Reflections on the Readings

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 16, 2014

Growing in Faith

By Dennis S. Hankins

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave!”

Today’s Gospel comes from chapter 25 of Matthew packed with forty-six verses of Jesus speaking of the need for a robust and vibrant faith. We hear today from a portion of that chapter called the Parable of the Talents. A talent equaled about 15 years of wages. Three servants are given responsibility to keep things going while their master goes away for a ‘long time.’ To each one, according to his ability, is apportioned the amount of talent the master believes that person can be trusted with.

The challenge given to us today in the readings is one of being faithful. To grow in faith and in the knowledge of our Savior is the consistent invitation given to us. Being sluggish and lackluster is not the sign of a vibrant and effective witness to Christ. The challenge for 21st century disciples of Jesus is the same as it was for 1st century followers of Christ. And that is to be the ‘aroma of Christ’ everywhere. Going into the whole world of the human experience where Christ’s love is needed. If we don’t share from the treasures of Christ’s life in us then who will know that there is a God of love?

To each one of us is given gifts with which we are to make Christ known. So many do not know the depth, the width, the breadth, the height of the love of God revealed in Jesus our Savior. Letting our light shine is a message Jesus gave his first followers. It is our assignment too. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and give glory to God.”

Growing in our understanding of the measure of faith given to each one of us is how we grow closer to the world Jesus came to save. Being spiritually minded brings us closer not only the Christ but to the lost.

We had/have our favorite subjects in school. Some do not like math while others bounce off the wall enjoying calculus. But have you heard of Biblical math? St. Peter taught it. It goes like this: For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” Supplement, that is, add to your faith. Grow in grace. Don’t hide your light under a bushel but let it out so that the whole world will know and see the light of Christ. Be alive in your life in Christ. Pay attention to it until Christ forms and shapes and inspires the very depth of our being. For just as a city set on a hill cannot be hidden nor should a Christian infused with the Holy Spirit be hard to notice.

St. Paul speaking about generosity of giving is also applicable to what we are hearing in today’s readings: For the point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…You will be enriched in every way for great generosity. Generosity is the hallmark of the follower of Christ. Because of the surpassing grace of God in us we are compelled to make Christ front and center. Unless we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can become timid and fearful to even speak of him.

Let us ask for more. More of Christ’s love. To be filled with more of the Holy Spirit. To be able to bring more of the life of the kingdom of heaven to everyone we meet. Let us live with a joyous and energetic faith that imbues all that we do so that when Christ comes again we can go out to meet him with joy!

Readings for this Sunday

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Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome – November 9, 2014

Places of Prayer

By Dennis S. Hankins

He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” ~ Jesus

On November 9th, 324 AD, Pope St. Sylvester dedicated the Lateran Basilica. This Basilica of St. Johns Lateran is the official Church of every Pope since, made possible by the donation of the Laterani Palace by Constantine, remembered as the first Christian Emperor. This place of prayer, first called the Basilica of the Savior at its erection, is considered the ‘mother of all the churches in the city and in the world.’ As such it is a sign, a symbol of the unity of prayer in the Church.

Of course one can pray anywhere and anytime. But a house of worship particularly is a sign that there is a people there who are one in Christ and with each other and who pray together. As Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in his name, I am in the midst of them.”

Christians in the earliest days of the Church sometimes gathered at the site of a martyr of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist, the source and summit of prayer as Pope St. John Paul II taught us. To this day embedded in the altar in a Catholic parish is a relic of a saint. This is a powerful reminder to us that those saints known and unknown, marked with the sign of faith, remain in prayer with us. And if the truth be understood properly, they not only continue to pray with us, but pray for us. “Any scripture for that Dennis?” you might ask. I think so. In Hebrews 12:22 we read:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.

In our Eucharistic prayer life we come to the Body and Blood of Christ which speaks of forgiveness. The blood of Abel was spilled by his brother, Cain. Abel’s blood, spilled in spiteful violence, marked Cain forever. Unlike Abel whose prayerful offering was accepted, Cain’s was not. And God said, “Make things right and reject the sin that is ‘couching at your door,’ and I will receive you.” Instead Cain chose envy and jealousy and killed his brother. The gracious message of the sprinkled blood of Christ is a message of forgiveness for all us who in some way bear the mark of Cain.

The message of the first reading is the hope that is restored when the place of prayer is rebuilt. As I said earlier, one can prayer anywhere and anytime. But the picture of a restored Temple in Ezekiel’s prophetic heart is one of the life and rhythm of prayer bringing newness of life. This is uniquely fulfilled in Jesus who declared that his Father’s house is a house of prayer for all nations. The prayer life and outreach of the family of God is one of touching the world – its wounded, its sick, its hungry, its naked, blind and dying. The mission of every community of prayer is to bring the healing streams of the city of God into all the world.

Paul’s insight into the life of the believer is that we also are a temple of the Holy Spirit; another place of prayer. The Holy Spirit indwells us and inspires us to pray and makes our prayers effective. May we never cease to place ourselves in God’s presence and invite the Holy Spirit to lead us and to guide us into all the ways of prayer. As St. Paul said elsewhere, to “Pray without ceasing.”

When Jesus comes to our hearts will he find a place of prayer? Or will he find a ‘marketplace?’ A place where stuff and things occupy our attention and distract us from being aware of the promptings of the Holy Spirit. If there is confusion in our inner most place of holiness about what is treasure and what is not, let us begin this day praying, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” And thereby will our hearts be restored as a place of prayer and where prayer in the Spirit flows freely again. May the Spirit rise up in us as a spring of living water, bringing the joy of the Lord, making glad our hearts, and creating a dwelling place of the Most High; our heart once again a place of prayer. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls) – November 2, 2014

The Mystery of Faith

By Dennis S. Hankins

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. (Romans 6:8-9)

Jesus loves us and wants us to be with him forever. He came all the way from heaven to tell us that God is love and then proved it by dying for us. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. In his death on the cross Christ reconciled us to God justifying us by his Blood.

We receive Christ’s love through baptism. Paul asks, “Are you aware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized in his death?” What does that mean? In the waters of our baptism we left behind the ‘old self’ and were raised as a new creation in Christ. In baptism we were buried with Christ. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too have newness of life in Christ and not just for now, but forever!

The Holy Spirit fills our hearts with the love of God and with a hope that is immortal. We embrace a future that is filled with the friendship of God. Therefore our hope is not a speculation about things we are not really sure about. For the Friend of sinners has set us free from the deception of sin and the power and fear of death.

Dear friend, we have been saved, we are being saved, and we shall be saved. Christian hope purifies us and prepares us for that day when Christ shall appear. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1:3)

Beloved, we are God’s children now and we will still be his children when he calls us home. Jesus explained he was going away to prepare a place for us. Like a bridegroom building a home for his bride where they will live together, Christ our bridegroom is preparing a place for you and me. And one day soon Christ shall present us to the Father in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind. (Ephesians 5:27)

This hope, this faith, is the treasure of the Church. Let no one rob you of this treasure entrusted to us his children. Let us always proclaim with joyful expectation the mystery of our faith—“In dying, Christ destroyed our death; in rising, Christ restored our life; Lord Jesus come in glory! Until that day we stand in the presence of our Redeemer with all the faithful departed, keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 19, 2014

Let Us All Pull Together

By Dennis S. Hankins

For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

In Acts chapter 16 we read: A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing beseeching him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

So prompted by the Holy Spirit Paul and Silas and Timothy sailed for Macedonia and introduced the people of Philippi to Jesus. A girl in that city was possessed by a spirit of divination and made her owners a lot of money by her soothsaying.

She taunted the missionaries saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” Annoyed, Paul cast the spirit out of her costing her owners their means of making money. Seizing Paul and Silas, the former owners of the soothsaying girl brought charges against the missionaries exclaiming, “These men are Jews and they are disturbing our city. And they advocate customs not lawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” It kind of reminds one of the conflicts we currently encounter with the intrusion of government into matters of conscience. Caesar always pushes his way into such things with threat of punishment and fines, seeking to push the Church into the peripheries. “Don’t bother us with matters of faith and conscience. It’s against the law,” they say.

Anyway, Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and put in prison with their feet placed in stocks and about midnight Paul and Silas were heard praying and singing hymns to God. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains fell off. The jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” That same night the jailer and his family were baptized.

The missionaries moved on from Philippi to Thessalonica where for three Sabbaths in the synagogue Paul argued from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And Christ worked through Paul and company and confirmed the message they preached with attending signs.

Evangelization in the early Church happened from an intimate encounter with the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Jesus. Paul affirms that their short but productive missionary efforts in Thessalonica was not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. Paul believed what he preached and he preached what he knew, that is, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Everywhere Paul’s missionary journeys took him, no matter what resistance he encountered or hostility that he incurred, the gospel he preached was with power and demonstration of the Spirit. The Church was not birthed in Philippi, Thessalonica, or in Corinth by lofty words or wisdom. Among all his converts Paul’s message was not with plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that their faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

With all that is within us let us live peaceably with Caesar rendering to Caesar what is lawful. We, however, are not made in the image of Caesar, but rather we bear the image of God. Let us give ourselves to him and he will confirm the message of the gospel through us as he did through Paul and Silas and Timothy, and Priscilla and Aquilla and all who have ever testified of the love of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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