Saturday, September 28, 2013

Keeping the Light of Faith Shining

Reflections on the Readings

September 29, 2013 - 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Keeping the Light of Faith Shining

(The Prophet says,) "Woe to those who are at ease in Zion...who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!" 

Disturbing the Comfortable

Our Father comforts the disturbed. The troubled and those with heavy hearts he visits with help in their time of need. He also disturbs the comfortable. As we hear in today's readings, there is a word of warning. Complacency and self congratulatory smugness are lethal to the faith we profess. Running on neutral or worse yet, on the fumes of a faith once vibrant and alive, is to be at "ease in Zion." 

Every pack of cigarettes has a warning about the ill effects of smoking. Yet millions ignore that uncomfortable warning. And after many years of smoking, the lungs of a smoker look like the charred remains of a house destroyed by fire. What you can't see can't hurt you, right? The smoker generally ignores the warning on the pack in her hand and lights up another thinking that one more might not hurt. Then comes the disturbing news, "I'm sorry, but you have lung cancer."

We all agree that smokers shouldn't ignore the warning on that pack of cigarettes. Neither should we ignore any signs of our love growing inward. If ever we hear, "Soul, you've done good for yourself. Why don't you take it easy for a while and let someone else be concerned for the lost, the lonely, and the least. Let someone else care for the dying and rescue the perishing." If ever you hear that hellish imp whisper such things in your ear, remember the words of the prophet, "Woe to those who are at ease in Zion!" Be aware when the light in the soul is going out.

Bearing One Another's Burden

A vibrant and growing Christian faith also has an awareness and calling of mission. Those whose faith is on fire will not ignore the Lazarus' in their lives. There is the hungry Lazarus. Lazarus can be someone lost who needs faith and grace and forgiveness. We will meet Lazarus in the office or at the store and even at Church. Whoever Lazarus is, may it never be said that your Lazarus was your mission and there was no time or notice or awareness of Lazarus.

Lazarus is also our brothers and sisters enduring a great trial of faith. In Egypt and Syria and Iraq unspeakable atrocities are happening to members of our own Church family. They are the Lazarus' of the 21st century. These folks are our spiritual relatives. Of course members of Congress and our President and the United Nations ought to be up in arms at what is happening to the Christian community in these troubled places of the human family. 

But most importantly, let us offer prayer for these who are our family. They suffer because they are Christian. They belong to communities of faith that have existed in their part of the world for the better part of 2000 years. They are today's Lazarus; the ignored and defamed and subjected to great scorn, hostility and death. May we give them the comfort of our prayers. Let us lift our prayers and ask for a new and guiding light for these our sisters and brothers who live in very dark times.

No Ordinary Light

In the reading from Paul's letter to Timothy, Paul describes no ordinary light. Christ dwells in "unapproachable light." It is not of human origin. And it is unapproachable in that we bring no competing brightness to it. When we think about our mission to let our light shine we are not speaking of a light we shine. It is not derived from within us. This light is given through us and all who let the light of eternity shine on their soul. It is a light that darkness cannot compete with and win. There is no darkness able to impede this light we might call the light of love - a love that is of a purity that washes away our sins so that we become white as snow. It's no ordinary light. 

Our mission is to make this light, or rather, to allow this light to shine in all of the pureness and life and love it brings. If we pray, "Lord, show me the way. Show me where you need me. Lead me to what you want me to do and to whom you want me to reach," God will lead and guide us to do his will. His light shines more brightly when we invite its rays to penetrate our minds, our hearts, and our vision. There is a saying that goes like this: There is none so blind who will not see! That's true. If we don't ask the Lord to shine on us and through us, we will not see and know the mission of reaching the Lazarus we are to reach.

The rich man lived and dined and clothed himself in all of his finest. He ignored Moses and the Prophets. He disdained the light they shined. Perhaps he mocked them and thought them too old fashion and out of touch with reality. Because of the darkness in his life, the rich man didn't notice nor care that someone right outside his door needed him and what he could do for him.

Like Moses who stood barefoot on Holy Ground before the Burning Bush that was not consumed, we also may contemplate the Divine Light. It is a mystery of faith we can not approach with our own understanding. In humility let us receive the eternal life it emits. And rather than bask in it, may we keep shining this great and awesome way of faith, hope, and charity until on that day we are united with that Light in that place where there is no need of the sun for the Lamb is the Light of that City. And the first person we will meet there will be the Lazarus that we helped. 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 Dennis at: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at:



Friday, September 13, 2013

A Mission of Mercy

Reflections on the Readings
September 15, 2013 - 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C

A Mission of Mercy

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. - St. Paul

A Personal Testimony

Paul's personal testimony is as rich as his personal attacks on Christ were derisive. His conversion and testimony about Christ touches even the most reluctant as revealed by King Agrippa's words to Paul, "In a short time you think to make me a Christian!" (Acts 26:28)

Speaking of Christ, Paul says, "I blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him." Acting ignorantly and in unbelief, yet Paul received mercy. Two times in this second reading Paul says, "But I received mercy." On his way to Damascus Paul seethed with boisterous threats and arrogant words to take no disciple of Jesus alive. But in a blinding light of the glory of Jesus, Paul met Mercy himself. And in that moment Jesus had only one question for him: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 

Chief of sinners! Numeral uno! The sinner of all sinners! That's how Paul saw himself. Of all the sinners in all the world, Paul realized just how merciful Christ had been to him. And if that could happen to him, he thought, then no one is outside of the saving reach of Jesus.

It's fun to look at pictures of houses before and after remodeling. Or even pictures of people before and after a makeover. That's how Paul asks us to see him. We are to understand and see Paul before mercy and after mercy. What a difference mercy makes. Encountering Christ Paul fell head over heels in love with Jesus. Forever grateful for the mercy that found him and saved him, Paul remained a follower of Jesus to the day some Roman official decapitated him. I can imagine Paul praying just before the sword met his neck, "When I behaved without mercy, Jesus had mercy on me. Into your merciful care I offer myself up to you and ask you to have mercy on this man ready to execute me!" 

I think everyone ought to try to write out their personal testimony. It is good to try to put into words what's in your heart. And writing out your testimony of faith in Christ is a good way to do that. A heartfelt and personal reflection about Christ and his love for you is an excellent way to be a witness for Jesus too. As we read in the Gospel today, Jesus is a friend of sinners, the best friend ever! Just think a moment about what it means to be outside of God's mercy and then to be scooped up in its unrelenting flow. Tell that story. Tell your story. Your family will love you for it and someone just might get to heaven because you told your story of faith in Christ.

Lost and Found

I'm sure Paul would join us in singing, "Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see." Jesus uses pictures from everyday life. His stories about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost boy illustrate how eminently valuable we are to Him. 

A lost coin was about a day's wages. It was a real crunch in the family budget to lose a coin. So we can understand the joy and excitement about telling the family and friends about finding the lost coin. The lady of the house demonstrated a heart of patience and perseverance to find that valuable coin. That's a picture of God's relentless love. It is the love Moses reflects on in his intercessory dialogue with God regarding his wayward people in today's first reading. Perhaps God expressed his displeasure with Israel's straying heart with a particular intensity to see if Moses would remember that God surely could not forget the people engraved on the palms of his holy hands. (Isaiah 49:16) Like this woman, God will be patient and persevering towards his people whenever they have lost their way.

A shepherd spared no effort to find a lost sheep and to bring it back to the fold. Keeping watch over the flock and its welfare is a priority for the shepherd. And isn't that a picture of God's heart about us. He is not willing that any should perish but that all should attain life through repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

And then the lost boy. Not a day goes by but that this daddy looks down the road to see if perhaps his lost son is coming home. Days become weeks and weeks become years. Sometimes years become decades. But the daily ritual of standing at the gate and gazing as far down the road as the eye can imagine is a picture of God's watchful care for us. So rich and merciful is this watchfulness that Paul says emphatically that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. No kinder intention could the world ever know. And for over two thousand years this intention of Christ has grown richer, fuller, and deeper in the imagination of the Church. 

Leave the Light of Mercy On!

Jesus sat down with sinners and ate with them. As we mix and mingle among the lost may we be like that woman who is patient and persevering. Let us not spare any effort to find the sheep that is lost and bring him or her back to the Church. And always may we be like that father who keeps the door of the house open so that our lost sons and daughters will feel welcome and wanted upon their return. There's nothing that says, "Welcome! Come on in!" like a light left on and the door unlocked. That's the Church of the 21st century. An inviting and open house of refuge and rest and of starting again. 

In its infancy, the Church understood that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. This understanding was deeply entrenched in the consciousness of the first century followers of Christ. Their place and purpose in the world was defined and inspired by this rich appreciation and praise for him who died upon the Cross. They found themselves unafraid in the face of sometimes intense persecution because they found a refuge in the Christ they served and proclaimed. Early in the life of the Church there was vast misunderstanding and deeply held contortions about who Christians were and what it was they believed. But through it all, they saw themselves as we should see ourselves, as new creations in Christ Jesus. May we accept our place in the mission of mercy, the very ministry of Jesus, who came into the world to seek and to save the lost. Sinners like you and me. 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 Dennis at: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at:  


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Our First Love

Reflections on the Readings

September 8, 2013 - 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Our First Love

Jesus said to them, "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."

Vivid Hyperbole - Keeping it Real

Contrasts. Scripture is filled with them. Light and darkness. Life and death. Narrow way and broad way. Right and wrong. We make choices that lead us to greater understanding, to the light or the right choice; choices that may mean the difference between a heaven in God's presence or eternal death. 

Jesus teaches with this kind of contrasting intensity; with deliberate and deep knowledge that human persons are filled with too much blur and ambiguity. We must know for sure that we follow Christ whether or not anyone else accompanies us in our commitment. Do we allow anything without or within us to distract us from the Love that loved us first? The Apostle John lived in that intimacy and singleness of heart when he said, "We love, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19) And so it always is that he who loved us first asks us to love him back. Not with a divided heart, but with a heart that beats with love for God. 

Noah built an ark and invited his family and friends to come on board and take a voyage back to God. Only eight were on board whose lives where spared to find a way of beginning again in God's embrace. Abraham and Sarah left kith and kin to follow the still small voice that said, "If you do, if you will go where I take you, I will make you a blessing to the whole world." It is Abraham's faith we emulate for we are the spiritual children of Abraham when we live by faith in the Son of God who calls us to love not anything or anyone else, nor even our own selfish ways more than him. He who loved us first asks us to love him first always.

Counting the Cost

Not a day goes by that we don't encounter the cost of following Jesus. There are moments when we know we must have a greater soul. However, all of us have moments we haven't given place to generosity, goodness, and greater love but rather insisted on our own rights, place, or superiority. In those times we did not pay the cost, we extracted a payment. That's why we search and ask for more amazing grace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

The Church in its infancy was very deliberate, if not somewhat selective, on who was received into its communion. Loving care was exercised to be sure the catechumen, the convert under instruction, understood the claims of Holy Love. Many would face martyrdom. Yet even with this stark reality, the Church grew. Should we not pray that our love and zeal for Christ might be richer and newer and more alive in our hearts and thinking and prayers? The message to the Church at Ephesus was, "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first." May we make our own the words of the psalmist, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!"

Making the Cross our Own

The Cross denotes a special message and mission. It says that only One is the center of all things. Everything in heaven and earth originates in Him and returns to Him. That's why we say he is Alpha and Omega. No meaning or understanding of the fulness of life in the universe is possible without Him. Every reference point in time and eternity finds its meaning, its destiny, and its totality in Christ. The message of the Cross is compelling and universal; a powerful and definitive word that love knows no boundaries; that grace is greater than sin; an emblem of suffering and shame at which the powers of Satan and his minions still tremble.

It's that Cross with all of its specialness and mystery Christ asks to make our own.  It's mystery and power is the inspiration of endless prayers, chants, and hymns. It worked its wonders in a slave whose name was Onesimus. And Paul implored his owner, Philemon, to receive him not as property or as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother, as a man in the Lord. This is the Cross we bear, announcing to the world that God invites us to become brothers and sisters in Christ. 

All of it? 

Jesus said, "So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." Is there any other way to be happy in Jesus? I started this Reflection sharing the profound choices we face. Whether to live in the light or let the darkness swallow us up. Whether it matters if we live in a blurry and fuzzy notion about life and death or right and wrong.

The Father of all Mercies, while we were still sinners, gave his only Son to die on the Cross. He asks us to renounce our own selfish and controlling ways in order to follow him into a fulness of life we cannot know otherwise. Somewhere in our evolving life of faith we may have reason to pray, "Not my way. Not my will. Not my riches or my accomplishments or my dreams or my goals. Only in you can I know who I am and what I am meant to be. Give me the wisdom to hold on to Who is holding me. To be generous in love, to offer grace that is greater than my judgements, to live in the mystery of the Cross. May I do this not for myself only, but for all those I love. Somehow grant me the courage to give it all to you and make you my First Love." 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 Dennis at: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: