Work of Faith - Sunday, February 19, 2012

Reflections on the Readings

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 19, 2012 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For Sunday

The Work of Faith

And when they could not get near [Jesus] because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.

Now that is what I call 'bearing one another's burdens!' (Galatians 6:2) No one really knows how long this paralytic and his four friends had been buddies. But their example of friendship is what we should emulate. Their bond of friendship united them in their work of faith and that faith meant bringing their sick friend to Jesus. This act is intercessory in its care and concern for another. And Jesus saw the care and concern of this man's friends; he saw their faith. It wasn't just the faith of the paralytic, but it was 'their' faith.

Their faith left a whole in the roof.

Imagine what they thought when there was no way to Jesus through the front door. Gently laying their friend down to the ground they stood back and assessed the situation. The paralytic props himself up with his elbows and eyes the crowd before him. And just before despair clouds their minds and hearts someone has an idea. No one disputes the idea. After carrying a man across town on a pallet, what's one more challenge of roof climbing.

You have to love the tenacity these men showed. Faith works by love and such faith is invincible. Nothing in their way kept them from their mission. Maybe they had heard Jesus say, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, 'be removed into the sea,' and it shall be done unto you." A little muscle and a little faith and before you know it they're breaking through to Jesus.

In Jerusalem there was a pool named Bethzatha by the Sheep Gate thought to have healing properties. The area was divided up by five porticoes. In this area lay a number of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. In fact, one man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.

At certain times the pool water was troubled signaling the sick to come into the stirring waters to be healed. When Jesus walked through this area he took notice of the paralyzed man who had lain there for thirty-eight long years. Knowing that he had been there a long time, Jesus said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" And the sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going down another steps down before me." For thirty-eight years no one befriended this man. No one help carry him into the healing waters. Others got in front of him and before he could enter the waters, the waters became calm. This went on for almost four decades. No one assisted this poor fellow and no one picked up the work of faith in his behalf.

But Jesus ended this man's dilemma that day. He healed the man and said to him, "Rise, take up your pallet, and walk."

Friendship is a precious gift.

I remember when our family was going through a very difficult time. Betrayed by misinformation, we almost moved to a situation that looked good on paper. But that's the only place it looked good. Debbie had already moved her piano students to another teacher and we had our house on the market. Once it became clear that we had been had, we quickly took our house off the market and tried to get our feet back on the ground. One late summer day, a childhood friend of mine drove down our street. We were tearing out some very old carpet and carrying it out to the gutter for pick up. My friend stopped briefly and we talked a bit. Then out of nowhere he tucked $200 into my sweaty front pocket shirt.


Just when you need that special lift a friend comes along. He doesn't ask you a lot of questions. Somehow he just knows he is supposed to come by. Maybe its just to let you know he's still around. Or maybe it's to let you know you can lean on him for as long as you need. Perhaps it's writing a note to say, "Hey, I prayed for you today. It's going to be better." A friend does the work of faith every time he helps carry you through.

The friends of the paralytic brought their friend to the best friend anyone can have. With their faith they pressed through the difficulties for their friend. While the hole in the roof got bigger, the hope of healing became bigger too. Once it was large enough, they let their friend down through the hole and laid him right in front of Jesus. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven."

Someone didn't get it. "Blasphemy," someone was thinking. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, "Why do you question like this in your hearts? Which is easier to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'rise and take up your pallet and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" –– he said to the paralytic –– "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And just as his friends' faith had expected, he rose, and picked up his pallet and walked out the front door.

Jesus was everything the paralytic and his friends had imagined. By faith they had overcome every obstacle. Challenges only made their faith stronger. Faith seeks for him who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Nothing has changed in two thousand years. And as long as time endures, mothers will do the work of faith and pray over their babies burning up with fever. Faithful husbands and fathers will keep lifting up their families in prayer. The faith of a child will never go unnoticed. And until Jesus comes again, the work of faith will still seek out Jesus, the Son of God, who heals those paralyzed in body and soul.


