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:  


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