Thursday, January 23, 2014

Is Christ Divided?

Reflections on the Readings

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 26, 2014 - Year A

Is Christ Divided?

What I mean is that each of you says, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 

What Would Paul Say Today?

Quite frankly, Paul might find today's Christian divisions blasphemous; an irreverent disregard for the unity of the faith! Paul wrote to the community at Corinth asking them to stop their quarreling. And this is while there was only one Church at Corinth. It's not like there was a church down the road the various factions could join. But endowed with the gift of wisdom Paul wrote the Church at Corinth before it became little splinters of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church all over Corinth. 

Imagine the Church of Paul on one corner and the Church of Peter down the street. Then the Sunday Corinth Times announces that the Church of Apollos is having it's inaugural Mass at 11 a.m. The article might explain the superb theological acumen of Fr. Apollos and how his gift of teaching includes connecting the dots from the baptism of John all the way through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Christ. Not to be outdone, next week's Sunday Corinth Times includes a full page display of the newest Church in town; the First Church of Christ. 

Paul's fear was that the Body of Christ in Corinth would become factious and competitive; filled with pride of the unholy sort resulting in the cross of Christ emptied of its power. This was not anything Paul would tolerate. Yet look around you. There are 40,000 Christian denominations, give or take. Let us put this fact along side these words of St. Paul:  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6) 

Let's Do the Math

There's plenty of blame to go around. But pointing fingers and hassling over unimportant and sometimes obvious minutia is not helpful. But I bet we can agree that 1+1+1 = 3. However, God offers a different equation. Do we have the courage to have a child-like faith to believe that in Christ 1+1+1= 1? Three in one and one in three and the one in the middle died for us.

I remember many years ago being in ministry, and craving the unity of the Body of Christ. It is a craving the Holy Spirit wants to give to each one of us. In my imagination I mused how that the Table of the Lord is where we all could find unity in Christ. And then I reflected further and realized that the very thing that should unite us is what we allow to divide us. Not everyone understands the Table the same way. Why? I don't know.

Paul knew. He understood that the Eucharist is the origin and true source of the unity of the faith. Speaking from the revelation given him concerning the Body and Blood of Christ, Paul said, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." Do the the math. One plus one plus one equals one. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17) 

Keep Your Eyes on the Cross

Paul asks, "Was I crucified for you?" Implied in his question is that neither had Cephas, nor Apollos died for the Corinthians. Uppermost in Paul's mind is that the cross of Christ not be emptied of its power. He saw in the preaching of the cross the opportunity to expound on the great love of God for the whole world. Paul grasped that understanding with a particular conviction. In his preaching he understood that for some the cross is an enigma; it is mere folly. But for those whose lives were touched by the selfless sacrifice of Christ, the cross is the power of God. 

For those being saved the cross is a demonstration of the power of God. Some may find it a display of utter destitution and weakness. They remain to be convinced. But all things are possible with God. And Paul remained convinced until death of the efficacy and power of the cross knowing that it pleased God through the folly of what he preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

So from the cross shines the great Light of the World for all who live in darkness. And the more united we are, the more in love with Jesus and loving toward each other we are, the greater the Light of the cross shines. Our Christian mission is to take the Light of the cross into our families and into our jobs and wherever there is darkness. 

I know some have a problem with a crucifix. But remember that your Catholic brothers and sisters know that Jesus rose from the dead. The crucifix for us is a visual reminder of the great Love-Light that shined from a hill faraway. We remember also he was  reviled, and cursed, and that mockers fitted his head with a crown of thorns. When this Holy Light declared his work finished and bowed his head a soldier pierced his side with a spear from which flowed blood and water - our dear Jesus in whom we have forgiveness of sins and in whose heart we are one. May it please God to help us to believe it starting with 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, January 18, 2014


Reflections on the Readings
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 19, 2014 - Year A


The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"

The Efficacious Blood of Christ

Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, in chorus with his recent predecessors, has spoken of a fresh wind of the Spirit needed in the Church. We hear of the promise of a New Springtime and a New Evangelization - for the Church itself to be evangelized in order to fulfill its missionary calling. To make this a bit more personal, every one is in need of the fresh breezes of the Holy Spirit to bring me and you back to our First Love; knowing Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away our sin.

Annually in Israel, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, taking the blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people. (Hebrews 9:7) This ritual is outlined in great detail in Leviticus 16. Aaron, the High Priest, offers first the blood of a bull for himself and his household. He brings incense which covers the Mercy Seat like a cloud. The blood of the bull he sprinkles on the Mercy Seat seven times with his finger. He additionally takes two goats. One goat is ritually sent out into the wilderness symbolizing the removal of sin from the nation. The other goat is sacrificed for the people and its blood is sprinkled on and around the Mercy Seat. 

This ritual of repentance and renewal of the people in their covenant with God was very important. However, all of the daily sacrifices culminating in the of Day of Atonement could not perfect the conscience of the worshiper. It was not efficacious. (Hebrews 9:9) It did, however, contain the promise of a new reformation; a time in the future; the promise of a Savior who would be the mediator of a new covenant and whose blood speaks of better things. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)

Called to be Holy

Everyone in Christ is called to be holy; to serve the living God. We struggle with this. And that's good. Only Jesus is without blemish; he is like us in every way except sin. It is his life and love that relieves our conscience from its selfish darkness. This is possible because of the superior blood of Jesus, his very life, that brings us to the throne of Grace. Before the throne of Grace we do not stand condemned but rather find there help for the dead weight in our lives and the sins that cling so readily to us.

So let us remember that God has not called us to be holiness inspectors. In confession we confess our sins, not the sins of our spouse or children or boss. We come to God for the reconciliation we need. And God through the power of his grace lifts us up to where we belong. 

For these past 2,014 years, Jesus has appeared in the presence of God on our behalf. Unlike the high priest of the old covenant, Jesus does not enter yearly the Holy Place with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he as appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:25-26)

There is power in the blood of the Lamb. It's strength and power saves us and brings us into that Love that covers a multitude of sins. And for us will he appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Holiness, therefore, is not about our strength or power, but it's all about Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin. (Hebrews 9:27)

What Can Make us Whole Again and Again?

Is there any sin that Jesus cannot take away? I heard you. I hope not too. And in today's Gospel, the Good News is that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away sin; all sin. We say it three times at every Mass:

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world; have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world; have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world; grant us peace.

That means adultery is not the unforgivable sin. It means baptism is a means of grace for every baby; even babies born of unwedded parents. It means that women walking out of an abortion mill have a Savior. It means that the lost are the ones Jesus came to seek and to save. It means that our sons and daughters caught up in the death of drugs and drug wars are not outside of God's love. It means that grace is greater than all of our sin. How is that possible? Because it is amazing grace the Church embraces and dispenses and celebrates in her Sacraments. Therefore, no one should ever find among us the door closed to Christ. No one must ever walk away and say, "They wouldn't let me in; they wouldn't make me whole again." 

In defense of God's holiness and righteousness we might assert, "But, what about sin?" 

Answer: Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!


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, January 10, 2014

Anointed by the Spirit - The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Reflections on the Readings
January 12, 2014 - Year A
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Anointed by the Spirit

"You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." - Peter,  Acts 10:36-38 

A Sign of the Presence of God

There are signs of God's presence all around us. The love of family is such a sign. Lifetime friends and watching a sunset from the top of Clingmans Dome and memories of ice cream dripping from the corners of your mouth remind us that God is very near to everyone of us. Where is God? He is in all that is good, and true, and beautiful.

Throughout Holy Scriptures we see many signs and symbols that say, "God is near." The Spirit hovers over the formless earth and creates a place for God to interact with his sons and daughters. Later a Fire by night and a Cloud by day lead the children of Israel to their promised new home. On their way water from the Rock quenched their thirst and Manna from the heavens satisfied their hunger. All of these were a conduit through which God revealed himself. They spoke of a God who never leaves us nor ever forsakes us.

On this last Sunday of the Christmas Season we focus again how God is with us in the beautiful, good, and true person of his Son, Jesus. Coming to his cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus receives Baptism. Was he repenting of something? Did he have sin he needed to confess? No, not at all. Jesus enters the Jordan river to reveal to all that God is with him. John sees this before anyone when he says, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." Coming up from the water the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove and a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." 

A New Creation

Jesus in the midst of the Jordan river with the Spirit descending and the affirming voice of the Father speak of a new creation. In the beginning the Spirit descended upon the formless deep and God spoke and that was the beginning of the beginning. Now in these last days, beginning with the Baptism of John, a new creation ensues. It is the nascent moment of a future meant to be filled with the love of Him who came to make all things new.

No sign could be more potent than this which we see in the Baptism of Jesus. It is a moment of fulfillment; a holy and righteous hour when the heavens are open announcing to all who have ears to ear: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." The early Church understood that the Gospel, the good news, began with the baptism which John preached. For it was John who first announced the good news. It happened in the last sermon he preached. It was short. It was simple. It was the first and the purest expression of the Gospel. John fervently declared, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." 

Baptism, a Sacrament of the Church, is the way to Jesus and the fulness of life he brings us. If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The life giving water of Holy Baptism is open to all: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. As Peter spoke to the house of Cornelius, he said, "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him." There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27) 

There is not one baptism for the White Anglo-American folk and another for the African-American folk and yet another for the Hispanics. There is not a special baptism for the rich people and then another baptism for the poor. This is a concept to take to heart. For there is only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. (Ephesians 4:5)

Pope Francis recently taught on the Sacrament of Baptism. In his remarks he spoke directly to those who were Baptized as infants. He encourage them to go home and find out the date of their Baptism. The Pope said, "The danger of not knowing it is losing awareness of what the Lord has done in us, the memory of the gift we have received." We should celebrate our Baptism as a birthday; the day the Holy Spirit touched us and brought us into the great Family of God; a new creation filled with the inexhaustible life of Christ.

In the Power of the Spirit

Jesus invited to himself all who labored under great burdens of heart and soul. To these impoverished souls he offered himself as one in whom they could rest. This is the fulness of life John the Baptist referred to when he said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." 

As Jesus began his ministry, many recognized in him an authority that touched them in the depth of their soul. He made no self-serving demands. And as many as received him were received with a generous and gracious welcome. The man and woman on the street heard him gladly and they told their friends and families. Never had they ever seen or heard anything like it. They whispered to one another about the Christ as those who speak of holy things in quiet ways. And while some were bewildered at the company he kept, sinners enjoyed his company at their table. 

In the power of the Spirit Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And he is with us. Who he was then he still is today, for he never changes - Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today, and forever! 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:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Light For Everyone

Reflections on the Readings
January 5, 2014 - The Epiphany of the Lord - Year A

A Light For Everyone

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him."

The Heavens Ring a Noble Theme

In the very beginning, God said, "Let there be light!" Scientists continue to search for this very beginning of the beginning, for the earliest moments of our universe, for that first dawn. They do this by studying supernova which is a powerful explosion of a star transformed by nuclear fusion or gravitational collapse. Astronomers study the properties of the light and energy a supernova emits. This study is done to determine how quickly a supernova moves away from the Earth "which can be used to extrapolate the history of the expansion of the universe," according to American Scientist magazine

If you start now it will take about 100,000 light years to cross our galaxy. Some of the light emitted thousands of years ago in our galaxy, traveling at 300,000 km per second, leaves behind a star that no longer shines. That light remains visible to be captured by your eye or some other photographic device. 

At the University of Delaware is located the command center for the Whole Earth Telescope, and is based at Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory in Greenville, Delaware. They are interested in the 'dead stars' and enjoy collecting evidence on how they died. According to the University of Delaware website, "the Whole Earth Telescope (WET), a worldwide network of observatories, with its command center at the University of Delaware, periodically focuses on stars of scientific interest in the galaxy's stellar graveyard." 

Peering into the heavens is as inspirational today as it was for Magi from the area of ancient Persia. This learned group understood intuitively that:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day unto day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world
In them he as set a tent for the sun, which comes
forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy. (Psalm 19:1-5)

The True Light Guides us Home

As they 'listened' to the message of the heavens, they prepared to find Him of whom the stars spoke. Guided by their heavenly
wisdom, they desired to pay homage to the New Born King at whose birth the stars rejoiced. They traveled with an Epiphany in their hearts and with their hands full of treasure to honor the Baby they set out to find. Thus these Gentiles were beckoned to come to the Light; a people who were once without a calling or a destiny like Israel are now included. A people who were once not a people are now among the people of God. That's the celebration we embrace today. For we were also outside of the covenant; outside of the hope; outside of the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises - for the Magi, for us, for the life of the whole world Christ was born! We who dwelled in darkness have indeed seen a great Light; for we who were Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body of Christ, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Jesus, the Light of the world, shines for everyone. No one is excluded from finding their way back home. Like a lighthouse, Jesus shines on those trapped in the dark and stormy seas, shining the way with his invitation to come to him and to be safe in his embrace. This is the Jesus of the Church. There is not another Jesus. There is not another Light. The way back home, back to ourselves, to our first love, to our true Father, is possible as we follow that Light. 

A Light That Never Dims

Sometimes I want to just stand up and shout, "Here! Right here! See this Light? This is Jesus! He will show us the way home." We can get so wrapped up in our programs and our projects, and our building plans, and fund raising, that the Light can become dim - our true calling to be light bearers - emissaries of the Light. 

We celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord to remember that outside of his Light, the world, our world, remains in darkness. When John wrote his Gospel, he began by reminding the Church of the true Light that illumines every person who comes into the world. What does that mean? It means at the very least we are to see our friends and our neighbors, the folks we work with, in the Light of Christ. Jesus shines upon all of humankind to help us see the love he has for all of us. This holy Light draws all people to himself, as it did the Magi, so that all may see their Salvation and believe. It is a Light that darkness cannot quench. 

As the Magi entered the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and recognizing the Light before them, they fell down and worshipped him. But what are these gifts? Gifts for the King of Light - Gold to help us remember he is divine; Frankincense for our prayers that rise up in his name; and Myrrh to help us remember that he is also human, and in his flesh he would suffer for us - yet the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome Him! 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: