God's Answer for Our Hearts

12-08-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

To some practical extent, the future is now. We need to realize that our present actions and attitudes create our future. We cannot know the future as such, but we need to think about it. Life will happen whether we think about it or not, but knowing what matters for the future is most important. Our central character this weekend in the Gospel is John the Baptist who is most willing to shine a light on the future. He announces a message of repentance to prepare for the future. Indeed people come in hordes to hear him and respond. They step forward and receive a baptism of repentance. Note, however, in this Gospel passage that John’s blunt judgment of the Pharisees and Sadducees who are in this mass of humanity brings us up a little short. Matthew, the Gospel writer, was always hard on the religious leaders of Israel. His Gospel holds them responsible for failing to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. He evens holds them to a greater charge of failing to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. Thus for this great reason he has John sharply criticize them to one and all. John taunts them by saying they can take no pride in their heritage as sons of Abraham.

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Find God in this Moment

12-01-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

Situational awareness and mindfulness are two concepts that are often talked about today, and people encourage us to practice these mind issues in our daily lives. I also like the saying about wherever we find ourselves, there we are. In this coming month we are rolling up to Christmas. Most of us are busy thinking a lot about this event, which is four weeks from now. We do not really think about now, today, this moment. This First Sunday of Advent, the scripture asks us to be where we are in this moment, this day as we light a single bright candle in the Advent wreath to break up the darkness. We are really being asked to consider God’s salvation, which dawns on us right here where we are.

The prophet Isaiah offers us in the first reading, in very poetic and elegant words, the first image of a messianic time. Know also that vision is echoed in the angelic greetings of the Incarnation: “Peace on earth to those on whom God’s favor rests.” Isaiah’s vision has all nations streaming up the high mountain with all the people coming with their work tools. His vision has the very tools of war transformed and thus there will be no more war. For the great the messianic time will be a time of peace and justice among all nations.

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Jesus, Remember Me

11-24-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

When driving around, I observed that some stores, especially mall areas, are putting up their outdoor Christmas decorations. I also saw one house in a nearby town that also is undergoing extensive outdoor decoration. This house is always a magnificent display of Christmas light and joy. I look forward to seeing it in mid-December. I also noticed that advertisements are now stepping up to a higher level of announcing gifts for Christmas. The subtlety which is used in the Summer and Fall about Christmas has been replaced with much bolder announcements. This start up and rev up to Christmas is a sign to me that our Church year is at a near end. Indeed this Sunday is the last Sunday of our Church year. Next Sunday we also start our roll up to Christmas with the First Sunday in Advent. Our scripture at Mass will start to hint about the meaning of the Birth of Jesus Christ, often called the Incarnation. Much like society, we start to dress our church and our life with the possible meaning of Christmas for us. This Sunday, however, the last Sunday of our Church Year, is the great and grand Feast of Our Lord Jesus Chris, King of the Universe; often called simply the Feast of Christ our King. Although our popular culture is fascinated by the daily lives of the Royal Windsors today in Great Britain, we really do not understand what a king or royalty is. We are blessed to live in a democratic republic with everyone as equals. Our faith tradition says that we all are children of God and made royal by our baptism. Our faith tradition tells us that there is no exclusive set of “better people” born by family blood. Indeed, for many of us royalty is an outdated notion. Thus, our Celebration of Christ as our King takes only the good symbols and elements of royalty and kingship. We must leave aside the lesser and darker history of royals and kingship.

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Depend on the Lord

11-17-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

We are coming close to the very end of the Church year; it is next Sunday that we celebrate the Feast of the Lord Jesus, King of the Universe. This large and loud outpouring of praise and glory to our Savior is a fitting end to the liturgical year of our church. We conclude the telling of the story of Jesus Christ for this past year and we get set this coming week to begin telling his and our story again the following Sunday, the First Sunday in Advent. We must remember that, although we do not always recognize it, each one of us is a different person from who we were 52 weeks ago. When we end the story of Jesus this year, it is different for us from one year ago. When we start the story again, we will and should hear it differently from how we did one year ago. Sickness, health, graduation, success, failure, struggle, new relationships, broken relationships and all sorts of events and happenings have been in our lives. All of these change us in obvious and perhaps subtle ways. Thus, each year when we listen to the Gospel story of Jesus, we should hear it differently. But our greater task now is to ask about the Gospel of this weekend and its possible meaning for us.

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Destined to Be with God in Heaven

11-10-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

It is common throughout human culture that if you believe there is an afterlife it is often viewed as the fulfillment of the privations and difficulties of this life. Heaven is often seen as a feast of unlimited food and drink; for others, heaven is a warm and safe place free of violence. What about us? We who are primarily overfed, warm and safe people, how do we envision heaven? As our culture often fulfills every comfort and desire that we have, the idea of an afterlife has diminished. Indeed belief in the reality of God has also declined greatly. The “nones” of today are really saying that they believe only in this life, and in fact just in themselves and their singular life. In many ways, the new “temple or church” is the fitness center or gym. In many ways, we have raised our children to come to this belief of themselves as the ultimate focus and end of their lives. Popular culture has made heaven to appear to be a cluster of stained glass “angels” which we hang in front of our windows to capture the sun and make the angels sparkle. What is guiding truth for believers in the Roman Catholic Way of Life is that we do not truly know what heaven is, but by our faith we know that it is. Today’s scripture helps us to deal with the troubling question of eternal life and heaven, which are for some Catholics a difficult question and for other Catholics a clear matter of faith.

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God Loves All that Is

11-03-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

As we remember, in “Ordinary Time” the Sunday scripture is to help us to focus on the meaning of our lives and how we follow in various ways the Catholic Way of Life. The scripture through its narrative and symbols offers to us many, many possibilities of insight and understanding. Some of these are welcome, and some are not. Our lives today do not include much time for reflection and insight. The time at Mass and the reading of sacred scripture can help us discover and discern ways to make our lives deep and fuller.

It is important to remember that the Book of Wisdom was composed by Jews who were assimilated into the Greek culture of that time and were living in Alexandria, Egypt. Because this book was originally composed in Greek, it was never allowed into the official Canon of Hebrew Sacred Scripture. From sociological history, it is very clear that Alexandria was one of the most important centers of culture and learning in the eastern Mediterranean area. The many Jews who lived in this vibrant city wanted and enjoyed living and relating to people who were very open and also looked for change as a way of life. Thus this book of bible responded to the desires of the people for change, but also gave insights and explanations of the old ways of Judaism.

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A Matter of Mercy

10-27-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

We make side remarks about someone’s attitude. We think, “What an attitude. Why is he/she giving me that attitude? Who does he/she think they are with that attitude? Wow, does he/she have a great attitude about life. I wish I had that one’s attitude about it all.” On go the possible thoughts or remarks about attitude. We can simply conclude that attitude always matters in life. Attitude is indeed “where it’s at.” We recognize that attitude is far more than opinion, perspective, or viewpoint. It also becomes part of our physical being, such as posture or manners. Attitude, however, is still always far more than mere externals; it is a crucial quality for all of us. Our clothing at times can reflect an attitude, but attitude goes beyond clothes. You can get by with the wrong clothes at times, but never with the wrong attitude. Attitude makes the person, not clothing, because attitude has to do with the inside of us and affects our relationships with people. Attitude, so to speak, is how a person is before other people and with other people. Today’s scripture speaks about attitude and a person of faith.

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The Grace to Go on Praying

10-20-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

The scripture this weekend helps to reveal the interlocking relationship between prayers that are said and people who are faith-filled pray-ers. Consider how we gather to pray, which helps to form us, and then as we pray, we are formed even more and differently. The act of praying and its content do profoundly affect us. We grow to pray, and then prayer causes growth in us and so it goes on in this cycle of life of prayer. As we think about the readings for this Sunday, keep this philosophical insight in your mind to help process what the Word of God may mean to you this weekend.

Note right away that the first reading lifts up the power of God over human violence. No great acts of war or monstrous machines of destruction can bring about victory in arms, only God can. We are reminded again that God is the giver in life and we are the receivers. God offers and we respond. The reading, however, also highlights two more truths: that we must always persevere in trials and also we must keep trust that God will answer our prayers. In addition, this passage also emphasizes that prayer is greatly strengthened by the community. This passage certainly tells us of the many factors of authentic prayer to God.

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Faith: a Treasure to Be Shared

10-13-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

The ancient Jewish laws regarding lepers were indeed scary. Although a leper was an outcast beggar, wearing rags, and with terrible skin lesions, the law required that lepers look even worse and shout every time they came near someone by yelling “Unclean! Unclean!” In the Gospel story, the disciples and followers of Jesus must have hit a collective feverish pitch when the ten lepers dared to approach Jesus. Worse than all this “horror” was one of the lepers was a Samaritan, a heretic—to use a term that is thrown around too easily today. Notice that, despite the reaction of the people, Jesus did have pity of on them. He then told them to go to the temple and show themselves to the priests, whose role was to formally declare who was cured of this stigmatizing disease. In the story they leave and make their way, and at some point they are cured. Yet only one of the ten—who else but the Samaritan?—returns to offer thanks. How do you think Jesus felt at this point? Despite this issue, the theme of the Gospel and the first two readings is about faith.

The three readings offer us different perspectives or points of view to discern and learn about faith. The Old Testament launches the theme with a miracle. However, Naaman follows up with an act of gratitude, which results in faith. In the Gospel, in reverse so to speak, the Samaritan’s cure follows faith, which in turn prompts gratitude and praise. Notice how these two particular readings focus on the faith of the receiver of gifts. These readings make it clear that there is no such thing as quiet or anonymous faith. The gift of faith is meant to be seen by others, not bound and locked away. The readings tell us clearly that faith is a treasure to be shared and a reason for joy and hope.

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A Conviction of Love

10-06-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

In our first reading we learn from Habakkuk that he does not see life in positive and happy ways. Gloom, doom, destruction, and ruin surround him. And we are prompted to ask what is Habakkuk doing about it? He is plainly and boldly complaining! He does not have “the stuff” of New Englanders. No stiff upper lip for Habakkuk. He is letting God have it. Although it is hard to believe, he is exercising his faith. Not through silence and acceptance, but through loud and messy protest. The prophet is sharply demanding that his faithful God do something. And what we know happens: God hears the cries of Habakkuk. God promises that his will shall be done. Note, more importantly, how God also demands that faith be lived out. It appears that God is concerned that faithful people recognize that they can live even in a world beset by evil without being overcome by evil. In our intense world of today, this is essential to recognize and know.

Our Gospel passage from Luke focuses on Jesus addressing his disciples about the problems and difficulties which can arise within the community: These may become sins that can shatter the faith of the “little ones”, the members of the community who have less prominence and little power. He also speaks about the need to forgive one another the inevitable offenses that normally occur among members.

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