The Power of Christ

01-31-2021Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

It is quite striking in today's Gospel passage how the demon knew exactly who Jesus was. This shrieking cry from the demon is dramatic and clear in its meaning. To hear "I know who you are" about Jesus from a creature of the darkness and evil knocks us off our seats. This demon, which symbolizes for us all that is evil and dark, is admitting that Jesus is the ultimate threat. The basic truth is that the power and good of Christ is greater than darkness or evil. And this is clear to the powers of evil. Sadly, maybe not so much to us.

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Called to Serve

01-24-2021Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

Pastoral Reflections: Our Old Testament and Gospel readings both tell us about people who instantly accepted the invitation of God. The people of Nineveh responded immediately to Jonah and the disciples accepted the invitation of Jesus right on the spot. Clearly, these readings have a major point for us. The people of Nineveh respond immediately and the disciples, both groups, abandon their work of fishing on the spot. The major point of this is that God expects the same from us. We are expected to seize the Call of God and respond forthwith. The response is supposed to be "right now!"—not: "When I am ready."

Making such a response to the call of God demands us to have faith, but also demands us to be free. Saint Paul in the second reading is advising us that we cannot let the stuff of our life get in the way of responding to God's call. When what is in our life keeps us from hearing and responding to God, we are not "free." We are weighed down or overwhelmed or stuck behind a wall. We must have and use our stuff of life for God.

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Personal and Communal Faith

01-17-2021Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

The major message of the readings this weekend is that the call of God is actually directed to each of us and each of us must respond. We must remember and appreciate that each of us is called, but none of us is called alone. We have faith that is personal, but also communal.

In reading the Old Testament with its many stories of people called by God, we learn that God summoned the leaders of Israel in both dramatic and quiet ways. Moses was called by the voice of God from out of a burning bush; the prophet Isaiah discovered his vocation in a fiery vision in the temple. In our first reading, we learn of a different invitation from God, one that is most likely similar to our own. We must remember that Hannah, Samuel's mother, was unceasingly pleading with God for a son and God answered her with the child Samuel. Our reading for this weekend begins with the young man Samuel in the temple when he hears a voice calling out. Eventually, Samuel does come to understand he is being called by God. He then listens, speaks, and then finally he obeys. Samuel is the first prophet during the time of the monarchy.

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We share the divinity of Jesus

01-10-2021Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

I am certain that we all are unaware that in the earliest centuries of Church life the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord was celebrated as the most important manifestation of God's saving power. We all tend to think that Christmas was the greatest and most important feast, or perhaps it was Easter and the Feast of the Resurrection. This simply is not so. This feast of the Baptism of the Lord stood at a very special point in being significant. It is clearly obvious because all three of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke have the Baptism of the Lord as the central beginning event of their story. Perhaps some also add in the stories of the early years of Je-sus, but they are not central to the theme and message of the Gospels. Even John's Gospel, "the very different one," also makes the Baptism of Jesus a most important and watershed event. Interestingly Mark in his Gospel does not directly tell us of the Baptism but instead tells us that the heavens are torn open and that an astounding message is given. Mark clearly wants us to recognize the great significance of this event. He wants us to know that God has answered the deep yearning and searching of Israel for a Messiah. Indeed, does he not tell us that Jesus himself is "the favored one"?

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Christ our Light

01-03-2021Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

During the Fourth Century the Feast of the Epiphany developed in the Latin Rite (more commonly called by us the "Catholic Church") from a Celebration in the Holy Land that began much, much earlier in time. It took place on January 5 in the darkness of evening and went through the sunlight of the day of January 6th. The Western Church, the Roman Church, celebrated Christmas on December 25th, but adopted over time this custom of celebrating Christmas on January 6th. Both feasts had the theme of "Light coming into the world." Soon the West called their second celebration "Little Christmas" and titled it "the Feast of Epiphany," meaning appearance or manifestation. Christmas in a sense celebrates the winter solstice and "Little Christmas" celebrates following the light of the brightest star in the sky. Both mean and celebrate the great coming of divine light into our world. There is in many ways a twelve day "Festival of Lights" celebrated in our Tradition.

In the story of the Epiphany is the appearance of what we now say are three Kings, or Magi. Various stories throughout the early church had as many as 12 Kings or Magi. Adding camels and dromedaries and royalty from far off mysterious lands who bring exotic gifts creates a wondrous and dreamy story of Christmas for everyone. It is interesting that Matthew is the only Gospel writer who tells us this story. We believe he does so because this story has elements that allow the early Jewish converts to Christianity to connect the Hebrew Scriptures with the story of Jesus Christ.

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A Real and Holy Family

12-27-2020Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

Have you noticed as you look at TV, the print media, and also on the social platforms that we always see these absolutely perfect photos and advertisements of stunningly perfect families in perfectly decorated and spotless homes with just the right amount of snow seen through the picture window behind them? We know that we can never have our home and family photographed liked that perfect family. Instead, we are blessed by the invitation from our God to believe and follow Him and that this invitation is to be a family of compassion and understanding, of kindness and forgiveness, not a family of visual perfection.

In our Gospel reading for today we hear the very ordinary story of an ordinary set of new parents who are trying to take their religious responsibilities seriously. They go off to the Temple to fulfill their observance of the holy law of Israel. When they get to the Temple, they bump into Anna and Simeon, both of whom reveal to us an insight into Luke's reason for including this particular story in his Gospel.

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God Is in Charge

12-20-2020Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

Our first scripture passage this weekend tells a most significant story about King David who was the great power in the entire world, at least so he and others thought. He had an impressive military career, which had resulted in a peaceful time for Israel with prosperity for its people. He was at the very pinnacle of success. He had placed the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem, the capital city, and now in this passage spoke out loud about how he would like to do something special for God. He decides he needs to build God a worthy temple.

But this is not what God wanted. According to the prophet Nathan, David had gotten his and God's roles confused. God is to care for David in ways greater than David can dream. If we were to count the times, we would learn that God told David that God is the source of strength, triumph, and success. David does not realize that all power comes from God, not a human person such as a mere king. Rather than David building a "house" for God, God will instead give Da-vid a "house," a kingdom that will stand firm forever.

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Look Closely

12-13-2020Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian Manning

Often when looking at a landscape picture, whether it is in traditional oil or watercolor paint from or now an acrylic or photographic form, we often see a rather pleasant or edifying scene, but when we look much more closely we can discover and recognize all sorts of meaning because of secret symbolic elements in the scene. What you see is often more than what you see if you really observe closely.

The scripture at our Mass on this Third Sunday of Advent also invites us to open our eyes to look much more closely and discover what is really there. Once we have seen what we are asked to discover, it becomes ever so obvious. We may wonder why we did not see it all immediately. We are to see in the vignettes of today's scripture, that although Jesus has come in his incarnation Birth and that He will return again at the end of time, He is also here among us now in the lives of people round about us.

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Get Ready

12-06-2020Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian Manning

On this Second Sunday in Advent, the scripture readings at Mass are telling us something very, very important. The message is clear: the soon to be celebrated Feast of Christmas is a celebration that acknowledges that the story of Christ has not come to an end, in that God's love, commitment, and concern for us are no less evident or real than they were over two thousand years ago. The message of the scripture at Mass is very obvious when we read or hear the words and then ponder them. Get ready in the coming weeks for the Birth of Jesus Christ.

we again bear proclaimed in our church in the first reading's powerful words recorded by Isaiah that our mighty and kindly shepherd is coming and we need to ready ourselves for this long-awaited event. As it is directed in this scripture; we must straighten out our crookedness, smooth our rough edges, broaden our narrow-mindedness, and most especially fill in our gaps with grace. Certainly, at that new point, we will be ready to see and receive "the glory of the lord."

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An active preparation time

11-29-2020Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

Have you noticed how other people, maybe even you, are constantly late and keep people waiting? Have you noticed other people, maybe even you, who are on time or ready even a little early? People who are constantly late are either unintentionally or intentionally expressing that other people and their time do not matter. “You can simply wait for me as if you and your time are not of value” is often the un-thought thought. We called these folks “thoughtless or obtuse.” We all are late at some point and may have a valid excuse such as sudden responsibilities, un-planned traffic due to an accident, children, “others,” or whatever as an excuse. Some people always seem to take advantage of a real or vague excuse and are always late. Some folks excuse themselves by saying “Well, I am always late.” They do not understand that being chronically late is a serious flaw because, in fact, it expresses their lack of valuing others. We have now begun the season of Advent. We know this is called the Season of Waiting. This waiting, however, is different.

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Jesus, the Way to Eternal Life

11-18-2020Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

Our Feast day today of Christ our King, which ends the Church year for us, is meant to bring our attention and focus back to Jesus Christ. Throughout the year as we retell the story of Jesus Christ in the scriptures at Mass, we may at times drift off to other matters of faith. This Sunday is to put an exclamation point after the word “Jesus” for us so that we may remember who we are and whom we follow.

Our Catholic Tradition is very old and is richly filled with many customs and pieties which can at times lead people away from the centrality of our faith in the Triune God who is Father, Son, and Spirit with the Son as our Savior and Redeemer. Too often we can at times allow ourselves to get involved with exotica or “shiny things or vestments” and get distracted from the basics of our faith. We have a purpose, meaning, and power because of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Folks often prefer to get distracted from the essentials of our faith because it is actually easier. Some folks like to get caught up in the theoretical but not real scholas-tic theology, the Tridentine Ritual, private revelation, or even with some object that may look like a possible image of Jesus or Mary (of whom we have no actual pictures and do not know what either looked like). It appears that people like distractions because it takes away their responsibility for what matters in faith. We now end the church year by putting into perspective what we are supposed to be about. We are Christians in the Roman Catholic Way of Life. We are followers of Jesus Christ.

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The Gift of Faith

11-15-2020Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

Our church often adopts processes, dynamics, and terms from the business world to help us understand, improve, and maintain our various combination functions. We are advised at meetings that our talks, homilies, written articles, letters, bulletin pieces, and social media pages should always be “on message” and “on task”. I often say that when giving a homily, it should take off, then fly purposely and directly and then come into land at its destination. Too often bishops, priests, deacons, vowed religious, and laypeople wander around in their sermons, homilies, or talks without clear purpose or message and also never seem to end the main thought of their talk; it just simply never lands until it crashes. Homilies, talks, speeches, etc. should con-tribute greatly to our faith development. We need our public speakers to be people who have a vision and understanding of our faith and are willing to share it clearly and directly with us. Too often homilies and talks are just loaded up with everything but the sacristy sink! Too much is in fact usually too much. Often the less said is more said well.

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God wants to be found

11-08-2020Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

Advertisers often try to engage our attention by using words like “quick”, “fast”, “convenient”, “prepared”, “saves time”, or similar words. We are encouraged to buy many things so that we have more “free time” to pursue what interests us to be our “better self”, which usually means less than what it says. We are to use all sorts of products to give us all the time necessary for ourselves. Things are to help us be a better person. How we are better usually has to do with looks or physique or something similar. It does not have to do with our inner qualities. Rarely does all this “new time” have to do with the meaning or purpose of our life.

The reading from Wisdom; our first reading, is the most recent of all the Old Testament Books. It was composed in Egypt, not Israel, about a half-century before the birth of Jesus Christ; it is the “newest” Old Testament book. It was written in Alexandria, Egypt somewhere between 50 and 30 B.C. The author is a Jewish scholar and philosopher who writes from the perspective of his minority faith to a majority of Greek culture in a nonJewish country. In this book the author makes Wisdom to be a personified attribute of God. He tells his readers and listeners that Lady Wisdom that is the object of concern for the seeker is readily available. He clearly says that the person who loves, seeks, and watches for Wisdom will find her right nearby. Bear in mind this “Wisdom” is actually God because God is not hidden or elusive or even deceptive or tricky. Wisdom— that is, God— wants to be found; God in the image of Wisdom is open to the seeker.

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Hope and Goodness

11-01-2020Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

This weekend our Sunday Mass pivots to a very important feast, the Feast of all Saints. Liturgists in our church tradition who plan out the vision and priorities of how our Church calendar of worship will be on Sundays always have a very hard time deviating from the strict values that a Sunday is a Sunday and a feast day basically is always less than Sunday, the great Feast of the Resurrection. I am very glad that occasionally common sense breaks through this rigid vision and we do celebrate certain marvelous feasts on Sunday. For us this year this feast day is a graced reminder of how wonderful our God cares for us through this Pandemic. This feast day is a day of hope, light, and grace among us, not only in times past but right now today, and also in the future. Our Church leaders choose to share with us a vision of the inner heart of people and their daily lives. Indeed we know that it is impossible to name all the official saints of our Church for in just the last thirty years alone, the list is beyond the limits of our knowledge.

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