Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Final Damnation

Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 30, 2012 - Year B

The Final Damnation

It is better to enter into life missing a hand, or an eye, or even a foot that is causing you to sin than to be thrown into hell, (with all of your body parts) where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (my translation)

There is a child's chorus that almost any Christian of any stripe probably knows.  Some of you may remember singing it as a child at VBS or Sunday School.  The chorus will help us understand the exaggerated words of Jesus in today's gospel.  If you haven't read the readings yet, please click on the convenient link above and read at least the Gospel.

The chorus I mentioned is the one that begins with: 'Oh, be careful little ears what you hear' as the children point to their ears. The verse concludes with: 'For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little ears what you hear.'  And then you start over pointing to the eyes singing, "Oh, be careful little eyes.'  No part of the obvious anatomy is left out.  The next verses will include the mouth, hands, and feet.  And then with a little imagination other verses include, 'Oh, be careful little mind what you think,' or 'little heart what you love.'

Jesus talks about taking drastic measures to avoid sin.  Cutting off the hand or foot or plucking out one's eye means to take seriously the sin that seeks our cooperation and participation.  "It is better," Jesus says, "Living with one less eye, foot or hand, than to go to hell with all of your bodily parts intact."  

What does Jesus mean?  

He means we should take the Christian way of living seriously.  I remember a Pentecostal evangelist of some fame say years ago, "There's no such thing as a little sin, just as there is no such thing as a little pregnancy."  That little seed of misbehavior or wayward look or desire is deadly if it takes root.  In his book, James talks about temptation and how it does not come from God.  God cannot be tempted with evil and he does not tempt anyone.  He is pure love and that means he will do no one any harm.  But evil is real.  And when anyone is tempted he or she is lured and enticed by an inner desire.  "No one will see me," or "No one will ever know," we say to ourselves, little considering that God knows.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. (James 1:13-15) Sometimes we find out too late that the Ten Commandments apply to everybody.  

Sin damages us deep inside.  It also brings destruction and separation from those we love.  And most of all it separates us from God.  Nothing has changed about how sin and the passions unleashed affect our relationship with God.  Nothing has changed since the Garden.  We, like Adam and Eve, hide from his presence.  We might avoid parishioners or resist the Love calling us to be reconciled to God.  The voice of God heard on that dreadful day in the Garden echoes to this day, "(insert your name,) Where are you?"

The Catholic Church teaches that the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.  Anyone who dies in a state of mortal sin will descend into hell to suffer the punishments of hell, a place where the fire is never quenched.  

What can we do?

The Church teaches us to make use of our God given freedom in view of our eternal destiny.  We are called to 'work out our salvation with fear and trembling.' (Phil. 2:12) Cooperating with God and calling on his help and trusting his love is the work of grace.  It's important business. It's important if you're a husband and a wife and have a family to help get to heaven.  It's not automatic.  We have an obligation to live our lives and lead our homes with an awareness that there is a Heaven to gain and a Hell to shun.  Some folks believe once saved, always saved, and that it makes little difference what role faith and obedience to God plays in life afterwards.  That's a kind of spiritual fire insurance not likely to hold water!   

Christian life begins in baptism and makes us alive in God and to the things of the Lord.  It is truly a spiritual transformation.  I remember Brother Melvin testifying when I was a kid in the Pentecostal church.  I can still see him in the rich memory I have of those days.  He always sat on the east side of the church on the front slat bench pew with other men of the church.  Standing up he would hold his hands behind his back.  And then he would remind us all, "If I go to hell, I'll go as an intruder."  He meant that if he were to turn away from the love of God and die in a state of mortal sin, it would not be God's fault or intention for him.      

Brother Melvin recognized sinning deliberately, that is, to spurn the Savior of his soul would be to profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified and to outrage the Spirit of grace.  That's taking faith and one's eternal destiny with an appropriate measure of humility and fear of the Lord worthy of the life scripture calls 'Christ in you'. (see Hebrews 10:26-31; Galatians 2:20)   

Gehenna is a valley southwest of Jerusalem.  Jesus refers to this place 11 times in the Gospels as indicative of hell.  Originally, in Old Testament times it was the sight of a Canaanite cult where the worship of Baal and Molech occurred.  This idolatrous worship  included the sacrifice of children.  In the time of  Jesus and the New Testament it was a seething garbage dump where refuse burned constantly.  Jesus used the imagery of this dump to highlight the fact that Hell is permanent separation from God accompanied with punishing fires like Gehenna.  It is important to understand when speaking of this that God does not wish that any one should perish.  Nor does God predestine any one to go to hell. Quite the opposite is the truth.  He desires that all should find repentance and know his friendship within the Holy Trinity of Love. (see Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 1033-1037)

In the Catholic Eucharistic Prayer #1 we hear this important reference to our eternal hope:

Therefore, Lord, we pray:  graciously accept this oblation
of our service, that of your whole family; order our days
in your peace, and command that we be delivered
from eternal damnation and counted among 
the flock of those you have chosen.  Through Christ our Lord....

And everybody said, "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, September 22, 2012

A Child Shall Lead Them

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 23, 2012 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

A Child Shall Lead Them

And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."

When I was a kid my daddy encouraged me to memorize scripture.  One verse I committed to memory is a scripture daddy thought it important for me to read.  It's Ecclesiastes 12:1 - Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when you will say, "I have no pleasure in them."  Since the days of my youth I've heard the call to the ministry.  My folks nurtured all six of their children to know the Lord and his voice in their lives.  They helped me to recognize God's still small voice.  

Paul reminds Timothy of the origin of his genuine and sincere faith.  That faith first resided in Timothy's grandmother Lois and then his mother Eunice.  How did Timothy come to have this gift of faith?  His grandmother and mother carefully nurtured that gift in the child they rocked to sleep with the stories and prayers of their faith.(2 Timothy 1:1-5) It is said that Susanna Wesley rocked the world as she rocked her sons John and Charles to sleep.  The Wesley brothers, each ordained as Anglican priests, birthed a movement of renewal in the church of their day.  The result is the United Methodist Church of our day.  

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the Messianic hope and the era it brings in brilliant and majestic Edenic language.  In that day the wolf and the lamb will dwell together in peace.  The leopard and young goat shall take naps together and the lion shall no longer antagonize the calf.  And the icing on the cake is that a little child shall play in safety without fear of hostility or strife within the Kingdom of the Messiah.  "Nothing shall hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain," says the Lord.  In that day the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.(Isaiah 11:6-9)   

How we treat the most vulnerable among us is the measure to which we will truly know Jesus and his Father.  Jesus invites us, everyone of us, to be great.  Jesus is teaching us that greatness is about humility.  He's describing the path to true knowledge of Jesus and his Father.  How close we are to God depends on how readily we stoop down to accept the presence of a child.  

I remember sometime ago speaking to a young family at a parish function.  As we left we stopped for a moment to exchange greetings.  As the mother was holding her beautiful baby boy, I reached out to see if Matthew would come to me.  Without hesitation he came into my arms and snuggled into my embrace.  The Mother exclaimed, "You're a good man.  He trusts you."  Apart from the love and admiration of my family that is the highest compliment I've ever received.  

I think we could see God better if we took more effort to see the Lord through the eyes of a child.  Jesus today is inviting his disciples and all of us to take a look at the world through the eyes of a little child.  That child will lead us.  He/She will help us to see with greater hope and faith and love.  Looking through the tender eyes of a child helps us to have a better vision of the future, a future that culminates in that beatific vision of God.   

It's never easy looking at the horrendous pictures of hungry children.  Their tired and emaciated bodies deprived of proper nutrition and water remind us to think again, "What would Jesus do?"  I think of the 1.5 + million babies willfully aborted and wonder what we have missed and what we could have seen through their eyes.  And then there is the story I read this week here  It is the story of a precious eight year old Muslim girl who is speaking to an Islamic gathering extolling the virtues of Jihad and the hatred and violence she embraces.  Ruqaya is only eight.  I then ponder in my heart how much longer will the Lord allow these injustices to children continue.

Parents recognized the love Jesus had for children.  They brought their children to the Master for him to embrace and bless.  But somehow the disciples forgot what they learned in Mark chapter 9.  By Mark chapter 10 the disciples are rebuking the folks bringing their children to Jesus.  It is here Jesus steps in.  In fact he is indignant and says, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Whoever does not receive the kingdom like a child shall not enter it."  Jesus thinks all of us should want him like the children want him.  Children recognize the gentle authority, the blessing that comes from being near Christ.  It is a simple and trusting response to him who came not to be served but to serve.

It is the fulness of the Messiah we'll see when we allow our hearts to be less cluttered.  Like children, we don't need to impress.  Too much baggage keeps us from simply trusting him who without resistance accepted the death men imposed on him.  Then after three days he did what God does with death.  He cast it off and the children of men to this day shout, "Glory to God in the highest."

Let the children lead us in that perfect praise - the praise God ordains that should come from all of us who once in while still see God through the eyes of a child!  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, September 14, 2012

A Call to Faith

Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 16, 2012 - Year B

A Call to Faith

And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." - Jesus

I often think about what it means to follow Jesus.  And the gospel today invites us again to think deeply about this very thing.  From Peter we hear a profession of faith.  Deep within himself Peter embraces the gift of knowing who Jesus is and responds, "You are the Christ."  No doubt there were affirmations from the others standing nearby.  "That's right!"  someone added.  "That's what I think about you too, Jesus," someone else exclaims. 

And then it goes south.  It's difficult to keep reading.  Jesus asks everyone to keep this revelation of his messianic mission under their hats for a while.  He teaches them how he must suffer many things.  Just a few moments ago Peter and company were elated.  Like a balloon rising on the wings of the wind these disciples of Jesus were riding on cloud nine.  And then Jesus explains his future is filled with religious animosity and official rejection by the spiritual leaders of his day.  His tone became more somber as his words reveal his sacrificial death.  Speaking plainly Jesus bluntly bursts any thoughts reflecting any mediocre and frivolous notions of his messiahship.  

You could hear a pin drop as we say in tight and awkward moments of silence.

And then Peter lets it out.  He will have none of this.  Sensing madness in his master he rebukes his Lord.  Not all thoughts are inspired by the Holy Spirit.  This is one of those moments for Peter.  Jesus turns abruptly and looks each of his disciples in the eye.  And then looking directly at Peter Jesus rebukes the chief son of his closest followers.  

Just a few short years before Peter left everything to follow Christ. He heard the call of faith and in his heart he said, "yes."  He dropped his fishing nets to fish with Jesus for the sons and daughters of Adam in the sea of humanity.  And up until a few moments ago, Peter saw Jesus clearly.  But now Satan has sown doubt and fear and the very fabric of Peter's understanding of himself and of Christ is torn.  To save Peter and everyone else looking on this unbelievable scene of insubordination Jesus counters, "Get behind me Satan!  For you are not on the side of God, but of men."

Again the air grows thick and Peter buries his head in his hands.  

Everyone takes a moment to catch their breath.  Jesus invites the many who are following him on this day to sit down.  There are things he must say.  All eyes are on him.  Everyone is waiting for him to speak...

My friend, Warren Evans, is a WWII veteran.  He served our country as a member of Colonel Darby's elite 1st Battalion Rangers.  Warren grew up on the plains of South Dakota.  There he discovered life in all of its peculiarities and foibles and promises.  He met the love of his life there too.  It would be a few years later before he could say, " I do."  Before he made it to the altar of holy matrimony he fought his way across Africa, Sicily, and Italy.  In hand to hand combat with our enemies, Warren looked deeply into the eyes of soldiers who like him had left everything real and lovely to go to war.  He would spend over a year in a German POW camp not knowing what his future held.  

Warren is now about 94.  The trials and tragedies of war often haunt him to this day.  Life and love of family, living and dead fill his heart.  And memories of better days give him strength and courage to smile.  I grew up seeing that smile splash across this man's face.  His chiseled jaw and white hair and joyous eyes inspire and enrich everyone around him to this day.  

I think about men like Warren when I hear Jesus speak of courageous faith expressed in selfless and sacrificial words.  However, we don't hear words about self denial easily.  Carrying a cross invokes images of suffering - rejection - death.   Self preservation comes naturally.  Avoiding pain and sacrifice is seen as strength.  We are pampered by gnostic ideas espousing materialism as a sign of spiritual blessing.  But what does it profit us, to gain the whole world and forfeit our soul?  Life is more than stuff and things.  Faith in Christ is more than a spiritual jolt and high.  Sunday morning church is more than a Saturday night gig dressed up a bit for the liturgy and announced as worship.  Living for Christ, answering his call to faith and love and worshipping at his throne is so much more.  It is ineffable. 

Many find the cross enigmatic.  Yet it is here we discover our rich and life giving call to follow Christ, to live in his love, and to bring the power of his forgiving mercy to all the world.  Everyone who takes up his cross and follows Jesus is responding to the call of faith.  In every generation the call of faith goes out.  Every boy and girl and man and woman who embraces a deep and genuine profession of faith testifies to the truth of Paul's words: 

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who 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.     

Let us show our love for Christ in loving one another.  May we respond in mercy to all who need the love and touch of Christ.  Because faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.  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, September 6, 2012

Recognizing God's Friends

Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 9, 2012 - Year B

Recognizing God's Friends

My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory...Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?

Once upon a time a scribe excitedly told Jesus he would follow him wherever he went.  Jesus responded with a blunt warning, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has no where to lay his head.  He began is life among us with no permanent address, spending his first earthly hours asleep in a cow's trough.  And in death he took up temporary residence for three days in a borrowed tomb.  

In his stories Jesus presents the kingdom as a banquet open to all.  He tells us to bring to his feast of love the poor and maimed and blind and lame.  And we must be diligent and deliberate about filling up his banquet house until it is full.  We are to go even into the 'highways' and 'hedges,' engaging people everywhere to consider the riches of faith, hope, and love.  St. Paul understood these riches in a deeply prayerful way.  Seeking to grasp the meaning of the Incarnation Paul proclaimed how Christ, who though he was rich, became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich.  

The wealth of our salvation is not, however, in silver and gold or in stock holdings.  You see, my friend, the Lord of glory emptied himself.  This rich truth means that the Son of God became a man so that we could become the sons and daughters of God.  For our sake he did this.  He did this not because we could give him anything but because he desired to restore to us the fulness of the breath of life.  He breathed into us the breath of life so that we could be truly alive.

The world has standards by which it measures success.  By those standards of success many fall short.  These human measurements exclude and show partiality.  But God does not measure according to the outward appearance.  He is not impressed by these things.  Not many of us are wise or powerful or of the right DNA according to worldly standards.  Some how God delights in showing his strength in the weak in this world to remind the strong what true strength is; he invites those who are lowly and despised in the world and sets them in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.  

The Church, the body of Christ, is comprised of every tribe and nation and language under heaven.  Everyone in God's family is a trophy of grace.  The great family of God is made up God's friends.  Upon this friendship he lavishes his love and he tells us again and again of his love and shows us his mercy in forgiving us our sins - again, and again, and again.  If there is any virtue, if there is any praise, if there is any goodness, it is that God extends his friendship to whosoever will.  

When the folks in today's Gospel brought their friend to Jesus they asked for a miracle.  He could not speak nor could he hear.  They begged the Lord if he might lay his hand upon their friend.  And before they left this man with these impediments of speaking and hearing could now function in both ways.

Do we sometimes need Jesus to touch our ears so we will hear him better?  Should we invite Jesus to touch our tongues so that we will speak of him more often and with less fear?  He wants to set our lives free so that we will be his witnesses.  He sends us into all the world.  And into all the world we are to take his friendship.  

Are you afraid to share God's salvation?  Then hear the excitement of the first reading.  Isaiah, the prophet, shouts, "Be strong and fear not!"  God comes to save and to restore.  He will open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf.  The lame will leap like the deer and the tongue of the mute will sing.  Even streams will burst forth in the desert.  What is the prophet telling us?  He is describing a new day of evangelization and faith.  It is appropriate to hear this reading within the context of the 'new pentecost' and 'springtime' of faith recent Pope's have preached and written about.

All of us are called to help bring a new springtime of faith.  May it begin in our hearts and in our homes.  May it burst forth everywhere that God's love is absent, his voice not heard, where his light is dim, and his healing power for soul and body is not known. 

God has friends who still do not know of his love for them.  Let us be a friend, make a friend, and then bring our friend to Christ.  May the Holy Spirit help us and lead us to do the will of God.  May he give us a burden for those who still do not know him and use us to recognize those who he is calling to be rich in faith.  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: