Friday, October 25, 2013

Spiritual Snobbery

Reflections on the Readings
October 27, 2013 - 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Spiritual Snobbery

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' (Luke 18:11, 12)

Beating our own Drum

This Pharisee has some qualities that might make him a welcomed member of any parish or congregation. People don't call him a cheater. And he's a faithful husband and family man. Neither does he tip the scales in his favor - equal justice across the board. Who wouldn't want this man sitting on the front row on Sunday morning? When the offering plate comes around, he faithfully supports the ministry of his local Synagogue by giving tithes of all that he earns. Wow! And his prayer life is worthy of imitation; fasting twice a week just like the Rabbi teaches. This Pharisee doesn't have a spot on him. 

Well, almost no spot. Did I fail to mention that he's a spiritual snob? That's right. While he does all of these good things he looks down his nose at everyone else while standing before God beating his own drum. It's a holier-than-thou attitude that all of us have to guard against. I've met Catholics who are more Catholic than the Pope. And then I've met Protestants who didn't believe for a minute that there is truly a Christian Catholic. Even when I was growing up in the Pentecostal church there were folks who believed themselves to be more Pentecostal, more holy, more spiritual than other Pentecostals - and certainly saw themselves more in touch with God than their brothers and sisters in the main line denominations. But is God looking for braggarts or beggars? Does the Father look more favorably on those who beat their own drum or on those who strike their breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner?"

The Confiteor - The Way of Humilty

We often begin Mass with the Confiteor - that is, a confession. It's a good way to pray about any venial hindrances such as a haughty attitude or self rewarding thoughts. The word confiteor means: I confess. Here's that prayer: 

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
[All strike their breast]
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

Striking the breast recalls the tax collector in today's Gospel. It puts the worshipper in a more humble frame of mind. This simple act is a profound reminder that even in my Sunday best, I've not always been who I'm supposed to be. So it's mercy, and lots of it that I need. In that moment I leave behind my spiritual snobbiness and remember that you and I stand together on level ground at the foot of the cross. The Pharisee left his prayers the way he came - full of himself. This confession helps me to leave my worship time on Sunday with less of me and more of Jesus. And that means going into the new week as a better witness and evangelizer.

The Christian Act of Libation

In today's second reading, Paul writes of the culmination of his life and ministry. The end is near. And his final moment will be one last effort to give himself, his life's blood for the sake of the kingdom. He's fought a good fight. He's stayed on course and the race is almost finished. The winner's circle is in view. His faith is now at its highest fervency. He sees his approaching martyrdom as a libation; a worshipful act of pouring out his blood for the furtherance of the message in its fulness. He has no desire to take anything with him; he will leave it all on the field.

Football is big here in Knoxville. Our team is in the SEC and some of the best football and basketball in the country is played in the SEC. One of the things I continually hear from Coach Butch Jones and his staff is how they want everyone on the Team to leave it on the field. They want every player to reach down in the middle of his belly and leave his heart out there on the field. Isn't that what we are supposed to do as Christians? We who live in the service of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords have a destiny that is infinitely bigger than any SEC contest. I know that may be a stretch for some, but I'm going to stick to it anyway. Doesn't Jesus ask us to leave no effort undone, no love unspent, no prayer not prayed? Have all the hungry been fed? Have all the thirsty had a drink? Have all the prisoners heard of the freedom in Christ? When we come to the end of our lives don't we want to say like Paul that we're ready to leave it all on the field as an act of Christian love and sacrifice? Until our last breath we are called to be a spiritual libation of self-giving for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of souls.  

Not all of us are called to martyrdom. But all of us are called to live in the deepness of our faith. All of us are called to let the Holy Spirit lead us every day in a way of life that can only be described as Christian libation. A pouring out of ourselves with every effort and word and deed to make Christ known. We don't have time for the pettiness of spiritual superiority. Spiritual snobbery and arrogance is not the way of Christ. Embracing the true meaning of Christian humility is to bear one another's burden; seeing the other better than ourself. That takes away living for an agenda to living for a higher cause. Following Christ means taking to heart his way - loving with a life poured out not for our selves but for our families and friends. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. We can grow closer to Christ and to each other on our knees. And if we arrive at heaven's gates still on our knees, then a reward awaits us - a crown of righteousness. Now to him who humbled himself and loved us for love's sake be the glory forever and ever. 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, October 19, 2013

Having a Prayer Life

Reflections on the Readings
October 20, 2013 - 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Having a Prayer Life

And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. (Luke 18:1)

The Cry of the Heart

Prayer is sometimes made of words. Other times it is waiting in silence. It can be a moment when gazing at an exploding sunrise in wonderment and thanksgiving. There are times when prayer is on the go. And prayer can be a block of time carved out of the beginning of a day. Certainly prayer is that conversation when it's something that just has to be explained again. At least we think the Lord may need an update just in case he didn't...well, we really know he did hear, but, you know! Then there is that prayer that comes with words not of our own understanding, but the Spirit gives us the words to pray within the deepest mystery of our faith. All of these ways and times of prayer are a cry of the heart.

Have you ever seen a basketball player or some other sports figure and wonder if their heart is really in it? It's obvious. It's painful to watch. You know the saying about if your heart ain't in it, then it's not worth doing. Prayer is worth doing and we need to take it to heart and make it a cry of our heart. As the Psalmist reminds us: Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord! Lord, hear my voice! Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

The widow sought justice from a judge who neither feared God nor respected the people he served. Yet this did not deter the little widow who did not lose heart, but she persisted in asking for what she needed. Her fearless approach to the unjust judge resulted in mercy. The point of Jesus' parable is not that our Father is like this earthly judge. Rather, Jesus wants us to know that his Father and ours always hears the cry of the poor; of the destitute; the prayers from you and me. He hears us because he looks on the heart and sees and knows our prayer requests. Like Jeremiah the prophet reminds us: For I know the plans I have have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all of your heart, I will be found of you, says the Lord...

The Battle Belongs to the Lord

Spiritual warfare is real. It encompasses the necessity to be vigilant and persistent in prayer. The first reading describes Israel's response to the invading army led by Amalek. The Amalekites were a pernicious thorn in Israel's national side. They were Brutal and vicious in their raids against the Chosen. 

We might use this reading to describe the resemblance it has to Satan's attacks against Christ's Church. St. Paul reminds us that prayer is sometimes a spiritual battle that we wage. He exhorts us to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Paul says, "For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."   

When David confronted the taunting Goliath, he did so with a simple faith. It was a faith that had grown in him as he watched over his father's flocks. With his own hands he had killed a lion and a bear to protect the sheep under his care. Upon the lonely hills he comforted himself and the sheep who listened to him sing unto the Lord. So when he went before Goliath he approached him in the strength he discovered in worshipful song and prayer on the hills of Judea. 

Answering the arrogant taunts of Goliath, David warned, "This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down..for the battle is the Lord's and he will give you into our hand." 

In our prayers, let us be comforted with remembering that our Father knows what we need before we ask. He is present to the circumstances we pray about before we bring them to his attention. So why pray? Because in our Father's great wisdom he has determined that he will do nothing without us. So the scriptures do not say, "If you pray, but rather, When you pray!" And when we truly have a prayer filled life we discover that prayer is a way for us to give ourselves over and the matters we pray about to the mercy and ever powerful grace of God. The battle truly belongs to the Lord.

Praying through Thick and Thin

In the second reading Paul reminds Timothy of the origin and trustworthy faith he received in childhood. Everything we learned about our faith we learned in seed form in childhood. It's something like everything you learned you learned in kindergarten. It's true. Some of the most powerful and invigorating truths of our Father's love for us we learned from the stories and prayers and preaching we heard in childhood. These things are truly irreplaceable treasures.  Someone who drifts far from the faith will often find their way back because of a song or prayer someone taught them.

Paul encourages Timothy to preach the word; to be faithful and persistent in teaching the faith. We demonstrate Christian faithfulness when we make persistent and relentless efforts in praying. It may be convenient and sometimes it may seem a little bit inconvenient, like when we are eating out and we hesitate a moment to bow our heads and give thanks. But the hour is urgent, the time is short, today is the day of salvation and it is in that hope and promise of salvation we find the reason to pray without ceasing. 

In season and out of season, we must pray. Through thick and thin let us call upon the mighty strength of our Father whose ears are always open. He does not need persuasion. He only waits for an invitation to invade us and our prayers with his love so that we might be filled with hope. Hope is the lifeline we find when we allow our lives to be filled with prayer. A lifetime of prayer is the key to growing in grace and seeing grace grow in all the places in need of that grace. A life of prayer teaches us that nothing is too hard for the Lord. He who is merciful and kind will answer the prayers of our heart to heal someone sick, to comfort someone dying, to love someone hurting. It's just that real. As Jesus said, "We ought always to pray, and not lose heart." 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: 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Bodily and Spiritual Grace

Reflections on the Readings
October 13, 2013 - 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Bodily and Spiritual Grace

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him; and he said, "Behold, I know that there is no god in all the earth but in Israel." - Naaman (2 Kings 5:15)

Instruments of Grace

"Let the Lord use you," daddy said. Those words of encouragement sent me on my way to my next preaching engagement as a very young 18 year old Pentecostal Evangelist. To hear those words rise up from the depth of memory remind me again how important it is to say, "Lord, use me." That's a simple prayer worth praying every day. Whenever we sense an opportunity to bring God's peace and love we can become a modern day Francis of Assisi and pray: "Lord make me an instrument of Your peace..."

First, let's get some background to Naaman's story. In one of his raids into Israel with the Syrian army, Naaman captured and took back with him a 'little maid' who became a servant to his wife. In time, noting the physical illness of leprosy in Naaman's body she proffered to her mistress, "Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of leprosy." Like Paul in today's second reading, she endures her suffering and separation from family with her dignity intact and her faith unfettered. The teaching of the faith of Israel is not chained in her captivity. She offers hope in the midst of her own despair, enduring everything for the sake of salvation and healing for her master who is in captivity to leprosy. The little maid's remark inspire Naaman's journey to meet with the Prophet, Elisha. 

This is where our first reading takes up the story. It was not easy for this great commander to take directions from someone else, much less, an Israelite, and a prophet to boot. So when the prophet did not personally greet him and perform some kind of spiritual hocus-pocus Naaman felt insulted - insulted for not having a personal audience with the prophet and insulted that he was directed to wash himself seven times in the Jordan river. Nothing hard; nothing overly exciting; nothing difficult to do except for Naaman's ego. Yet Elisha, a servant of grace, like the little maid in Naaman's house, points him in the direction where God will meet him. Grace, grace that is greater than his bodily or spiritual need, draws Naaman deeper into Israel's God, the God who brought them historically through those same waters and made them a new people. Naaman is himself made new in body and soul - all because a maid let God use her and a prophet who wasn't afraid of earthly powers. Such is the way of those who let God use them for the good of others - instruments of Grace.

Holy Ground

Naaman returned to Syria without his leprosy and with a new God. Rimmon, the chief god of Syria no longer commanded Naaman's allegiance. To demonstrate this, he returns to Syria with two carts filled with dirt from the land of Israel being pulled by mules. In this way Naaman is showing that he encountered the God of all nations in Israel. 

We are not told what Naaman did with this load of dirt. I can imagine he placed it where he could from time to time kneel on it and offer thanks for the little maid, and the prophet who pointed him in the right direction. And in his thanksgiving, he communed with the God who loved him and bathed not only his body, but his heart and soul. Naaman came back home a new man in more ways than one. Thus he lived out the rest of his days aware and always grateful that there was no god in all the earth like the God he encountered in Israel.

Always Grateful for the Grace

Only one of the ten lepers cleansed returns to give thanks. This lone foreigner, like Naaman, encounters the goodness of God. Kneeling before Jesus, this Samaritan bows on Holy Ground. Grateful words gush from his heart as he exclaims loudly his praise and thanksgiving. 

I appreciate silence. Moments of deep reflection and prayer appeal to me. But sometimes an overflowing heart, whether from a burden or a blessing has only one way out. Throughout the Bible there are numerous examples of people whose cup overflows and everybody knows it. Like these lepers that Jesus heals. They cried out, "Jesus, Master! Have mercy on us!" However, I wish I could have been there when that one returned to give thanks. I can see a smile spread across the face of Jesus. He alone is worthy, but he smiles not for himself, but for him whose entire life as a Samaritan and then as a leper was one long life of separation and humiliation. And in a moment, he is filled with every bodily and spiritual grace - only a loud exclamation would do!

Treasure in an Earthen Vessel

In the beginning of this Reflection, I told you dear reader about the words my daddy said to me. "Let the Lord use you!" daddy said with an inspiration I felt in the deepness of my being. I was suffering from a very painful benign tumor on my right tibia. Endless prayers for healing were prayed by me and for me. I didn't want to have surgery. But I was nearing the end of my resistance and had thought to cancel my weekend appointment to be the speaker for First Assembly of God, in Vincennes, Indiana. I thought I would just bail out and schedule the surgery.

Daddy didn't think it was a good idea. "You don't know what the Lord might do. The Lord might heal you if you keep the appointment to preach this revival. You should go and let the Lord use you!" Daddy encouraged. I kept the appointment taking my Bible and my aspirin bottle with me. So as I was preaching that first night, in the middle of my sermon, the pastor blurted out, "I'm healed! I'm healed," touching and pushing on his abdominal area. I learned then what he had been suffering from and why he was exclaiming his praise. As it turned out, the pastor was suffering from an intestinal hernia and was needing surgery to correct it.

I returned home and had my surgery. But for these past 40 years, I've been learning a very important lesson. We carry within these jars of clay the precious treasure of God's love and grace.  It is our calling to be instruments of that grace, and to be always grateful is to live in a holy place. 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, October 4, 2013

We’ll Work Until Jesus Comes

Reflections on the Readings
October 6, 2013 - 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

We'll Work Until Jesus Comes

"So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.' " 

The Steady Vision of Faith

Living in the fast lane has become a way of life. Almost no one is immune to the sweeping pace of life in vogue these days. We enroll our kids in endless activities. Mom or a Nanny navigates the family car to every where the kids go. But the family car is not just a means of transportation anymore, its the place where the kids eat and do their homework as well; the SUV is the new family dinner table where we talk and eat, as we go, go, go. But in life we need more than hectic schedules and endless appointments. We need a vision, a way to see ourselves and each other, and how we might become fully aware of the gift that life is - especially the life of Christ in us. 

When we finally plop ourselves down after an evening of ballet lessons, soccer games, and basketball practices, we turn on the 10 o'clock news. And then we hear what today's prescient first reading from the 7th century BC describes as violence, destruction, misery, and strife. As the newscast drones on, we offer up a prayer of frustration and may even pray something like we read today, "How long Lord? I cry out for help but it doesn't seem like your listening. There's violence and heartache, don't you care?" 

For these times we need the 'steady as she goes' type of faith. Deep inside where we think more freely about a world touched by eternity, we yearn for something timeless; for the things that are good, and true, and beautiful; for a faith that is filled with the promise of redemption in Him who makes all things new. That kind of faith inspires a clear vision of who we are and what our mission is in life. Tell me who doesn't need to know who they are, and why they are here. 

As the prophet Habakkuk says, "The just one shall live by faith." In that way of life there is peace in the midst of clamorous and days of stress. As we renew ourselves in this living faith we find a new energy and a new desire to make a difference. First and foremost all of us can make it a priority to know what Christians believe and what is the hope of the calling God has on our lives and our world. In the Catechism it is clearly written down. All that the Church embraces is written down so that no one need to be shallow concerning what it is that the faith handed down through the ages proposes. In these tumultuous times it is the steady vision of faith that will give all of us the clarity we need to persevere. Because in the end, the prize of faith goes to those who keep believing, who remain firm in their integrity, and press on to see the vision of faith fulfilled. 

Fanning the Faith into a Fiery Flame

Along the way our faith needs encouragement. To remember that God gives us not the spirit of fear and cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and self-control. It is imperative that we guard this rich faith and love given to us. These are gifts our Father gives us with ardent love. In our hearts these holy gifts maintain their ardor by the fire of the Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit, first descending upon the Church in holy and fiery tongues of fire, that we can daily call upon to fan into flame the gift of God's life given to us in baptism.

We are the unashamed emissaries of the testimony of the Lord entrusted to us to share with our family and our friends. There is nothing that is more important than the salvation we all need; to know the love of God in the forgiveness of our sins and in the sanctification of our lives. In this second reading, the Apostle Paul speaks of the fervency of faith - a faith that's alive, vibrant, and unafraid. Within the Christian understanding, it is not possible to speak of a cold, calloused, and cautious faith. To be alive in Christ is to have a holy faith within the hearth of our being that is burning and waiting to become a flame fanned into a fervency that radiates the very life of Christ in all that we say and do. As witnesses of Jesus Christ we can only give what we possess. May our prayers be more intentional in asking for the fire of the Holy Spirit so that our faith may be a genuine light of Christ through us. 

Servants of the Faith

What we are really praying for is to be faithful servants of the life given to us in Christ. That is the heart of the disciples request to our Lord. "Increase our faith," they asked. And they were reminded of how indefinably powerful is faith the size of a mustard seed. We can all start there. For if the life wrapped up in a mustard seed can explode into a tree able to provide shade to the birds of the air, then what might we do in the name of Jesus with faith the size of a mustard seed? The size of a mustard seed is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. 

Think about it. That much faith is enough to move mountains as it were. But it's not mountains that Jesus asks us to move. He asks us to be his servants in touching and moving hearts and lives toward Him - to show the lost through our words and our deeds the sacred wounds. And to this end we'll work till Jesus comes. In the end this is all that will really matter - fulfilling our holy obligation as sinners telling other sinners where we found forgiveness. Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. 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: