Saturday, March 31, 2012

No Greater Love

Reflections on the Readings
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion - April 1, 2012 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins

No Greater Love

Christ, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8

In the Creed we profess that 'for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.' These words capture for us the height and breadth and the length and depth of God's love for us. They are words deeply rooted in the words of St. Paul we have before us. Writing from jail Paul echoes the words of a hymn to Christ from the early Church. Paul's reflection is the expression of the faith grown in the meditation of the Church on God's love for the world.

'In the form of God' means consubstantial with the Father. This is not something Christ struggled to be, reaching out for it and finally subjugating it to himself. He did not lay claim to deity so as to accrue to himself the honors and dignity of his place and position by fiat. We do not have human words to completely plumb the depths of that perfect love between the Father and the Son. However, in simple eloquence Jesus explains, "I and the Father are one." The Jews then took up stones again to stone him. Jesus asked them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me? The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God." (John 10:30-33) Unlike Adam and Eve who reached for the forbidden fruit to be like God, Jesus is God.

And then doing what only perfect love can do, Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, born in the likeness of men. Our humanity is what Christ took to himself. In doing so he took what he is not into who he really is to become what we are so that we could become what we are not. In an abasement that defies human logic, Christ came into our world not to be served but to serve. Jesus calls us to this greater love saying, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 22:25-28)

Jesus came to us in the likeness of you and me. He encountered the weakness of humanity, experiencing tiredness, hunger, thirst, the need for clothing and a place to lay his head. He endured pain and betrayal, mockery and ridicule, suspicion and humiliation. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

The King of Heaven, veiled as a creature, treated as a common criminal, led as a sheep to the slaughter, opened not his mouth. He could have called ten thousand angels, yet he emptied himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. The Mother of God stood beneath her Son's cross and the beloved disciple John stood with her, both gazing in utter dismay into the paled eyes that still said, "I love you." Only a few days before he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey among throngs of people declaring, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed his he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" But now we see him on this lonely hill of Golgotha, that is, in Christ God reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us - God making him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (see 2 Corinthians 5:19-21)

Every parent tries really hard to teach their children early on the virtue of sharing and the value others who are different than us in color or talent or station in life. Most mom's and dad's will tell you that it takes consistent and persistent effort to build these ideas in a child's mind. Yet it seems early on we embrace the small world of turf guarding and staking out our claims and harboring a defensive take on stuff and things and each other. It pokes it's ugly head out from time to time even with us adults who sometimes act like little kids. It's not a pretty site. But those of us who have done our sharing of turf guarding think we are pretty cool. But it's not really cool, is it? Not really.

Having served a number of years pastoring I can tell you that I've seen turf guarding in the church. I know, it's hard to believe, isn't it? But it's true. Years ago I had the honor of pastoring the Pentecostal church I grew up in. What a privilege it was to be pastor of my home church; the very church founded by my great-grandfather. Then new people began coming in. They were a little different than the folks who had been there a lifetime. These new people were a little more refined and quite alive in their faith and walk with the Lord. But we get stuck sometimes, don't we? The turf guarding began. Suspicious talk abounded. Many were afraid that these new people would take their church from them. Silly, isn't it? But three months later I was voted out. My ouster sent a message that the new folks weren't welcome either.

In this Holy Week, may we seek to have the mind of Christ. So much of what we think is important is nothing more than rubbish. (Philippians 3:8) Let us embrace the newness that self denial brings, the largeness of a bigger world of others and their love and friendship. May we open up our hearts to this greater love, a love that says, "You are more important than me." That at the name of Jesus we may humble ourselves and bow down before him whom God has highly exalted - loving one another and him who loved us while we were yet sinners.

There is no greater 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 His website is:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Amazing Love

Reflections on the Readings

The Fifth Sunday of Lent - March 25, 2012 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Amazing Love

(How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?)

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. - Hebrews 5:7

Four times I have witnessed it. And each time left me in awe of what I had just seen with my own eyes. I speak of the birth of our children, Timothy, Melissa, Bethany, and Heidi. Bethany was the caboose for 19 years and then she gave up that role to be a big sister to Heidi.

As I meditated upon the second reading, I thought about the gift of love. I thought about the drama and complexity of emotions and courage and strength when a mother gives birth to her child. I have witnessed that moment of raw energy combine with a voice of indescribable determination - the agony of giving one's life for another. I have stood there in that holy moment dazed by the wonder of it all. And I've prayed fervently when I wasn't sure Debbie would survive what she had just done - her life draining from her because of the hemorrhaging.

The Church calls us to reflect more deeply on the gift of Calvary's love - to think more on the mystery of our redemption. In this Lenten journey we want to embrace more willingly the mystery of the Cross. For it is here in this singular act of drawing all mankind to himself, Jesus gives his life for us. What Jesus endured for our salvation is nothing less than an heroic act; an action which he embraced in the 'days of his flesh.'

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed in such fervency that his sweat became as drops of blood. Here in this Garden he offered up his prayers with loud cries and supplications and tears. His soul lay bare before him who promised to glorify his name in him - and then he prayed, "Not my will, but thine be done;" a prayer Adam and Eve failed to pray in a Garden long ago.

A Roman executioner gave the pre-Cross beating with a cat o' nine tails. With this whip he applied forty lashes upon our Lord. And the tears and prayers and supplications continued to be offered up. In the days of his flesh Jesus was inflicted with stripes that opened up the fountain of our salvation. And with his stripes we are healed.

Crowned with a crown of thorns, Jesus is paraded to that hill just outside the city. Golgotha they call it - the Place of the Skull. There on that hill Jesus is nailed to the Cross. With one nail in each hand and one nail through both feet Jesus is secured to the Cross. Crucifixions were common in the days of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem; for criminals that is. This is not a typical day. Before us is no ordinary life. Given to us is no ordinary love.

With forty stripes on his back, Jesus was fastened to the Cross with nails and adorned with a mocking crown of thorns. Mockers took up the mantra, "He saved others, let him come down from there and save himself!" But more than nails kept our Lord on the Cross. Accepting the shame and for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the Cross. This offering of himself was not for himself but for you and for me. We are the object of his affection - the reason that he endured such contradiction from sinners.

Pilate's wife dreamed about this Jesus of Nazareth. She told her husband that he shouldn't hurt this holy man. But the mystery of sin blew in the winds that day. Someone began to shout, "Give us Barabbas! Release Barabbas and Crucify Jesus!"

And so for Barabbas, and for you and for me, Jesus died. Out of his great and holy love for all of us, Jesus gave his life for the life of the world. The only way to the Father's house is through and by and in the love of Jesus. The only way to really pray for each other and for those who need a Savior is through and by and in the love of Jesus.

There is no other name under heaven by which any of us can be saved. There is no other kind of love; there is only one kind of love that covers a multitude of sins. That love came down from heaven and impregnated the womb of the Holy Virgin, Mary. And from her came the flesh that gave God a human face and voice. Perfected through obedience and the things he suffered, Jesus in his flesh became for all who will obey him, the true and endless source of eternal salvation.

Human suffering found its way into the sacred heart of Jesus. And there in his sacred and holy heart Jesus wept over you and me. He prayed over you and me. In his flesh and in his heart he labored to give you and me a new birth - a new humanity filled with his love - a love that is not found naturally in anyone. We need the Holy Spirit to pour this love into our hearts - this amazing love; how can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amen.

Lyrics by Charles Wesley; (Click here and Rejoice!)

Hymn Tune: Sagina

And Can it Be?

And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior's blood! Died he for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

'Tis mystery all: th' Immortal dies! Who can explore his strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine. 'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore; let angel minds inquire no more. 'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore; let angel minds inquire no more.

He left his Father's throne above (so free, so infinite his grace!), emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam's helpless race. 'Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me! 'Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature's night; thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in him, is mine; alive in him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine, bold I approach th' eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own. Bold I approach th' eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

If That Isn't Love

Reflections on the Readings
The Fourth Sunday of Lent - March18, 2012 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins

If That Isn't Love

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

The late singer and songwriter, Dottie Rambo penned these lyrics; words that capture the depth of John 3:16:

He left the splendor of heaven
Knowing His destiny
Was the lonely hill of Golgotha,
There to lay down His life for me.


And if that isn't love
Then the ocean is dry.
There's no stars in the sky,
And the little sparrows can't fly.
If that isn't love
Then heaven's a myth -
There's no feeling like this,
If that isn't love

Even in death He remembered
The thief hanging by His side.
Then he spoke of love and compassion,
And took him to paradise.

Out of great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, even when we were dead in sin, made us alive in Christ. By his grace he reached out to us to save us; then he raised us up to sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus our Savior. In the heavenly realms of eternity we sit among those who always behold the immeasurable riches of God's kindness - with this holy fellowship we gather every Lord's Day as the sure and faithful evidence of the bottomless mercy of God.

The words of John 3:16 along with Psalm 23 are the most famous words of Scripture. God loves the world - you and me and the guy next door. If there is to be a new springtime of evangelization, this God of love will be the inspiration of our prayers and of all that we do to invite others into this fellowship of mercy. John, later in life would pen his general epistles and underscore the reality that God is love. It is this depth of spirituality each of us must reach for - the understanding that in our prayers and in our words we can give others a love that is not of this world. We need this love first in our hearts and homes. And then we must bring a new and redeeming civilization of love to the whole world, even to the uttermost parts of the earth!

Jesus endured the cross, not as a nuisance to get over. Our estrangement from God made it even heavier. By the sheer struggle of bearing it, he proved his love for us. Why would the Son of God embrace such a selfless act? Why not call legions of angels and be done with this brutal pain and loneliness and betrayal? What manner of love is this that a just one would die for the unjust? Joy! Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that was set before him, the joy of redeeming you and me. The joy of calling us his family strengthened Jesus with the necessary strength to carry his cross.

Jesus did not come as one seeking to condemn. No. He came not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Any notion less than this is not evangelism - it is quite frankly nonsense. The world received a hug on Golgotha many centuries ago. And to this day, God waits patiently for the world to hug him back.

The spirit of God's love gives life. God, in his infinite trinity of being, is perfect love. Such love is not willing that any should perish - makes every effort to make it almost impossible for anyone to say, "No." Someone might reject such love, but in the scope and depth of why and how God so loved the world, it is difficult to imagine. Every sin and viral seed of hell that can erode the soul of humankind is no match for that grace that is greater and for that love that is rich in mercy and the kindness of God who is love. And everyone who believes him will not perish but have eternal life.

Calvary is where the love of him who made us in his image now seeks to restore us to his fellowship. Paul explains to us that this restoring grace is a gift. It is not anything we have merited or something we could do for ourselves. My friend, it is the unmerited gift and love of him whom Jesus calls Father, and he invites us to call him Father, too.

So who can separate us from the love God. Nothing. Not tribulation, or distress, or lack of food and clothing. God's purposeful love cannot be deterred. Even in the earliest days of the Church, it was not popular or convenient to follow Christ. But no difficulty from man or demon defused the love of God poured into the hearts of the faithful by the Holy Spirit. The love of God is immense; it is endlessly strong, unconquerable in its gentleness and immeasurable in its height and depth, in its length and width.

There is no one beyond love's true intentions, and there is no sin too black or hideous for its saving grace. "For God so loved the world" are words that beat with the heart of the Father. The Father gives what no one can demand, shares what no one can imagine, love's with a love that can not be depleted. This act of God is an act of mutual consideration of the One God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in contemplation of humankind's greatest need. In a selfless act that the holy angels still behold in unending wonder, the Son was given. The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world came to bring us back to the Father's heart - the inner life of God.

If that isn't love; indeed, if that isn't 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 His website is:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Holy Place

Reflections on the Readings
The Third Sunday of Lent - March11, 2012 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins

A Holy Place

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. - John 2:13

Perhaps someone said, "What if those who came from farther away could buy their sacrificial offering right here!" Convenience. An idea that took root without deeper reflection. And then someone suggested there was a need for a place where folks could get exact change for the Temple tax. But everything has its price and a profit is necessary to restock and maintain a business in the court of the Gentiles. A market based ministry evolved while the timeless understanding of sacred space, worship, and memory faded. Jesus' action underscores the truth that prayer is priceless - that faith is not a commodity - that the place of prayer and worship and remembering is holy.

Herod's Temple, referred to as the second Temple, was many years in the making, and was a striking presence in the city of Jerusalem. People spoke of the Temple in glowing terms, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings. (Luke 21:5) A significant part of Jesus' ministry interacts with the Temple. In fact, he was brought to the Temple for his circumcision and at the age of 12 he was accidentally left behind at the Temple where he conversed with the scribes and Pharisees for three days. This magnificent Temple was at the center of the life and worship of Israel.

It was a holy place.
Holy sacrifices were made here.
The magnificence of the Temple exuded with the beauty of holiness.

But something was amiss. In Luke's account Jesus says, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers." The court of the gentiles, the area Jesus cleaned house, was a place where anyone could come to and offer prayers. Bleating sheep and disgruntled oxen and the buying and selling turned the area into a market place. One cannot serve God and mammon.

In the first reading we learn that the law of the Lord is perfect. It converts the soul. Meditation on the word of God, the Ten Commandments, is most perfectly done in a holy place. As we recollect ourselves before the offering of the Mass, it is good to hear the Lord say again, "I am the Lord your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve." The holy words of the Decalogue remind us to never take his name in vain and to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy. Neglecting to keep the Lord's day keeps us from the deep things of God - from entering into his rest - from receiving the body and blood of the Lord.

In the second reading Paul reminds us that the Church preaches Christ crucified. She does so most eloquently in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The altar is front and center bringing our attention to things angels desire to look into. Nothing makes someone unfamiliar with these holy things more astonished than when we say Christ crucified is a demonstration of God's power. "These things are foolishness and weakness," someone may protest. But to us who are being saved, the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. God's foolishness is greater than all of the world's wisdom.

To some, the sacred precincts of the Church and her worship is odd or even ridiculous or foolish. Jesus cleaning the Temple shows us his devotion to his Father's house and its relevance for those seeking God. In this action Jesus helps us to understand more deeply that sacred space offers us a place to be with God in a special way. Prayerful reflection and recollection help us to realize more of what God is giving us. Sacred space and time combine to invite us to be true worshippers - worshiping God in spirit and in truth. God inhabits the truly sacrificial offering of prayer and praise.

God gave to Moses the pattern of worship. The worship space consisted of three parts: The Outer Court where the morning and evening burnt sacrifice was offered; The Holy Place; The Holy of Holies. A heavy curtain or veil separated the Holy place from the Most Holy place. It was made of fine linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn. Cherubim were embroidered on this holy veil. The Ark of the Covenant resided in the Holy of Holies. In the Ark of the Covenant, Moses placed Aaron's budding almond rod, a container of the Manna, and the stone tablets upon which was written the Ten Commandments. Into this most sacred space the High Priest entered once a year on the Day of Atonement with blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. (Hebrews 9:7)

On the cross is the last time Jesus and his ministry intersect with the Temple. At his death on the cross the veil in the Temple, 60 feet high and 30 feet wide and 4 inches thick, was torn from top to bottom. In his death, Jesus invited all humankind to enter into the Most Holy place by his blood, the new and living way opened by the curtain of his body. By the sacrifice of himself, Jesus invites us to draw near to his Father with a sincere heart. (Hebrews 10:19-22) Now we may come into the inner sanctuary where he has already entered. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)


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, March 1, 2012

A Sacred Vision

Reflections on the Readings
The Second Sunday of Lent - March 4, 2012 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins

A Sacred Vision

And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of man should have risen from the dead. - Mark 9:9

Peter, James, and John come down from the mountain overflowing with what their eyes had seen. They kept the experience to themselves, but were initially bewildered and questioned what rising from the dead meant. All of that changed after Jesus rose from the dead. John muses on his witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus later in his life saying: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands - the life that was made manifest, and we saw it! (see 1 John 1:1,2)

Exiled to the rocky island of Patmos, John sees Jesus again in all of his glory, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire. The feet of Jesus were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. His face was like the sun shining in full strength - the living one alive forevermore - the keys of Death and Hades hanging from his sash. (see Revelation 1:12-19)

Abraham embraced his test with a faith that rejoiced in the day of Christ. Jesus spoke of Abraham's great vision of faith and his joy of Christ. Speaking to the hierarchy of his day, Jesus said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad." When did this occur? Our second reading today describes Abraham in his test of faith. Offering up his only son, Abraham reached out of himself and believed that God would raise his son, his only son back from the dead. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your descendants be named." He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17-19)

Lent is when we ask and seek for a greater abandonment to Christ and his Kingdom. Our eyes need a fresh vision of Jesus who is human and divine. In his flesh his glory is unveiled in his Transfiguration. Both Elijah and Moses attend this unveiling. Why these two? Mountains. Desert mountains. Moses beheld the glory of God and the giving of the Decalogue on Mt. Sinai. And Elijah fled from Jezebel to a mountain where he heard the voice of the Almighty speak in a still small voice. That same voice of the Father spoke out of the cloud atop the mountain of Transfiguration as he introduced his only begotten Son saying, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him."

Only in Luke's account of the Transfiguration do we learn that Moses and Elijah were in conversation with Jesus. The inner circle, Peter, James, and John are witnesses to a conversation between the Law giver, Moses, and Elijah, the Prophet of considerable fame and of hallowed memory in Israel. Both of these Old Testament men were preeminently held in sacred honor by the Chosen People.

We learn also from Luke that Peter, James, and John were initially asleep when this event unfolded. But given their awareness of the heavenly and historical visitors, it is reasonable to concur they heard more than we are told.

Luke also explains that Jesus and his visitors are in a conversation about our Lord's impending sacrificial offering - his Paschal destiny in the Holy City of Jerusalem The impact of this vision and discussion left its imprint on Peter, James, John, and as I noted, John alludes to this event in his first Epistle. And Peter explicitly relates this event in a contemplative and hallowed tone many years later. For Peter, this vision gave him a sacred memory concerning the very depths of the holy humanity of Jesus that he would draw on in his apostolic ministry. Writing years later with an impregnable faith, Peter declares the veracity of what he knows and believes: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (see 2 Peter 1:16)

After twenty centuries, along with Paul in our second reading, we remain amazed at the generosity of the Father's love for us. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all - will he not freely give us all things with him? Will he not bless us with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus? It is this great kindness of God we are seeking in our Lenten observance. It is the great gift of God to give us a sure and true vision - to see for ourselves the love of Christ - to be filled with all the fulness of God. (Romans 8:31ff; see Eph 3:19)

Reflecting on the great and sacred hour of the Transfiguration, Peter remembers the honor and the glory emanating from the only Son of the Father. Peter speaks of the Majestic Glory and Invocation: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Peter exclaims, "We heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain." (2 Peter 1:17 &18)

May the Lord give us a sacred encounter with Jesus. May he give us that sacred taste of the love of Christ; to find ourselves lost in the breadth and length and height and depth of that love that is immeasurable and go forward in our Lenten journey to see ––––

the sacred hearts of those filled with despair;
the sacred faces of those filled with hunger;
to hear the sacred voices of those crying for justice.


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: