Reflections on the Readings

February 22, 2015 – Year B – First Sunday of Lent

Fighting the Good Fight of Faith

By Dennis S. Hankins

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.

The opening prayer for the Ash Wednesday Mass says:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

I often pray that the Lord will protect me and my family from spiritual harm. There is good reason to pray for spiritual protection for our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour! (1 Peter 5:8) Listening intently to the opening prayer of the Ash Wednesday Mass reminded me of the importance to be sober and watchful. As St. Paul tells us, the spiritual life entails spiritual warfare as we are contending not 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. (Ephesians 6:12)

Satan can wear any number of disguises attempting to allure us. He can be mysteriously attractive and is even able to disguise himself as an angel of light. For as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, the serpent wants to lead our thoughts away from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:3, 13)

You would be right if you understand Lent to be a new beginning, a fresh campaign for Christian service and endeavor to crush Satan under our feet. (Romans16:20) Do you have anything in your life where you need victory over the destructive things in your life? Whatever the battle is, let this Lent be a forty day journey of triumph over the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes; a season of renewal of the Spirit of God in our hearts.

Prayer and fasting and charitable works are the weapons of choice for the Christian. And make no bones about it, for though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war. Even the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but they have divine power to destroy strongholds; strongholds of doubt, fear, unforgiveness, jealousy, heartache, hunger and thirst.

So we begin our Lenten journey to renew ourselves in the covenant of our baptism first prefigured in the eight souls who rode the Ark on the flood waters for forty days and nights. Peter reminds us in the second reading that Noah’s Ark and its journey on the waters to a new home, a new day, and a new beginning with God prefigured baptism, that is, Christian baptism, which saves us now.

And the spiritual battles we wage between here and heaven, Christ first waged in his desert prayers battling Satan and all of his temptations for forty days. There the wild beasts of the desert beheld his warfare and the angels came to him without number cheering him on. In those forty days the captain of our salvation demonstrated how to resist the devil through prayer and fasting.

My friend, we are called to resist Satan for if we resist him, he will flee from us. (James 4:7) But it is not in our own strength that we resist the devil, but rather it is Christ in us who makes us strong. Christ defeated the devil and we can to through Christ who strengthens us! So let us fight the good fight of faith and take hold of eternal life, praying in the Spirit, advancing the kingdom of faith, hope, and love. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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February 15, 2015 – Year B – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

At the Feet of Jesus

By Dennis S. Hankins

And a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

He was an outcast everywhere except at the feet of Jesus. His skin disease, possibly Hansen’s Disease, required him to be separated from the community. Dwelling outside of the comfort of his family and friends, this leper warned others of his presence by crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!” All of this while wearing torn clothes and walking about with a shaved head. All of this mattered except at the feet of Jesus. At the feet of Jesus he mattered.

Everyone matters who kneel at the feet of Jesus. I remember kneeling at an old fashion Pentecostal altar when I was nine years old. That was fifty years ago. Kneeling there it seemed as if Jesus was right there. It seemed that Jesus was right there, receiving me at his feet, bathing me in his mercy. Such times grow richer in my memory as the years go by. But anyone who has ever knelt before the Lord can say the same thing.

Meditating before the crucifix is another way I have found myself in his presence. Looking up at that image of Christ, it’s Jesus and me all over again, and me struggling to understand such love. Like the soldier who pierced his side, I place myself in his presence at his feet and bathe again in the water and the blood from his Sacred Heart.

Prayer before the Tabernacle is also a place where kneeling before the Lord brings me to the same Jesus from whom the leper received pity. Here I bring the wounds of life, my burdens, my family, my friends, the prayer requests others have asked of me. And all of it matters to him, for we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.

Do you know that in the Gospels we find people just like us coming to Christ? They came to find help and healing for body and soul. We are no different than the folks in the time when Jesus walked in Galilee. And Jesus certainly hasn’t changed. For scripture tells us that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) So there’s no reason whatsoever to imagine that we cannot find at the feet of Jesus the bodily and spiritual graces we seek. Jesus certainly does not have less compassion after all of these centuries since he ascended into heaven. In fact it could be that since his ascension into heaven and with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there is more, more, more! More than we could ever imagine.

I don’t know of a better way to enter into the mystery of our redemption than beginning Lent with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Lent is a time for some real important and necessary spiritual spring cleaning. Past experience reminds us that confession is good for the soul. It brings us into a deeper relationship with Christ and restores our relationship with others. There is always room to love God more, and to love one another better.

So as we anticipate Lent let’s begin it by placing ourselves at the feet of Jesus. And do not forget that he is able to do far more abundantly than we can ask or think for mercy is without measure at the feet of our Lord. In his presence there is help for every need we bring. My dear friend, Jesus promised that he who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and he who knocks, to him the door is open. Just ask the leper Jesus healed in today’s Gospel. And just like the leper, may I suggest that we boldly throw ourselves at his feet and ask for the bathing of mercy and forgiveness we need. I promise you that he is not willing that any should perish and that he will answer you with the touch of his hand, “I will; be clean!” Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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February 1, 2015 – Year B Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deliver Us From Evil

By Dennis S. Hankins

And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Have you ever taken time to meditate on this line in the ‘Our Father,’ “…but deliver us from evil?” I’ve used that line in my prayers linking it to other scriptures like, “and take not your holy spirit from me; create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.”

Especially reflecting in prayer to be delivered from evil I include, “and every evil thought, every evil desire, and every evil word.” Here it’s good to take some time and get it all out; whatever evil is lurking at the door of my heart. Then, falling on the heels of that heart searching and praying I like praying, “O, my Jesus, forgive me my sins. Save me from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy. And then I like finishing that off praying three times, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner, Amen.”

Prayerfully listen to today’s gospel. Jesus acts with strength — with authority never before seen — remaining unmoved by the presence of the evil one. Important to us is to note that the unclean spirit had no doubt who Jesus was and said so — “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” And we should not doubt who he is either. For the very mention of his name makes demons shudder and believe that he is the Son of God. As we reflect on Jesus helping this poor soul in whom resided an unclean spirit, does it not cause us to remember that it is Jesus who came to destroy the work of the devil; how that he was anointed by the Holy Spirit and went everywhere doing good and healing all who were held somehow by the power of evil? (1 John 3:8; Acts 10:38)

What a mighty Savior Jesus is! It is Jesus Moses speaks of in the second reading stating that He will speak with authority. From his mouth will come the word of the Lord and those who do not listen to him will answer for it. Like those who hear his words but do not embrace his teaching. They are like the person who built his house on sand and the winds and the rain beat against his new house. And it fell, because it was built on sand. Such are those who prefer the words of soothsayers and evil oracles including Tarot Cards, Ouija board, and Palm Reading. Satan is deceptive, attempting to appear as an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14)

Many are they who testify how the mighty power and authority of Jesus set them free from the snare of the devil. There’s you and me for sure. And let us not forget the folks at the synagogue who were among the first who understood and exclaimed, “With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

For whom the Son sets free is free indeed. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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January 25, 2015 – Year B Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Gospel of God

By Dennis S. Hankins

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”

In John’s baptism was the promise that the best was yet to come. And it was that promise that John pointed to when he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” How did John know that Jesus was the one who would bring his ministry to its completion? He saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus and by that sign knew Jesus to be the Savior of the world.

In captivity John spent his days and nights alone. No longer in his comfortable wilderness surroundings with the heavens as his cathedral ceiling, John, in solitary confinement, had only his memories of his last baptism to sustain him. And so he sent a message to Jesus by way of his disciples asking, “Are you the One we are looking for, or do we look for another?” Maybe it was a low moment. Or perhaps he just wanted to be sure that he was about to lose his head for the right reason. Even John’s community of followers may have pressed him for more insight about Jesus. But no worries. The answer came back loud and clear: The lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, and to the poor the gospel is preached.

The Jordan River is filled with more than water. Within its ebb and flow resides the memories of great things. For example, a few centuries before John the Baptist, a new generation of Jacob’s children, entering a new land, to be a new nation began at the Jordan River. The priests bearing the ark of the covenant led the way as the waters of the Jordan rolled back on either side and the people walked through the Jordan on dry ground. On its banks, John the Baptizer, preached that One greater than himself was soon to come. And when Jesus left the waters of the Jordan He announced that the fulness of time had come; that everyone was invited into this new era called the kingdom of God.

With news that everyone is welcome to come and begin a new life if only they repent and believe in the gospel, Jesus, anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. (Acts 10:38) Turn around and come back to your Father was the message of Jesus.

Today that message is still the same. It’s an important and urgent message as we hear St. Paul say today for the world in its present form is passing away and the time is running out. For the life of the world we are called to be focused on what is above. And we have the best calling in all the world. Pointing to Jesus like John did and telling everyone the good news, that Jesus can take away your sin and give you a new life and a new community called the kingdom of heaven. He’s got outlets all over the world where the gospel of God is still the message of hope and promise and of a new day that is soon to come.

The message never changes, because Jesus never changes. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. So let’s keep the doors open. Go out into the neighborhood and into the hood, and invite all you meet to come back home to God. For long before Tom Bodett promised to leave the light on at his Motel 6 chain, the Church has kept the light of Christ shining in the darkness so that all may find their way back into the embrace of a loving God and hear his gospel of mercy and love and the promise of rest for their soul – your soul. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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