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 dennishankins@gmail.com His website is: www.dennishankins.com

Friday, February 10, 2012

Do You Have the Cooties?

Reflections on the Readings

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 12, 2012 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For Sunday

Do You Have the Cooties?

And a leper came to him begging him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean." (Mark 1:40)

I'm going to assume I have your attention with my title for this Reflection! Does it bring back any of your childhood memories of antics and sometimes bad manners around someone you feared had the coooootttttttiesssssss! I thought so. Me too. Branding someone with that label ostracized those kids we thought were below us. Was it ever funny? Nope! Did it hurt someone probably starving for a little friendship and for a turn up at bat? Yep! Do you need to go to confession? Wait a moment while I go look in the mirror.

I'm back. I saw myself. I'm taking that person in the mirror to confession.

Cooties is a term referring to lice, fleas, and other kinds of parasites. It is also used to describe persons who are different or disabled or burdened with some kind of quirk real or imagined. It's applied also to people with a lesser income or sometimes to someone who is employed, let's say, cleaning out septic tanks, for example.

"Where does your dad work?" a kid asks the new kid at school. Proudly the kid answers, "My dad is a pig farmer!" not expecting the ridicule and finger pointing and accusation that she stinks. Guess who is lonely on the playground.

These outcasts are excluded from cliques at school or in the office and sometimes the cliques that can occur at church. Such persons are not much better off than the leper in today's gospel when it comes to acceptance and the virtuous etiquette of kindness and forbearance and bearing one another's burdens.

As long as a leper was unclean, he was obligated to warn others that he was unclean. "Unclean! Unclean!" a leper would announce to anyone coming near him. A leper lived isolated from the community and was unable to participate in its life. The unnamed leper today comes to Jesus, not declaring his condition, but begging to be made clean again!

There was a procedure for reentry into the life of the community for anyone declared unclean by the priest. If a person no longer had the sore of leprosy, he would present himself to the priest for inspection. Providing the man no longer had any evidence of the blotch, the priest would pronounce him clean and allow him back into the camp.

In modern times it is difficult to get our head around all of this. But in Old Testament times, great concern is raised in the first reading for important reasons. First, there is the issue concerning the spread of disease, so isolation for something that might clear up in a few days is warranted. Then there was the ongoing concern if a skin disease was a permanent prognosis such as leprosy. This is why the brief but exhilarating Gospel of the leper crying out to Jesus is important. No one lives with less of everything than the leper in this reading. And he's going for broke. He has heard of Jesus and in him there is one last flicker of hope!

I'm struck by the intensity demonstrated by the leper in the Gospel. Jesus is moved by his request. It is abrupt and filled with great expectation. But Jesus is neither startled nor put off. Rather he is moved with pity. He who had no permanent address nor a pillow to lay his head on understands deeply this man's need. The leper is living away from his family and friends. He has no where to lay his head down at night. His only hope for restoration to his rightful place is to be healed. And it is this he requests of our Lord. So begging, kneeling, and pleading, he says to Jesus, "If you will, you can make me clean." The desperation in his voice is real and the faith in his heart is enough to move mountains.

Jesus responds to the cries of our heart. Like the leper, we who have blotches on our hearts that only he can see, should cry out as the leper. We should come to the Lord with great expectation. We can ask him to heal our hearts and to fill us with that love that is from above. The Lord hears our voice. And when words no longer pass our lips, he hears the desperate pleas from the secret places of our soul. His response to this leper could not be more dramatic. Moved with a desire to touch this begging leper, Jesus stretches out his hand and says, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

A person touching a leper became unclean himself. No one would touch this leper. It was too risky. The stakes were too high. But for Jesus this is not a risk; it is not a gamble. It is the mystery of love, for to the pure all things are pure.

It is this mystery of love that Jesus shows the leper that we are to grasp today. Paul ministered for the benefit of others, that they might be saved. Like Jesus, Paul sought to make real to others that love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Such love is patient and kind. It is never rude, arrogant, nor boastful.

My friend, we want to imitate Jesus as Paul did. How much richer our lives and families and communities can be if we imitate Jesus. But our agendas keep us at arms length with him and with each other and we miss the fulness of the kingdom of life and love. Jesus wants much more for us. He is willing to make us clean and free in the great Spirit of his love!

As we come to this Table we pray, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." 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 dennishankins@gmail.com His website is: www.dennishankins.com

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Pink Ribbon and the Dollar Sign

The Pink Ribbon and the Dollar Sign | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Click here (or copy URL into your Internet browser) to read the article:



In Caring For Souls

Reflections on the Readings
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 5, 2012 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins

In Caring For Souls

I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. - St. Paul

There are some people you just enjoy being with. They add to your life and in their presence you feel special. When they leave you look forward to seeing them again and after they pass you still are filled with what they added to your life. I believe the converts gained by St. Paul had that kind of attachment to this apostle.

How could they not feel special? Paul was to them the aroma of Christ. Being in Paul's presence was like being in the presence of Jesus. Paul's prayers, his teaching, and his presence were filled with the unmistakeable fragrance of the Savior. Gathering the inquirers around him, Paul relates his encounter with Christ: "I have seen Jesus our Lord, and his light and glory knocked me to the ground and brought me to my senses. Before I met Christ, I persecuted the Church, but now, by divine intervention, I give you what I've received - a Savior."

According to the passage from Job today, life can be challenging. Job speaks of months of misery and nights filled with trouble. He goes to bed only to toss and turn and wonder when will the sun rise again. And before you know it, like a puff of wind, life is over and happiness still eludes him.

But hold the curtain.

A Cross rises above the mountains over yonder and in its shadow the broken hearted and the wounded are healed. Even Job comes to himself and proclaims, "Yet in my flesh shall I see God." And he does. (Job 19:25-26) He again rejoices that God is great and greatly to be praised. He ponders God's greatness revealed in the vastness of the universe and in his own heart. And in his contemplation I can imagine Job listening to the tender voice of God within him counting the stars and calling them each by name. And Job and you and me will sing again; touched by him who cares for our soul.

Like his Master, Paul brings empathy to all he meets. No one is beyond grace. All must be reached. Everyone must hear of God's love. Owing no one anything but love, Paul made himself a servant of all, that he might win the more. (Romans 13:8; 1 Cor. 9:19ff) Charging no one for his ministry, Paul labors the more fervently for the care of the souls he encounters.

Whether in person or by letter, Paul preaches the Gospel with the intent of persuading everyone that Christ is the Savior of the world seated at the right hand of the Father, and whose love is endless and whose mercy is without measure.

Much of Paul's ministry was rewarded with exhausting effort, imprisonments, countless beatings; many times he was at death's door. Five times he received forty lashes less one at the hands of the religious leaders of his day. Three times he was beaten with rods; once he was stoned. He endured three shipwrecks spending a night and a day adrift at sea. Sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure all were part of Paul's endless evangelization missions. And apart from all of these things he felt the daily pressure of his deep love and concern for all the churches. Paul travailed over his spiritual children urging them to embrace Christ without reservation. In all this Paul exclaims, "Who is weak, and I am not weak?"(2 Cor. 11:29) Paul found the blessings of the Gospel a reward filled with the eternal weight of glory, a glory he first encountered on the road to Damascus.

Jesus became all things to all people. In the Gospel today he is the physician for the fever stricken mother-in-law of Peter. For those filled with Satan's bondage he is the great deliverer. He is a spring of living water to all who thirst. To the dead in Christ he is the Resurrection and the Life. His flesh is the bread of life; and his blood fills the chalice of our salvation. The Shepherd of our soul comes to us in his Church offering us this memorial of himself. By this Holy Communion our soul is filled again so that we may meditate more fully on the mystery of his healing love. 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 dennishankins@gmail.com His website is: www.dennishankins.com