Fr. Bauer's Blog

The Practice of Lent

While I’m embarrassed to admit it, every year as we head into the home stretch of Lent, I breathe an almost audible sigh of relief. I tell myself that once Lent is finally over, things can get back to normal. I can eat sweets again. I can have a glass of wine or a drink. I can cut back on the extra prayer time. And I won’t have to try to see Christ in all those people I encounter—especially the ones I find difficult or troublesome. Now as I type these words, I realize how foolish and insincere they sound. I take a small measure of comfort, though, in thinking that I am not the only one who feels this way. 

Instead of breathing a sigh of relief as we head into the homestretch of Lent, however, perhaps instead it might be an opportune time for all of us to pause and consider how we have approached Lent thus far. Do we consider it an interruption of our otherwise comfortable life and normal routine, and once it is over we can go back to the way things were; or do we see it as a time to break old habits and/or try to develop new ones. 

In regard to the above, more often than I care to admit I see Lent as a season to be endured, and not a time for spiritual growth and renewal. Too often, I consider the activities and practices of Lent as being strictly penitential and sometimes even punitive. While on the one hand I know this is the wrong way to approach Lent, on the other hand I have grown fond of the ruts I have gotten into. I don’t like having to do “extra” things or “give up” things during Lent. As the psalmist says: “My sin is before me always.” (Ps.51.5) to which I want to add: “and I’ve grown accustomed to my sins, and am not sure I want to try to change them.” 

Now certainly the normal activities of our lives can make it difficult to maintain our Lenten practices and resolutions once Lent has come to an end. There are just so many things that demand our time and attention that it is hard to focus on other things. And it could also be argued that extending the practices and activities we have begun in Lent could cause us to not fully appreciate and celebrate the great joy of Easter. I think that there is a middle ground between simply going back to life as usual after Lent, and trying to preserve our Lenten practices and enshrine them in our lives. 

For myself, that would probably mean not breathing a sigh of relief and saying a prayer of thanksgiving that Lent is almost over and I can go back to my normal routine. Instead it would mean not so much cutting out, but rather cutting back on desserts and alcohol. It would mean continuing to give more time to prayer. And it would mean trying to be more attuned to God’s presence in my life—especially in other people. In this regard, the key for me is to set goals for myself that are realistic and achievable. I think this is true for all of us. 

If we are open to it, Lent can be a time of great grace for us. It gives us an opportunity to evaluate our lives and ask what we need to do to grow closer to God. Certainly this involves works of charity, as well as penitential acts and additional prayer. And while we may not be able to carry all of our Lenten practices forward after Lent comes to an end, perhaps we can choose a couple that we can try to work into the routine of our lives. The important thing, though, is that we make the effort. And if we fail—well there is always Lent next year. 

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040217.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the 5th Sunday of the season of Lent.  Our Gospel for this Sunday is the familiar story of Lazarus being raised from the dead.  Despite the familiarity of this story, there are a couple of intriguing details that defy easy explanation.  1. If Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, why then, when Jesus learned of Lazarus’ illness, did he not immediately go to him instead of “remaining for two days in the place where he was.”?  2. Also, after Jesus’ saw Martha and Mary weeping and the Jews who had come with them weeping why did: “He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, ‘’Where have you laid him’”.  What caused him to be perturbed and troubled?   Any responses to these questions are at best educated guesses.  What we do know from the story, though, is very important.  Specifically this story reminds us that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth --- and he has promised eternal life to all those who believe in him.  His words are clear: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”  

In regard to this Gospel, there is one more thing to note. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, he returned to this life. The story of Lazarus is the story of a resuscitation, not a resurrection story.   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.  In the section we read this Sunday, the Israelites are in captivity in Babylon.  In this terrible situation Ezekiel reminds the Israelites that God will restore them --- not because they deserve it, but rather as a sign of God’s sovereignty.   "I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon the land, thus you shall know that I am the Lord.  I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.”   

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  In the section we read this Sunday Paul reminds the people that “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, though his Spirit dwelling in you.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. While we don’t know what the resurrected life will be like, we do know that it is not the same as a resuscitated life.  What’s your conception of the resurrected life?  
  2. Jesus called Lazarus to come forth from the tomb.  Where is Christ calling you to come out of a tomb?  
  3. What do you think Paul meant when he talked about the Spirit of God dwelling in us?  

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032617.cfm  

My mother’s father (my grandpa Degnan) went blind about 20 years before he died.  He accepted his blindness so well, that it was never an issue. It was just a part of who he was.   In fact, it wasn’t until around 2nd or 3rd grade that I that I realized that not everyone had a grandfather who was blind.  

I always think of my grandfather when I read today’s Gospel.   In that Gospel, for the 4th Sunday of Lent, Jesus healed a man “blind from birth.”  Unfortunately, since Jesus had healed the blind man on a Sabbath, some of the Pharisees criticized Jesus because “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.”    Others, however, said: “How can a sinful man do such signs?”  As a result, “there was division among them.”    In an effort to resolve the issue the Pharisees asked the blind man about Jesus.  He responded:  “he is a prophet.”   The Pharisees (or at least some of them) obviously didn’t like his answer because they replied:  “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” (At the time of Jesus, misfortune or hardship were thought to be a punishment from God for some personal sin or the sin of one’s relatives.)  “Then they threw him out.”   When Jesus heard what happened he sought out the blind man and informed him that he was the “Son of Man.”  We are told that the blind man then worshiped Jesus.     

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the first book of Samuel.   In it Samuel is sent to “Jesse of Bethlehem for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”   Jesse then brought seven of his sons before Samuel, but the Lord rejected all of them.  Then Samuel asked Jesse: “Are these all the sons you have?”   Eventually David, the youngest son, who was tending sheep, was presented.  The Lord said:  “There --- anoint him, for this is the one!”  

The message of both the Gospel and the first reading is clear.   God “sees” things differently than we do.   

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians.    In it Paul urges the people of Ephesus to “Live as children of the light………” 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. In the New Testament, physical blindness if often a metaphor for spiritual blindness.   Can you recall a time when you were spiritually blind?   How did you come to see?
  2. Has someone or something ever caused you to see things in a new way or to see things from God’s perspective?    
  3. What do you think Paul meant when he invited people to live as children of the light?   

In life there are no “do overs.” There are no rewind buttons. And we can’t erase the tape or record over it. We can’t undo the past. This is particularly true in regard to mistakes or missteps we have made. Given this, I suspect we all live with a regret or two, and perhaps some misgivings about the past. But mentally rerunning scenes from the past or replaying old tapes is not healthy. It can take a toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually. At a certain point, for our own health and well being, we need to let go of our regrets, push the reset button, and move forward in faith and hope. 

Now, the above is not to suggest that we should try to forget any mistakes or missteps from the past, or worse, pretend they didn’t occur. As George Santayana famously said; “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, it is one thing to remember the past so that we don’t repeat it, and quite another to live in the land of regret and remorse. That is an arid and lifeless land and is spiritually deadening. 

When we find ourselves brooding over past failings we need to push the reset button and start anew. Lent is a great time to do this. It is a time when we can acknowledge the sins and failings of our past, push the spiritual reset button, and open ourselves to God’s grace. The ways we do this are many and varied. However, prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the traditional disciplines of Lent that can help us push the reset button on our spiritual lives. Another, good way to do this, though, is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

Now to be honest, people are not coming to confession in the numbers they did in the past. And certainly people haven’t always had good experiences in the confessional. I don’t believe, though, that these things negate the beauty and the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we are reminded that there is no sin too great as to be beyond the power of God’s grace and forgiveness. When we come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation we bring our faults, our failings, and our sins to God, and ask for God’s forgiveness. And because God loves us with a love that is beyond belief and without reason, we know and believe that our sins are forgiven, we are given pardon and peace, and we are offered the grace we need to start anew. 

It would be easy to let the “regret ghosts” of the past haunt us and hold us bound. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, though, we have the opportunity to be set free from the past and start anew. God’s grace has the power to free us from the should-haves, could-haves, might-haves of the past. We have only to open our heart to that grace, and God will do the rest.

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031917.cfm   

In Minnesota we are proud of calling ourselves the land of 10,000 lakes.   Owning, or at least having access to, a cabin on a lake seems like a birthright to native Minnesotans.   In many parts of the world, though, access to water is severely limited.   This is certainly the case in Israel, where people rely on the yearly rains for a significant amount of their water supply.  At the time of Jesus, cisterns were used to store water from the yearly rains, and wells were public places where people gathered to draw water for their daily use.   Now I mention this because in our Gospel today on the 3rd Sunday of Lent Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at “Jacob’s well.” 

There are a couple of details in this Gospel that are significant.   First, notice that the Gospel tells us that it is about noon.  Most people would have come to draw water early in the morning when it was cooler, as opposed to mid-day.  This suggests that perhaps the woman didn’t want to bump into other people. Possibly (as we discover later in the Gospel) this is because the woman had 5 husbands and was currently living with another man.   Second, it would have been highly unusual for a man (and a Jew) to talk with a single woman (and a Samaritan).  The reason for this is that there was a great deal of hostility between Jews and Samaritans, and at that time there wasn’t any fraternization between men and women, most especially when they were strangers.

Although the woman initially misunderstood Jesus and his offer to give her “living water,” after talking with Jesus we discover that she was transformed by the encounter.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the book of Exodus.   It is the story of the Jews in the desert grumbling against Moses because of their thirst for water.   God instructed Moses to “Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.”    The connection to the Gospel is evident.  The difference, though, is that the water Moses provided only satisfied the people’s physical thirst.   Jesus satisfies our spiritual thirst.  

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   It reminds us that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.   I suspect we have all been physically thirsty at some point in our lives, and we know what that feels like.    What does it feel like to be spiritually thirsty?   
2.  Can you remember a time when Jesus has quenched your spiritual thirst? 
3.  While it is easy for me to acknowledge that I have sinned, it is hard for me to see myself as a sinner.    Our second reading today, though, reminds us that Christ died for sinners.   Do you, like me, have difficulty seeing yourself as a sinner?   

Please click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031614.cfm

Each year on the Second Sunday of Lent we read one of the accounts of the Transfiguration of Christ.  Since we are in year A of our three year cycle of readings, this year we read Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration.   

While some of the particulars may vary in the different accounts of the Transfiguration, the major details are the same.   1.  The Transfiguration took place 6 or 8 days after Jesus’ first prediction of his passion;    2. Jesus took Peter, James and John up a “high mountain;” 3. He was transfigured before their eyes;   4. Moses and Elijah (representing the law and the prophets) appeared with Jesus;   5. Peter wanted to stay; and finally 6. A voice from the cloud identified Jesus as “my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”    

We don’t know exactly what happened at the Transfiguration or how it happened.  What we do know, though, is important.  The Transfiguration was a glimpse of the glory of God revealed in and through Jesus Christ.   It was a moment of grace that enabled the disciples to continue to persevere and to trust when they encountered difficulties and trials.   

Our first reading this weekend is from the book of Genesis.  It is God’s promise to Abraham our father in faith: “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

Our second reading this weekend is from the second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy.  The opening sentence reminds us that we are to:  “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”  

Questions for reflection/discussion:

  1. I believe we all have “transfiguring” moments in our lives ---  times of great grace, comfort and peace.   These moments are fleeting, and while not as intense as the experience of the disciples at Jesus’ Transfiguration, they are no less real.  When have you had a “transfiguring” moment in your life?
  2. These “transfiguring” moments can help us “bear our share of hardship.” Has this been true for you? 
  3.  God told Abraham He would bless him. When have you felt God’s blessings in your life?  


For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030517.cfm

This weekend we begin the season of Lent.   Now as you may have heard me mention before, when I was growing up I used to look forward to Lent with all the excitement of a trip to the Dentist.  (My apologies to any dentists who might be reading this.)  As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve come to realize how important and how good the season of Lent is for our Church, as well as for me personally.   It is a time to step back from the usual activities of life and focus on our relationship with God.   We do this through the primary activities of Lent:  Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.    In our prayer we attend to God.  Through our fasting we deny ourselves what we want to discover what we really need.   And in our almsgiving, we offer from our surplus, to those who have little or nothing.  

Each year on the first Sunday of Lent we read one of the accounts of the Temptation of Christ in the desert.  This year we read from the Gospel of Matthew.   The basic details of the temptation are the same in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  In these Gospels Jesus faces three temptations:  The temptation to take care of his own needs (turn stones into loaves of bread); the temptation to a grandiose display of power (throw yourself down from the parapet of the temple); and finally the temptation to worldly authority and might (all the kingdoms of the world I shall give you, if you only worship me).   We all face similar temptations in our lives --- certainly not to the extent that Jesus did --- but temptations that are similar in kind, if not strength and intensity.   Jesus has shown us, though, that God’s grace is sufficient to resist these temptations.    

In our first reading this weekend we read the scriptural account of the temptation of Adam and Eve.   It serves as a counterpoint to the Gospel.   Unlike Adam and Even, Jesus does not succumb to temptation.  

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   It follows the theme of the Gospel and first reading and reminds us that “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. We all face temptations in our lives. Now certainly the temptations we face aren’t nearly as intense or as powerful as those faced by Jesus.  Would you agree, though, that in one way or another we all face temptations similar to those faced by Jesus?   
  2. Christians did not invent temptation.  We do believe, though, that we have found the remedy for temptation in Jesus Christ. When has God’s grace helped you to resist temptation?  
  3. Why do some people seem better able to resist temptation than others?

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022617.cfm 

“Don’t worry.  Be happy.” This was the title of a song made famous by Bobby McFerrin in 1988.   I never liked it.   It always struck me as a bit insipid, if not just plain dumb.   At times we all worry.  At times we are all troubled, concerned, and even anxious.   Yet in our Gospel this weekend for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus says: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life………………”    “So do not worry and say:  ‘What are we to eat?’ or “What are we to drink?’, or ‘What are we to wear?’  All these things the pagans seek.  Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”   

What are we to make of these words of Jesus?   We have only to look around us to know that there is much to be anxious about in today’s world.   Is Jesus suggesting that we manifest a naïveté about the troubles that exist in the world, or that we live our lives unconcerned and/or unaware of the evil that often surrounds us?    I don’t think so.  Rather I believe he was inviting us not to give ourselves over to worry and anxiety, but rather to trust in God and to believe that ultimately our future is assured.  A trusting heart will find serenity and peace in God’s presence and grace.   

Our first reading this weekend shares the theme of our Gospel.  Through the prophet Isaiah God reminds us:  “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?   Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”  

Our second reading this weekend once again is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.   In it Paul reminds the people of Corinth how they should view their leaders.   He is clear:  “Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”   Sadly, particularly in light of the sexual abuse crisis in our church, this has not always been the case with some of the leaders in our Church, 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. What causes you worry or anxiety?
  2. Have you ever brought your worries or anxieties to God in prayer?   What was the result?
  3. What would you like to say to those leaders in our church who have not been found trustworthy?   
View of the Basilica nave and sanctuary

Two Words: Time and Prayer

Perhaps it was the nasty tone of this year’s election, or perhaps people are just generally growing less tolerant, but it seems to me that lately people are becoming more and more irritable and prickly. In emails and voicemails people are curt and rude, and sometimes even openly hostile. And when you’re driving, people flash their lights, honk their horns, and more and more frequently use an obscene gesture to let you know they are not pleased with you. 

While the above is bad, worse for me is the fact that I find myself responding in-kind when I think people are being nasty or ill-tempered. It amazes me how quickly I can “go negative” with someone in response to an email or a voicemail that is rude or snarky. I don’t think I am alone in this. In our world today, there seems to be a limited supply of tolerance and giving someone the benefit of the doubt. 

An example of this for me was an email I received several months ago from someone I considered a friend. I felt personally attacked in the email and as a result, my response was less than pastoral. This started a series of back and forth emails, until it finally dawned on me that while I was inwardly (and outwardly) complaining about the tone and tenor of the emails I was being sent, my responses were no better. I realized that if this kept up there was no way the exchange would end well. Given this, I said that I thought it would be best if we would simply have to agree to disagree and that we should terminate the exchange. I then wished them well. 

Not being very pleased with my behavior I talked to another priest about it. His response was two words: time and prayer. Specifically he suggested that I not respond immediately to emails, voicemails, people, or situations that I find irritating. Instead he suggested I take some time to reflect on why I was feeling irritated or under attack. After I had taken some time to reflect on the situation, he then proposed that I bring it to prayer. He suggested that time and prayer were the ingredients to a healthier perspective. 

I have been trying to follow this priest’s advice for the past several weeks. And while I’d like to report that I have been one hundred percent successful, if the truth be told, I still continue to fall into the trap of responding in-kind to words and behaviors I perceive to be rude or snarky. On the plus side, however, there have been more than a few occasions, when by taking the time to reflect and pray, I have toned down my response and/or given the other person the benefit of the doubt regarding their words and intentions.

While it shouldn’t be that hard to take the time to reflect and pray before we respond to situations and people that irritate or upset us, I think this is something we all too often fail to do. It is something I am trying to put into practice, though. And while they say that “practice makes perfect,” I suspect that it will take a lot more time and prayer before perfection is even a remote possibility.

For this Sundays readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021917.cfm 

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find Jesus words in our Gospel today to be among his most difficult.   In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples: “offer no resistance to one is evil;”  “turn the other cheek;”  “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow;”  “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you;”   These are hard words to hear, and harder still to live out.  Yet Jesus doesn’t qualify them or offer a context for them that might make them more palatable.  Instead he concludes these remarks by saying:  “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  

What are we to make of these words of Jesus?   Four things come immediately to mind.  1.  Jesus was serious.  He meant what he said.   2.  As disciples of Jesus we are called to give witness to these words by the way we live.   3.  Clearly we don’t always do this. Sin and failure are a part of each of our lives.   4.  Ultimately, it is only with God’s grace that we can live them out.     

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Leviticus.   It shares the theme of the Gospel.  In the section we read this weekend, we are told:  “The Lord said to Moses:  ‘Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: ………………... You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart ………………... Take no revenge and cherish no grudge again any of your people.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”    

Our second reading this weekend once again is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In it Paul reminds the Corinthians that as “the temple of God,” they are called to be holy.    

Questions for reflection/discussion:

  1. If we believe in Jesus Christ, and take his words in today’s Gospel seriously, why do we have such difficulty putting them into practice?  
  2. When you have given witness to these words of Jesus in your life?
  3. Have you ever thought of yourself or someone else as a “temple” of God? 

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