Friday, February 21, 2014

Love of a Different Sort

Reflections on the Readings

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 23, 2014 - Year A

Love of a Different Sort

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." - Jesus

Just exactly what you wanted to hear, right? Especially those of us who are red-blooded American macho types! 

What, no "Amens" from the Amen corner? No, "Preach it brother, preach it?"

Confession time. I'm first in line with the folks wanting to protest.

"Jesus! Love who?"

OK, let's take a deep breath.

Our culture, our movies and romance stories speak of love as an emotional feeling. But we don't have any warm and fuzzy feelings about our enemies. Therefore loving our enemies does not compute. However, there's no wiggle room to get out of this one. It's straightforward: "Love your enemies and pray for them."

Let's establish some givens. 

For example, if someone breaks into my house tonight and threatens me and my family, that's an enemy who should be sure he's said his prayers. Second, Christians have enemies. There's no doubt about it. Persecution is inevitable. Jesus reminded his followers that He was persecuted first. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, just remember that it hated me first."(John 15:18ff) And third, Jesus didn't say work hard and see how many enemies you can make. In fact, we are not in the business of making enemies. But if you don't have any enemies or any resistance to you being a Christian, you might check your spiritual temperature. Jesus said, "Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets." (Luke 6:26)

No one in recorded scripture is more scarred for his faith than the Apostle Paul who bore in his flesh the marks of Jesus (Galatians 5:17) Yet he organized no militia, Christian or otherwise. When it came to vengeance he said that it belongs to the Lord. With fervent love for Christ he saw no future in damning and cursing those who persecute the Church. In an eloquence that is astonishing Paul wrote: 

"Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:14-21)

It is said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. And the good works of love, rather than retribution, may pierce the hardened conscience of those who oppose Christ. It is not a given, but it is a possibility. Pharaoh resisted plagues and pests. One Old Testament professor I had explained that the same sun that melts better, hardens clay. So a good prayer for our enemy is that he or she may have a heart that is receptive to the gospel.

Many think an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the only way to define true justice. But how does that work out? It seems after awhile of living by that standard we will only become blind people with no teeth. We who are the sons and daughters of the Father are called to a higher way. Our Lord himself showed us how to pray for our enemies. From the Cross Jesus prayed for his enemies saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Neither Pilate nor any of the rulers of the time understood who Jesus really was. If they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor. 2:7)

Stephen was a deacon in the early Church and her first martyr. In his preaching he described his detractors as stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and always resisting the Holy Spirit. With his words they were cut to the heart and deeply enraged, even grinding their teeth against the good Deacon. But when Stephen looked up into heaven and declared he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God his enemies screamed with a loud voice and stopped their ears from hearing anymore. In unison the enraged crowd rushed upon Stephen and promptly dragged him out of the city where they proceeded to stone him to death.

As they stoned Stephen they watched him crumple to the ground upon his knees. At last they stopped hurling their stones and their hatred and listened to Stephen pray this prayer:

"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And then with a loud voice so that all could hear him he prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Who do you think ended their day that tragic afternoon with more peace?

As Jesus said, we are in the world, but we are not of it. The Apostle Paul describes our union with Christ as crucified with him. Nevertheless we live, yet not life as this world understands life. We live by the faith of the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. Some are outspoken enemies of the cross of Christ. Writing to the Philippians Paul explained his burden for those who despise the cross:

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Phil. 3:18) 

Paul did not gloat in this. Rather, he spoke with a heart inspired by love of another sort. That love he carried as the treasure it is in an earthen body he called a temple of the Holy Spirit. And in the Spirit he lived in that love that is patient and kind; that is never jealous or boastful; it is never arrogant or rude. 

May we greet all with that perfect charity that is not easily offended. And thus shall we be true sons and daughters of our Father who is in heaven. 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, February 15, 2014

The Choices Before Us

Reflections on the Readings

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 16, 2014 - Year A

The Choices Before Us

"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." - Jesus

The readings before us today remind me of a G. K. Chesterton line. He wrote, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has be found difficult and left untried." 

Jesus exalts the meaning and purpose of the commandments. Anyone who relaxes the intent and scope and depth of the commandments and teaches others to be skeptical of the high calling of God shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But those who embrace the commandments, and measure their lives by that standard, and seek to influence others to embrace the same gift of life shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Least or great. There we have it. What will you choose? 

Or fire and water as in the first reading. Another choice. Purification or drowning in the rapids of loose living. Every time we make a confession, the priest reminds us that the Holy Spirit is sent among us for the forgiveness of sins. The precious Holy Spirit connects us to the deep life of forgiveness in God so that we might live and not die. This is profoundly personal and intense for our God is a consuming fire; a fire of love that is both light and life.(Hebrews 12:29) As we place ourselves in God's presence our soul engages in a love we were meant to have; a purifying grace that is amazing. 

I have some experience in raising children. Everyone one with children will identify with what I say. Every child pushes the envelope. They see how close to the line they can get without going over it. At first it's amusing; then it gets serious. It gets serious because the child gets older and pushes up against lines that distinguish where life ends and death takes over. Moms are especially adept at pointing out the facts like when they ask in an exasperated fashion, "How fast were you driving?!"

Life and death; good and evil. These are real choices. Like where we let the mouse in our hand take us on the world wide web. Read that as in a 'spider's web.' What do we let our eyes see? Whatever is leading us away from life and the life as we were meant to have is not a good choice. 

We are living in a time when increasingly it is made clear that distinctions are not cool. So that means the readings today may be more than a little challenging. Fidelity in mind and heart and in life and love is a foreign concept in some parts of the movie industry. Our throwaway culture discards the life of the unborn, the life of the infirm, and the life of our elderly. I read recently that in Russia there are more abortions than there are live births. I graduated from High School in 1973, the same year abortion was legalized in America. Since 1973, almost 55 million babies have been aborted in the United States of America.  

It's like a demonic spirit of death has captured the imagination of the proud and haughty. What we are seeing is the diminution of the true, the good, and the beautiful. The permanent things are being discarded and a new and unfamiliar reality is parading in a mask of superiority. There is an awkward and belligerent new wave of evil that suggests that the commandments are too cumbersome and out dated. And the reality of unsound reasoning and subsequent choices is creating a veritable tsunami of broken hearts and lives. 

Only a new appreciation and respect for what God wrote with his finger on the two stone tablets will change the delusion that is called the new normal. Paul reminds us in the second reading that the Spirit scrutinizes, that is the Spirit highlights every minute detail of the depths of God. To neglect what God gives us of himself is to live with a shallow heart and empty soul. Like the prodigal son, it is possible to be satisfied to eat the husks that the swine eat. 


Perhaps not since the Garden of Eden have we had a more stark distinction of the choices that are before us. Like Adam and Eve the choice we make will show whether we trust the God who offers us abundant life or whether we will go on deciding for ourselves. Will we come to the end of our life thankful we let God help us and grace us with his life and love or will we come to the end of our life having done it our way. That's the choice before us. 

Dare we be like the Pharisees who cut corners? They were entrusted with the authority to teach the law of Moses. But with their lives they denied what they taught. They were not good examples of what they prescribed for others. That means, for example, they warned others of the consequences of infidelity in marriage, or taking the Lord's name in vain, or not keeping holy the Sabbath, but they didn't take to heart the same words for themselves. And unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we may have cut too many corners to make it into heaven.

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live. The eyes of God are on those who fear him. (see Sirach 15:15-20)

Is the way of Christ really more difficult and better left untried? I don't think so. Let's not allow any excuses keep us from the grace that is richer and stronger and more powerful than the sin that tempts us. 

We have a choice. Let us choose wisely. 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, February 8, 2014

Salt and Light

Reflections on the Readings

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 9, 2014 - Year A

Salt and Light

"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men…Your are the light of the world." - Jesus

You are the Salt of the Earth

Jesus speaks to us today of the reality of Christian witness. Speaking in metaphors, Jesus highlights the enduring and illuminating factors of genuine evangelization. And from Paul we learn that we need not possess the ability to speak in sublime and eloquent words to be salt and light. Nor should we think we must be powerful and persuasive with the wisdom that is of this world. The simple yet powerful pictures of salt and light eloquently describe the simple and potent faith that is ours in Christ Jesus. 

Paul speaks of Jesus in the second reading as the testimony of God's love revealed in the mystery of the cross. Paul's trembling and weakness does not describe his fear of the Corinthians, but rather describes his deep and profound gratitude for Jesus Christ and him crucified. I think we all agree that Paul was truly salt and light!

Think of the most impressive people you have ever known. Perhaps it is a grandma or grandpa. Maybe you know someone who is trustworthy and dependable and endearing. Or maybe you can recall a special person from your past and immediately you have fond memories of their life and friendship. We speak of such people as being the salt of the earth. They are loving, kind, dependable; a strength and solace to the small, the least, and the afflicted. In their heart is the peace of God and in their life they glorify him in their gentleness and kindness. The love of God in their heart is why they are warm and tenderhearted and care for the least, the lost, and the lonely. 

I've known such people. And when I think of them, I long to be like them because they were so much like Jesus. They were in my life and now they are in my memory. People like mom and dad are always a familiar face in my parade of special people. And there is 'Snuffy' and 'Doc,' fellers who graced congregations I was privileged to pastor. These and so many more are treasures of grace in my life. I remember them as people whose love for Jesus was fervent and whose love for the downtrodden was real. 

You are the Light of the World

Jesus continues his description of distinctive Christian life and witness by saying, "You are the light of the world." Remember that Jesus does not say we must be salt and light. He emphatically declares that we are salt and light. This is who we are. Have you noticed how much the readings of late talk about light. We've heard how Jesus is the light of the Gentiles, and how the Gentile have seen a great light. Those who sit in darkness are no longer in darkness because God's light is now in the world in a special and miraculous way in the babe that lay in a manger.

We are light. And like a city set on hill that cannot be hidden, we should not diminish the light that we are. If someone lights a candle and then hides it under something to prevent its light to be effective, it is an impotent candle. It's like it never was lit. When we shine with the love of Christ its not to draw attention to ourselves. It's not for any selfish reason that we are the light of the world. We are the light of the world to show the world Jesus. It is Jesus we are wanting the world to see. Every good work, every good thing done in his name helps people to believe that Jesus is real; that he cares for them; that he has not forgotten them.

One of the most notable ways we have witnessed the downtrodden and poor helped in our lifetime is through the life and ministry of Mother Theresa. The homeless and helpless on the streets of Calcutta have certainly seen a great light. In the darkness of their destitution Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity are a light in their world. And what about the Little Sisters of the Poor. Their front door is always open and their light is always on giving the elderly poor a hospitable welcome in the name of Christ. And also there is the meal and dessert Christian families share with homeless families through Family Promise in our area and countless Rescue Missions across America that offer warm food and shelter to the people on the streets.

Salt and Light. That's who we are. Through the smiles we give and the hand up we offer we are meeting the needs of real people in real ways. It is very difficult to imagine that anyone anywhere in this world lives in darkness and goes to bed hungry. But it is happening. And that person may be next door. Let us open up our hearts and somehow get the salt out of the salt shaker and put the candle in the candle holder. Because no one should have to live next door, or down the street, or half away around the world without salt and light - You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. 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, February 1, 2014

People Who Seek the Lord - Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Reflections on the Readings

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord - February 2, 2014 - Year A

People Who Seek The Lord

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the Temple…And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher…She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Living in the Spirit

Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph come to the Temple in Jerusalem to do what their faith in God's ways required. Showing fidelity to the Law, Mary and Joseph wished to fulfill two things as it pertained to the ancient prescriptions. The first was about Mary's purification, an offering presented after thirty-three days from the circumcision of a male child and the subsequent abstention from touching 'any hallowed thing.' (Leviticus 12) The second had to do with the presentation of the firstborn as holy unto the Lord. Being poor, Mary and Joseph provided the double sacrifice of two turtle doves. Their poverty made them unable to present a lamb as a burnt offering along with a turtle dove. In presenting Jesus at the Temple, they give back to the Father the Son who sent him.

It has been a singular blessing to have known people in my life who sought the Lord. They belong to the 'cloud of witnesses' who have long since joined the circle of faith in the presence of God. Additionally, I recall with happy memory the stories of Brother Huebner, my daddy told me. He was a true prophet of the Lord and faithful lay person of his church. He didn't travel or conduct church services. He simply found the comfort of the Holy Spirit and was a lifetime member and pillar in his Pentecostal church. The single thing these stories and the people I knew have in common is their devotion to the Lord. They knew what it was to seek the Lord and to find him and to rejoice in what the Lord revealed to them of his great love.

Mary and Joseph along with Simeon and Anna also are people who lived in the Spirit. Life in the Spirit is the life we are all called to. It was to Mary who first heard the words of Gabriel speaking of the Holy Spirit coming upon her to effect the incarnation of Jesus in her womb. Also, Joseph her spouse, dreams a dream that has its inspiration in the Holy Spirit. Simeon knows that he will not die until he sees with his own eyes the Lord's Christ. How does he know this? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind; the wind of the Holy Spirit. And Anna is alive and aware of God's actions by the Holy Spirit. Her daily prayers and fasting gave her a special sensitivity to God's ways and actions. Again, life in the Spirit is the reality of the Christian faith. If we are not living in the Spirit, we do not really know that Jesus is Lord. (1 Corinthians 12:3)

Faith in God's Power

It's inspiring to recognize that Simeon and Anna lived their lives praying and having faith in God's actions. The Holy Spirit takes away all human boasting. He confounds the wise of this world. He exalts the weak in the world to the exasperation of the strong. The lowly and despised of the world he empowers with his love light and shows them the depths of God. As it is written:

"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him," God has revealed to us through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Too much of the time we may allow the spirit of the world to lead us. When that happens, God's voice is too small in our lives and we are not able to comprehend the ways and thoughts of God. But the Spirt which is from God is given to us so that we might understand the gifts God bestows on us. 

Simeon and Anna understood the gift of God's Son in their midst. By the Holy Spirit they had eyes that could see and understand God's salvation and great love had suddenly come into the Temple. Seeing Him they rejoiced as only those who have faith in God's power can rejoice. For them the Lord had come and they rejoiced to see his face!

A Temple of the Holy Spirit

Scripture teaches us that we have 'this treasure in earthen vessels.' That is, the treasure of God's love and grace is in us. God does not pour out his Spirit into ornamental jars or into pitchers of silver and gold. No my friend. God pours out his Spirit upon all flesh. Flesh like you and me. Earthen vessels marked with all kinds of imperfections. You and me are God's temple, and God's Spirit dwells in us. 

It is people baptized into his family who have the Spirit of God in their lives. And if we are people of the Spirit, we can know and be led by the mind of Christ. Through prayerful devotion and by inviting the Lord's Spirit into our hearts, we can have more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit growing in us. We grow in holiness and grace and in the knowledge of God's love as temples in whom resides the Holy Spirit. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

As temples of the Holy Spirit may we be prayerful and open to all of God's ways. Let us be like Mary and Joseph, and Simeon and Anna, and everyone who through the ages who have walked by faith and not by sight, because we are a people of the Spirit who seek the Lord. 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: