Reflections on the Readings

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity June 15, 2014

What Love Looks Like

By Dennis S. Hankins

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  (John 3:16-17)

My earliest memories are of a home where love was made visible by hugs and kisses; the ones I received; the ones I saw mommy and daddy exchange. I saw love in the way mommy took care of me and my brothers and sisters; the way daddy worked sometimes two jobs and provided for our large family of six kids. But the family table was always filled with enough food to feed lots of hungry kids. And on hot summer days love came in icy cold aluminum glasses filled with homemade orangeade.

On hot and humid summer afternoons mommy would pack us kids in the car and drive the few blocks to mama’s house. In those days I saw the joy of life and love in the way mama and her daughter, now with a growing family of her own, talked and talked and talked. I didn’t know it then, but I know now that I was looking at love as it was between generations. I know what love that lasts looks like.

Then there were the miscarriages. I know that mommy endured three. Two occurred when I was still at home. I know what love looks like in times like that. It’s when daddy held the fruit of married love and reverently buried his stillborn children. One was buried in our back yard by the Lilly; the other child was laid to rest by a tree at the cemetery. Mommy and daddy made a home where me and my brothers and sisters could learn what love looks like – what love for the born, the unborn, and the stillborn looks like.

Married love between a husband and his bride is a communion of persons and is a picture of the Triune God of Love who in His inmost being is a communion of Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In marriage, husband and wife, the two become one. In their freely given gift of each for the other their home becomes a place where love is increased in its free exchange. We learn of this deep and faithful love when we are born to parents who make a home where love is visible, touchable, and embracing.

There is another birth, a birth of the water and of the Spirit. In Christian baptism we are immersed into the very heart of the infinite Love of the Thrice Holy God and are born again. In paragraph 233 of the Catechism we read: Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: not in their names, for there is only one God, the almighty Father, his only Son, and the Holy Spirit: the Most Holy Trinity. Through the years we learn more and more what this Holy and Redeeming Love looks like. We find it and know it in the Sacraments of the Church. Especially this is so in the confessional. In that Sacrament we feel again and again God’s Love for us in the forgiveness of sins. This Love came looking for us when God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

In the Incarnation God in his fulness came close to us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit He became flesh in the womb of the most blessed Virgin Mary, and assumed our humanity. Upon his birth, His mother and ours, bathed the face of the Savior of the world with her joyful tears. In that moment we see in the welcoming arms of the Virgin and in the close and protective presence of her most chaste spouse, Joseph, what Love, Holy Redemptive Love, looks like. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Pentecost Sunday – June 8, 2014

I Highly Recommend It!

By Dennis S. Hankins

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4 NRSVCE)

“Someone with an experience is no match for someone with an argument!” my Pentecostal friend declared. My friend was bolstering his claim that non-Pentecostals who argue against the Pentecostal experience (the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in other tongues as understood by most traditional Pentecostals) need a deeper encounter with Jesus who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

My Pentecostal roots reach back for four generations; a movement of the Holy Spirit that broke out at the turn of the 20th century. This is my heritage. I was Pentecostal back in the day before the modern Charismatic (whether Catholic or Protestant) movement; before it was acceptable and cool.

David du Plessis, a South African-born Pentecostal minister was invited to the Vatican in the days of Pope Paul VI to offer an explanation of what Pentecostals meant by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Pastor du Plessis was instrumental in introducing the Pentecostal blessing to the established historic churches including the Catholic Church. Consequently, broad acceptance of the Pentecostal message began to take place. I’m personally convinced that had it not been for David du Plessis, an anointed ambassador of the Pentecostal movement, there may not have been a Charismatic movement that has swept into every major Christian denomination including the Catholic Church in the last 50 years.

Cindy Wooden of the Catholic News Service reported on the recent June 1st gathering in Rome of 50,000 Catholic Charismatics in the Olympic Stadium in that city. According to the the CNS report, the crowd included charismatics from 55 countries of the world. Pope Francis invited them to come to St. Peter’s Square in 2017 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic movement. The news story notes that the Catholic Charismatic movement traces its origins to a retreat held in 1967 with students and staff from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Pope Francis told the gathering that, “In the early days of the charismatic renewal in Buenos Aires, I did not have much love for charismatics.” “I said of them: They seem like a samba school.” Little by little, however, the Pope explained that he came to see how much good the movement was doing for Catholics and for the Church.

CNS reports that the celebration in Rome’s Olympic Stadium began with the song, “Vive Jesus, El Señor,” (Jesus, the Lord, Lives”) a Spanish-language song which Pope Francis — who claims he is tone deaf — joined in singing with his hands open like many in the crowd. The pope says he likes the song, which charismatics in Argentina also sing.

“When I celebrated the Holy Mass with the charismatic renewal in Buenos Aires cathedral, after the consecration and after a few seconds of adoration in tongues, we sang this song with such joy and strength,” he said.

Dr. Alan Schreck, professor of theology at Franciscan University in Stuebenville, OH has written a very helpful book Your Life in the Holy Spirit (What every Catholic needs to know and experience.) He suggests in the appendix of his book a way to invite the charismatic expressions within the Liturgy. Indeed, when I was a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church, this was invited within the context of the Liturgy. It seems to me this, the charismata and their expression, is also a gift of the Eucharistic Liturgy and of the renewal of the Church in both its worship of God and its witness to the world.

The scripture reading says that on the day of Pentecost ‘they were all together in one place.’ Who are ‘they?’ In Acts 1:12-15 we read that it was a company of about 120 persons, including the Apostles, together with the women witnesses of the resurrection and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers. And when the Holy Spirit descended with the ‘sound’ of a mighty rushing wind, every last one of them spoke in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

In 1974 my dad accepted a call from the South Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church to become a UMC pastor. Dad sold the house to the next door neighbor and he and mom and my siblings packed their lives and memories and moved to South Arkansas where daddy accepted his first appointment in the UMC. Not long after he arrived the Board of Ordained Ministry interviewed him to outline daddy’s educational formation for ordination. Knowing his Pentecostal background they asked him how he would handle his understanding of the Holy Spirit and of speaking in tongues. I don’t think they saw it coming. Daddy responded, “I can not deny what God has done for me and I would never force it on anyone. However, I highly recommend it!”

Me too, daddy. Me too!  Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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The Ascension of the Lord – June 1, 2014

The Ascension of the Bridegroom

By Dennis S. Hankins

(That you may know)…What is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come…

The Ascension of our Lord is a love story filled with promise and hope for the Church that awaits with joyful expectation for His return. Shortly before He ascended to His Father, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled…In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

Jesus speaks with the love of a bridegroom promising to return for his waiting bride once everything is ready for her. Lest we think that his promise, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you,” is not real, St. Paul invokes upon the Church his prayers, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened.” (Ephesians 1:17-18) The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, which the Ascension precedes and anticipates, is the Promise of the Father assuring us that we will not be left comfortless in the interim. He has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it; that we are His; the recipients of His holy affection. (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 2:13-14)

The spiritual nuptial agreement was signed, sealed and delivered in the outpouring of our Redeemer’s affection on the Cross on which He gave himself for us. When the veil of his flesh was pierced with the sword, forthwith came blood and water, and underscores the consummate truth that Christ is himself the Savior of the Church.

In the earliest understandings of the Church the mystery of marriage is an icon of Christ united to his bride, the Church. The sainted Apostle Paul explained and challenged the husbands of the first century Church at Ephesus to “love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” What manner of love did Christ lavish upon the Church? Paul says, “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)

The great and holy mystery of love is explained in how a husband is to love his wife as his own body for he who loves his wife loves himself. There is a completion of a husband’s understanding of who he is and who he is to be in the self giving nuptial embrace. A man truly in love with his wife exhibits a healthy self image for no man ever hates his own flesh in that he is to love his wife as his own body; he is to nourish and cherish the bride in his arms, as Christ does the Church for we are members of his body as a bride is one with her husband in his embrace. When a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, the two become one flesh. This is a profound mystery in that it also refers to the spiritual nuptial embrace of Christ and His Church. For in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. (Ephesians 5:28-32; 1:7-8)

Since the day Christ Ascended the Church lives in the awareness that Jesus entered into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for her. On our behalf Christ entered into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, and secured for us our eternal redemption. With the immeasurable greatness of his power we proclaim his love and mercy and invite the sons and daughters of this age to look up and to see Him who is high and lifted up. For He who ascended far above all principalities and powers and every name that is named this very moment sits at the Father’s right hand and will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly awaiting for him, as a Bride adorned for her husband. (Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:28)

Readings for this Sunday

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Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 25, 2014

The Family Spirit

By Dennis S. Hankins

But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)/strong>

The inspiring Easter hymn He Lives declares in the opening verse: I serve a risen Savior with the Chorus ending in a crescendo: You ask me how I know He lives: He lives within my heart. The only way to sing this hymn is to do so by standing up. You want all the diaphragm stretch room you can get to give that last line of the Chorus all of the punch you can give it – He livesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss withinnnnnnnnnnnnnn my hearttttttttttttttttt!

Don’t think for a moment that a good Pentecostal misses an opportunity singing this hymn with uplifted hands in praise punctuated with “Alleluias and Thank you Jesus!” As a fourth generation Pentecostal, I know about these things!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my relationship with the Lord. The reading from Peter’s Epistle today prods me on in this effort. The incomparable Spiritual, ‘Lord, I want to be a Christian’ expresses the deep prayer of my heart and the depth of meaning found in this verse ‘but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord’:

Lord, I want to be a Christian
in my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I want to be a Christian.
In my heart, in my heart,
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.

Lord, I want to be more loving
in my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart.
In my heart, in my heart,
Lord I want to be more loving in my heart.

Lord, I want to be more holy
in my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart.
In my heart, in my heart,
Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart.

Lord, I want to be like Jesus
in my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart.
In my heart, in my heart,
Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart.

Peter’s words are within the context of Christian trial and suffering. Such times in the life of the Christian can create bitterness in the heart. Left unchecked, bitterness suffocates the joy of Christ and we begin to gasp for the immaculate air of holiness we once breathed. Bitterness spawns thoughts of reprisal. Where is Christ when these things take over our heart? On the outside knocking on the door of our heart.

Out of the heart bereft of Christ come evil thoughts, murderous plans, and revengeful and spiteful ambitions. This is why Peter exhorts us to pay attention to the Holy Guest in our lives – to the life he gives us in his love. Proverbs 4:23 says: Keep you heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the issues of life. This is why we need another Advocate; Comforter; the Helper that Jesus talks about. For the Holy Spirit helps us to pray and to be bold as a witness for Christ. Through the Spirit we become a dwelling place for God; to be the face, hands, and voice of Christ. He sanctifies our hearts and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we call Jesus Lord and invite others to love Him too.

And what will we say whenever someones asks us to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ? We need the Holy Spirit to give us the words we are to speak. In those moments we can pray, “Come Holy Spirit and help me to say what Jesus would say. And help me to say it how he would say it; with gentleness and reverence.”

The New Testament is full of references to our life that is in Christ; for example – If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation… And when the Holy Spirit comes into our lives He does help us to daily be alive in Christ. Because if Christ is alive we live also! And we’re talking about life that is abundant and joy that is unspeakable! This is what the Holy Spirit inspires.

Preparing his disciples for the time of His Passion and Ascension, when he would no longer be visibly present Christ says that he will not leave his followers orphans but will send to them another Advocate, the Spirit of truth. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to make us one with the Thrice Holy Family for when the Holy Spirit comes, Jesus says, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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