Friday, July 26, 2013

The Significance of Prayer

Reflections on the Readings
July 28, 2013 - 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C

The Significance of Prayer

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."

Praying Through - Don't Stop Too Soon!

We've been house hunting for about 2 years. Everybody says it's a buyer's market. Not until this past week did we find one that we are really interested in. The interest rates have been at historic lows so, good for us, right? Well, wouldn't you know it, as of this writing we are waiting to see if our offer is accepted just as our previous interest rate rose 1 percentage point! One thing we've learned in this process is that it doesn't hurt to ask. Asking for it, or about it, or just because is not only reasonable, it's important and may save you from a bad decision or help you know it's a good decision.

Ask. Just ask. You won't know until you ask. That's good when buying a house or looking for a college or deciding to say I do. In the Pentecostal church I learned this axiom: "You are not through praying until you've prayed through." That was the spirituality that surrounded my impressionable heart when I was growing up. It intrigued me then and still does. This kind of importunity was an encouragement to me. It instilled in me the knowledge that I could hold on to God in prayer. When we press on in prayer it sends a message to the deceiver that one with God is a majority. 

A God of Love or the Divine Santa?

God does for us more than what we can actually ask for or think about. However, this doesn't mean that God is a divine Santa Clause who doles out answers to prayer like candy. What it does mean is that through prayer we have Him as our ally. Going to God in prayer we approach the throne of grace. At that throne we obtain the help of grace we need at just the right time. That grace comes when praying for a wayward son or daughter. In times of sickness and uncertainty that grace often comes in the awareness of a presence of peace of no earthly origin. 

Answers to prayer sometimes are direct and precise. Sometimes it's a matter of watching in prayer when we are not certain of the outcome or how to proceed. In those moments we may simply have a knowledge in our heart that God is. You can always believe that He is aware of our every weakness; he is acquainted with all of our grief for God is and he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Bargaining with the Love of God !  

In prayer we encounter the love of God. Abraham bargained with that Love when he asked for Sodom and Gomorrah to be spared. 

"Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?" Abraham pleaded. "If you find fifty righteous people in that wayward place, will you not spare everybody for the sake of the fifty?" Abraham then persists. In a dynamic dialogue Abraham entreats the Lord to spare the sinful cities for the sake of 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10 righteous souls. Every time I read this passage I keep expecting to hear Abraham to ask, "How about if there is just one righteous soul left in those godless cities? Will you not withhold your fiery judgement for the sake of one faithful heart?"

Audacious. Persistent. There is a holy tenacity and a fearless persistence that is common to the exercise of prayer. It is similar to Jacob holding on to the visiting angel and refusing to let him go until the he blesses him. He came out of that experience limping, but a limp well worth the wrestling with an angel all night even though he landed a holy punch in Jacob's thigh. 

Then the angel said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." 

But Jacob persisted: "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." Then the angel said, "Your name shall no more be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed."  

Prayer unites us with God

Prayer is foremost an act of uniting ourselves with God. It is a desire to see with the eyes of God. When that vision of things happens we see with the eyes of our heart; enlightened with an awareness of the nearness of Him who made us and all that is and said, "It is good." 

Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father. He is the Father of lights, the very creator of the heavenly bodies. These lights in the heavens continue to reveal the beginnings of their existence and power. Such is the mystery of the Love of the Father whose brightness comes to us in prayer. In those moments of divine encounters we do not find ourselves among shadows or variables of God's love as if he could change. He is not diminished as if we could ask too much, or pray too often. He is not depleted by our constant pleading. The only thing that keeps us from knowing him as he wishes us to know him is when we do not believe in his benevolence - that he is good and able to do exceedingly above all that we could ever ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20) 

Surely it was this union with the Father the disciples noticed when they saw and heard Jesus praying.What they witnessed in Jesus praying was as profound as the Transfiguration of our Lord. You will notice that the Transfiguration occurred as Jesus prayed at which time there came a voice of affirmation from heaven saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" (Luke 9:28-35) The followers of Jesus saw Him in the act of praying. What they noticed in that hour of prayer as they would at the Transfiguration was the Son of God in union with his Father. It is this closeness with the Father we seek when we pray, "Not my will, but thy will be done."

Letting Go and Letting God Have His Way

There are no limitations imposed on our coming to the Father. Prayer is a path of union with him. That union with him is why Jesus invites us to ask for the Holy Spirit; the same Spirit we were sealed with in baptism. If we have faith in God's power at work in our baptism then won't the Holy Spirit also help us to pray if we will but ask him to lead us in prayer. When we do not know how we ought to pray, we can ask for the help of the Holy Spirit. He will help us to pray. He will help us to pray the prayers of the Church in a way that sounds like we mean it. He will also open our prayer language up to create prayers with words we may not have ever thought about saying. 

There's nothing like praying in the Holy Spirit in the mighty name of Jesus. So let us not grieve the Holy Spirit or ever resist his strength and energy to help us pray. He will help us to pray always and without ceasing and fervently for the fervent prayer of the righteous has great power in its effects. (James 5:16) 

The admonition I heard all of my life growing up around fervent Pentecostal praying was just let go and let God have his way. I remember encountering that same fervor and wonder praying the Rosary for the first time. Initially I thought it was dry and borderline dead until somehow a momentary window into understanding it left me knowing that that prayer as are all prayers, like your prayers, are significant beyond our imagination. Amen.   

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail him at:   Visit him at:


Friday, July 19, 2013

In the Presence of the Lord

Reflections on the Readings
July 21, 2013 - 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C

In the Presence of the Lord

But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her." 

Mood Elevator: Press C for Curious

Senn Delaney helps companies find their focus. His program aids them to discover or rediscover the necessary culture to have loyalty, profits, and creativity again. He zeroes in like a laser and helps his clients to look inside their organization and at themselves from the leadership to the receptionist. He asks, "Do you start your day being curious and interested?" 

Delaney offers a mood elevator model suggesting that doing anything right begins with a genuine, focused interest, and a healthy curiosity. The end result is a creative and inspiring office, home, or parish, and it all starts with a healthy heart and mind filled with wonder and curiosity about ourselves and others and the future we want to help everyone to have.   

You remember Moses, don't you? He encountered a spectacular thing. He worked for his father-in-law keeping watch over his flocks. One day he found himself near the mountain called Horeb. Out in the middle of nowhere on the westside of the wilderness, the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. The bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. What did Moses do? He became curious, eager to understand what he was seeing with his own eyes. He said, "I'm going over there to get a closer look and find out why that bush isn't burning up." Soon he found himself on holy ground and leading some say as many as 2 million souls on a journey to the Promised Land. 

The Hour Glass is Running out of Sand

Many complain that they have no time for the stuff that really matters - like family, friendships, and their faith. We are very busy now-a-days. Our schedules are filled to overflowing. We are anxious and overwhelmed because we feel like time is running out, like sand pouring through our fingers. It seems like there's just not enough minutes in an hour to get things done. There's not even enough time to notice the lilies of the field. (Matthew 6:28) 

Teaching families and companies how to manage their time is a big industry. One axiom states, "Don't work harder; work smarter." It is true that we only have so much time in a day. However, H. Jackson Brown says, "Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein." Perhaps it would be smarter to pray this prayer: "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12) 

Choosing Jesus over our Distractions

Our first priority is to have and to know the presence of Christ in our lives. Are we growing in the faith - a faith Jesus said moves mountains - a faith that makes known to us the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love for us? (Ephesians 3:17-19) Paul invites us to ponder more deeply the mystery of our faith in the second reading. He explains it as a mystery once hidden for ages and generations. For a while it was only a shadow and a promise afar off. But now, now in the fulness of time, its riches and glory is revealed which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

This is the Jesus Mary chose in our Gospel reading today. Wisely taking time to sit at his feet, Mary of Bethany, listened to Jesus as he invoked his love on her hungry heart.

"Tell her to help me, Jesus!" Martha pierces the air with her hands and her words.

"Don't you care that she's not pitching in to help me, Jesus?" Martha retorts.

Martha's stern and condemning words create a noticeable chill in the room.

And with both arms lifted toward Martha, Jesus invites her to sit with her sister. "Here, here Martha, come. Please come. Here's a place right here next to me. Don't be distracted by your distractions. Mary has made her choice; make it yours." 

Jesus melts the unseen ice cycles with his warm invitation.

Praying for a Holy Curiosity 

The promise of Holy Scripture is that they who trust in God and wait for him shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31) When we draw near to God, he will draw near to us. (James 4:8) Again the prophet Isaiah exclaims, "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.(Isaiah 55:6) And then once more from the Apostle James, "Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you." (James 4:10)

Every Sunday we come together and place ourselves in the presence of the Lord. Let us come closer to him with thankful and joyful hearts. For a few moments lay aside the distractions of life and hear Jesus say once more, "This is my body; this is my blood." And then let us be more curious; more awe-struck, like Mary of Bethany; like Abraham and Moses, and do as Theresa of Avila instructed: "Be with him willingly; don't lose so good an occasion for conversing with Him as is the hour after having received Communion...If you immediately turn your thoughts to other things, if you pay no attention and take no account of the fact that He is within you, how will he be able to reveal Himself to you?...After having received the Lord, since you have the Person Himself present, strive to close the eyes of the body and open those of the soul and look into your own heart."  

It is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Amen. 


Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail him at:   Visit him at:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

My Journey into the Catholic Church

My Journey of Faith
By Dennis S. Hankins


When I was 13, I dreamed about a letter written by my Dad in which he referred to "my son, the preacher." I knew that I was that son. My pastor, Brother Jesse Lauderdale, always called me his little preacher boy. So after my dream, I felt called by God to preach and minister to his people. Brother Jesse had never asked me to preach or do anything like that. But I began to think that if he ever asked me -- "When are you going to preach for me?" I would answer him: --  "When you ask me." And then it happened! 

One Sunday morning as my family and I were walking into church, Brother Jesse greeted us and shook our hands. Then he looked at me and said "How's my little preacher boy? When are you going to preach for me?"  I thought, "This is it!"  I stood as tall as a 13 year old can stand and said with confidence, "When you ask me."  

Startled, Brother Jesse looked at daddy and asked, "Is he called?" 

And daddy said, "He says he is." 

Well, Brother Jesse was never one to "quench the spirit" so that Sunday morning he announced that Brother Dennis had been called to preach and would preach his first sermon next Sunday morning. 

That next week found me frantically studying for my first sermon. Feelings of inadequacy and destiny haunted me. Being an avid Bible reader, I searched the scriptures for a text. I thought the Psalms would be a rich source, so I looked there. It would have been considerably easier locating a text had our church been using the Lectionary, but I don't think we knew one existed. I did have, however, The Marked Reference Bible KJV with Concordance and Chain of Reference System that my Daddy and Mommy, with all their love and blessings, gave to me on the occasion of my baptism, August 27, 1967.

Psalm 127:1, the eighth Song of Ascents, caught my eye. It reads: "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." So, at the ripe old age of 13, I brought my first sermon to a Sunday morning congregation of our Pentecostal church.  

Standing at the same pulpit from which my great-grandfather had preached, I declared,  "Only God is the true and sure foundation; only the Lord can be our sure protection." I went on explaining the text with the accumulated wisdom of 13 years, stating that man is weak but God is strong. In addition, I said, nothing is truly sure, real or durable, except the Lord builds it and the Lord guards it.   

A rather prophetic text in light of the understanding and conviction I would one day come to embrace concerning the historic Catholic faith. Many years later I would understand this is the faith that St. Jude states was "once delivered unto the saints." (Jude 3) Indeed I would discover that it is the faith that has been embraced by believers of all times in all places, and is the faith of which the Church is the "pillar and bulwark" (1 Timothy 3:15); the faith the Church guards, defends, and teaches. I would come to understand that the "house" of Psalm 127:1 is the Church that Jesus said He would build, and that house of the living faith is the Catholic Church. 

Full Gospel Tabernacle in Huntingburg, IN was not only where I preached my first sermon but also where I first learned about Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the richness of the Holy Scriptures. It was there in the Pentecostal church founded by my great-grandfather, Rev. Samuel Seibert, that I was born again at the age of nine.


Our church taught it was necessary to be born again, to have a personal encounter and relationship with Jesus. In the Gospel of John chapter 3,  Jesus said to Nicodemus, "You must be born again." (vs. 3) So anyone coming under "conviction" for their sins and estrangement from God were invited to come to the altar and repent and "pray through" to salvation. At our church we believed that you weren't "through praying until you had prayed through." 


One hot summer Friday evening, at the age of nine, with my Bible in hand I walked the 7 ½ blocks to attend the youth service at my church.  Concerned that someone might see me carrying a Bible,  I tried to hide it behind my back. Arriving at church, I took my place on the hard wooden-slat pew, where I sat alone.  The air was hot and sticky.  Inside I felt alone, almost desperate, and began to cry. By the age of nine I had already stolen candy and begun to us the word "heck." Maybe I wasn't a harden sinner, but I could not restrain the tears, nor did I know what to do. Here I was, alone in church, without a living faith in God, convinced that I would be doing time in hell.  

Brother Snodgrass and his wife Darlene were the youth leaders at our Church. He asked me if I would like to sing a special song. How could I sing at time like this? My life was passing before me.  With my head bowed, I shook my head "no." Brother Snodgrass was standing on the platform, leaning toward me as if he wanted to see me better, but I couldn't look Brother Snodgrass in the eye. By this time, everyone in the congregation was looking at me.  

Sensing my struggle, he gently asked me if I would like to pray. "I guess so," I said. Coming down from the platform he put his arm around me, and encouraged me to walk those few steps to the altar -  the same altar where hundreds before me had knelt and found peace with God. There I also knelt and prayed. Stored up feelings of resistance to God's love erupted in tears of repentance and acceptance of the free offer of Grace. Now no longer a stranger or alien I felt received as angels and archangels and all the company of heaven welcomed me into the family of God. 

Most moments of divine visitation at our church concluded with joyful singing. This moment was no different as we sang, as only Pentecostals can, "I'm so glad that Jesus set me free; I'm so glad that Jesus set me free; I'm so glad that Jesus set me free, singing glory, hallelujah, Jesus set me free!"


On August 27, 1967, on a very warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, we gathered on the bank of the muddy Patoka River where several of us were to be baptized. At this same location, in the early 1920's, my great-grandfather Seibert had also conducted baptisms. Although we did not hold a sacramental view of baptism, I nevertheless knew, standing there looking at the water, that this was important. The Scriptures about being buried and raised with Christ through baptism were read, and "Shall We Gather at the River" was sung. Then one by one we walked into the muddy water to Brother Jesse, who with the elders immersed me into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, saying, "Brother Dennis Hankins, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."  It was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. I felt compelled to record the event in my Bible.   

We also had communion.  Again, we did not hold a sacramental view of this practice of the church either, but we approached it with reverence and respect. I was deeply touched by how we partook of the Lord's Supper. A wooden kitchen table was set up in the front of the church with corresponding wooden chairs. Groups of six would sit at this table and re-enact the reception of the bread and the juice. After all had eaten and drunk the elements, the men would wash each other's feet and the women followed suit.  Why? Because Jesus washed his disciples' feet at the Last Super and then instructed his disciples to do likewise. I think about this time in the church of my youth every Maundy Thursday. The washing of feet demonstrated for us that we should love one another, as Christ has loved us. I remember feeling vulnerable, embarrassed, and awkward doing this that first time at my childhood church. As I struggled to embrace this rite, I remember thinking how could I claim to love my brother, if I couldn't accept him and serve him even in the washing of his feet.     


I didn't know it at the time, but everything I had experienced up to this point foreshadowed the historic faith as I would come to know it. Conversion, baptism, the power of the Holy Spirit, communion, even a hint at Holy Orders as seen in my call to the ministry - each of theses shows a resemblance to what has always been believed in the historic Church, and it was this resemblance that created in me the need to know the fullness of the truth. At this point, however, a confession is in order.


As a Pentecostal, I rejected liturgical worship. Since the rites and ceremonies usually associated with liturgy were foreign to me, I concluded they were foreign to God also. Like so many Protestants, I had no clue as to the meanings behind the rich, sacramental actions of the Church; but the failure to understand something is not reason enough to deny it. The Lord, however, has always been patient and especially merciful in permitting me to discover the ancient treasures of his Holy Church. These treasures may be old, but they are also always new. They are timeless and without blemish of age. And in the historic Catholic understanding of the faith, I discovered the reasons for the practices behind my Pentecostal church. So I have not lost anything, I've only gained. 


The modern emphasis on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit has been an enriching blessing to the Body of Christ. Indeed, the Pentecostal church in which I grew up believed and preached that God wanted us to be full of the Holy Spirit. We cherished the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. We believed that what Acts chapter 2 described as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the nascent church should be our experience today. My life and growth in the Spirit can be summed up in the words of the Nicene Creed: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and Son is worshipped and Glorified.  He has spoken thru the Prophets."  


It's always amazing how the present looks so much like the past. All kinds of roads, relationships, and experiences are instruments the Lord uses to shape and guide us. Having grown up in Huntingburg, IN, in Dubois County, I was more than aware of the Catholic Church. I've often said there are more Catholics in Dubois County than there are people. Such is the witness and presence of Christ's Church.  Retired Bishop Gettlefinger, of the Evansville Diocese is from Dubois County. Retired Archbishop Buechlein of Indianapolis is from Dubois County. Dr. Mark Ginter, my dear friend, is a former Professor of Moral Theology at St. Meinrad Seminary, also lives in Dubois County, and has had a gentle impact on my search for the historic Catholic faith. 

When our 3 oldest children were younger, my wife would help them learn Christmas music on their instruments and then schedule a Christmas Concert for the Sisters at St. Mary Church just a block from our house in Huntingburg. With my wife, Debbie, assisting on the piano, the children would perform their pieces on guitar, saxophone, flute, and violin. The Sisters would make cookies and punch to show their appreciation. They always befriended us with their gentle spirit and witness.  

On three occasions, Debbie was asked to assist in an ecumenical choir performance that was under the direction of a Catholic parish choir director. These concerts took place at local Catholic and Protestant parishes and as far away as The Passionist Nuns Community in Owensboro, KY. Several of Debbie's piano students were sons and daughters of local Catholic families. 

Many generous and good friends, many of who whom were faithful members of a Catholic parish, supported my local 60-second radio commentary on WITZ 990 AM, called Front Page with Dennis Hankins. They supported me because they appreciated the pro-life emphasis. I could never shake the reality that it was mostly Catholics who were on the forefront of the pro-life witness.  

After the birth of our third child, with my support, Debbie had a tubal ligation, which was preventing us from having more children. When we became convinced that this action was wrong, it was a faithful and dear Catholic friend who gave us helpful and fruitful direction.  Through the assistance of One More Soul, we found a surgeon in Jackson, TN, who was very experienced in the procedure to reverse tubal ligations. The surgery was very successful, and Heidi, our fourth child is now 12 years old. 


Then there is the faithful and inspiring witness of Pope John Paul II.  I will never forget how he went to the prison to forgive his would-be assassin. That image of Christ's love still touches me deeply.  I have read many of Blessed John Paul II's encyclicals, and they always give me the feeling that I'm reading the words of a man who walked close to the Cross. He led the church in repentance, renewal, and restoration - all of which resonate with my spirit. I came to see him as not just a nice person, or even just a righteous person, but as an example and prophet to the world. By word and deed his witness to the truth caused me to ponder more and more on the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.

This desire to understand the faith accelerated in May of 1997 when I preached a series of sermons comparing what we believed with what the Catholic Church taught. I was concerned about whether we held the same truths, and if we didn't, whether it mattered. As a Protestant minister, I was also interested in history, and as I delved into the past, I became aware that the church was not merely 500 years old but closer to 2000 years old. This led to a hunger and thirst for more understanding of the ancient church which eventually resulted in my ordination to the priesthood in the Charismatic Episcopal Church on October 30, 1997.  Nevertheless, the thirst for truth continues and always will.  My heart's desire is to be a part of the "unity of the faith" in all its authority, worship, and devotion as it is in the Catholic Church.


It is not fair, however, to conclude this section without giving witness to my parents.  Although it was common to hear disparaging remarks about the Catholic Church in my Pentecostal world, my mom and dad never taught me hateful or hurtful attitudes about the Catholic Church. About the time I was getting on my own, in 1974, they moved from Indiana to Arkansas, where daddy accepted an appointment to serve in the pastorate of the United Methodist Church. This was a big leap from the Pentecostal world to a denomination like the UMC. The witness of my parents to walk thru doors that they discerned God had opened for them continues to inspire me to go wherever He is leading. Part of this leading resulted in me serving UMC student pastorates while going to college. It was in the UMC that a sense of liturgy and order began to seep into me. The fact that the UMC has Anglican roots further enriched my understanding of the worship of God. I had no idea that this would be another link in the chain of events that was leading me to the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church.  


I have thousands of hours of study, reading, prayer, and pastoring under my belt. My experience in pastoring Pentecostal, Methodist, and now CEC churches as caused me to yearn even more for the "unity of the faith." The present sons and daughters of the Reformation continue to split, divide, and multiply as though Jesus said He would build churches. Of course , we all know Jesus said, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." 

There is only one Church, and the Founder of it gave only one set of keys.  Those keys and the authority they symbolize were given to Peter.  We can ignore that truth and go on our way, but to ignore it is to ignore the basic foundation to the unity of the Church. Many believers are not so much anti-Catholic as they are completely unaware of where their own faith traditions come from. Where else is there preserved what the church has always believed and preached than in the Church that has always been and will always be? 

It is out of conviction that I write these things.  I do not take lightly my ordination or the vows that I took; nor do I take lightly the high priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17, or His teaching about His body and blood, given for the life of the world, as described in John 6, or His words "upon this rock I will build my Church." I was received into this Church, the mother of us all, April 15, 2006.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail him at:   Visit him at:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Some Thoughts on the New Evangelization

Reflections on the Readings
July 14, 2013 - 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C

Some Thoughts on the New Evangelization

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

It was written in stone. The slab of stone stood about 3 feet high announcing its sacred and irrevocable message. Conspicuously placed at the front door of Buehler's grocery store in my hometown, it always made me think of the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God, for permanently cut into this granite like piece of stone was this affirmation: 

Rule # 1: The Customer 
Is Always Right.

Rule # 2: Refer to Rule # 1!

I've been in customer service for several years. It's a job that requires a lot of empathy and tact. If you have a weak stomach and have to have everybody's love and affection, please do not go into customer service. I can assure you that a disgruntled customer will cuss you, shout at you, or utter a wish for your violent demise and those closet to you. You will hear words your mother never taught you. Such encounters call into question the idea that the customer is always right!

In my early days of pastoral ministry, I read a number of 'church growth' books. Pastors of mega-sized churches wrote books and provided seminars on how to emulate what they had accomplished. I devoured such information. Debbie and I did some TV shows for a local TBN affiliate. I invited big name 'ministry' types to our fledgling church attempting to draw a crowd. I preached from notes, and not from notes. I did radio commentary work and wrote monthly newsletters. Never, ever, did I pastor a church of more than about 150 give or take. 

Much of what I read in so called 'church growth' manuals were corporate and consumer ideas repackaged in Christian jargon. Translated that means that these books and seminars espouse that the church is really in the customer service business. And in the customer service business its all about the consumer and what the customer wants because the customer is always right. One thing I learned through it all: If  the customer becomes dissatisfied for any reason, he looks for another seeker friendly church down the street. 

Fr. Patrick Reardon, an Orthodox priest says, "It is my sad impression that much of what passes for evangelism in this country is, in fact, only an exercise in religious consumerism, where various religious bodies exhibit their wares and compete with one another for larger shares of the shopping population. In such a context the pastor is chiefly a sales representative, whose major concern is customer satisfaction. I mean, exactly how does a pastor "reprove, rebuke, exhort" (2 Timothy 4:2) in a setting where "the customer is always right?"

Let's think for just a moment about St. Paul. In his missionary journeys his one and only concern was to make known the Christ he came to know and love on the Damascus Road. It was all about souls and introducing them to the love of the Redeemer; souls that would spend an eternity either with God in his beautiful heaven or in Hell, a place prepared for the devil and his minions. (Matthew 25:41)

Paul held nothing back for the sake of souls. In his itinerate ministry he wore the sacrifice of Christ in his physical body through afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, and hunger. Yet he said to the Corinthians, "You're in my heart. Our mouth is open to you; our heart is wide." (2 Cor. 6:4-11) Souls - Souls - Souls was the beating of Paul's heart! That is still the meaning and effort of the missionary zeal of the Church - finding the lost and healing the souls in her care. Baptism begins the healing process, while the Sacraments of Confession and Eucharist sustain and continue the healing work of grace in our lives. 

Paul boasted in the only power able to bring men and woman to God. That power was and is the blood of the cross. What Christ did there on that lonely hill of suffering is still the great power of God to bring an end to the tyranny of sin. But sin's awful strength is no match for the "I LOVE YOU," that shouts from the blood of the cross. He who is the great reconciler of God and Man made peace by the blood of his cross. Christ himself effected that peace and declared it done when he used his last breaths to say, "It is finished." In that moment he ascended far above the principalities and powers arrayed against us. He defeated the gates of hell. In the blood of his cross, Christ is our Prince of Peace. In the blood of the cross forgiveness flows like a mighty river of mercy. Evangelism yesterday, today, and forever starts with the cross and the blood our Savior shed for all of us for our salvation. 

Like the Samaritan in today's Gospel reading, Jesus found us lying under the brutality of the devil. He found us wounded and dying in our sin. There he loved us back to life, pouring in the oil and the wine - the newness of life in the Spirit. 

On his shoulders he carried you and me back to his Father's house and said, "I've already paid for this one! Take good care of this precious soul whom I redeemed from the power of sin and death!"

And turning to me he said, "You're home now. Safe and sound!"

And that my friend you can write in stone. Amen.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail him at:   Visit him at: