Fr. Bauer's Blog

Recently I attended a lecture by author Kathleen Norris. During the course of her talk she shared a quote attributed to Philo of Alexandria, a first century Jewish philosopher: “BE KIND for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” I loved the simplicity of the words, but also the profound meaning behind them. I suspect all of us have “battles” we are fighting in our lives. They could be bad memories, addictive behaviors, physical or mental health issues, difficulties in relationships, financial problems, job concerns, etc. etc. The list could go on endlessly. Whatever battle an individual is fighting, though, it is very often unseen and in many cases known only to a few.

So, recognizing that everyone has their own personal battle they are fighting, the real question is how do we “be kind” to everyone? Well, I think this is easier than some might think. In fact, I think it can be boiled down to four simple things. 

  1. Give people the benefit of the doubt. It is easy for all of us to observe what we “perceive” to be someone’s bad mood or poor behavior, and then respond in kind. More often than I care to admit, when I think someone is being indifferent, unfriendly, or mean, I mirror that behavior in my response to them. We need to remember, though, that we are dealing with our perception, and perception doesn’t necessarily translate into reality. Perhaps the individual is just preoccupied with a difficulty or a problem they are dealing with. Or perhaps, they are feeling a bit overwhelmed and aren’t ready to deal with the world outside themselves. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is a very simple way to be kind. 
  2. Don’t take out your bad mood on someone else. Too often when I am having a bad day, or when I’m overly tired, or when I am worried about something, I can easily share that bad mood with almost everyone I encounter. The challenge for all of us is to recognize when we are “out of sorts,” for whatever reason, and then make a conscious choice to keep our bad mood to ourselves. I have a friend who regularly gives themselves a “time out” when they recognize that they are in a bad mood. It gives them time to think about what issue/concern is the source of their bad mood, and then find a constructive way to deal with that. Not taking out our bad mood on someone else is an easy way to be kind. 
  3. Don’t talk about people behind their backs. When we criticize or denigrate others, particularly when there is no way for them to explain or defend themselves, this demonstrates a serious lack of charity on our part. In effect, we are passing judgement on them “in absentia.” Failing to honor the name and character of someone in their absence is always inappropriate. Not talking about someone behind their back is another easy way to be kind. 
  4. Say a quick prayer. I suggest this because it never ceases to amaze me what a difference it can make to pause for a moment to pray for someone or to pray for myself. Prayer helps to take the focus off of me and my feelings, and reminds me that God is always offering us God’s grace to help us deal with, work through, overcome or forgive whatever is causing us not to be charitable. Saying a quick prayer for someone or for ourselves is an easy way to be kind. 

Being kind is not always easy, especially when we don’t know what battle someone is fighting. Perhaps, though if we are kind to others, they in turn will be kind to us. And who knows, that kind of mutual kindness could even start a trend. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102917.cfm  
 
In the Gospels, the Scribes and Pharisees, as well as the Sadducees, often were at odds with Jesus.   In our Gospel this Sunday the Pharisees sent one of their members, a scholar of the law, to ask Jesus which was the greatest of the commandments.  Now this would not have been an unusual question.   It is estimated that there were over 600 precepts/commands in the Torah. Asking a “Rabbi” to put some rank and/or order to them would have been within the confines of a legitimate question.  
 
Scholars suggest that Jesus’ response to the question, his linking of love of neighbor with love of God would not have come as a surprise.  They were both found in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18).  What would have been unexpected, however, was the fact that Jesus put these commandments (love of God and love of neighbor) on par with each other.    For Jesus love of God and love of neighbor go hand in hand and in the words of an old song:  “You can’t have one without the other.”     
 
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus’ response to the question about the greatest commandment prompts the follow up question “And who is my neighbor?”   Jesus responded to that question with the story of the Good Samaritan.  Since the story of the Good Samaritan is not found in Matthew’s Gospel, (where today’s Gospel is taken) we need to look to the first reading for Sunday for an insight into whom our neighbor is.   That reading, from the book of Exodus, tells us that our neighbor is the alien, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the person in need.    
 
Our second reading this Sunday is from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians.   In the section we read today Paul compliments the Thessalonians because they have become "imitators of the Lord, and his fellow missionaries."   
 
Thoughts for Consideration/Reflection: 
 
  1. What “neighbor” do you find difficult to love?
  2. I have a friend who says the reason we have difficulty loving our neighbor as ourselves is that we don’t love ourselves very well.   What do you think?
  3. Who comes to mind as someone you would name as an imitator of the Lord?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102217.cfm 

There is an old proverb that says: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”   We see an example of this in our Gospel this weekend.   We are told that the “Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.  They sent their disciples to him with the Herodians………..”   The Pharisees and the Herodians were bitter enemies.  The Pharisees believed the observance of the Jewish law was paramount.   They defended it rigorously.   The Herodians on the other were seen as collaborators with the occupying Romans.   They were willing to make compromises with Jewish law.  They displayed a “go along to get along” philosophy.   A delegation from these two groups approached Jesus with a feigned compliment:  “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”  They then laid their trap with a skillfully devised question:  “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”  If Jesus said yes to paying the temple tax, he would have lost status with the Jews who were following him.   If he said no to paying the temple tax, he would have been liable to being denounced to the occupying Romans.    Jesus’ response is well known.  He asked for a coin (which had Caesar’s image on it.)  and said: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”    The question that is unspoken, of course, is if a coin bears the image of Caesar, what is it that bears the image of God?   The answer, of course, is that we do.  

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   In this reading Cyrus, a Gentile ruler, is referred to as the Lord’s anointed because the Lord used Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians and thus allow the Jews who had been in captivity to return home.   The point of the reading is that God can work through anyone. 

Our second reading this weekend is the beginning of the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians.  In it Paul greets the Thessalonians, and reminds them that they are remembered in his prayers:  “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:  

  1. We have all heard that we are made in the image and likeness of God, but what does this mean to you?
  2. God used King Cyrus for God’s purposes.  Have you ever felt God using you or someone you know for God’s purposes?
  3. Paul told the Thessalonians that he remembered them in his prayers.  Are there people you remember in prayer?   Have you ever asked someone to remember you in prayer?   

“I think you missed the turn.” Those words were spoken to me by my friend as we were on our way to another friend’s home for dinner. And in fact, they were right. I had indeed missed the turn. In my defense, though, I had been paying more attention to our conversation than I had been to the directions. Fortunately, the missed turn was easily compensated for and we arrived at our destination on time. 

This experience came to mind a few weeks ago when I was praying about a decision I needed to make. In my prayer, while I was trying to be open to God’s will, God didn’t seem (at least to me) to be particularly communicative. It occurred to me that it certainly would have been helpful if God had simply told me: “You missed the turn.” or “You’re headed in the wrong direction.” Unfortunately, neither of these directives was forthcoming. 

I suspect there are times for all of us when we wish that God was clear and unequivocal in what God was asking of us or what God would have us do. If only God would be direct and unambiguous in communicating with us, things would be so much easier. And while on one level this is true, on another—and deeper level—it would negate our free will. And our free will is what defines us as human beings and distinguishes us from the other created beings on the earth. 

Because of our free will, God doesn’t issue clear edicts or direct commands. Instead God communicates with us in much more subtle ways. God communicates with us through the movements of our spirits, in the longings of our hearts, and in the ponderings of our minds. In and through these things, God helps us to understand what God would have us do, or where God would have us go. It is always our free will, though, whether or not we attend to and follow these subtle promptings.

Three things that can help us be open to God’s subtle promptings are a fierce honesty in our prayer, an openness to various possibilities, and a willingness to change direction. Honesty in our prayer is needed because it is easy to come to prayer with a decision already made. We need, though, to be truthful about our personal biases and our desires because, unless we honestly acknowledge them, they can influence our decision making. Similarly, if we aren’t open to various possibilities, it is easy to take some things off the table without ever considering that they might be from God. Finally, in order to be open to God’s subtle promptings, we need to be willing to change directions. If we have already set our course on something, we can’t really be open to what God would have us do. 

Certainly it would be clearer and much easier if God simply told us when we missed a turn or were headed in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, then our choices would not really be free. Given this, the only alternative is to continue to work to be open to God’s subtle promptings and to pray that if we take a wrong turn, we will notice it, correct it, and get back on course. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/101517.cfm 
 
R.S.V.P.  Re’pondez  s’il vous plait.   This seems like such a simple request.  And yet, so often it is ignored.   Certainly this indicates a lack of social grace.  In our Gospel parable today, however, the people were guilty of more than just a lack of social graces when they ignored the invitation to the wedding feast.   We are told that they not only “refused to come to the feast,” but in some cases “laid hold of and mistreated the King’s servants and even killed them.”   What kind of people would do this?   
 
Well, I suspect they were not all that much different than us.  They were people who had become so self-absorbed that they couldn’t recognize the gift/invitation that was being offered to them.   The anger of the King seems exaggerated (possibly to underline the irretrievability of the invitees decision not to come to the banquet).  It is tempered, though by his largess and generosity in sending his servants out to invite to the feast whomever they could find.    This reminds us that no one is beyond the reach and embrace of our God’s love.   
 
But what about the person who was ejected because he didn’t wear a wedding garment.   Well, since many times guests would come from a distance over dirty and dusty roads, the host often provided an opportunity for them to clean up, as well as a fresh garment for them to wear.  The guest’s refusal to comply with this custom went beyond rudeness and would have been insulting to the host.   The message in this is clear.  It’s not enough just to show up.  Something more is required.  
 
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
  1. Looking back can you see where you have failed to respond or even rejected an invitation from God?
  2. Have there been times when you’ve just shown up in response to God’s invitation, without doing anything else?  
  3. In our second reading Paul talks about living in widely divergent circumstances.   He then says:  “I can do all things in him who strengthen me.”   Can you think of a time when you were strengthened to do something that initially you didn’t think you could do?  
This past August, Fr. Greg Welch, one of our weekend presiders, sent me a link to a story from “CBSN: On Assignment.” The opening sentence of the story indicated that “With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.” In Iceland, close to 100 percent of those women who received a positive test of Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy. Unfortunately, other countries don’t lag far behind in pregnancy termination rates for those who received a positive test for Down syndrome. The report also stated that “according to the most recent data available, the United States has an estimated termination rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011).” 
 
One Icelandic health care professional, when asked about the high rate of pregnancy termination rates for those who have received a positive test for Down syndrome, said: “We don’t look at abortion as murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication …. preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as murder—that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.” 
 
Now certainly, the human condition is no stranger to suffering, and efforts to alleviate suffering are laudable. But we all know Down syndrome children and adults who live happy, productive lives. In fact, it’s safe to say that many lives are enriched when we experience the zest and resilience with which those with Down syndrome face life, despite any limitations it brings. Given this, I think it is fundamentally wrong to say that aborting Down syndrome babies prevents suffering. Further, from my perspective, the fact that the health care professional used the words “possible life,” demonstrates the fundamental flaw in their reasoning. In this regard, we need to be clear. Other than nutrients, nothing further is added to the fetus to make life. It isn’t “possible life.” It is life—plain and simple. 
 
The great lie to the above way of thinking is that children with Down syndrome are somehow inferior and undeserving of life. Quite frankly this is wrong. Life—all life—from the moment of conception to natural death is sacred: no exceptions, no exclusions, no qualifications. The sacred image we bear exists from the moment of our conception. We don’t grow into it. It cannot diminish with age. It is bestowed on us by the gracious favor of a loving God. Created in the image and likeness of God, and infused with a soul that seeks to know and love God, all human life is sacred and is to be respected. 
 
For many years now our Church has designated October as Respect Life Month. During this month particularly, we are called to remember and give witness to our belief that life—in all stages of development and in all its manifestations—is a gracious gift from a loving God. There are no qualifications or limitations to this belief. Because God is the author and source of life, all life is sacred. Our task, our challenge is to seek to promote and enhance life at every moment and in every circumstance. 
 
Human life is indeed a precious gift from a loving God. As followers of Jesus, we are called to show our respect and reverence for life in all we do. To the extent we fail to do this, we fail to give witness to our respect for life. To the extent that we do it well, however, we truly live up to our calling as people created in the image and likeness of God. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100817.cfm

Some scripture scholars suggest that today’s Gospel parable may represent an allegorization of another of Jesus’ parables by one of the early Christian communities.   The parable of tenants rejecting the many messengers (i.e. the prophets) sent by the owner of the vineyard (God) would have supported this belief.   In suggesting this, of course, these scholars are not in any way questioning that it is not the inspired word of God.  Rather, they suggest that the early Christian community had begun to see itself as replacing Israel as God’s chosen people.   Regardless of the origins of this parable, though, it contains a powerful and ever current message.   It invites us to consider how we respond to the many overtures and/or messengers God sends into our lives. 

As an important aside, we need to be clear that the Catholic Church does not teach that God has rejected Israel or that its election as God’s chosen people has ended.  “The Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy deigned to establish the Ancient Covenant.”    (The Documents of Vatican II   Decree on Non Christians)    Our Church also teaches, though, that Jesus Christ, “the Lord, is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart, and the answer to all its yearnings.”  (Documents of Vatican II; Decree on The Church Today)

Our first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, shares the theme of the Gospel.  It speaks of a vineyard that, despite the loving care of its owner, yielded only “wild grapes.”  In the Old Testament the “Vineyard” was a symbol for God’s people.   

In our second reading today from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, Paul reminds us that by prayer and petition and thanksgiving we will come to know “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”

Questions for reflection: 

  1. Looking back on your life can you see times when you have not recognized or perhaps even rejected messengers of God’s presence and grace?
  2. Who have been messengers of God’s presence and grace in your life?   
  3. In regard to this weekend’s second reading have there been times in your life when you have experienced the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding?”   

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100117.cfm​ 


“Actions speak louder than words” is the phrase that comes to mind whenever I read our Gospel for this Sunday 

Many years ago I worked with an individual who was very amiable and most pleasant whenever we discussed an issue or concern in their work area.   They would agree to a certain course of action, or they would agree to follow through on something and then ………………… nothing.   

Actually there was something:  excuses, rationalizations, and promises to do better next time.   Unfortunately when the next time came the same thing would happen.  We would talk; they would agree on what needed to be done; and then ………………………………… nothing. 

In our Gospel for this Sunday a father asks both of his sons to go and work in his vineyard.   The first one said no, but eventually changed his mind and went.   The second one said he would go to the vineyard, but didn’t.  This story reminds us that there needs to be a correspondence between our actions and our words.   It is easy to say the right thing.   It is much harder to say and then do the right thing.  And even though the first son eventually did as his father had requested, it took him a while to get it right.  

In our first reading this Sunday from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, we are reminded that if a person “turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life………..”

Our second reading today continues the theme of the Gospel that there needs to be a correspondence between our words and our actions.  St. Paul entreats the Philippians: “………. complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for their own interests, but also for those of other……….. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Jesus Christ.”   

Thoughts/Questions for Reflection:

  1. When have your words been bold, while your actions have been inadequate?  What were the consequences?   
  2. In the scriptures, Jesus seemed to focus a lot of time and energy on two different groups:  The Pharisees, and the Tax Collectors and Prostitutes.   Why do you think that was?  
  3. In regard to the second reading, what does it mean for you to have the same attitude as Jesus Christ?    

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092417.cfm

It’s not fair!   Growing up in a family of seven (five boys and two girls) these words were common in our house.   They were automatic response to every perceived injustice or sense of preferential treatment.   I suspect these words were on the lips of the laborers in today’s Gospel parable.   This parable, found only in Matthew’s Gospel, tells the familiar story of a landowner who went out at various times throughout the day to hire laborers for his vineyard.   When it came time to pay the laborers, however, those who were hired late in the day received the same pay as those “who had bore the day’s burden and heat.”  This just doesn’t seem fair.

In order to understand what this parable has to say to us, we need to remember that parables are simple stories that Jesus used to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God.   They were not meant to be taken literally.   Rather, they challenge us to ask what they are telling us about God.  In today’s parable we are reminded that salvation is freely offered by God to all people, regardless of when they arrive in the vineyard of faith.   Such is the way of God.   It is certainly different from the way we often act.   And when you stop and think about it, isn’t that good for us.   

Our fist reading today shares the theme of the Gospel.  In it God, speaking through the Prophet Isaiah, reminded the people that “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”   

After reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans for the past twelve Sunday’s, today we switch to St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.   In the section we read today Paul acknowledges that he would like “to depart this life and be with Christ.”  He also realizes, though, that for now it is “more necessary for their benefit” that he remain in this world.

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1. Many people believe that only a limited number will be saved.   Today’s parable would seem to argue against this.  Why do you think God is so generous and undiscriminating with God’s love and offer of salvation?
  2. Have you ever experienced that God’s ways are not your ways?   
  3. We all live with the hope of heaven, yet we know that we are all put on this earth for a purpose.  How do you know when you have accomplished your purpose?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091717.cfm
 
In our Gospel this weekend Jesus talks about the difficult subject of forgiveness.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I believe forgiveness is one of the hardest things we have to do as Christians.  Yet in our Gospel this weekend, Jesus, in response to a question from Peter about whether we are to forgive as many as seven times, states clearly:  “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”   For the Jews of this time, this number would have symbolized forgiveness without end.  After startling Peter and the other disciples with this number, Jesus then told the parable of the owner who forgave the loan of a servant who owed him a huge amount of money.   Unfortunately, that servant refused to forgive the loan of a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount, and instead had him thrown into prison.  At the conclusion of the parable Jesus offers the ominous conclusion:   “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”  
 
What are we to take from this Gospel?   Three things come immediately to mind.  1.  As Christians, forgiveness is not an optional part of our lives;    2.   We can’t expect or ask God to forgive us unless we are willing to forgive one another;  and  3.  The forgiveness we offer to each other must be real and sincere.    
 
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of Sirach.    It shares the theme of the Gospel.  In the section we read today we are reminded:  “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”   
 
In our second reading this weekend, Paul reminds us that “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.  For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord;”   
 
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
  1. Why, at times, is it so hard to forgive?
  2. What helps you to forgive?
  3. What does it mean to live for the Lord?   

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