Friday, May 25, 2012

Making Room For The Holy Spirit

Reflections on the Readings
Pentecost Sunday -  May 27, 2012 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins

Making Room For the Holy Spirit

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)

I become nostalgic about this time of the Liturgical year.  In my mind I go back to an altar where I am praying in the Pentecostal church of my youth.  Brother Melvin is gently touching me on my back while he prays with me in the Spirit.  I vividly remember as the Holy Spirit gently began to give me an introduction to that way of praying in tongues.  

Through the years I have grown both in that way of praying and in my understanding of this great mystery of the Holy Spirit that birthed the Church on the great Day of Pentecost.  Some of this praying in the Spirit has carried me through dark days and darker nights when trials and wayward children and family illnesses and even death of loved ones filled the hours and days.  In those times I often did not know how to pray, but the Spirit himself interceded for me with sighs too deep for words as I groaned in the Spirit.  Other times I have rejoiced in the bright sunshine of the profound presence of God.  I have seen the Spirit move in men's hearts at Cursillo and I have wept as my soul magnified the Lord in prayer before the Tabernacle. 

 I have an affinity for the Day of Pentecost that stirs my soul.  This celebration makes me even more aware of my soul's need for the fulness of the Holy Spirit.  As we read through the Book of Acts we find the words 'filled' and 'full' in reference to the Holy Spirit in the lives of the faithful.  The Day of Pentecost is 'fully' come in Acts chapter 2.  The Spirit descends from heaven in a sound of a mighty rushing wind.  It 'fills' all the house where the apostles and Mary and others are praying.  Tongues of fire rest upon each one and the devout Jews from every nation under heaven hear them speaking in their own languages the mighty works of God.

Making room for the Holy Spirit is something I witnessed in my father.  Daddy was always quick to acknowledge God and his presence in a matter or a prayer or song or a sermon either he or I preached.  Later in life he was called to pastoral ministry in the United Methodist Church.  When the Board of Ordained Ministry asked him how he would handle his experience and belief about speaking in tongues,  Daddy responded in a manner that I can imagine they didn't see coming.  My father explained that he could not deny what God had done for him.  He also put their minds at ease explaining he would never push it on anybody.  And without missing a beat he said, "But I highly recommend it."

My Pentecostal roots are deep going back four generations.  But really they go deeper than that.  And so do yours. At every Mass it is the action of the Holy Spirit that changes the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  In a recent address Pope Benedict XVI remarked, "At a time in which God has, for many people, become the great Unknown and Jesus is simply an important figure of the past, we cannot relaunch missionary activity without renewing the quality of our own faith and prayer. ... We will not be able to win mankind to the Gospel unless we ourselves first return to a profound experience of God".  As we receive the fulness of Christ in the Holy Eucharist let us make room for the Holy Spirit in ourselves.  May each one of us pray for a renewal of the Spirit in our hearts.  Blessed John Paul XXIII gave this invocation of the Holy Spirit in preparation for Vatican II.  Let us make it our own:

"Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Savior, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen"

Come Holy Spirit.

Friday, May 18, 2012

In the Presence of God For Us

Reflections on the Readings
Seventh Sunday of Easter -  May 20, 2012 - Year B
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
By Dennis S. Hankins

In the Presence of God For Us

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)

An infant will cry when its mother leaves the room.  Every mother knows that this true.  A child at such an early age does not think in the abstract.  Children at that age typically believe what they can see and feel and hear and taste.  They are dependent.  The father can try his best to comfort and reassure the crying infant to no avail.  Mother has left the room and with her the little baby's comfort.   In the world of babies mommy is gone when she is out of sight.

Jesus reassured his closest disciples.  Going to the Father did not mean that he was abandoning them.  "I will never leave you nor forsake you.  I will be with you to the end of the age," Jesus said.  He would not be farther away.  In the presence of his Father he would be as close to us as the mention of his name in our prayers. 

In the womb of Mary, Christ became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.  Forever Christ appears in the presence of God for us in his glorified humanity.  The wounds in his hands and head and his feet and side forever mark him.  One like us except for sin ascended far above all the principalities and powers and took captivity captive.  In his holy humanity he returned to his Father's house.  Amid the adulation of innumerable angels he was welcomed home.  And all the hosts of heaven sang out,

Lift up your heads, O Gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of Glory may come in.

Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!

Life up your heads, O Gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of Glory may come in.

Who is the King of glory?
The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory!  
(From Psalm 24)


The disciples watched as a cloud received him out of their sight.  It was not an ordinary cloud like we see on a lazy Tennessee summer afternoon.  Clouds in scripture often signify the presence of God.  The Israelites were led by a cloud by day in their journey through the desert.  A cloud enveloped Jesus and his disciples at his Transfiguration.  Gabriel announced to Mary that the power of the highest would 'overshadow' her.  Pope Benedict in his second book on Jesus of Nazareth explains that the reference to the cloud in the Ascension is unambiguously theological language.  He says it presents Jesus' departure, not as a journey to the stars, but as his entry into the mystery of God.  The Pope shares that Jesus did not enter into another space for God is not spatial, but divine.  Therefore "sitting at God's right hand" means  participating in this divine dominion over space.

Sitting or standing at the Father's right hand also says something about prayer and Jesus' intercession for his Church.  It is good for us to reflect on this a moment.  For if we do we will begin to know in our knower that Jesus ever lives to intercede for us and for the whole world for which he died. (Hebrews 7:25)  Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, saw Jesus interceding for him.  At the hour of his death he gazed into heaven and said , "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." (Acts 7:56) 

In the heavenly sanctuary of divine love is a place for us.  We know this is true because Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you." One day, in the providence of God Christ will come again and receive us unto himself so that where he is we may be also.  Until then we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

Sursum Corda.  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, May 12, 2012

For All People

Reflections on the Readings

Sixth Sunday of Easter -  May 13, 2012 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Reading For This Sunday

For All People

And Peter opened his mouth and said, "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

Cornelius is one who reverences God.  He is a God-fearer.  Short of circumcision, God-fearers honored the God of Israel in all of their life.  They prayed and remembered the poor among them.  They prayed at the appointed hours of prayer.  It was at such an hour of prayer, the ninth hour, that Cornelius is visited by an angel.  The message for Cornelius is that his prayer has been heard and that his alms are pleasing to God.

In the meantime Peter has a vision from God instructing him not to consider what God accepts or cleansed as common or unclean.  Pondering the vision Peter is told by the Spirit that men from Joppa are his door and that he should go with them without hesitation.  The men from Cornelius explain that Cornelius is a Centurion and a God-fearing man and is held in high esteem by the whole Jewish nation.  Furthermore Peter learns that Cornelius was visited by a holy angel who instructed the worshipful Cornelius to send for Peter.

God's love is universal.  His love is without partiality.  It is Peter and me and you who need to know this.  As we hear in the second reading, 'whoever loves is begotten by God and knows God.'  If we are more attentive to the God of love we will be more present and attentive to the people he calls us to love.  Pope Benedict in an address recently commented, "In order to give love to others we must draw it from the furnace of divine charity, through long periods of prayer, constant listening to the word of God and a life focused on the mystery of the Eucharist."

I recall a simple chorus mostly sung in Charismatic Praise gatherings. It's lyrics are: 

I love you with the love of the Lord.

Yes I love you with the love of the Lord.

I can see in you the glory of my King;

And I love you with the love of the Lord.

It is this glory of his King Peter sees as his preaching invokes upon Cornelius and his household and friends an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  It is the same majesty and glory on them as Peter and company saw on the Day of Pentecost.  It at once astounds and settles the question.  God's glory and majesty and love is for all people.  Other sheep he has who are not of this fold.  These also he calls. 

In this Easter season the Lord of Love invites us to know he cares and reached out to all people.  The Covenant of Forgiving Love gave himself for us and for us he is risen from the dead.  The power of death is conquered and his love for all prevails.  This promise is to you and your children and to all that the Lord our God calls today!  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, May 4, 2012

Saul of Tarsus - A True Branch in the Vine

Reflections on the Readings

Fifth  Sunday of Easter -  May 6, 2012 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Saul of Tarsus - A True Branch in the Vine

And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. - Acts 9:26

It's been my privilege to lead a mini-retreat of catechumens and candidates on Holy Saturday the last two years.  Catechumens are those who need baptism and religious instruction while candidates are already validly baptized but also need additional faith formation. Candidates come from another Christian faith tradition and desire to unite with the Church in a fuller way, however, both groups testify to being led providentially to this moment in their lives.  Most revealing to me as I've led these Holy Saturday retreats is the truth that grace is a gift.  And I have seen that gift become the personal possession of several Catholic converts these past two years.  

The candidates uniting with the Catholic Church are very much like the branches Jesus describes as bearing fruit but are in need of pruning so they may bear more fruit.  A deeper teaching of the faith is the word that prunes.  The catechumens are new branches in the Church who will bear much fruit as they remain united to Christ and his Church.  That image of our relationship with Christ in his Church reminds us what Christian life and fruitfulness is:  Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.  The Father calls all of us to grow in grace and love and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Saul of Tarsus is a notable convert to the Church.  Are all conversions as dramatic as his?  Of course not.  But all converts to the faith have rich stories to tell.  They are stories that especially should be told to family and friends.  I recommend that such testimonies be written out and shared with the kids and grand kids and others as the opportunity arises.  Saul's story is initially told in Acts chapter 9.  And he retold it time and again as he labored to make Christ known.    

Evangelism happens when we live for Christ and in his love; this is the compelling need of our time as it was in Paul's.  Like Paul, we must live our faith and tell our story.  It just might mean someone makes it to heaven because of you and the love of Christ you share with him or her. 

Before his conversion, Saul persecuted the Church in a virulent way.  Acts 9 describes him 'breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.'  Saul's resume reads like a who's who: Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, and as to zeal a persecutor of the Church. (see Phil. 3:4-11) He began his career as a persecutor on the day Stephen the Deacon is martyred.  Saul watches this scene with approval as the witnesses lay down their garments at his feet.  As the stones fly through the air to their appointed target, Saul watches with self congratulatory righteousness.

Terror continued against the Church in Jerusalem.  And it was led principally by Saul.  Ravaging the Church, Saul goes from house to house and drags off men and women and throws them into prison. (Acts 8:3) And on his way to Damascus with authority to arrest any followers of Christ, he meets Jesus.  A light from heaven penetrates the darkness in him.  His evil intentions are revealed as a voice says to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"  And he said, "Who are you Lord?"  And the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." (Acts 9:1-5)

That's a conversation Saul never forgot.  Through the intervention of Ananias, Saul regains his sight and is baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit.  He remains several days in Damascus with the disciples affirming that Jesus is the Son of God.  And many are amazed asking, "Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name?" (Acts 9:19-22) 

It's about three years before he attempts to present himself to the brethren in Jerusalem.  Saul embraces a contemplative  life as the Spirit continues to mold him into a new man.  During this time he does not confer with flesh and blood, but relies on the Spirit of truth to lead him into the mystery of Christ and his Church. (Galatians 1:13-24)

The memory he created and the wounds he inflicted are still fresh and vivid in the Jerusalem Church.  They quite frankly are afraid of him and don't believe that he is a disciple.  Barnabas, the Son of encouragement, intervenes and personally recommends Saul to the Jerusalem Church.  

Looking back we know Paul as a fervent and tireless missionary of the Church.  He is the author of thirteen books of the New Testament.  It is the apostle Paul who eloquently tells us that if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old is passed away; behold, all things are new.( 2 Cor. 5:17) No one knows this better than Paul.  "I have been crucified with Christ," Paul says.  He continues, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) 

So deeply did Paul commune with Christ that he speaks of bearing in his body the marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6:17)  He also freely speaks of beatings and the hardships he endures for the cause of Christ and his Church. Dangers from his own people, from Gentiles, and from false brethren become badges of his apostleship.  Hunger, cold, thirst, and many nights without sleep are all ways Paul suffered for Christ and for his Church.  

Obliquely Paul refers to himself when he speaks of knowing a man in Christ caught up into Paradise.  Whether he was in the body or out, he does not know.  Hearing words too sacred to repeat he says, "And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me. Three times I sought the Lord about this and asked that it would leave me."  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  It was the same voice he heard on the road to Damascus many years ago. (2 Cor. 12:1-10)

Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul, proved himself a true and fruitful branch in the Vine.  May it be so of every one who names the name of Christ.  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: